I have plans for things to do today.
I mean, I had plans. So far I'm not doing them.
Lately I notice that when I run into a friend and they ask me how I'm doing, it depresses me more to stop and talk to them than to just mumble something about being busy, give the fake sucking-it-up smile, nod in a friendly way, and keep going wherever I'm going.
This doesn't mean I don't wish I had more friends or that I didn't get to talk to them more. But talking about how work is going, especially while I'm at work, seems to be de-motivating.
I'm really feeling a lot of "damned if I do and damned if I don't" lately. I'm doing a lot of things for show that I know are a waste of time, scientifically, because they're supposed to help me politically. But there's no guarantee that they will.
I was talking to a grad student this weekend who is depressed by the lack of guarantees. She said if things were more finite, if her advisor were capable of devising a project that had a practical chance of working and of helping her when she got stuck, she would be more likely to want to stay. But the lack of job prospects afterwards makes her think it's not worth it.
Amusingly, there is a seminar series here designed to raise awareness of 'alternative careers.' This sounds like a great idea in theory, but she said every single speaker seemed miserable in their job. The patent lawyers, the people from industry, the science journalists, all of them. So none of the alternative uses for a PhD makes it seem useful to finish getting a PhD.
So she wants to quit. She's already been here long enough that she should have a paper, if not at least a good start on one, and she has nothing. She's been frustrated for a long time, and things haven't been getting better.
Her advisor is one of those, you know the type.
Gradstudent: "My ___ isn't working."
MsPhD: "How are you doing it?"
Gradstudent:"I'm using the A-B."
MsPhD:"Why are you doing it that way? That will never work."
Gradstudent:"I know. It wasn't working using the X-Y, so I told my advisor, and he said I should use the A-B. But I know the A-B won't work, and I tried to tell him why, but he doesn't believe me. So now I have to do it just to show him it won't work."
MsPhD:"Well, here's my protocol. Do it this way, I promise it will work. Then it's up to you whether you want to tell your advisor what you ended up doing. You can still pretend you're doing it his way if you have to."
Gradstudent:"Thanks, yeah, I think I will."
Gradstudent:"Do it your way, but pretend I did it using his."
So at this point her options are to a) switch labs, b) suffer through, c) quit. Sad to say but she's so miserable, I told her that if she wants to quit now, she should quit.
I couldn't honestly tell her that it gets better. I told her that it doesn't, and that the reasons for it sucking won't change anytime soon.
The irony of all this is that one of the most important things to me is to be a role model, to boost up my female colleagues when they're down, and set a good example. However, as I've mentioned here before, on at least one occasion I was rebuked for being 'too honest' with some of the younger women about how hard it is and how you shouldn't do it if you're not sure you love research. It was a male professor who told me that I shouldn't discourage these poor girls, but I found out later that his behavior toward me is more discouraging toward the women around here than anything I've said about my frustrations.
As much as my failures depress me because I'm not meeting my goals and because much of it is out of my control, it's even more depressing to see these younger women quitting because they're watching what is happening to me. I'm a negative example without wanting to be. But I don't really see any alternatives.
All I can do is a) fight back (tried that, it doesn't work), b) quit, c) try to rise above it all.
Unfortunately both (b )and (c) end up being bad examples, and (a) is a trap that will end up getting me forced out of here.
Hmm. Happy thoughts for a Monday.
Time to go redo the experiments that didn't work over the weekend.
1. Place forehead against brick wall.