Thursday, November 06, 2008

Updates from the trenches: Dr. Babysitter.

I often find myself the repository for random bits of information, some of which are crises I can really do nothing about. Sometimes I can help.

The blog helps me cope with both.

1. The friend-of-a-friend grad student.

Her 2nd-ish year qualifying exam is coming up. She did the right thing and met with each of her committee members before the actual exam. But it kind of backfired. One of her committee members called her advisor and said he doesn't think she has what he called "sufficient logical thinking ability."

Point here: Nobody does this kind of thing to male grad students. Ever.

Silver lining: Her advisor disagrees with the guy. (At least for now.)

If I hear any more about the outcome, I will blog it.

2. A grad student friend.

The first chapter of her thesis completed, her advisor is coming up for tenure soon, he decided to send it to Two-Name Journal.

She has never written a paper before, never published before. Still keeps getting the journal name wrong because she doesn't really care that much.

Over a month later, paper comes back un-reviewed. She's thinking, fine, we'll send it to 2nd tier two-name journal.

Advisor instead wants her to do the same experiment 10 times more with different samples and resubmit to the journal that wouldn't review it in the first place.

So this is already fucked up, right? Especially since it's not really what she and her committee agreed would be her thesis project.

But it gets better. When she said look, this is going to take forever and there's still no guarantee it will get published, he said "Look, I'm the PI here, I get to decide."

She says she feels like her spirit is broken.

3. Unemployed friend.

You'll all be glad to hear I offered to teach her everything I know. She has a lot of time on her hands and is going a bit stir-crazy. I think she's going to take me up on the offer.

Point here: I realized I do have time to help her, and there is something in it for me, so I don't feel like I'm being a martyr.

4. Postdoc friend who wants a job in industry.

Has been asking what he can do for me in exchange for me teaching him one of my more unusual, yet coveted skills. We're still negotiating what he can do for me and when I can teach him.

But I think it will be very funny if he and #3 both get jobs in industry while I'm still struggling. Although honestly, the economy looking the way it is, I doubt they're going to get jobs all that soon anyway.

5. Me.

Looking into getting a therapist. Yeah, it's time. I burst into tears at another unsuspecting coworker yesterday. I can't go on like this. I don't know if it will help, but damn if I'm not going to spend all my benefits while I have them.

I also made a dental appointment. So there.

6. My PI.

PI is apparently feeling a bit defeated.

Here I thought, I picked this person with all the experience, I thought by the time you reach that level you're more weathered and better able to deal with setbacks. Maybe even view them as just a small part of the job, you pick yourself back up again and keep going.

Right? Because it's part of your job? You can't wallow in self-pity and anger for more than, I don't know, a month each time something gets rejected?

As it turns out, we are going to have to take turns being each other's cheerleaders.

I dislike this part of my job, aka Leading Up, but I think I can do it now that I understand that's what I have to do.

Apparently it is my turn to keep my advisor going, because I DO believe in my work, I have to be the Obama here and keep chanting Yes We Can.

But I have to say here, something is seriously wrong with this system where EVERY PI I have ever worked with required me to SIT with them and make them read my manuscripts. Because otherwise they will not do the job.

And before you say it must be because I'm a terrible writer (blog popularity notwithstanding!), everyone in the lab does this babysitting nonsense.

It not matter if you are a postdoc or if you have published several papers already.

I did it as a grad student because I believed that, like most grad students, I would learn something in the process.

But as a senior postdoc? It's not only an enormous waste of time, it's degrading, stupid, and makes me wonder how any of them ever got to where they are now.

Who made them do their work when they were younger? Their PI? Their mother?


Yes, I am laughing at this ridiculous situation. I can't help it. It's just so unbelievably stupid.

It makes me think about those ultra-mature little kids who take care of their alcoholic parents and call 911 when mommy passes out on the kitchen floor and hits her head. I seriously can't think of a better analogy.

The good news? Advisor likes to work on manuscripts to avoid other more onerous tasks (yes, this is mature time management at its best!).

So the bad budget news? Other irritating chores? Working in my favor.

Helping me is a day at the beach compared to that. Especially when I'm chanting Yes We Can. Yes We Can. Yes We Can.

Labels: , , , , ,


At 12:25 PM, Anonymous C said...

Re: 5, I managed to find someone who specialised in work-related stress and had a lot of experience with academics. I think this really helped because it was helpful to talk things through with someone who had experience of this kind of thing. She didn't tell me any answers, but I did have ideas myself whilst in the process which were ultimately useful. It was reassuring to know that yes this is a normal reaction, yes my ideas and analysis are reasonable ones, and it was nice to be able to run my thoughts past someone who is an expert in that area.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Ambivalent Academic said...

officially response to this and your previous couple of frustrated posts:

Sorry for all that crap. I just had to post to say that your frustration (and the unfairness of your situation) is acknowledged. Wish I could offer some useful advice but I don't have any except to say, sorry, that sucks, hang in there, and I hope that it gets better soon.

At 4:14 PM, Blogger GirlPostdoc said...

First of all, YFS, from reading this blog entry, it appears to me that you have moved from post-doc into supervisor. Now all you need is the tenure-track job to go along with it!

As for getting your supervisor to read your manuscript - have you tried sending an email to him/her saying here is the manuscript, I'm submitting it in x days? Wouldn't that get their attention?

I have a few posts that might be of interest to you regarding mentoring:

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Yes, I think maybe some new ideas would be helpful.


Thanks for officially delurking! And thanks for the support.


Thanks. Yes. Unofficially, yes. And yes.

My advisor does not respond positively to threats. Have used that approach effectively with collaborators and somewhat productively with thesis advisor. Do recommend it from time to time. Can't use it in this case.

I will check out your posts, thanks!

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

Yeah, I always had to sit with The Boss in order to get my papers read. Although it felt like a waste of time in some cases, overall I saved a lot of time because we were making edits it cut out the back-and-forth: once we fixed something, we both were in agreement.

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Candid Engineer said...

Wow, that is a lot. Go to the therapist. I love therapists (except for the condescending ones, so shop around if necessary). I'm sure every scientist deals with some kind of mental instabilities... you are not alone on this one.

At 1:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wait wait somebody sent in a paper in such an incomplete state that it didn't even make it past the journal editor's desk, and the grad student is complaining that it sucks to have to do more experiments???

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


That would work if The Boss remembered from one week to the next what we decided on the week before. Instead we have the conversation that goes:

Advisor: Why did we say it this way? That's not what we meant.

MsPhD: YOU wrote that part. You insisted on saying it that way.


I found a name. I guess I will call from home some morning this week and try to make an appointment. I was afraid to call from lab, where I have no privacy, and have it be like when you call the gynecologist and they ask what the appointment is for, and you have to cover the phone to say "Annual pap smear."

TMI for my labmates, I think.


Yeah, well, IMHO the problem is that the PI has NEVER published a paper as corresponding author before, and doesn't understand what it means in editor speak when they send it back in a way that says "Don't ever bother me with this kind of crap again." Apparently the PI thinks when it gets sent back without review, you ask the editor what other experiments they'd want to see. I mean, come on. If you're an assistant professor and you don't have the foggiest clue how to write a paper or where to send it or who to ask for advice? This grad student is in deep shit, I think.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home