Thursday, January 24, 2008

My job sucks.

Bad day.

Well, it's a new day, and nothing is working.

It's probably fixable- most bench things are, with enough time and elbow-grease (and sometimes money)- but I'm frustrated to the point of wanting to go home and cry.

But benchwork is not the only reason why.


Spent part of my day counseling yet another distraught grad student, who is being bullied by a sexist visiting professor in her lab. Her somewhat sexist advisor is nowhere to be found when she needs an authority figure to step in, and while her co-workers all agree that this guy's behavior is inappropriate, nobody will stand up for her or with her to either confront this guy or the advisor.

This is such an old story, but this poor student feels like we all feel when this happens:

Is it me (no)?
Am I alone in this (sort of)?
Is it because I'm a girl (probably)?
Is this what I can expect if I go into academia (or maybe the workforce in general) (yes)?

Is this worth putting up with (questionable)?

I wish I could go over there and give the advisor a piece of my mind, but I somehow doubt that would do any good (?). After all, I'm a Nobody.

Meanwhile, she can't get any work done because the bully is literally monopolozing her equipment, and sending her harrassing emails.

He's only there for 6 more months, so I told her that she's tough, if she has to she can suck it up. I gave her a bunch of other suggestions (including to document, document, document), but mostly I just hate that she has to go through this at all.

Perhaps most nauseating about this whole scenario is that she asked another postdoc what to do. This postdoc (whom I don't particularly like or respect) told her to just act sweet and stupid and do whatever he says to do. And then he will like her.

Thankfully, this grad student is more like me than this other postdoc. We agreed she would be setting a bad example and hating herself if she tried to 'act sweet.'


Worse than that for me on a personal level, the interview talks are starting up, which means I'm getting details on the people who are getting the interviews.

What's most sickening is that they aren't much different from me. They don't have more papers. Their projects aren't even that interesting.

What they do have is pedigree. Their papers are in Nature Something journals and always with famous co-authors.

I'm trying to be happy (?) that at least some of them are women.


In other news, while I'm thinking about going to industry, it's also because I'm worried that I'm either way too smart or way too efficient to be in academia.

(You're either standing in the shoes of a genius or a fool?)

Bear with me for a moment while I explain.

I agreed to host a speaker for a group.

I invited the speaker. Speaker agreed and we set a date, time and place and picked a title.

When I informed the group that this was all set, they were amazed that I had done this so quickly (it took 1 email, and 1 to confirm).

I was stumped, but pleased that they seemed impressed.

Some time goes by and we need to confirm the room. There's a staff member who is supposed to help print the flyers and book the food, etc.

Group Leader asked me to make the flyer. I said I thought the staff person did that, and I had already sent all the info that would go on the flyer (date, time, title).

Two more emails back and forth, I just made up the flyer and sent it, just because it wasn't worth the time to argue.

Eventually Group Leader writes back that Staff Person will make the flyer with the Logo.

I was thinking: Ok so you didn't send me a template, but now you're saying my flyer wasn't good enough? Does anybody even recognize the logo? I know I don't pay any attention to those things.

But I didn't say anything.

Now I am getting emails about the room. The room we wanted is booked. There are literally dozens of other rooms on campus we could use.

They are conferring amongst themselves about which room. Several emails about this. The most obviously available ones, they argue, are too hard to find.

I'm thinking: Um, is this a college campus? Shouldn't we assume that people are capable of reading a map? Or asking for directions?

But I don't say anything.

This is not a big event. The audience will definitely number less than a hundred, maybe less than 50, maybe less than 20, I don't know and I don't care. I wanted to see this speaker, I will be there.

All of this got me wondering, is this how academia does things? Because I am horrified at how inefficient it is. How pointlessly democratic. Do we really all need to agree on the logo? The flyer with the logo? The room? NO. We don't. It just has to be functional for what we want to do.

And I have to wonder what Group Leader and all the other group members do all day. Because it can't possibly be actually productive, actual work.

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At 8:15 PM, Anonymous JR said...

Just sounds like your Group Leader either didn't have the confidence or respect to act in a true leadership position. Group think then dominates.

I like your line of pointlessly democratic. Is that Socialism?

At 10:47 PM, Blogger yellowfish said...

I've been lurking for a while, but this made me laugh... I know just what you mean. I had a something similar to your flier experience as a grad student trying to organize this local conference... I finally threw my hands in the air when I had to send draft after draft of a cover for the program all with field-related arty things (and I am not my any stretch a graphic artist), until one of the staff people said "you know, we were thinking since its on Friday the 13th, we'd really like to have a MOON on there, you know, sort of thematic". seriously! a freaking moon! there are no moons in my kind of science! then I just decided to do whatever they wanted, as long as it would get over with quickly... yep. red tape is awesome.

At 3:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of this got me wondering, is this how academia does things?

Yep :)

The thing that always amuses me is how universities continually restructure themselves - departments to faculties to colleges to schools to disciplines to centres to groups, and so on. It seems a bit futile to me since people will organise themselves into groups anyway.

At 6:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually feel your pain with all of your posts, but I just wanted to say that you shouldn't be bothered that the job candidates aren't that different than you. That just means that if you had the desire, you could be a job candidate too. And just because they are applying for faculty positions doesn't mean they think they are better than you. They are just going after what they want.

I hope you don't let your bitterness shine through when they are visiting. It may look like jealousy.

Also, inefficiency is always around when there are a number of people involved. It definitely isn't limited to academia.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 6:24,

No, see, if you have been reading this blog for a while then you know I did apply for jobs, and was told that since I didn't have the PEDIGREE, that I need to get the PEDIGREE.

My point is that my papers may be the same or better than theirs, but because the journals they're in don't have "Nature" before the name (or "Cell" after), search committees are not interested in me.

That and my advisors are not sufficiently famous/powerful/willing to pull hard on the few strings they have for me.

It has nothing to do with desire, or confidence, or going after what everyone wants.

Been there, did that. Had plenty of all those things. It's not enough.

No, I'm not going to meet with any of the candidates or go to their talks. It's not worth it. I don't learn anything, except that they aren't any better at giving talks than I am (and sometimes worse).

To be honest, I wouldn't want a job in the department that is currently interviewing. So I'm not jealous in that sense.

At 12:28 PM, Anonymous bsci said...

What they do have is pedigree. Their papers are in Nature Something journals and always with famous co-authors.
In other news, while I'm thinking about going to industry, it's also because I'm worried that I'm either way too smart or way too efficient to be in academia.

I'm not saying that you should go into industry, but it really does seem that you are suck in a particularly bad situation in a bad place. Yes pedigree helps with pulling strings, but it is also linked to often having many amazing people around you and good resources. You might want to find out.
I don't remember exactly where you are in your career, but you should look into spending a couple of months in a more famous lab as a visitor. You will have more interesting people to talk to and you may get a collaboration paper out of it with one of your nice journal names and co-authors.

If nothing else, you'll get away from your current frustrating place for a little while and perspective is always nice.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 6:24 here.

Goodness, I'm so sorry. I guess I haven't been reading long enough!

I had no idea you'd been on the market and that you got crap for the lack of "pedigree". I thought you'd just decided that you'd had enough of academia just based on your post-doc experience.

Yes, that is heartbreaking. I feel for you. I have an acquaintence who got a job at an ivy with 5 publications at the time, one of them in Nature. That was 2 years ago. No publications have come since from this "superstar". How irritating.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


That's a great idea. I've been to visit a couple of collaborators, hoping to find something better. So far i haven't found a place where I didn't need to improve a few things to get things to work for me.

Although the people do change somewhat, it seems to be more or less the same everywhere.

But perhaps i need to visit a lab in the Top of the Tower of the Ultimate Echelon?

I'm not sure I want to be the traveling hillbilly scientist, though. At one point in time that seemed romantic, heroic, almost barbara mcclintock-esque. But now it just seems kind of sad, especially on the days when I'm not getting data or having much fun.


I think I know that Ivy superstar!

I'm kidding, I'm sure there's more than one who fits that bill.

At 5:58 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

It's not about visiting the very top of the tower. It's about doing research to find a group that really does have good balance and working interactions. There are more of these at the top since not worrying about money means one can focus more time on science and management (or traveling around the world giving talks and ignoring one's own group).

Finding people with enough money to be comfortable and are generally considered good leaders are key.

There will never be a place you can just jump right in to continue your exact studies since everyone usually has a slightly different focus/style/equipment. It seems like your main issue is that you don't think there are good places to do the science you want to do in the academic world. The goals is to be able to find places where you can do that science even if you're not there long enough to do it. It can focus what you are looking for in your next job.

I'm not saying industry is a bad choice, just that I've meet enough industry PhD that are irrationally bitter about everything having to do with academia. :)

At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My point is that my papers may be the same or better than theirs, but because the journals they're in don't have "Nature" before the name (or "Cell" after), search committees are not interested in me."

If your papers are the same or better than theirs, why aren't they in Nature or Cell?

Also, didn't you know about the pedigree thing before you joined your current lab? Its not clear to me why you settled for a lab like that, unless you were unaware of the importance of pedigree at the time.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger jack said...

My job sucks as well, I spend most of the day in my cubicle either listening to Jack Sass,, or reading Digg and Slashdot. Good luck.

At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think your job and life suck. Read this guy's blog

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! Finding a job you like and don't find unbearable is really difficult. Not to mention trying to balance it with everything else in life. Thanks for the post.

I recently came across this blog that I thought added some insight and levity into the issue and was enjoyable:

I’d love to see more like it. Thanks!


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