Mentoring = meaningless buzzword? and, Things I Hate About Industry
Yesterday I had an upsetting encounter with my thesis advisor. I hadn't seen him in a while, but the last few times we talked, he was working on different things than we worked on together. Meanwhile I have kind of moved back to working on things related to what his lab does, although I hadn't planned on it. I also told him I was counseled not to collaborate with him for a few years, just because it's hard to prove you're really independent if you can't cut the apron strings.
Overall, we have had a rocky relationship, but I thought things were going better between us.
So he told me yesterday he just got a grant funded to work on... the same thing I work on. I was too shocked to ask specifics, plus it wasn't really approriate for the time and place. But he said it with a smirk that I know he tends to reserve for people he doesn't like, and I wasn't sure if it was directed at me. I assumed it was.
In retrospect it's possible he was referring to all the other sharks who have, since I started my thesis, moved into our field and started snapping their teeth. And it's not like there isn't enough work to go around- there is. But it really freaked me out.
I realized I'm a terrible person for thinking it was okay for me to come in and start working in his field and then expect him to respectfully fade into the background. But I guess I thought he was sick of the competition and had plenty of other ideas. Personally I would like to transition, gradually, further away from the crowd. I have plenty of ideas myself, but right now it makes sense to continue with the current story before I move on.
Someone suggested to me the other day that perhaps Mentoring is just a frame, and both sides- PIs and postdocs- use it as an excuse.
PIs love to tell you to find a good mentor, but a good mentor is very hard, if not impossible to find. So it's a catch-22, especially for women. They love to say how important it is, but there's a lot of hypocrisy in saying ... and not doing.
Postdocs love to claim they can't succeed for lack of mentoring.
We were talking about this because of my friend (see earlier post) who managed to pull a thesis out of her ass and graduate.
She was frustrated that her mentor didn't give her more training as a graduate student. But the fact of the matter is, she didn't seek it out, either.
She was surrounded by postdocs in her lab, and had a handful of friends who had already gone through graduate school - including me. But she wasn't asking questions along the way, so the whole thing came crashing down at the end. We were supposed to drop whatever we were doing and bail her out. I figured it wasn't too much of an imposition to try to help her out, but I resented the way she expected it to be at her convenience, rather than treating it as a favor. A huge one.
I do find it astounding that her thesis committee apparently had no problems with the final document, which I haven't seen. All I can assume is that she actually put in all the changes I suggested?? I'm not sure how that could be physically possible. But the alternative makes me ill: that her committee didn't notice all the inconsistencies, all the spin her PI orchestrated on the story. Or they did, but they chose not to do anything about it.
So many failures in this system.
But maybe this is the mythical mentoring I never received: how to succeed in science using skills that have nothing to do with science. And I don't blame my mentor: I chose him because he was smart and wants to get the right answer, knowing full-well that he was a bit deficient in the spin category. Although I know it's an important skill, I tend to despise the people who possess it.
Some of you have asked if I would be willing to go to industry. I think yes, if I can find the right situation. I'm tempted by the suggestion that the best situations are like academia, but with more money.
Here are some things I hate about the idea of going to industry, in no particular order:
1. That the high cost of giving people tons of benefits and high salaries, and more importantly, trying to make a profit, gets passed on to patients, when it (usually?) isn't their fault that they're sick.
2. That someone tells you what to work on, how long to work on it, and when to stop working on it.
3. That competition with other companies is the name of the game.