Looking to get fired? Derek Lowe offers some hot tips for a quick exit

There are any number of articles you can turn to with advice about how to get a job (or advance at one) in biopharmaceutical research. Something you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else is a guide on what you’ll need to do if you want to get fired. Do you have what it takes? Read on.

I’ll skip over the most direct methods. Starting a fistfight with your boss or co-workers is a reliable (though unimaginative) way to be shown the door, but you can be fired from all sorts of positions for that. There’s no challenge in it, no art. I did know someone once who announced that he was going to perform no work at all rather than what they’d been asked to do, a sort of militant version of Hermann Melville’s Bartleby the scrivener. After several weeks of making good on that promise, he was eased out as well. But that, too, will get you removed from most positions short of elective office.

No, what I have in mind are the behaviours that will gradually undermine your career and put your name to the top of the list when it comes time for rationalisation, downsizing, rightsizing and reductions in workforce. Don’t think, though, that you’re going to accomplish this just by being unpleasant. A noxious personality is no guarantee of being let go, as a good look at any large research department will make clear, because you can be very hard to deal with as long as you produce results. So don’t produce any. Be late; be slow; overpromise and under-deliver. Turn your opportunities to present your ‘progress’ into a litany of excuses for why you don’t actually have anything to present. If you do manage to get something to work, sit on it until such time as no one cares any more, then unveil it proudly.

A technique that’s become increasingly effective is just be average

Another good method to slide yourself out of your position is to be impervious to new ideas of any sort. Make sure you let people know that, whatever’s being suggested, it isn’t going to work. Most of the time you’ll be right, but don’t try to pick your targets. Retail is beneath you; dismiss proposals in wholesale lots. Belittle every suggestion, predict doom, and point out that whatever it is, it’s been tried before anyway. Make sure that forecasts of failure are the main thing you have to offer, and wait for people to draw their own conclusions about having you around the place. If this isn’t working fast enough for you, add some extra bait to the hook by taking credit for anything that someone else actually does get to work. You thought of it first, you told them to try it, and if anyone would actually listen to you for once, things would be different around the place. Hmph.

Are these still too obvious? Too traditional? Then try a technique that’s become increasingly effective over the years in drug research: just be average. Embrace mediocrity. Do the things that others can do, just a bit more slowly and ineffectively. Even if you’re not conspicuously awful at something, make sure that no one can think of any particular function that you’re actually good for. Let others garner reputations for delivering under time pressure, picking up new techniques, troubleshooting or finding ways around problems. Your niche will be that person that no one is sure quite what you do, or why you’re still doing it. The adjective to keep in mind is ‘replaceable’. Even if you haven’t given the company reason enough to fire you, you’ve made sure not to give them any particular reason to keep you either, and in today’s business climate that’s often enough.

Nothing is for certain in this world, of course, but if you follow one or more of these plans, I can say that the odds are good that you will find yourself out on the sidewalk whenever your company finds a good opportunity.

Workers of the lab world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your gainful employment.

Derek Lowe is a medicinal chemist working on preclinical drug discovery in the US