Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Getting fucked over again.

Oh, I'm getting fucked over again.

This was my thought when I got an email this morning from a student I'm collaborating with.

In this case, "collaborating" is a kind word for:

a) babysitting

b) advising and editing because the official mentor does not

c) getting NO credit for these things from the student's mentor or from mine

d) getting buried in the middle of the papers that resulted from my ideas and supervision from beginning to end (so will get no credit from anyone who reads my CV, since they won't know the back story)

e) having to fight long and hard to get any of my suggested experiments included and then having the mentor and student complain that the story is 'stuck' (because they won't take my suggestions)

I'm pretty frustrated about this. The Official Mentor has been hot and cold with me, very friendly for a while but lately I'm getting left out of email discussions (almost everything is over email) and finding out about them after the fact from the student.

The student continues to be willfully clueless, despite my trying very hard to explain how important it is. I've asked explicitly, nicely and repeatedly, that my ideas be credited when they are passed along. I'm emphasized that this is important for my career, no matter how incidental or small, in the grand scheme of things, they might seem. And I always give everyone else credit when they help me, so I expect the same in return.

This means when something works because it was my idea, the student should say

"MsPhD suggested that we try ___, which I never would have tried otherwise. I thought she was crazy because you know, everyone does, but figured I'd do it anyway just to shut her up because I was sure she was wrong, but much to my surprise, that actually fixed the problem."


"I fixed the problem by ___."

This is what I do when someone else gives me a suggestion that works, no matter how stubborn I was being or how sure I was that they were wrong.

So I'm thinking, when the mentor and the student are discussing a project (one that I proposed and have been supervising) with another collaborator they brought in after the fact, I should be part of those discussions, no?

Of course, so far nothing that collaborator has provided (reagents, in this case) has been useful. But this person will get a better slot in the author list than I will, because this person is PI. It's exactly like that only too-true Phd comic about authorship.

I'm pretty sure that part of the problem is the student should be arguing to include me, but instead I am consulted separately. This means that the mentor doesn't realize I'm feeding the student all this information behind the scenes. Especially if the student doesn't say where the information came from.

It has taken me this long to put that together, but I'm pretty sure that's what's happening.

ARGH. I am so tired of these little slights, because it adds up to a lot of disrespect.

The worst part is, I have to continue to collaborate with this student and the mentor for a while longer, at least until the current project(s) are finished.

I had no idea they were like this when we started working together. Funny how people are always super nice and friendly at the beginning of a project, but when it comes down to "Where are we going to publish this?" everyone's real colors start to show.

It's probably at least in part because, like several of my student and postdoc collaborators recently, the student now claims* to be planning to leave academia. So there's no reason to give credit, be nice, and not to burn bridges, right?

Right this moment, I would so love to burn this one to the ground.

Just gotta suck it up a little longer, I guess.

*I've worked with people before who claimed they wanted to quit academia, but then ended up secretly applying for, and getting faculty positions.

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At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you make suggestions, do it by e-mail and send it to both the student and her advisor. I find an e-mail breadcrumb trail can be very helpful for things like this.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I do that too, whenever it makes sense.

But lots of conversations take place in person. I'm not going to avoid live conversation just for the sake of documenting.

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous human said...

You can't just say to the student "I'm not going to continue to work on this with you if you don't follow professional courtesies" or something?

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Heather said...

Maybe you don't have to avoid the live conversation ...

I'd suggest telling the student that since they have repeatedly plagiarized or otherwise stolen your intellectual property by not crediting you, that you will no longer be giving them advice without one of the other advisers present or without email documentation.

It may seem like a real pain, but you should stand up for yourself; which may take documentation. You want the student to record what you suggest, so you record it to - maybe in an online log where the whole team can see it: "Today I told student about this technique/reagent that may work."

By not putting it out there, you are really only allowing other people to hurt you.

Good luck.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no need to avoid live conversation--but maybe find some reason to follow-up by e-mail to clarify your ideas. If you feel like the student's advisor isn't getting the whole story, you have to give it to them. If the advisor isn't there for the live conversation, there's no reason to not send a follow-up e-mail letting them know what's going on.

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous PhysioProf said...

After each conversation, send a "clarifying" e-mail to memorialize the conversation and remind everyone of who said what.

At 5:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a big issue... I feel that it is everyone's responsibility to mentor people at younger stations in science. Of course, not everyone is a good mentor, and some people (males, usually) see this mentoring as a waste of time.

If you have to continue advising this student until this project is finished, it might be worth it to have a sit down with the student's advisor and say that you feel you've already contributed a lot to this work, but unless you have some assurance of a more featured place in the author list, you have to focus on your own projects. You're going to be applying for jobs, etc... people know that authorship and papers matter, more now than a couple of years ago.

I did this on a paper (not part of my thesis) in grad school. I helped a postdoc with a project of his, and when he proved ill-equipped to write it up (I had more of a background in the techniques and literature), the PI asked me to work more on the paper. I told my PI I'd be happy to, but I had to be first author. Otherwise my contribution would be more limited -- as I'd just be a middle author. I have no problem with the asterisked "these authors contributed equally to this paper", but I wanted to be first.

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my experience, providing ideas, no matter how good they are, is almost never credited with authorship. This may be a "talk is cheap" phenomenon. There's also a tendency to remember and emphasize all the ideas that actually worked out and to forget and minimize all the ideas that didn't.

If you want to help someone else out, with ideas or advice, that's being a good science citizen. You might (or might not) get some warm fuzzies out of it which might (or might not) turn out to have some practical upside for you later.

If you want authorship, nothing beats boots on the ground... take your great idea, and YOU do the experiment. You'll probably do a better job in less time than incompetent non-appreciative twit anyway. Then there's no room to argue that you made a substantive contribution to the eventual paper.

At 1:00 AM, Anonymous (i) said...

That situation sucks. You're right about the credit thing, but I find that students very often don't know a thing about credit systems and you have to tell them explicitely if something needs to be credited.

Maybe you could just send some 'after the conversation' e-mail, saying: remember I told you about this and that? Here is a link/document that deals with a similar problem. Et voilĂ : you have the conversation, and you have the e-mail back-up.

At 4:13 AM, Anonymous pelf said...

I guess I should say also that it helps if the Advisor gives credit (wherever it is due) to his/her student rather than putting it in such a way that he/she did all the thinking and working.

I agree that many times, the Advisor comes up with the idea because he/she is more experienced and all, but can he/she do everything with only a pair of hands?!

I know exactly how you're feeling, but I guess you're right -- you gotta suck it up a lil' more.

At 6:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could always send an email "following up" on a discussion you had with the student that gets cc'ed to advisors.

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That happens to me a good amount of time as well. Grad student is floundering, I walk them through some experiments that I would do, help them interpret the results, then when it comes time for credit...magically, I am not even acknowledged.

At this point, I still help, although I am much more tight-lipped, as I am not giving my best ideas to my future competition.

Who's fault is this? I would say mostly the students, some are very immature, and clearly don't know how to act. However, there reaches a point where you have to question the culture of the lab, and that is often dominated by the PI.

At this point, all I can really do is try to make sure that I do not do that when I start my own lab.

At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just follow up your in-person conversation with a quick email cc'd to all involved parties.

You can do both.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Yes. I have tried this "followup email" approach before.

From what I can tell, it's considered bad form (sort of a paranoid faux pas) to send lots of emails confirming and cc'ing everyone. Maybe it's not like that everywhere, but that's how it is here.

And there would have to be a LOT of emails if I did this every time we had a conversation.

And yeah, I would say "yeah, you ungrateful twit, fuck off" except that collaborations are a two-way street, and I can't burn this bridge (yet?).

I'm just trying to take the "kind but firm mentoring" approach of reiterating constantly what's appropriate and what's not, why it matters, and also make sure to throw in some tooting-of-my-own-horn whenever the student is presenting and advisor is there.

What really bugs me is that nobody in science seems to be able to notice the ABSENCE of mentoring, only the presence.

So they'll notice if the student is doing a good job, but won't wonder why.

Similarly, they'll notice if the student is doing a bad job, but they won't make the connection that it's because I was helping before, ... and now I'm not.

In other words, they don't say,

Boy, I remember this student as steadily improving, but now s/he is not. It must be because MsPhD is not here! Why is she not here??

But this is true in general, for a lot of areas where I contribute on a daily basis.

I'll also add that, particularly for women, sending emails where you list off everything you do to one or more PIs is seen as either

a) good little straight-A student syndrome (aka teacher's pet)

b) self-promoting bitch.

Neither is good.

(a) Means you're seeking approval or feedback (sign of weakness)

(b) means you're paranoid and/or competitive.

Both of which are fine for men, because they're viewed differently when men do it. Reporting frequently? That's keeping the PI in the loop. That's good communication skills. Competitive? That's fucking great. The best of the best.

Just not when I do it.

I'm just sayin.

At 7:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have created a no win situation for yourself. it was probably completely inadvertent. You probably did a bunch of stuff without realizing the long term implications. you need to move into a new environment where you can set new ground rules with different people.

you should do this again before you are a PI. there is way too much to deal with as a new PI that you won't be able to give enough time to figuring out what compromises to make and where to stand your ground.

a one year postdoc to learn a technique without the expectation of getting a paper, but with a clear goal and vision of how that technique applies to your independent work would be totally appropriate. it would show that you are serious about moving on in your career, not just content in staying at the same place til you get a position.

your internal motivations don't come across until you get your foot in the door, so you have to be able to demonstrate things like initiative on paper.

At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I love this blog! There was some interesting discussion on incoherent ponderer's "Oversupply of PhDs - what oversupply?" post. Was thinking you'd like to join in.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger butterflywings said...

*sigh* All I can say is, I sympathise.

I also agree with your last post. Classic double standard.

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 7:47,

Perhaps true, if I were younger I would do it. Wish I had gotten this advice a few years ago.

As it stands now, NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

Anon 12:44,

Thanks, maybe I will.

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous CC said...

There was some interesting discussion on incoherent ponderer's "Oversupply of PhDs - what oversupply?" post.

It was worth going over there just for Uncle Al's:

"PhDs are issued so the rest of the population knows when to duck."

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Twenty years ago I thought sexism in academe would die out. Just when I got to the age when I once thought that would happen, sexism is still here, and ageism kicks in on top of it. Makes me want to slam the door to my office -- et cetera.

Oh and let's not forget salary compression on top of it.

Fight, Ms.PhD. Bake cookies you bring to work, have your students over to your house for dinner, whatever you have to do to be "nice" -- but -- take credit for your work.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I guess that's the problem. Dearth of cookies.

At least it's easy enough to fix, in theory.

In practice, the people who need most to be cookied-at are never at work.

Hence my frustration with them, and their hate for me. I'm like a conduit for their self-destructive guilt & jealousy, methinks.

But thanks for the mini-pep talk. It's amazing how much that sort of thing helps.

re: ageism, I'm still getting the reverse-ageism double-edged sword. One the one hand, I'm told I'm still young, I have plenty of time. On the other hand, my time as a postdoc is almost up, and still no job on the horizon.

I guess this must be how professional gymnasts must feel. Too old to compete, and unusually mature from all the pressure and discipline required, and now they have to figure out what else to do with their lives.

But I'm having a crappy day. Made the mistake of looking at job ads and saw the deadlines coming up in October and November. Don't think I'll make any of those this year.

Don't think anybody cares much about it, either. Advisor and collaborators are acting very cavalier about my career. I'm tired of trying to express my desperation and earn their sympathy, I just end up sounding like the Postdoc Who Cried Woolf (repeatdly).

At 12:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your concern. I think though this is a test in itself. You should look at it differently though. You are the back bone of the project and the real idea maker. With out you in the future they will not succeed to the extent you allowed them to. A silent hero that should not need a pat on the back or written credit but knows there strength made the world and other people feel good about them selves. Your sharpening your sword and will have a chance to use it when the time is right. Do not let pettieness get in the way of your core values and just learn and move on realizing not everybody will respect you or your work and that you have to insure its identity your self. As far as your career I am sure you will shine brighter in the long run as long as you remain humble and sharp. good luck


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