Who am I reaching?

My fb feed yesterday was filled with wishes of happy pi day. I love pi day, I love pie and I like math. I then realized, everyone else on my feed does too. So who am I reaching when I post? Most of my friends think the same way that I do. Am I changing anyone’s mind? Not really, at least not using my social media. But I make friends pretty much every day and I’d like to think that I give them a good impression of scientists as a species.


As it’s now over and done with, it is safe to say that 2012 was just not my year. Between my advisor, my car, and my Jets, I’ve had enough unintentional heart break to last me through 2013. BUT, because there’s always a silver lining, I do think 2012 was a year of personal growth for me and I have hope that 2013 will be a good year.

The secretary debacle as I now refer to it in my head, is a long story. I’m trying to only include the relevant details, but it’s not an uncommon story so I’m only leaving in the bits that were particularly unique to me. The common part of the story was that I needed a class paid for, it didn’t get done on time, the secretaries (yes we have multiple secretaries that were useless in this case) were telling me they weren’t going to pay the late fee. Blah, blah, blah, not an unusual story of administrative BS. And if I could have just let it go, that would be the end of it. I would have paid my $270 dollars and taken the class. I, however, was not having any of it. Possibly it was because my car kept breaking down and the idea of having to come up with extra money for a class I didn’t want to take was just too much monetary stress on me, but I just had had it with people making me do their jobs. So when the secretary refused to pay the late fee claiming that it was my fault if I got a late fee, I looked at her and I said “I do not appreciate the way you handled this.” And I walked out the door.

Actually not that dramatic right? I didn’t think so either. Up to this point, I see both sides of this. Perhaps I should not have told the secretary that I did not appreciate her efforts, because no one likes being told that they are not appreciated, but she was really rude and unhelpful and I still do not appreciate her “efforts.” After that thought, there are no clichés strong enough for the events that transpired after that.

About a week later, I had to meet with my advisor followed immediately by a meeting with the head secretary. I knew they weren’t pleased with me telling the new secretary that I didn’t appreciate her efforts, but I was not at all prepared for the shit storm that they had prepared. For 2 consecutive hrs, my advisor and our head administrator told me line by line how I was wrong. How I didn’t do enough to make sure this went through on time. How it wasn’t their job to figure out how to use a travel award to pay for a class. They then suggested that perhaps I didn’t know what I said meant. I was told that I’m from a passionate culture and that I’m female and perhaps that’s why I over-react. It was suggested that I have anger management issues and that perhaps my parents didn’t raise me properly. There was also an insinuation that I did not deserve the award. They ended by threatening me that if I didn’t behave myself, everyone could and would make things worse for me. All in the context that they were trying to help me. That I’m a good kid and they didn’t want to see this ruin my career.

Abandoned and bullied were the words my advisor said I didn’t understand. Merriam-Webster defines to bully as: to treat abusively or to affect by means of force or coercion. Abandon is defined as: to withdraw protection, help, or support from. That is exactly how I felt. As a student, you expect your advisor to protect you. Like family, you can fight internally, but to others, you show solidarity. It’s hard to explain the feeling of abandonment that came from each successive failed attempt to resolve this issue followed by the sense of injustice and the indignation as I sat there while they rustled the emails they had printed out like you do with a troubled child sent to the principal’s office. All I could do was stare at them while they spewed off ridiculous things that I could have done once they exhausted all the normal things I could have done (since I did them) because it wasn’t their fault. They then being forced to write apologies for the sake of them going on file (which even then I realized was probably not a bad idea since I wasn’t actually upset with the people they made me apologize to). They repeatedly told me that they would make my life harder.

And they did. At least my advisor did (I have not spoken to a secretary since July and honestly, my life isn’t any the worse for it). The next 2 months were probably the worst of my life. I can be dramatic, but even now, months after all of this has been resolved, I still can say that I have never been so anxious in my entire life. Again, I don’t want to bore you with the mundane details of my advisor’s quest to dominate. I assume it was no worse than any other egotist’s drive to be the smartest in all the land, that is to say graduate school as usual for most. I just was so unprepared for it. I’ve been a scientist my whole life. I can take honest constructive criticism even when it hurts. But to find out that my advisor, this person that I chose to be my mentor, not only took the side of administration without even talking me, but went so far as to make racist, sexist insinuations was heart breaking. I expected better from a scientist.

I don’t know how anyone feels good about belittling a GRADUATE STUDENT. But it turns out that this is not uncommon. I do not think my advisor is a bad man. I think that he is so far removed from being a graduate student that he forgets how badly people treat you. We eventually worked things out. That is to say that after 2 months of near daily clashes, he finally caved and with effort from both us, he’s gone back to being politely uninterested in me. This is not unusual for older PIs. I do not think that generation had to try to understand other people. It was enough for them to be smart. But, it is not acceptable to talk to anyone in that manner and ultimately, it breeds more PIs who speak like this to their graduate students and perpetuates the schism between scientists and the rest of the world.

I expect better from my generation. We’re scientists, we should rule the world, but no one is going to listen to a bunch of squabbling bullies. I understand that not everyone has the personality to interact with others well, but my generation, we were raised on social media; we have available to us a multitude of ways to contact another person. We are intelligent people, we can use this to our advantage. As long as you try, the other person knows that you tried and everyone appreciates the effort even if the outcome is not what they hoped. Do not ignore emails. Remember that everyone has worth. Behave honorably. This is what I expect from my generation.