I obtained a biostatistics/pharmaceuticals job without any further education than college, so I think this is the cause of that.

I don't have some supervisor. Lack of experience and education. I'm supposed to make graphs and tables to clarify the data. The problem is I can't make the graphs look like how my bosses want them to look. There are always small, but severe details, I miss out on that were never covered in school that my boss expected me to know without instruction.

I feel like an intern, because I assume interns also don't know what they're doing and because I'm new. For example, I learned some method in school, used it, and my boss tells me that's almost the answer, but still incorrect so the graph I made that took three hours has to be redone over again. There's no way I could have prevented the mistake. The graph summarizes like 200 rows of data.

I spent a whole day making a table and my boss says the columns are wrong, you're missing this information, add more columns, something is out of order. So everything is redone.

For example, I learned some methods in Stata, but my boss says to use SPSS because it's quicker and if I knew that earlier it would have saved me a day worth of time.

What do I do if I feel unqualified for the job, but can't quit and won't get fired by my boss even though it's taking me a long time to do things and I end up having to do everything over and over again, because my boss won't tell me exactly how to do everything and because I don't know how to do everything the way biostatisticians know how to do?

There's no book covering how to transition from learning the theory in school to knowing how statistics is used in practice.

I'm working with some data structured in a way I never seen in school, and it took me forever to realize what plots to plot. My boss couldn't think like a statistician who needs to plot the graphs and didn't explain and I didn't know what questions to ask them.

  • Just started basically.
    – user106240
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 11:17
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    They didn't give me any templates. I'm doing everything from scratch. I'm like a forerunner in a way. I'm sure I'm reinventing the wheel and no one is going to give me the templates other companies used to do this and I can't find how other people did the same exact thing. There are some similar graphs online but they're without explanation on why they made it that way.
    – user106240
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 11:18
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    Right, I get that. But once you do have one, take a picture of it and use it. When and if your boss says, change this and that show them the picture and politely ask How is this different from the last time?
    – Neo
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 11:20
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    Are you the one putting pressure on yourself about these mistakes or is it your boss? It sounds like he is very understanding of your shortcomings, letting you redo them is a proof of that.
    – lucasgcb
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 11:20
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    I thought there could be a communications problem but the problem with statistics is I can think of a method to do things but whether it will be the right or wrong result is unpredictable for me and my boss isn't a statistician so he doesn't know the soundness of my programming plans and its consequences. My method may or may not work and I can't tell beforehand whether I'm doing things the wrong way so I have to write the code and things either break or work. Even after I get the result, I don't know what the correct table of graph looks like so I can't make edits until my boss checks it.
    – user106240
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 11:25

8 Answers 8


What do I do if I feel unqualified for the job but can't quit and won't get fired easily even though it's taking me a long time to do things and I end up having to do everything over and over again because my boss won't tell me exactly how to do everything and because I don't know how to do everything the way biostatisticians know how to do? There's no book covering how to transition from learning the theory in school to knowing how statistics is used in practice.

Of course you don't know how to do everything the way biostatisticians know how to - you've only been one for a short while!

It's normal to feel frustrated at the start of your first professional job.

College is not like work, there are no textbooks for work tasks, and the transition is often difficult. I know it helped me a lot to have a mentor - someone who could help me learn what actual work was like and how to deal with it.

Talk with your boss. Don't be afraid to express your frustration and ask for help. Most of all try to relax.

What you are experiencing is completely normal - it will get better with time.

  • 13
    Great answer. I'll just add that you've got about 45 years to figure things out before retirement. Don't assume you should know everything now. Life is a journey, take it step by step.
    – Keith
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 11:49
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    Another point worth mentioning: there isn't necessarily a way biostatisticians do everything. @Germania mentioned using Stata when the boss wanted SPSS-- many people use both, one or the other, or neither for various tasks (I'm in the same field, and I generally use R for these things). For many tasks in this space it's not about finding the way to do it, it's about finding a way to do it that meets requirements and makes sense. Working in such a role, a person is expected to figure those out rather than be told, and the work is generally iterative. Imperfection is to be expected.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 15:40
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    @Keith and if you're lucky, by the time you retire, you still won't have everything figured out. Keeps work interesting.
    – asgallant
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 21:00
  • I'd like to add some greyish to your, as usual, excellent answer Joe : "it will get better with time" sometimes it doesn't, when things don't goes well in a company. Of coursse when it happens it is an organisation problem within the team/company, so you might need, at worst, eventually to search to another place for a better place to develop yourself and get better.
    – Walfrat
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 13:41

This is a classic problem of communication gap, which creates a difference between the actual and expected outcome, causing things to be done over and over again. Don't worry, it happens with almost all the beginners and it's quite normal to face these scenarios during initial time.

I'd suggest some steps to improve the scenario:

  • Every time you get an assignment, do no jump-start working on that. Prepare a mock-up, with some samples (a dozen of rows/ cols, for example).
  • Have the mock up reviewed and approved by your boss.
  • Perform any changes which are needed and review.
  • Once you have the template ready, use that to prepare the actual result.
  • Save the approved template, and use it next time another assignment comes your way.

This way, you are making sure that any effort you put is going to be useful and the rework is minimized.

Right now, given you're a newcomer, you need to have frequent reviews. With time, you'll gain experience, and you'll be able to get the work done with fewer intermediate review cycles.

Best of luck.

  • Dear Downvoter - Any suggestion to improve? Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 11:49
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    I think this is a better answer than the accepted answer. There is a gap that needs to be addressed. Blissful ignorance and cheer won't fix it. Requirements and expectations need to be communicated by the supervisor, and then questions need to be asked by the new employee.
    – user25792
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 7:57
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    I would first attempt to ask the boss exactly what he wants (columns, style etc), and then follow up with this, but the boss might not want to spend the upfront time, in which case this is your next-best alternative.
    – Dragonel
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 18:40
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    +1. If the requirements are not clear or the rational behind some decisions is imperscrutable, then that's where you need to intervene. Establishing checkpoints or working on smaller mock-ups is an excellent way to learn what is missing without wasting time.
    – seldon
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 9:45

I'm going to give a generic pro-life-tip answer to this:

Whenever you fail, figure out at least one thing you can do so that particular failure doesn't happen again.

Working on a job isn't about never failing, or never messing up, or never having to do anything over again. I mean, I've been a programmer for nearly 20 years, and I constantly have to rework stuff.

Failure Is Not Bad. Failure without trying to improve is bad.

So, here's what I'd say: Chin up. You're doing fine. Take a deep breath, and keep figuring out ways to improve.


In any new project, the first task is to make sure you fully understand the requirements. That may mean going back to the person who gave you the job, and get them to define, in great detail, what they want. Until you understand the requirements, you can't do the job the way the "customer" wanted.

Also, look at how off-the-shelf tools can save you work redoing things after any changes. That could be creating a fancy Matlab model, or a simple Excel spreadsheet. With the right tools, changing things may only take a few minutes.

  • 2
    This is absolutely true, but sometimes people don't really know what they want until they have a partial solution in front of them. The boss may have forgotten to ask for the missing columns of data, or not realised that he needed them until he tried to work with the chart he asked for. It's often useful to provide a quick 'sketch' before you've invested too much time to change track. Then you can be agile as the requirements change. Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 13:28

Build on what you know over time!

...it took me forever to realize what plots to plot

But now you do know what plots to plot. This is a learning process, and you're picking it up one piece at a time.

Some tips to make this a little easier:

  1. Make sure you document what you learn, so in a few months you can refer back to things you do infrequently.

  2. Another skill you need to improve is in gathering requirements. Ask the right questions so you won't have to repeat work in the future. The goal is to ask the questions that get you to a complete picture of what your boss requires without him/her having to spell it out completely. Again, this gets easier over time.

  3. Stay curious. When we're frustrated with how long it's taking to complete a task, it can cause tunnel vision. You need to resist the urge to rush to a completed chart, and take the time to ask questions that deepen your understanding of a field you're new to. This pays dividends over the rest of your career as you transition from newbie to expert.

It sounds to me like you're learning, maybe a little slowly, but progress is progress. Keep your chin up and focus, you'll be amazed at the transformation in a few months.


What do I do if I feel unqualified for the job but can't quit and won't get fired by my boss even though it's taking me a long time to do things and I end up having to do everything over and over again because my boss won't tell me exactly how to do everything and because I don't know how to do everything the way biostatisticians know how to do? There's no book covering how to transition from learning the theory in school to knowing how statistics is used in practice.

It sounds like a failure in communication as oppose to not knowing how to do your job. First step is to know what sort of questions to ask your boss. Thus far it sounds like you presented the data wrong or missed out on a column. So those are questions you know you need to ask your boss. "What columns are you interested in?" "In what way you want this data visualized? Pie graph, line graph, etc?"

It sounds like your boss is going easy on you thus far. He's telling you what he wants or what you missed. It could be since you didn't ask or he didn't tell you, that he knows he need to ask you. If after this he is having to constantly revisit what he wants, then yes that is a concern but it doesn't sound like that is happening. It's fairly common you get a solution only to have the boss tell you to redo it differently. So don't stress about having another go and not getting it right the first time.


Even experienced workers expect and prepare to revise their work, because no matter how good you get, the end product can almost always be improved by accepting feedback from others with different experience than you. You don't want to try to avoid revisions altogether, you want to embrace the revisions and try to make them less painful. It's not a source of shame, it's just a part of working on a team.

In my opinion, work that is too easy to get right the first time is boring. When I start hitting that threshold too often, I seek out more difficult and interesting work. Unless your job is something like a surgeon or airline pilot, you're not expected to get it perfect the first time. It's often not even desirable. And even surgeons get as much feedback as possible on their plan beforehand.

One way to embrace the redo is to continually ask yourself if you had to redo the part you just finished, or are just about to start, how would you make it easier to redo. This can mean saving off checkpoints of your work, spending a little extra time to do it in a more generic or automated way, doing a shorter manual proof of concept before running something on the entire dataset, or bouncing your idea off of someone before you spend time on it. Also, ask your peers (if you have any) for feedback along the way. This isn't school where that's considered cheating.


They expect thing done in a certain way and did not tell that to you. So don't worry; it's a management fault. As long as you just started, it is perfectly possible they don't have too much time to spend on instructing you, so looking at how similar work was made it could be reasonable to get things done without too much feedback.

A warning signal is when you get asked to get things redone without any specific reason. Note that in both possible cases you don't have to worry.

  • You are asked to redo everything because work is wrong? No problem, a good teacher don't ask to rebuild a home just because windows are wrong, he/she just tell you to change windows. Asking to redo things, many and many times is signal of very bad management, because either you are just repeating useless tasks, and no one is letting you train in an area where you are lacking (if any). So basically you get stressed, no training, and they are wasting resources.
  • There's some problem with schedules. Again, they are just trying to keep you busy until something better comes, usually scheduling problems are unavoidable, even though someone tends to associate that with bad management, it is not bad management. Dependencies between tasks cannot be seen in advance, especially in highly technical jobs. I know it can be frustrating repeating things without real reason.
  • Something is wrong, but they have no time to explain exactly what. This is lack of communication, but you can show that you can do that right anyway by gathering the needed information to do it right. This is a bit hard when you just started, because you have to interface yourself to new people, but it is also good. What's wrong in wishing to know the standards of your company?

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