4

I've been hired as a Statistician for biotech company and at first it was fun because I learned how to apply coding to solve new problems and I used my research skills to shed light on topics. More recently, I've finished all the intellectual work and what remains is transferring numbers from one spreadsheet to another. This is super boring and doesn't require anything more than middle school education to do and is super tedious and I can only do 4 hours of this per day without getting arm pain or boredom and there's thousands of numbers.

I want to somehow ask other people in the company to help me do this because it's really not intellectually hard, not something only a task a Statistician can do. I'm the least senior person in the company so I can't tell the intern do to it because it's too small of a company and we've got too few people and we don't have an intern. I'm the lowest in tier at the company because we're so small.

How do I ask my boss to get someone to help me manually enter and transfer numbers from one spread sheet to another? One time I acidentally gave him an incomplete spread sheet or related task and he told me he didn't want to do anything tedious-so he just throws all the boring work to me I'd seriously want to subcontract this part of the project to someone else because I can't do this fast enough.

I'm assuming my boss just assumes I can handle this mind-numbing work that I can't tolerate and doesn't me to give it to someone else because he wants to show everyone how insanely strong I am at handling mind numbing tasks.

It's not that I can't work hard or tolerate pain. I just can't tolerate using 1/10000 of my brain for 8 hours.

I think it's better for everyone if I'm not the only one who has the bear this task myself. I'll get it done eventually but this is just too slow and too much.

  • 8
    Is there a reason that copying numbers from one spreadsheet to another can't be automated? That seems like it would be far less error prone than having anyone spend hour after hour manually copying data. – Justin Cave Jul 11 at 18:24
  • My boss wants me to make a table by importing statistics/numbers from a database. I thought it was stupid because he could just look at the database which I can make into a spreadsheet. But he says he wants to be able to look at a reference piece of paper and immediately be able to show others the information on there. Because he wants crazy efficiency. He wants to be able to have a piece of paper on hand that has all the info. Because some info is from textbooks and it's not easy to write the code to OCR a textbook which is messed up in its presentation tables. – user106410 Jul 11 at 18:25
  • 4
    "I learned how to apply coding to solve new problems" Why don't you apply it to this problem? Unless the source spreadsheet is hand written, it should be trivial. – sf02 Jul 11 at 18:29
  • 3
    "there is a pattern he wants me to write the numbers but it's not easy to create such an algorithim" Have you looked into using a regex to do the substitutions for you? This is exactly what they're for, and they're fairly quick to use with Python. As for reading data from an excel sheet, have you looked at Pandas? – pip install Monica Jul 11 at 18:50
  • 4
    If you're at all interested in coding, and want to present coding as a professional skill you have, figuring out how to code an automated way to prepare this report is excellent, perhaps necessary, practice. Doing complex, repetitive operations is a major part of what coding is for. I've automated significant portions of my own job for exactly this reason-- doing it manually is inefficient and boring, but I can't offload the tasks to someone else. I'm a better worker, coder, and statistician (audit your output!) as a result. – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jul 11 at 18:57
5

You've made several statements that seem self-answering.

Your question seems to be,

How do I ask my boss to get someone to help me manually enter and transfer numbers from one spread sheet to another?

But you also said,

I'm the least senior person in the company

and,

I'm the lowest in tier at the company because we're so small

and,

so he just throws all the boring work to me

Do you see the connection here? Not all jobs are glorious. Companies often have "mind numbing" work to do, and often that work is designated for the least experienced or least senior staff, because giving "easy" work to more skilled people at the company would be less efficient.

So, like it or not, on some basic level, the answer to your question is essentially, suck it up and do what your boss is asking you to do.

Of course, if we stopped there, life would be rather disappointing. You may not be able to get literal help with these tasks, but that doesn't mean you have to just bore yourself to death. Perhaps there's a chance to automate the request, or ask your boss some clarifying questions such that you can determine if there's a better way to provide what he's looking for. In other words, while making sure you get your work done, look for opportunities to improve the process.

  • 1
    The thing is I'm not the least experienced. staff. I'm the only statistician in this department who can write a single line of code to save his life. I just happen to have the least titles least degrees least education in years. This is bio tech. everyone else is a doctor. they don't code. they're not even necessarily fluent in problem solving in terms of math – user106410 Jul 11 at 18:36
  • I don't agree that a lack of seniority is an excuse for giving an individual a task that is unchallenging. Underutilizing the capabilities of an employee is both disrespectful to the individual and a waste of company resources - neither of which are excusable. – Jay Jul 11 at 18:38
  • I'm not saying i'm a genius who can replace everyone in the company. I don't deal well with reading over contracts to make sure others aren't screwing us over. I'm not saying I know how to be CEO or know how to do other things like negotiate trade deals. But I'd rather take a salary cut to pay for 4 interns who just do data entry hired at minimum wage when I absolutely can't think of a way to automate things. – user106410 Jul 11 at 18:41
  • I'm saying it'd be me efficient to hire 4 interns at minimum pay to do data entry when there's no way to automate things than have one person do everything – user106410 Jul 11 at 18:43
  • @Lasuiqw If you present that to your boss ("I'll pay the cost for an intern out of my own pocket to deal with this work so I don't have to"), what do you think your boss would say? – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jul 11 at 18:54
1

If you want to propose someone else takes on the work, you should have a specific proposal ready for your manager, including:

  1. What specific role on the team or at the company does the task belong to?
  2. What other tasks or responsibilities will you have capacity for if this task is assigned elsewhere (what new things will you be able to get done)?
  3. How will you assist with transferring the assignment / training individuals in the new role?

Additionally, here are some alternative things you could do:

  1. Automate the boring stuff - If you have some chops in Excel or programming, there might be a way to automate repetitive tasks. You manager will be delighted to know that the work is getting done, but now you have capacity for something else.
  2. Propose sharing data entry tasks across the team - If the team is equally skilled, but you just happen to be the most junior, it might be more equitable to share the task among team members. You could propose this to your manager and teammates.
  3. Propose system or process improvements that avoid repetitive data entry - Someone else is probably entering/writing down the same data. Find a way for the data to be entered once and available everywhere.
1

When faced with mind numbing xfer of data I always choose to write code.

Code will reduce the number of mistakes and can include QC checks.

1

One of the funny things about being paid to think is that sometimes you still have parts of the job which require very little in the way of thinking. "A trained monkey could do this" is a thought you will tend to have in any high level job I've ever heard of (or held). By way of example, most leaders of a country spend a surprising amount of time shaking hands and waving at people. Why on earth do people of such importance, surely with better things to do, have to spend so much of their time on tasks anyone can do? Because that's what people want - a handshake or a wave from them, not some trained monkey or stand-in. And sometimes that means a statistician will be paid to copy/paste into Excel. It is what it is.

So I developed the following general approach:

  1. Dive in to the task to get a better idea what is really involved. When it isn't done right away, estimate how long it will take to finish. Sometimes it wasn't so bad and you are done before you know it, so move on with life.
  2. Will it take longer to finish it the 'dumb' way - the first way it occurred to you to do it, how someone else did it, or how you were told to do it - than to try to do it better? If so, just suck it up and get it done and move on with your life.
  3. If the task really is going to be a long one (especially weeks, occasionally days), or repeated often/regularly, consider a more clever approach to work smarter or delegate/outsource.
  4. Make sure you loop back to the requester to confirm that this degree of effort is important to them - sometimes simple requests are made because they think it'll be easy, and would rather you not spend days or weeks on the problem!

If you complete all this and still decide it is time to work smarter/delegate, then you can try. Some tasks just aren't able to be made easy, as they are just the right amount of stupid that it requires a monumental amount of cleverness to solve (if the solution is to build a neural net, you can be confident you are probably there).

If you want to delegate, you need to seriously consider how much effort this actually requires. Finding the appropriate person, training them on the task, explaining to them in detail what to do, checking their work for errors to ensure they've understood, and ensuring that they are appropriately motivated so their work is completed in a timely and reliable manner. Do you know how much time and effort this will take, and the risk something will go wrong? Example from the academic world: try to have an intern or undergraduate student perform a literature review for you, especially if it is the first time they've tried to do one.

Some tasks you can do this with. Some tasks it turns out to have been easier to just use what seems like overkill and have an on-staff expert do it. I once worked in a job where a team of five people were paid overtime at 3-4 times the rate of janitorial staff to vacuum and clean up a shop, because in all honestly that was the best way of handling the situation at the time. I laughed because hey, if I am going to be paid that much to vacuum floors, so be it! But I would have changed my mind if that became my full-time job - need for cognition being what it is.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes you can make the work easier, sometimes you have to hold your nose and get it done, sometimes someone else is a better fit for the task, and sometimes the solution is that the task should be abandoned because it isn't worth the time and effort to do it. You have to try to learn which situation is which by experience, and its always a bit of a guess.

0

Express the opportunity costs of you doing this kind of work.

It's hard to accomplish, and given your role as the least senior person in your role in a small company I think it might not be realistic for you right now.

I work in a similar role, and it's unfortunate but something like 60%-70% of applied statistical and data science work is data preparation and cleaning. And while it isn't difficult to perform, it is excruciatingly boring yet requires a fair amount of attention to do correctly. It's a perfect recipe for a numb mind.

The problem lies in the fact that there likely is not enough of this work to be done to justify hiring someone specifically to do it (like an assistant for you, personally). The task can be farmed out to someone else, but then it's hard to prioritize against other work required of whatever person gets stuck with the task.

Your current position seems to be:

I'm too good for this work, therefore I shouldn't have to do it.

That may or may not be true, but unless you are senior enough to command the resources to satisfy that second clause you'll have trouble getting what you want. Jobs are not about satisfying your personal preferences and desires, but about producing what you're told to produce. If you truly can't handle this, then many jobs in this field simply aren't for you and will not become so just because you dislike it.

Getting an assistant:

You can make a pitch to your boss about the relative value of your doing the mundane data tasks versus something else, but you'll need to have strong examples of what those other tasks are. If it's a small company there may not be a continuous stream of research projects for you to carry out (especially if you're not going to be doing the requisite data work) to justify having you on full-time. Your time on another task isn't more valuable because you won't be as bored, it's more valuable because the return on your time is greater than that of the dull task. It's not about this particular task being low-skill or low-value.

So you have to explain how much more the employer will be getting out of you working on the more interesting tasks. This can be hard with research, as outcomes are uncertain and it can be difficult to get a manager to appreciate the value of something unexciting (like a null result, or concluding that their pet idea is impossible).

I consider (and my boss agrees with me on this) that the dull, non-specialized tasks I do (like report preparation) pay for my research activities. My coworkers and superiors request specific reports, and so obviously at least perceive value in them, which gives me space to work on things where the value is less obvious to them. This is especially true of professional development, like reading up on and practicing new statistical techniques or investigating quirks and limitations of different approaches, which are crucial to working in this field.

The key to this argument is going to be a precise explanation of what you will do instead of report generation, and why that will be more valuable to the company than the report generation.

Other options:

It's not the most pleasant prospect, but you can pay your dues in a less-senior position dealing with work your superiors can foist off on you until you achieve a more senior position of your own, and can then do the same yourself. Doing this isn't a total waste-- you may find you learn a lot about how to build data sets for analysis, how to work with arbitrary limitations in your company's database architecture, or other things. But, as above, the major objective of this kind of work is not personal satisfaction or stimulation, and your employer will not view it that way either.

You could also look for another job elsewhere, in a position that won't require this kind of thing or in a department that has the resources to delegate these tasks immediately. At the extreme end of this you could start your own business, such as a consultancy, and staff it as you like while directing work as you feel is most appropriate.

The best option for you:

Figure out how to write code that automates generating this report. It costs the company nothing, you'll learn a lot from doing it, and not only will this report no longer be a bother for you but you'll be better equipped to handle future boring, repetitive tasks. You can do a lot to manipulate data in a variety of programs. R probably isn't ideal for this, but can do it. Excel may also work and is likely to be available to you.

Even if you can't automate the entire thing, you may be able to make portions of the task easier on yourself.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy