• I have a full ride for a grad program at a good school

  • I’ve recently gone through an awful breakup with a girlfriend of 7 years

  • I now want to take an extra year before going to school, for many reasons. I could explain them to you all here, but that seems beside the point; assume they are compelling enough.

  • In my head, my justification sounded very legitimate and serious (the tale involves depression and hospitalization, an abrupt change of living situation, etc., all just before enrollment)

  • Now, typing out an email to the department, I feel totally immature. I try to word it more professionally, which only makes it look like I’m trying to be vague about my immaturity, which perhaps sounds even more immature.

How can I talk about personal relationship issues to people who it matters to, but for professional reasons, and not feel like I’ve tainted my name at the school?

Background:

  • beginning 2nd year of a M.S.
  • In a computational geoscience lab
  • Past lab mates (M.S. students) have done great and sophisticated research
  • Advisor wants to give me a to-do list and have it blindly executed
  • I have basically done this, but am getting more confident and autonomous
  • I asked him early on if I should be coming up with my research topic, he said no…
  • He gave me 4-5 different topics to do some pre research on last year
  • I did, and ran into problems with each of them
  • In about March we settled on a statistical analysis (even though I don’t have a background in stats, but am learning.)
  • However, he hasn’t spent much time looking at my project
  • Things I brought up months ago, and he dismissed we are finally revisiting (like a really low n….!)
  • I’ve finally ‘caught’ him telling me my statement is untrue, when in fact it is definitively true (even simple things, like the code to check RAM)
  • He’s told me he likes that I think quickly and have great intuition, but I have to be…. …. (more careful? I assumed).
  • I am not a great programmer yet, and so I am slow, but getting better.
  • Funded on a external fellowship this year, will be a department TA next (none of his research dollars, which he has plenty, with 3 more grad students funded by him)

My advisor surely wants me to bite off a chunk of work that is manageable. However, I still have a full year of research to do (with little classwork), and every idea I have to bolster the analysis he suggests not to pursue it, because it’ll be too hard and take too much time. Although, he is finally coming around to some of the ideas.

He say’s that it irritates him when I come up with something when he is paused trying to think… He has repeatedly told me he wants me in the lab, but that he’s just making sure I will be out in a year from now.

I am two months of actual work in and am getting some initial results, that aren’t that compelling, don’t add to the knowledge base and I don’t believe would ever get published. But, he has repeatedly told me to start writing my thesis around these preliminary figures. I have started to, as it can be helpful to write down your thoughts, but why waste a bunch of time perfecting figures and editing when you don’t think the content is any good?

It’s as if I am his puppy on a tight leash, and am sniffing around tugging on the leash, he ignores that the puppy might smell something he doesn’t and yanks me back-justifying it as training. But, he is in a sense more aimless (and less motivated by the walk and seems he just wants it to be over) and eventually all the puppy tugs, alter the inertia of the walker and his puppy.

This ‘method’ of mentor ship works, I guess, its just very slow and painful. How should I handle this? I have confronted him about holding too short of a lease and he got angry but was eventually receptive and instantly changed the subject to an non relational topic(even though I said, “great, lets talk about this.”). To me, it seems like there is a huge power dynamic that he wants to keep, and that whenever I come up with something, he forgets about it then comes up with it a month later in his own words so as to ‘own’ it? I don’t care who owns it, I just want a decent relationship with my mentor and add(or remove) a tiny chunk to (from) my field.

Do I confront him on my suspicion he is just ‘putting up’ with me, and just wants me out of his lab? Seems like that’s a good way to get the boot. Is it just a conflict of personalities? How to tell? Furthermore, what good is a M.S. to go into the workforce if you don’t even get a good recommendation from your advisor?

I have been lucky enough to have been offered different professor positions in different universities. Both departments have made a lot of efforts to try and convince me to choose theirs (who gets offered what job is public here).

It was not easy, but I have finally chosen one. Should I try to explain why to the people from the other department, the one I am not going to? This is not obvious, because while there are arguments I could make, my decision relies in large part on extra-academic concerns, and some gut feeling. However, such an explanation may be expected, and I do not want to burn any bridges.

When I was accepted to become a Master’s student, I had virtually no experience in the topics that my supervisor wanted to work in. Lately I’ve been catching up on background knowledge (I’ve been in the program for about a month), but I still haven’t developed that ever-elusive passion that I probably should have by now.

So why did I choose to work with this supervisor? I chose a supervisor based on personality, and I decided to take a risk with a brand new topic because I was feeling jaded about what I had studied in undergrad.

I’m not asking “how do I find my subject?”. I want to know if this lack of an all-consuming obsession with a particular subject is a real cause for concern. What should I do, and what do you suppose my supervisor would want me to do?

I am a PhD student with a very difficult colleague – someone I thought was just socially inept, and rude. I was always friendly, giving her the benefit of the doubt, even though she offended me and others on a constant basis with her privileged, superiority complex. On paper, she looks brilliant – she has had many educational opportunities that my parents couldn’t afford – something that has made her unbelievably unaware of experiences not her own.

After many derogatory and humiliating comments, I eventually started ignoring her quite a bit – she would never respond to my hellos, would interrupt me in class, laugh when I didn’t know a scholar she brought up, etc. It was taking energy to be kind and outgoing to her. Her demeaning behavior was obvious to many, but because she is my classmate, I see her the most. After seeking guidance from mental health professionals, I decided to no longer be upset by her, but also not entertain her behavior. I blocked her out as much as I could, while trying to maintain professionalism.

Granted, there may have been a few times when I questioned her in class – asking for clarification or further explanations into her method of thinking. As PhD students, I am under the impression that we should be able to defend our research, and my professors never said anything to me about the questions I asked.

However, very recently a few professors approached me about “tension” between us. They informed me that this girl has complained about me to them. She apparently has discussed me often, even going as far to say that I “trigger” her. I am shocked. I have never said anything to my professors about her, even though she has offended me several times. I am friends with almost everyone in the program, while she has isolated herself.

I now am feeling extremely insecure, and painted in a very negative light. Professors are suggesting that I meet with her, and show her my “softer” side – I’m from the East coast, we can get a bit…intense. They are encouraging me to reach out to her and comfort her. However, I have been kind to her from the beginning, only recently trying to ignore her toxic attitude. I’m not sure what to do, or how to go about this.

Suggestions?

I have a very difficult cohort – someone I thought was just socially inept, and rude. I was always friendly, giving her the benefit of the doubt, even though she offended me and others on a constant basis with her privileged, superiority complex. On paper, she looks brilliant – she has had many educational opportunities that my parents couldn’t afford – something that has made her unbelievably unaware of experiences not her own. After many derogatory and humiliating comments, I eventually started ignoring her quite a bit – she would never respond to my hellos, would interrupt me in class, laugh when I didn’t know a scholar she brought up, etc. It was taking energy to be kind and outgoing to her. Her demeaning behavior was obvious to many, but because she is my cohort, I see her the most. After seeking guidance from mental health professionals, I decided to no longer be upset by her, but also not entertain her behavior. I blocked her out as much as I could, while trying to maintain professionalism.

Granted, there may have been a few times when I questioned her in class – asking for clarification or further explanations into her method of thinking. As PhD students, I am under the impression that we should be able to defend our research, and my professors never said anything to me about the questions I asked.

However, very recently a few professors approached me about “tension” between us. They informed me that this girl has complained about me to them. She apparently has discussed me often, even going as far to say that I “trigger” her. I am shocked. I have never said anything to my professors about her, even though she has offended me several times. I am friends with almost everyone in the program, while she has isolated herself.

I now am feeling extremely insecure, and painted in a very negative light. Professors are suggesting that I meet with her, and show her my “softer” side – I’m from the East coast, we can get a bit…intense. They are encouraging me to reach out to her and comfort her. However, I have been kind to her from the beginning, only recently trying to ignore her toxic attitude. I’m not sure what to do, or how to go about this.

Suggestions?

Attention has been drawn recently to an incident that occurred at a scientific conference and its sequelae described in this article:

The fuss started when [Prof. X] and [Prof. Y] ended up in the same crowded elevator during a conference at a Hilton in San Francisco last month. [Prof. Y] said she offered to press the floor buttons for people in the elevator, whom she described as mostly conference attendees and all, except one other woman, white middle-aged men. Instead of saying a floor, [Prof. X] smiled and asked for the women’s lingerie department “and all his buddies laughed,” [Prof. Y] wrote in a complaint, the details of which [Prof. X] disputed.

[Prof. Y] […] then wrote to the association’s executive director, who forwarded the complaint to the group’s Committee on Professional Rights and Responsibilities, which determined that [Prof. X] had violated the conduct code.

[Prof. X] insists it never should have gotten to that point because he tried to resolve the problem informally, as the association’s conduct code recommends. After being informed that his conduct was under investigation, [Prof. X] wrote [Prof. Y] an email assuring her that “I certainly had no desire to insult women or to make you feel uncomfortable.” He suggested that [Prof. Y], who was born in Romania and raised in Israel, might have misinterpreted his remark. When he was young, in the 1950s, he said, it was a “standard gag line” to ask the elevator operator for the hardware or lingerie floor as though one were in a department store.

“Like you, I am strongly opposed to the exploitation, coercion, or humiliation of women,” [Prof. X] wrote. “As such evils continue, it seems to me to make sense to direct our attention to real offenses, not those that are imagined or marginal. By making a complaint to ISA that I consider frivolous — and I expect, will be judged this way by the ethics committee — you may be directing time and effort away from the real offenses that trouble us both.”

[Prof. X] was told to write an “unequivocal apology” to [Prof. Y] and submit a written copy by May 15 to the association’s executive committee. The apology should focus on [Prof. X’s] actions, rather than [Prof. Y’s] perceptions of them, it said, adding that if he failed to comply, the executive committee would consider appropriate sanctions.

As a male member of academe, I am worried. I feel bewildered and fear that I might also offend someone some day.

How can I avoid committing an equivalent faux pas in an academic environment, such as an international conference?

Attention has been drawn recently to an incident that occurred at a scientific conference and its sequelae described in this article:

The fuss started when [Prof. X] and [Prof. Y] ended up in the same crowded elevator during a conference at a Hilton in San Francisco last month. [Prof. Y] said she offered to press the floor buttons for people in the elevator, whom she described as mostly conference attendees and all, except one other woman, white middle-aged men. Instead of saying a floor, [Prof. X] smiled and asked for the women’s lingerie department “and all his buddies laughed,” [Prof. Y] wrote in a complaint, the details of which he disputed, to the association later that day. […]

After being informed that his conduct was under investigation, [Prof. X] wrote [Prof. Y] an email assuring her that “I certainly had no desire to insult women or to make you feel uncomfortable.” He suggested that [Prof. Y], who was born in Romania and raised in Israel, might have misinterpreted his remark. When he was young, in the 1950s, he said, it was a “standard gag line” to ask the elevator operator for the hardware or lingerie floor as though one were in a department store.

“Like you, I am strongly opposed to the exploitation, coercion, or humiliation of women,” [Prof. X] wrote. “As such evils continue, it seems to me to make sense to direct our attention to real offenses, not those that are imagined or marginal. By making a complaint to ISA that I consider frivolous — and I expect, will be judged this way by the ethics committee — you may be directing time and effort away from the real offenses that trouble us both.”

This incident has escalated to the point that the academic organization that organized the conference has decided to sanction Prof. X.

As a male member of academe, I am worried. I feel bewildered and fear that I might also offend someone some day.

How can I avoid committing an equivalent faux pas in an academic environment, such as an international conference?

In recent news, two academics are at odds over the incident described in this article:

The fuss started when [Prof. X] and [Prof. Y] ended up in the same crowded elevator during a conference at a Hilton in San Francisco last month. [Prof. Y] said she offered to press the floor buttons for people in the elevator, whom she described as mostly conference attendees and all, except one other woman, white middle-aged men. Instead of saying a floor, [Prof. X] smiled and asked for the women’s lingerie department “and all his buddies laughed,” [Prof. Y] wrote in a complaint, the details of which he disputed, to the association later that day.

This incident has escalated to the point that the academic organization that organized the conference has decided to sanction Prof. X.

I am worried because I don’t understand precisely what was offensive, so I fear that I might do something similar.

What are reasonable actions that I can take to avoid having a similar problem?

I have been following threads on this website for a few months now. However it’s my first time posting. I am a postdoctoral researcher from a Western European country who has done reasonably well since my PhD a few years ago in terms of attracting funding, publishing, teaching etc. My professional situation for the next 2-3 years is secure (I have won a competitive European grant) and I am very happy with what I am doing research-wise. To be clear, this is not a rant & it isn’t about me specifically.

I have recently completed a three-year postdoc in Austria in a humanities subject. What I have witnessed there has greatly upset me: I saw careers being shattered, research being stifled or appropriated, young researchers being exploited with promises of jobs that never came or work conditions that were so bad that they never finished their degrees, students ‘bound’ to their supervisors in ways that I would not have imagined possible in the 21st century, etc. In short, an incredible waste of talent and resources…

Now I am moving to another European country but I still feel very strongly about my experience in Austria and I wish I could do something about it. I know that what I have witnessed isn’t unique to Austria, although things are perhaps worse there than anywhere else in Europe. In Austria I felt a sense of hopelessness I had never experienced before – people were just afraid to speak out and lose their jobs; in fact it was so bad that several co-workers turned to me for advice and support, despite my own situation being precarious.

At the time I realized that we had no-one to turn to for help. Works’ committees were mostly for people with permanent jobs in the institute – not for students or people like me on short-term contracts. So here is my question: do you know any young researchers’ professional associations or unions, perhaps at European level, with whom I could share my concerns? Surely the sort of problems described here are common in academia and there must be structures to represent us?