Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Motivation from within

I'm writing to you from an ancient computer, so responding to yesterday's comments will have to wait for now.

I'm waiting for my cells to do their thang. They're not being very cooperative. And I'm starving, so that doesn't help my patience.

Had yet another chat with someone today who just can't stand her advisor and wants to switch labs before eventually going to industry or possibly leaving science altogether. She's a postdoc and I guess I just find it kind of amazing how needy she is.

Apparently her thesis advisor was really awesome and she's having a hard time adjusting to the concept that most advisors are not like that. Perhaps most irritating for me is, her advisor is actually pretty good. All of her horrible stories about this advisor involve things the advisor said to other people . This postdoc wasn't even a witness at any of these events. So I have to wonder why she's so upset about it? Granted, you'd like to think your advisor would treat everyone the same way, but I've never met one who did.

But you can't tell people to just quit whining and realize that we're 30 years old, for chrissakes, and guess what? Your heroes aren't perfect. You can't expect your role models to be perfect at everything, you have to piece them together from bits of everybody you admire for different reasons.

I guess what bugs me most is that instead of just admitting that she's not motivated without outside encouragement, she's instead trying to blame her advisor for sapping all her optimism, or something. These are really two entirely different problems: lack of encouragment is not the same as someone degrading you as a person or telling you your project will never work.

Sigh. Well I sent out a couple more job applications today, and I have a few more in the pipeline. I finally got my research proposal and cover letter into semi-decent shape, after wringing some feedback out of a couple of young professor friends of mine. Of course they totally disagreed on what I needed to do, so I had to aim for the middle. But this is something I should have learned in grad school.

Where I went to school, if you did exceptionally well or exceptionally badly, there would be hell to pay. Doing too well meant everyone would expect you to be productive and generally ingenious about everything. And since nobody is good at everything, that inevitably led to disaster. Doing too badly on exams betrayed what everyone already knew: that they were bullshit and not worth the time. But no one wanted their faces rubbed in it. So we were told to aim for the middle. Doesn't really sound like a recipe for success, does it?

As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street, Fame, the Great American Hero, and all those tv shows that raved about always doing your best, it's hard for me to aim for the middle. I always tend to overcorrect. And wonder what would happen if everybody quit aiming for the middle and actually just pushed as hard they could in the same direction at the same time? Would we have cured cancer by now?


At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought only girls got told to aim for the middle. I'm not surprised it's still going on what with all those feminists bitching about it in the 60s and 70s. I think one called it "the tyranny of the well rounded". Being well rounded is not the formula for excellence.

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doubt even in your scenario we would have cured cancer by now. I have faith in science, but really, it will never be that fast.

The Hard Lesson of Life is that Life is about compromise. Everyone has to deal with it, because we all reach our limits, be it man or woman.

And you are quite right about the expectations on "middle of the road" people. I have been frustrated watching mediocre students graduate with PhDs while I struggle because I chose "the harder route". Sometimes I wish I had just taken a project my PI came up with and not have to struggle with testing my own ideas!

At 4:48 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Well, I can't say I agree with the tyranny of the well-rounded. I'm pretty darn well-rounded, if I do say so myself. And I can't say it has helped me be more middle-of-the-road. Far from it. I'm a tall poppy, what can I say?

Re: a project the PI came up with, it's funny you should say that. We got an announcement today that one of our grad students got a travel award. Now, I won't say that she's not good, but the project was the PI's idea, and I helped her write the abstract. Sometimes it's hard to be happy for these people who just chug along and their experiments just kind of seem to work, well enough anyway, and they never seem to excited about anything. Anyway maybe it's good, she has been opening up a little bit, FINALLY, maybe a little encouragement is all anybody needs.


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