DRAFTEpisode 23
00:00 / 31:00

Details and Transcript

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Timestamps

  • 00:00 - Introduction

  • 00:49 - Segment 1: Say Milk (Short Story)

  • 08:31 - Segment 2: The Origin of "It's No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk" (Metaphor History)

  • 18:19 - Segment 3: Consulting (Communication Topic)

  • 30:14 - Segment 4: Talk With Ziyi Wang (Guest Interview)

References

Theme Music​

Transcript

To my exuberant family and friends, near and far, old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the 24th episode of the Metaphorigins podcast.

 

Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or Google Podcasts or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. Note that I will hold another draw on my 30th episode for the magical, butterfly-printed, custom Metaphorigins shirt, so do follow the Instagram page to be placed in the draw.

 

Okay. So for today’s episode, I’m going to discuss an expression you’ve probably heard countless times, whether you observed some unwarranted misfortune or whether you were the one the misfortune was brought.

 

Let’s get the story rolling: You are a mean, marauding milking machine. You heard me. You run one of the most prominent dairy farms in Canada, with the majority of them in the central province of Quebec, just outside of the Quebec City capital. In fact, almost all of the milk in Quebec is produced in your farms, representing more than a third of Canada’s total milk. It’s a booming business.

 

And booming it has been. In an effort to rid the country of bone diseases prominent in children, such as rickets and osteomalacia, Canada followed the America’s already implemented fortification of milk with vitamin D. This vitamin, known by most to be synthesized under the skin when exposed to UVB light from the sun through the formation of the intermediate compound cholecalciferol, increases the absorption of calcium and in turn can strengthen bone density. Advertising and lobbying by the dairy industry has supplanted the very honest idea that drinking milk builds strong bones, particularly in children. Now combine that with the increase in delicious, sugary breakfast cereals, and you have the ingredients of a thriving empire.

 

That’s exactly what you did. You were a driven, early entrepreneur in the milk game. A game not meant for the weak. Not only did your company embrace communicating the science behind milk’s contribution to human vitality, but it made significant partnerships with the leading cereal brands. These were Larry the Lion’s Toasty Tarts, Salmon Tom’s Veggie Hoops and the beloved Count Caramela. You even started an advertising campaign for addressing which group did customers fall under: cereal then milk, or milk then cereal? Consumers loved it.

 

However, towards the early 2000s, consumer mindsets began to change. People wanted plant based alternatives. Hidden cameras on your farms captured scathing evidence of cow mistreatment. For public relations purposes, you distanced away from these “bad actors”. More companies joined the game, increasing the pool of milk types. Your company already provided the majority of whole milk, skim milk and low fat milk, but they were all cow’s milk. Soon, these were joined on store shelves by oat milk, soy milk, and almond milk. These weren’t milk products, they were hacks, providing seemingly healthier alternatives while pretending that this betters the environment. Your business suffers, crumbling to your lowest profits in decades.

 

You needed a new product, a way to get consumers back on Team Cow, on team REAL milk. Perhaps a new ingredient needed to be added, something so simple that it had not been thought about yet due to its availability. Something so obvious, like chocolate milk, that it just clicks in all the right places. It can’t be sugar, because milk products are already added to sweet cereals or serve as dipping pools for cookies. But what about salt?

 

Yes, that’s got to be it. You walk towards your multi-million dollar kitchen, pour yourself a glass of smooth milk, and grab your salt shaker. First, just a few shakes, take a sip. Hmmm, interesting flavour. Perhaps a few more shakes. And there it was. The first rendition of what your company would later call, Say Milk (a combination of the word saline and milk). 

 

It was an instant hit. Bottles and bottles of Say Milk were hoarded off shelves. You see, milk was always directed towards the sweet tooth of the youth, and milk was often neglected in drawing consumers from the older crowd. This was due to both taste, lactose intolerance and meal regimens of adults. But what is the Achille’s Heel of the adult palate? Savoury. Sweet and salty. It was obvious.

 

After a successful fiscal year, you visit your biggest manufacturing plant for Say Milk. It’s a colossal area the size of a small rural Canadian town, where both the raising of cows and packaging of the new milk products take place. It was the innovation of a lifetime in the dairy industry.

 

You notice something peculiar about one of the workers at this particular plant. The person would continuously stop, adjust their glasses while standing to gaze at the equipment. You walk up to the person.

 

“What are you doing?” You ask.

 

“What do you mean?” Before turning to face you, they take off their glasses and slide them into their front pocket.

 

“It’s odd, I don’t recall seeing you during the initial phases of this plant, in which I interviewed and hired everyone working here.”

 

“I’m new.” The person says.

 

“May I see your glasses?”

 

Suddenly, upon asking this question, the person pushes you to the side and runs to the upstairs control facility. Locking the door behind them, they start pressing buttons all across the control board. Machines began pumping milk into containers that were not under the nozzle, wasting product. Then, a loud alarm sounded. The pressure of the milk vat prior to the saline addition step was on overload. It’s side burst, cracking one of it’s leg supports, toppling the monstrous vat over and spilling milk all across the factory floor.

 

A whole year’s batch of this product, gone, almost instantaneously. This would seriously hurt keeping up with demand for such a new dairy product. Competitors would surely take advantage of the low supply, spiking their products to increase their shelf space. All you’ve worked for, gone, due to some animal rights activist, investigative journalist, or hired cronie. You drop to your knees and start weeping.

 

The perpetrator, handcuffed by security personnel and escorted out of the control room, looks to you and says, “Serves you right, cows should not be treated so inhumanely. It’s no use crying over spilled milk.”

 

At that moment, you’re crushed. Weighted shoulders topple you over face-first into the spilled milk, tears running down your face. You open your mouth, and taste the spilled milk. Oddly, your tears gave it that salty Say Milk taste you and your customers love. It reminded you of that day in your kitchen with your salt shaker, only a year ago, discovering something new, discovering something that you truly believed in.

 

The activist was right, in a way. Crying never solves anything. So you get back up and go back to work.

 

Okay you mean, mauruding milking machine, let’s tone back to the real world. This expression is likely heard from both the giving and receiving end, often in the hopes of finding that motivation to get to working at solving the problem at hand. But when did tearful sadness over this beverage become our collective turning point?

 

What’s the origin to the expression, “it’s no use crying over spilled milk”?

 

*Theme Music*

 

 

Most of this information was obtained from various articles discussing the different origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

 

How many of us these days have an inkling feeling that something is wrong? A loss sense of where one goes from here, or an inability to imagine the near future? Due to the pandemic, so many people have experienced loss, whether that be through employment or worse, loss of a loved one, a family member, a friend, or neighbour. It’s almost like it’s been forever since the number one issue taking a large piece of the attention pie was not the potential contraction of COVID-19.

 

Like many of us, perhaps if you were feeling this way, you’ve sought consultation from relatives or trained professionals. Perhaps you yourself have been asked for advice regarding someone’s situation, someone who trusts you to guide them or show them some light in a dark tunnel. Tears in their eyes, what do you say that can motivate them to push forward and give them the energy they obviously seek in order to live their best life?

 

These sorts of circumstances are exactly when today’s expression is typically utilized, often by advice givers who either lack empathy, or believe the duration of this inkling feeling is anything but ephemeral. Imagine hearing or telling a person in terrible times, “it’s no use crying over spilled milk”, equating whatever is currently happening in their life to toppling a beverage. You can argue that the pandemic was probably not a great example (I struggled to form a relevant one that could affect all those listening), and that in more mundane scenarios this expression would work. But even that’s subjective. Maybe a breakup does require some crying and reminiscence. Surprisingly, Obama used this expression in a joke during his 2012 State of the Union address, "I've ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don't make sense... We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk." One thing’s for sure, this expression always comes as advice after a loss.

 

Lexico.com states that “it’s no use crying over spilled milk” means, “There is no point in regretting something which has already happened and cannot be changed or reversed.” I like this expression because, at least in my experience and through witnessing it being said to others first hand, it usually comes only after the first time this advice seeking plea surfaces. Move on. You know, when life gives you lemons, make some lemonade. Even me, I often come to the automatic notion that, whether I am being asked for advice or that I am the one seeking advice, that the answer is to get over difficult situations as quickly as possible. Why is that? Why after so many years of evolutionary carnage that we fail to attain the ability to be uncomfortable and reflect? Summed up by Matt Bomer’s character in The Sinner when being given ways to “get over” losing his friend in a car accident, “Move on? Why does everyone say that? I’m sorry, I mean, um, it’s like the only thing that matters is getting over things as fast as you can.”

 

I am probably missing the optimist’s perspective of this expression. Often this expression helps frame an issue as something outside of one’s control, and therefore one can only step forward into a new day. Funny enough, we recently just passed Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day on February 11th, highlighted by the US National Day Calendar and National Today. The latter containing a 3-step quick start guide on what to do on that day: 1) Rejoice, 2) Start working on getting over something, by breathing apparently and 3) Sing a Happy Song. Interestingly, Pharrell comes to mind almost instantaneously.

 

Digging deeper, I’ve become more aware at the connectedness of this expression. It takes on a whole new meaning when one literally cries over milk, not cow milk but one’s own milk. Galit Romanelli, founder of the M.Other Milk platform, helps connect and empower women to share their feeding stories. Featured in an article on the At The Well Project, Romanelli shares the hardships she faced when being, in her own eyes, inadequate at feeding her own baby, “The frustration and disappointment tangled up with exhaustion and physical pain, left me feeling like I had already failed as a mother.“ Could you tell a mother that it’s no use crying over the minute amount of milk you are able to provide for your child?

 

There’s also research on spilled milk, literally. One study published in the Journal of Cognitive Development looked at the differences in how pre-schooler’s felt when a human spilled their glass of milk compared to a puppy. Titled “When to Cry Over Spilled Milk: Young Children’s Use of Category Information to Guide Inferences About Ambiguous Behavior”, is an interesting read, with major findings stated “Children tended to be harsher judges of the same ambiguous behaviors when performed by (a) humans as compared to animals, (b) boys compared to girls, and (c) older children compared to younger children.”

 

I have very much digressed here. Let’s get to the purpose of this podcast. Who dun it first and why? The Reluctant Gourmet and GingerSoftware (I’m still in disbelief that they chose that as their name) suggest that it’s origin comes from fairy lore. Stated by the Reluctant Gourmet, “The belief was that fairies enjoyed drinking spilled milk so the loss off it was not a complete waste.”

 

Other’s lament timelines of when it appeared in literature. Writing explained pose that it appeared in a book by George Ogilvy Preshaw titled Banking Under Difficulties in which, after a man was robbed, says in almost unbelievable optimism, “It was no use, however, crying over spilt milk.”. Spilt and spilled are used synonymously, but spilled has taken hold in Western cultures. Poem Analysis and Know Your Phrase go further into the past with an 1872 book Once A Week where it is stated, ‘“A correspondent of the same paper, who signs himself ‘Octogenarian,’ raised the question of the date when ‘There’s no use crying over spilt milk’ first came into proverbial use.” Grammarphobia also mentions its presence within Jonathon Swift’s Polite Conversations, mentioned in this podcast already, in which he writes, “‘Tis a Folly to cry for spilt milk.”

 

However, every source discussing the origin to “it’s no use crying over spilled milk” mentions it’s first account was found in James Howell’s collection of English proverbs published in 1659: “No weeping for shed milk” Making this expression at least 350 years old. Shed here meaning the accidental loss of something. It’s presence there, unfortunately, means that the expression was likely commonly used even then.

 

So therefore it is unfortunate that we come to the end of this segment with the origin of “it’s no use crying over spilled milk” just out of reach. Perturbing questions I have for the originator remain, like why milk? Who exactly cried over it being spilled? And more importantly, goddammit, why won’t we as a society encourage the catharsis of expressing emotion for one’s enlightenment?

 

*Theme Music*

For my communication segment, I would like to talk about a career path not many of my peers consider when undertaking higher level education. An occupation that takes the more diverse soft skills you’ve obtained while in your specialization through a Masters or PhD and applies it to the bigger picture. And that topic, is consulting.

 

Now, this may not seem like a communication topic, but it is. In fact, it tied in so well to today’s expression that I immediately knew that I would have to do this segment about it. Not only are you communicating effectively throughout your entire workday in consulting, but becoming a consultant, developing interpersonal skills and interview skills are all tied into the gig. Perhaps some thoughts that may have accrued since I mentioned consulting. Sure, you’ve heard of it, but what exactly does it entail? It’s such a general title for a job that it really has no meaning. You’ve consulted or given advice about many different things, whether that be in research, or general life. What are they, like, the therapists of failing businesses, fortune tellers to ventures in which much time and financial investment is staked on? 

 

Actually kind of, yeah. Consultants are the experts experts go to for advice. They are the Lebron James of basketball, the Katharine Hepburns of acting, or the Norm MacDonalds of comedy (that last one, not in regards to consulting, but a true quote by none other than David Letterman himself). And yes, consultants can be summoned in all shapes and sizes, with backgrounds in business like an MBA, or those who trained in niche fields at the higher level like through a Masters, PhD, JD, MD, even some good consultants with an undergraduate degree have achieved some success. The most important thing, is that consulting provides another avenue for those who may have been eyeing some academic faculty position as their end goal after graduation, when in reality not only is the number of PhDs given out each year increasing (thus increasing your competition in the job market), the number of PhDs employed as tenured and tenured track faculty has declined. In a 2019 Science Mag article, “For the first time [in the US], private sector employment (42%) is now nearly on par with educational institutions (43%) [regarding hiring those with PhDs]” the latter also including post-doctoral researchers, research associate roles, lab managers, etc.

 

Let’s remain on academia for a brief moment. As mentioned in previous episodes, even this season, the environment of academia isn’t really a thriving or accepting one. There’s a power hierarchy, a prestige, that emanates from the most sought after schools. There’s the discriminatory aspect in that minorities are underrepresented at high level positions, like professorships, deans or institute heads (luckily that is changing now, albeit slowly). There’s the way in which governments and academic institutes allocate funds, through grant competitions that determine whether your projects are to be funded or not (and if it’s not selected, what then?). The struggle to publish literally anything in order to increase the major metric in evaluating your success. Forums of upcoming graduates or professors looking for alternatives while being afraid to provide any sort of identification for fear of being ousted. In other words, will there ever be a shift in the opinion that working in academia is a good thing, through word of mouth or even just looking through posts on your social media?

 

Now, why consider consulting to begin with? Especially since you’ve been trained to specialize more and more, like your thesis topic and subtopics. Top reasons that come to mind: 1) structure, 2) fast-paced and impact driven, 3) early deliverables, 4) talented team players, 5) connection with industry. In a video from John Hopkins Medicine, trainees with upcoming consulting careers lined up, discuss these reasons in more detail. Paraphrasing their advice, for 1) most projects are defined with set goals, usually asked for and honed by the clients consultants serve. For 2) most projects lasts a finite amount of time, definitely not longer than a few months, and thus you’re switching between impact-driven projects quickly which will (hopefully) lead to 3) early deliverables or achievements of the goals you and your client outlined. For 4) you are surrounded by bright individuals, just like you were in your academic years, but with more generalists looking to change the world and have the means to do so through 5) connection with top industry players that have the capital to give to the world what consumers demand of them (unfortunately, for better or for worse).

 

 In fact, as Ryan Bennett, Head of the advanced-degree candidate recruiting team of the renowned Boston Consulting Group (or BCG) in Chicago, mentions “Candidates with a Ph.D. have all the skills to be excellent consultants.” Other firms many graduates or business-oriented professionals shoot for are McKinsey and Co, Bain and Deloitte. These firms have a more broader scope in terms of the projects they are offered and the consultant backgrounds they are staffed with. However, as stated in another Science Mag article discussing Management Consulting: A complete guide to the industry by Sugata Biswas and Daryl Twitchell state that, “Firms are segmented by the industries they serve [while] Boutique firms specialize in a particular industry or a small subset of industries…” And more importantly, “Entry-level consultants, including at the Ph.D. level, tend to be hired by larger firms, because they have the most resources available for training.” For those in life sciences, as many of my peers are, perhaps you may be interested in more specialized consulting within firms like ClearView Healthcare, Navigant, ZS Associates, Putnam Associates, and Huron Consulting.

 

Most PhDs wonder what are the skills required to jump from being a specialist to a generalist and whether their projects have prepared them for this leap. Many testimonials of successful consultants have reassured that most PhDs do prepare you to be a professional consultant. One McKinsey consultant who finished a PhD in biochemical engineering stated that, “ I often heard problem-solving skills developed through scientific research are the core skills of consulting and I can’t agree more. Soon I became the product expert on the team, including being able to answer all of a McKinsey partner’s questions about the products. It was as exciting as the discussions I used to have with my PhD advisor.” Another McKinsey Consultant who completed a PhD in Cancer Immunology at University College London mentioned that, ”running a PhD project is analogous to managing a small company, where you need to spot a “gap in the market” (something unique in your research area), plan a strategy to tackle the issue, mobilise resources, meet deadlines, manage expectations and communicate clearly with your stakeholders (such as the PhD supervisor). I feel that overcoming the uncertainties and complexities of a PhD helped me build the strength and endurance to tackle any challenge in my life.”

 

Of course, it is not a complete program, as both testimonials mention a background or even basic knowledge of business terms and ideals is certainly an asset to be a productive team member of consulting firms. Mentioned in a RoosterVane blog post for those looking to be an independent consultant, “Ok, so you’re launching a consultancy. Will it be a corporation, a partnership, or will you operate as a sole proprietor? Do your clients hire sole proprietors, or do they require incorporation? How will you do your bookkeeping? Are you keeping track of your tax write-offs? Do you need insurance? […] Try reading some business books. Drop by a local small business support center, or browse government websites dedicated to helping. Learn as much as you can.”

 

So let’s say you’re interested and dedicated to at least preparing your resume to tailor towards these sorts of positions. Note that there are many resources online that can help prepare you in advance. First, you gotta land consulting interviews, which are a monster on there own (kind of like medical school interviews). To start, you need a resume and cover letter that stand out (pretty basic), then do a math and logic test (as interestingly many PhDs struggle here since most are used to more complex mathematical problems through their research versus developing skills to complete simple arithmetic quickly), and then 1st and 2nd round interviews. Also note that, as mentioned in an article on IGotAnOffer Consulting, “… some recruiters have small prejudice against PhD students. They think they are good problem solvers but lack soft skills. In your resume, you should therefore make every effort to show off your soft skills. Two easy ways to do this are to talk about the different collaborations you've worked on, and the different presentations you've made at conferences.” But moving on, the interviews are something I will spend the last part of this segment talking about.

 

These interviews can be broken up into fit interviews (whether you would be a great addition to their team) and case interviews (how fast you can think on your feet). As stated by the Hacking the Case Interview online resource, “Case interviews begin with the interviewer reading you the background information on the case. You’ll then get the chance to ask clarifying questions to better understand the business situation and case objective. Next, you’ll develop a framework to help you solve the case. A framework is a tool that helps you structure and break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable components. You’ll then be asked to answer quantitative and qualitative questions to build support for a recommendation. You may need to calculate expected profitability, interpret charts and graphs, or brainstorm and prioritize different ideas. At the end of the case interview, the interviewer will ask you to deliver a final recommendation to address or solve the business problem.” These problems could be something like How does Coca Cola increase its profitability, or how should Apple price its new iPhone. In any case, it is unlikely to be related to your PhD work at all, but with your basic understanding of business, your excellent level of problem solving and the more important fact that you’ve practiced online case examples many times (just like practice GRE, MCAT, or LSAT exams), these are usually pretty straightforward. And once you land a job, most projects are likely going to be more tailored to the experience you actually have.

 

Bottom line is, a lot of students, including myself, go into PhD programs with an outlook of some faculty position in an academic institution. Perhaps you will end up there. But what I find lacking in most colleges and universities is the push to highlight uncommon positions that the degrees we invest so much time and money into obtaining actually benefit us having. Through my own volunteer work when I was at the University of Ottawa organizing my Faculty’s Career Day, I was astonished at the diversity of careers available for myself and my peers, consulting being one of them. And what I found intriguing about consulting in particular is its effort to be connected to true impactors of the human experience. But most intriguing of all, was the focus on making things simple and easy to understand, whether that be through acknowledging what your clients even do, or explaining to clients the solutions you have thought about. That’s truly the end goal of all higher level education, the skill of solving a complex problem and communicating the solution in a comprehensible way. I realized consultants, at least some, are just applied science communicators.

 

*Theme Music*

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