Our Daily Bleg: Occupational Hazards

From a reader named Eric Robinson comes this interesting bleg. (Click here for blegging information, and send your own requests here.)


When I’m at a party and get asked what I do (I am an architect), I always hear one of the same five responses:

+ What kind of architecture do you do?

+ Hey, you can design my dream home!

+ I like Frank Lloyd Wright, do you think he’s good?

+ My brother/father/aunt is an architect.

+ I thought about going into architecture.

All of these responses are fine, but just knowing how consistent they are, it makes me wonder in what ways I ask stereotypical questions of others.

It would be nice to avoid this by having a list of what jobs get what kinds of responses. This idea has led to many interesting party conversations — because many times, the responses are not so nice!

So here’s my bleg question: what are the typical responses you hear when you tell people what you do?

I’ll start things off. When someone asks me what I do and I tell them I’m a writer, they typically say:

+ Oh.

+ Does that mean you just make stuff up?

+ Yeah, I thought about doing that before I became a doctor/lawyer/investment banker (i.e., something productive).

+ So why do you live in New York? Couldn’t you live in Maine or Aruba or somewhere else?

+ Really? Can I have your agent’s phone number?


This came up on my igoogle yesterday,(How to Come Up With Good Topics Of Conversation) and I wonder if this is where people are getting thier ideas for conversation from;

Ask about work. This one is especially tricky. Use with care. A date might think you're a gold digger. Or the conversation could end up sounding like a job interview. Still, if you can handle it carefully and keep it short and sweet (and prevent it from turning into a competition over whose job or boss is worse) then here are some starters:

* What was your first job ever?
* Who was your favorite boss in the past and why?
* When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
* What do you like best about your job?
* If money was no object, but you still had to work, what would be your dream job?

Just thought.....


I work in Telecommunications setting up Roaming testing and agreements. Normally I have traveled to another city/country to do this work, so I am introduced as being from "Away"

1. "Can you get me free service/iPhone?"
2. "Why doesn't my phone work in _____" (geographic deadspot I've never heard of)
3. " I hate them my first bill was too much, then they wouldn't let me out of the contract I signed."


I am a research astronomer. Since my field is extrasolar planet search, I get some variant of the following *every* time:
"So, what's the deal with Pluto? Is it a planet?" [No. It is a dwarf planet.]
or the more combative "Why did you guys decide Pluto wasn't a planet?"

Close behind are these:
1) "So, do you work nights?" [Only for the few nights of precious telescope time I am allocated]
2) (a question about cosmology or string theory) [Sorry, not my area of expertise.]
3) A statement which indicates the speaker is convinced I do astrology. [No. I do science. Astrology is the exact opposite. Please don't tell your friends you met an 'astrologer.']

Most of the time, though, people are genuinely interested, maybe because there aren't a lot of astronomers out there.


Nude Model:



Even though I went to Stanford and grad school, since then I have been mostly bedridden for twenty years, because of lupus. I never quite know how to response to "what do you do?", but my current favorite is:

"I manage a chronic, debilitating disease."

Most predictable resply: "You LOOK great!"


"I'm an environmental chemist that analyzes groundwater for trace explosive contaminants."

"Wow, that sounds complex. What does it entail?"

"I push buttons and surf the web."


Mmm, I'm a student and I get the same question as Allison up there about going to a non-HYP Ivy. And since it's Penn, frequently the questioner gets it confused with Penn State. I also get a lot of "Wow, I could never get in there," comments. If it's someone who doesn't interest, I usually just reply, "Yeah, I figured." I'm great fun at parties.


I worked a summer job at a zoo. Everytime I mentioned my job, the first question was almost always: "Did you shovel poo?"


I'm in chemistry grad school:

1) Wow.....

2) I was really bad at chemistry in high school

3) I hated chemistry in high school

4) When you get bored in lab do you blow stuff up?

5) Can you make me some drugs

Or, rarely:

6) Really? Are you almost ready to graduate?


I'm a pathologist. If I say I'm a pathologist, I either get blank stares or "So you just do autopsies all day?" (answer: no)

If I say I'm a doctor, I similarly get asked if it's like Scrubs and/or if I can fix some medical problem they have. Friends asking for medical advice is even worse, of course.

The most unique response I got was when, after a woman asked me what I did and I said I was a doctor, she shook her head and replied, "That doesn't impress me." That conversation died pretty quick.


I'm a medical student and my husband is a chemist.
We've gotten a few times:
"So he's the supplier and you're the dealer?"


You know, this seems like the cleverest way of getting your readers to tell you about themselves!


I'm a child neurologist and South Asian- usually most people then come back with: so do you know Dr So & so ( random south asian sounding name) -em- No- there's a billion plus south Asians- I don't personally know all the physicians in the US, Second comment- wow- it must be exciting to do brain surgery,: No- I don't do any surgery at all-hence the 97 camry instead of the Porsche , & lastly- totally random medical questions that have nothing to do with my specialty like hernia repairs or gynecological diseases.

Kristin Mac

I work at a sewer treatment plant.

Yes, really.

Yes, there is lots of poop.

Yes, there are goldfish, like Nemo.

No, they are dead by time we get them.

Lee B.

I am a librarian:

"You must read a lot"

"So, do you know the Dewey Decimal System?"


As a nurse, reponses range from
-"oh yeah?" [insert lecherously raised eyebrows and hopeful grin here]
- "How noble of you! I could never do that!"
- "You must get to see some pretty crazy things"
- "So...you're a nurse...I've got this really weird growth here...what do you think that could be?"


I work at NASA in a non-space related capacity (note: MUCH of what goes on at NASA is not in the shuttle/space station area at all...like Climate studies, aviation safety, biology etc...). Despite saying I work in Aeronautics, invariably I get:

1) so when's the next shuttle mission? (not my area, so I rarely remember the exact dates)
2) I don't think we should spend so much money on space exploration (huh, well, maybe we should stop trying to make planes safer for you too!)
3) so what's NASA up to these days? (um...many many things, do you have a week?)
4) So, you're a rocket scientist? (Yes, of course, because despite our hugely diverse research areas, EVERYone at NASA must be a rocket scientist in addition to whatever else it is they do. It's a requirement to get in, didn't you know?).
5) Can you tell me about x recent shuttle mission, or what went wrong with Y Mars thing, what Z moon mission is? (Did I tell you I worked in Aero?)



When I say that I do research for the local Board of Education, I automatically get asked "What kind of research?" At first I was surprised that so many would actually be interested in education research.


I'm an actuary. Here are the responses:

- Oh. (Change topic.)
- What's that?
- That's something to do with insurance, right?
- Wow, heavy numbers, huh? Are you good at math?

The most intersting response I've gotten was the fellow who had put together that the narrator in Fight Club is in an actuarial profession. His response was "Oh! Like the guy in Fight Club, huh? So are you crazy?"


I'm a pharmacist. Generally, I get:

1) So you sell drugs? Hahahaha
2) You're a drug dealer! Hahahaha
3) I'm on Vytorin. I hear its really bad.

Then I mention I dont actually practice pharmacy anymore - I work for a pharma company in medical education.

1) So you sell drugs! Hahahaha
2) A look that says "eeew. Those nasty drug companies".