Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I previously alluded to the "poor" relationship that I had with my thesis adviser. Just so no one worries (not that any one would), I had wonderful experiences in my undergrad and in my post-doc labs. But back to my thesis adviser.

Adviser I
I chose graduate school because I wanted to work with a specific professor. There were other professors at this school whose work I was interested in, but I was really enthusiastic about this one professor's. Within about 1 month of my start, he told me he was leaving. It wasn't a tenure related issue. It was a two body problem. He was in one state, and his wife was in another. They were both academics. He offered to take me with him. That wasn't exactly appealing - he was both changing departments (which is fine for him, but I don't think I would have passed the coursework or the qualifying/candidacy exams) and the school wasn't as prestigious. So I declined. He was a truly great person, and continued to pay me until I found another adviser - which I did.

Adviser II
As I said, there were other professors at this school whose work I found interesting. Luckily my second choice was accepting students, and he accepted me. {Note the trend: both of these professors were men. In fact, all of the professors in my department were men.} So, I happily started a new research project fully confident that I would be successful. His most recent graduates were successfully employed in a variety of fields and he was very prominent. Then, three months in, his prominence became an issue - he was being recruited by another university. Lets call it "Very famous and very rich private school". The very rich part is very important. After about 9 months of waffling back and forth (and trying to get my graduate school to meet the very rich school's offer), he decided to go to the very rich school. While this school was equal to my current school in every way, I was done with my first year of grad school by this point. However, I didn't have my masters yet - I needed 1 more course. If I transferred, they weren't going to accept my coursework, so I was looking at re-taking everything. Not exactly appealing. So, I decided to stay. And change groups again.

Adviser III
Yes, my third adviser. This adviser was just starting down the tenure track path. While I guess I should judge, since I'm now in the same position, nothing seemed to be working out. I'm not referring to research - research ebbs and flows. I realize this. I'm referring to his general ability as a leader of the group, creating a cohesive research goal for the group and handling the stress that comes with the territory of being an Asst Prof. And he didn't really seem to want to ask for help. I (and many of my fellow lab-mates) realized the situation wasn't good, and left. Rather unfortunate really. It could have been a very good learning situation.

Starting year II.

Adviser IV
Now I was stuck searching for my fourth adviser. At this point, I was also considering changing schools - no, I hadn't yet made it to the point of considering leaving graduate school, but I was considering leaving the particular school I was at. I emailed the last three professors whose research I was interested in. I could easily rank them in my head. I met with all three. My first choice didn't have any funding at that time, having taken 3 students from my class already. My second choice also was out of funding, having just changed from another university, and being in between grants. That left my third choice. After pondering me for a few months, he took me. On condition. That should have been a warning sign, but I was very desperate.

However, within the year, I had one first author publication, passed candidacy (note: I was the first in my class to take it) and the "on-condition" went away. The project I was interested in working on for my thesis was different than most of the other work in his lab, so I worked with him to submit grants (4) - one got funded (1 million over 4 years), so I was flush with funding and well on my way. Yet, even though my project was by far the best funded in the group, I never seemed to be able to purchase anything. Then (after two years) I realized that the funding for my project was being spent on other projects that he actually cared about.

After a few years (4), I was ready to defend my thesis. I had a fair number of publications, and I had written up my thesis. It was February. I asked when he was available - July. So, now whenever anyone asks, it looks like it took 6 years for me to get a PhD (this is long), because my adviser couldn't be bothered to show up for my PhD defense for 6 months.

And, yes, he did read my thesis - at least, the acknowledgments section. His comment: I didn't thank him profusely enough and I needed to change it.

I could tell more stories - like how every piece of data I took had to be reproduced by someone else in the lab before he would believe it or how he gave credit for my work to my male colleagues - but I'll tell those stories some other time. I really just wanted to give some background information this time. I guess I didn't really explain that much about him, but without the background info, you might think I was crazy for not leaving.

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