Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Response to old comments on "Dear PI, it's your fault I'm depressed"

One of my previous posts is still getting comments, but blogger won't let me write a long reply all at once.

So here are some replies.

I realized this is really late to reply, but why not, I have time.

Daisy Mae,

Yes, of course, ask forgiveness rather than permission is a great way to go, if you don't require funding to do what you need to do without permission. I needed funding. I also needed to submit my papers, and for that I had to have permission.


I have seen plenty of labs change direction because of things that students did as side projects, whether they were undergrads or grad students. Lots of PIs have zero (time for) creativity of their own, so the smart ones rely on students' risky projects as a way to drum up new ideas.

It's too bad so many labs are one-trick pony houses.

Personally, I think it makes more sense to interview students to see how they think. What they worked on before is just a vehicle for discussing that.

I didn't end up working with any of the PIs I met with on my interviews, anyway. I rotated in a different lab, and that ended up being where I did my thesis.


I always had other PIs collaborating with me, they just could not afford to pay me, and could not/would not stand up to my PI on my behalf. This is what happens when you work your way up the chain to try to work for somebody Important Enough to help get you a job, and that person is totally unreasonable and resentful. Basically, he was convinced I was wrong until the very end, when it was too late for anyone to do anything. All the PIs in my field were too busy just barely staying afloat themselves. The last thing they wanted was more competition for funding.

Anon 10:29,

I didn't need help writing the papers. I needed to be allowed to publish them. There's a big difference.

Anon 7:05,

that's what I ended up doing: leaving. Fuck science and trying to be a martyr for women in science. Nobody appreciates it anyway.

Anon 11:59,

1. I worked with someone once who used your "deliberately show the PI disappointing results" approach. She was faking the data. Please don't advocate for people to do that.

My job was made harder when I got stuff working on the first try, and my PI didn't believe me at first, because the previous person had "shown" repeatedly that she couldn't get it to work!

2. Yes, if you can recruit other people, do so. In my field, that was not an option, and for my project, I needed people from other fields. It's just not always that simple.

3. Also, don't tell people to avoid their advisors. That's not good advice.

Definitely reschedule meetings if you think they won't be productive, but mostly, avoiding communication will only make things worse.

I agree that it's often better to avoid showing incomplete work in the hopes of getting useful feedback, because it can really derail your confidence and your thought process. Better to wait and show the most finished product you can, especially if your advisor is like mine was.

4. Absolutely, look for other activities and go ahead and start applying for jobs. I did that. It did help me feel more confident about graduating, although it didn't solve any of my other problems with my advisor.

5. I'm amused that you think I didn't try to pick my battles (?). I fought hard on what journals, maybe I should have fought harder but I was convinced I would get recommendation letters saying I was "too bitchy" if I fought too hard. I'm pretty sure that happened anyway! But it really seemed like there was no way to win. I worked for stubborn jerks, what can I say. The more I argued, the more they dug in, just for the sake of not wanting to let me even try. The thing that baffled me was, what's the big deal with trying? Worst case, you get some mediocre reviews, waste a few weeks, and submit somewhere else?

In one case, I realize now, I think my advisor knew we were about to get scooped. But he couldn't just tell me that (because of how he knew), so instead he just came off seeming like a jerk.


6. I did fight for corresponding author, which was somewhat useful, but ultimately not as much as I would have hoped.

It's nice that you could volunteer to show how "competent" you are.

I don't think anyone ever questioned my competence, intelligence, work ethic, or creativity. If they did, fuck them.

But it's hard to use volunteer work to show what a non-bitchy person you are, if that's all it takes to poison you as a candidate. I did lots of outreach, committee work, etc.

Still ironic that I went into science thinking it wouldn't matter as much whether people liked me, as it would it other professions. Turns out it might be even worse in science than other fields. Little did I know.

Everybody else - thanks, glad you liked the post.

epilogue: I never did take any Rx antidepressants. I'm sure for some people, it helps.