Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Indefensible

I have, over time, referenced the problems surrounding the end of my graduate career both within posts on my blog and in comments elsewhere. I don’t know that I’ve ever detailed the whole story since – like a few others who also struggled near the end of their graduate careers – the stories seem unique enough to be identifiable.

At this point, I guess I’m ready to write out the details. I just read an email that made me cry a bit. I’ll respond directly, but in the event that anyone else finds my situation useful, I can post it here. The thing is that it’s been a little while. I graduated in December, 2005, having defended that November. I’ve published all of my graduate work. I’ve been successful thus far in the postdoctoral world. I’m not setting the world afire, mind you, but I am not stupid or incompetent or, I think, in any way deserving of the mess I found at the end of graduate school. I’m also one of the stories that eventually goes well and if someone can take a spark of hope from it, then I’m more than happy to suffer publicly.

Let’s see. The beginning… I was sitting with my research group around a table in the conference room. We had weekly group meetings and amidst the bad cookies and progress reports, George reported that he had started writing his dissertation. George started research a year after I had, so I immediately – competitive, little soul that I am – was stunned that he was planning to leave when I planned to stay another year. It was then I started to consider what I wanted to accomplish before graduating. Never being one to just put in time, I met with Advisor and asked about my future directions.

“Start writing.” He said.

“The papers?” I asked. “They’re mostly written. One is currently being reviewed, another is almost revised and the third has one more analysis to finish, then I’ll write it up.”

“Then I guess you should talk to your committee and get going on the dissertation.”

Thrilled, I reported to my parents that I would likely graduate in August since I didn’t want to rush for a May graduation that was a mere four months away. I finished the final analysis, wrote up my last paper and sent everything out for review. I began writing the dissertation, turning in chapter by chapter to Advisor. He commented sparingly, as was his habit, and had me change very little. I spoke to all but one committee member, asking if they wanted to see the chapters as I created them, and all but one agreed to a defense date and said to send the document when the draft was completed.

The final member of my committee ducked my emails, but this wasn’t unusual. He was busy with clinical as well as research responsibilities. I continued to update him on the progress of the papers – he was a co-author on two of them and was, I thought, very familiar with my work and goals. In fact, I liked this man very much. He was young, but extremely bright and personable. He’d offered to pay my way to a conference one year when I ran out of travel money. He revised documents carefully for my prospectus and each of the papers he’d seen. When we spoke, he was encouraging and helpful. I failed to get many interviews when I sent out the CV Advisor had approved. Pete asked to see my application packet and gave me extensive revisions on my CV – format and order and headings and what was included. The next batch of applications yielded nearly 10 interviews. He also wrote me a brilliant letter of recommendation for the jobs I was seeking – some postdoctoral, some in industry.

“July 8.” I reported to my peers at our annual conference that year. I finished my thesis document sitting on the beach, inching my towel-covered chair under the umbrella to reduce the glare on the laptop.

“Is Pete on your committee?” One of the former members of my research group asked while we stood at a bar, sipping mojitos.

“Of course.” I said. “I work with him a lot.”

“He’ll fuck you over.” He said, and I shook my head at him. The very thought was ridiculous.

“Seriously.” He insisted. “I did work, wrote code, analyzed data, and the bastard published it without even putting my name on the paper! If you turn your back, he’ll stab you in it. I promise.”

“I don’t have data worth stealing.” I said lightly. “Plus, I like him. We work well together. It’ll be fine.”

The dissertation went out with Advisor’s blessing and a typical “Looks great!” scrawled across the top of the first page. I checked in with my committee by email as I traveled relatively extensively, interviewing rather successfully. I felt amazing, frankly. I was completing my doctorate in four years, a year sooner than I’d planned, and though I hadn’t found the perfect job, I decided I could choose one of the opportunities and learn a lot. I was convinced I had done all I could in my graduate environment and was eager to begin somewhere else. In my head, it was all but officially over. The actual defense was a mere formality in my department. Everything was lovely.

I returned to campus for a couple of days between interviews, having been traveling from my parents’ city since Chienne was living at their house in my frequent absences. I, sitting at the desk that was in one section of the living room in my tidy, one-bedroom apartment, opened Outlook Express and checked my email. It was two weeks until my scheduled defense date and I just wanted to make sure all the paperwork was in order and details arranged. After confirming the receipt of all paperwork with the graduate coordinator, noting the room reservation for my defense, and making sure the apartment complex had received notification that I would be moving when my lease was up at the end of July, I noticed there was an email from Pete.

It was addressed to 2 members of my committee, Advisor, and someone not on my committee. I was cced. It basically said that he’d looked at the dissertation and it was clear that I wasn’t ready to graduate. There were problems too numerous to mention in a short email, he wrote, and after speaking with Advisor they were in agreement that I would not defend in 2 weeks. Instead, that meeting could be used to define the work I’d do in the next year at my graduate institution. We could then evaluate whether sufficient progress had been made and see if I was ready to graduate.

It’s one of those rare moments of complete disbelief for me. One where – quite dramatically, I’m sure – my world cracks open and I think, “This isn’t really happening. The world does not work like this, so there is some mistake. I will fix it and everything will be fine.” But I was sick and confused.

I called Advisor at home and asked what the hell was going on. “Did you tell him I wouldn’t defend? What’s happening?”

“I told you to talk to him.” Advisor said. “I thought everyone was on the same page – that we agreed you were ready.”

“I thought you all were! I tried to talk to him – I can forward you all the emails I sent! He ignored me, but he knew I was interviewing! He wrote a letter, edited my CV! He can’t just say ‘no graduation for you’ when I’m almost done interviewing! I don’t have a place to live after the end of July! We’re turning off my fellowship early because I was graduating!”

“Calm down.” Advisor said. “We’ll figure it out.”

I met with 1 committee member the next day before leaving to travel home – he was confused and said he’d have to look closer at the document. “Normally we do what your advisor says is appropriate. Now that he’s saying two different things, I need more time to think.” He said. I was to get a plane to travel to my current location to interview and talked to the senior member of my committee on the phone.

“My life is falling apart.” I said tearfully as I sped down the highway toward home. He made a soothing sound.

“Pete is overreacting.” He said. “I’ll talk to Advisor and take care of this. Go interview, forget about this. It’ll be fine.”

I made it home, then sat down with my parents in the living room and told them. And I fell apart.

“But he knows you.” Mom protested of Pete. “You like him better than Advisor!” I couldn’t offer clarification though – I didn’t understand either. I’d been offered no details, even when I shouted at him over the phone.

“You can NOT do this! It’s too late! I’m ready to leave! Why did you wait so long?” I railed at him, knowing it was unprofessional, but uncaring.

“I didn’t have time.” He defended himself coldly. “And I’m doing it for your own good.”

I canceled the interview here, only arranging to make it up when Boss insisted they wanted to meet me. I was ill though, spent the day I should have had meetings, given a talk and toured campus throwing up in my parents’ bathroom until Mom came home from work early, sitting on the rim of the tub and stroking my hair while I cried.

I went back to campus. (This is surprisingly hard to write, by the way. I don’t think about it often and thought I was over it. Goodness, though, I’m struggling here.) Anyway.

I had the first closed-door meetings of my career. Watched 2 members of my committee look painfully uncomfortable and apologetic as they said they could go either way. If Advisor pushed for graduation, they would sign off. But in the absence of said push, the document wasn’t strong enough on its own. Plus, I didn’t have a single accepted publication on which I was the first author. If I could get one or two of the ones under review accepted, that would soothe the committee, they said.

The hatred I felt for Pete was so extreme that I could barely speak to him. I did, though. He didn’t look sorry at all when we met in his office. The publications were important – I should have at least three before leaving. He had some ideas recently that I should do before I left.

“I’d like to hear the ideas.” I said.

“At the meeting we all attend, we’ll discuss it.”

“I’d like to hear them now, Pete.” I said firmly. “If I can salvage this and still defend in a week, I want to do it.”

So he listed ideas, all of which I’d already tried and had failed, and then mentioned vague concepts that would likely take years to learn and implement. Then he handed me the document and said it needed to be completely restructured. He noted his demands for the dissertation and I walked back to Advisor’s office.

“What do you think?” I asked finally. “I need to know why you’re not backing me up when you said I should write the dissertation in the first place. Tell me why you’re doing this.”

He avoided my eyes and said I needed to rewrite the thesis and hope it satisfied Pete. Since I wasn’t sleeping anyway, I rewrote the nearly 200 page document in 2 days.

I sent it out. One member asked why I’d done so much unnecessary work – it was fine before. Pete said I needed 3 publications accepted before graduating. Someone else said one was enough. Another said this process was cruel – they all needed to meet and decide what they wanted. Jerking me around wasn’t fair. Keep in mind that Advisor didn’t say that – someone else did. Senior member was out of town and I demanded they wait for him to have said meeting. I was informed the morning of that I was not allowed to attend.

I waited at my desk. Everyone knew what was going on – people stopped by my cubicle to check on me, offer sympathetic glances, sent emails to make sure I was OK. After about an hour, Advisor came to fetch me. From the look on his face, I realized that Senior member had let me down. I wouldn’t be defending on July 8.

He closed the door and we sat down. He sighed and looked away.

“The document is fine as is. We’ll discuss minor revisions when you defend. Pete said he’d attend a defense on the 8th but would treat it as an actual defense. One you could fail. Everyone else said that was inappropriate – we don’t do that to anyone, and would not do it to you. But we think it’s in your best interest to have at least one publication before graduating. You won’t be able to get jobs-“

“I have offers already.” I said. “People asked for the papers, read them and decided they were fine. I have jobs!”

“Well, later it could be a problem. And there’s no guarantee that they’ll get accepted. Publishing isn’t fair.”

Publishing isn’t fair?” I asked, incredulous. “What is this?!” (I was nearly hysterical and not behaving well, obviously.)

“We want one paper accepted – even if they ask for revisions – when one is accepted, you can set a defense date.”

“I want to leave now.” I said flatly.

“I asked them about that and they’re worried that you won’t ever defend. But I asked that you be allowed to start work at one of the posdocs – whichever you choose – while you wait. Of course, you’re welcome to stay here if you’d like.” We'd discussed this many times and I said that I couldn't stay, regardless of the outcome of that meeting.

“I won’t work for you after this.” I stared at him, and he looked away.

“Then you can leave. But I do hope you’ll come back to defend.”

“I’ll get each of those papers published – I promise you that.”

“You can’t promise that – it’s not really in your control. I’ve written good work that never got published.”

“That’s your failure, not mine.” I said, determined to do as much damage as possible. “I will get published and I will be back to defend. But I would never work for you again after this.”

Then I got to call my prospective employers.

“Good God.” One of them said. “I can’t believe it. I’ve read the papers, looked at your CV. You’re fine. Wow. Well, it doesn’t bother me – we’d love to have you here. I just can’t believe anyone would do that.”

“What the hell is wrong with those people?” Another said. “Do you mind if I call Advisor? This is ridiculous!” He called me back, disgusted. “I told him it was insane to expect you to base your future on some two reviewers who only were evaluating a single piece of your work, abdicating responsibility of your career when the people who know you best should be deciding such things. Absolutely ridiculous. Let me check on the funding situation here and make sure it won’t cause problems that you won’t have a PhD. But it’s fine with me.”

“It happens.” Boss said kindly. “We’ll do whatever we can to support you in finishing as soon as possible. If you need to travel back and forth or do work here, that’s all fine.”

I stupidly had hope that one of the papers would get accepted in those next couple weeks and I would defend in late July. They were all three rejected as I finished up interviews, packed up my things, accepted Boss’s offer and moved to my current location. (My parents – worried – came for the weekend around July 8. We went shopping and they bought me presents I called “sorry you’re a failure” gifts.) As I bought a house, arranged the move, started work, I was miserable with the knowledge of my defeat. Pete had known me and my work nearly as well as Advisor. Yet both clearly found me inferior at the end. So how was I supposed to know who to trust? Was failure inevitable? Cruelty waiting around every corner? What if I couldn't publish those papers after all?

I sent one paper – the one least likely to get published, I thought – to the worst journal I could find. I think it was a 0.2 impact factor. I was vacationing with my family in a rented house in Destin, Florida, in late September when I got an email saying they would like to see revisions of that paper. In an upstairs bedroom decorated in yellows and blues, I frantically used the borrowed wireless connection and forwarded the email to Advisor.

“May I defend now?” I asked at the end. We had spoken again before I left, but neither of us apologized. He let me down, withdrawing support for a reason he never explained. I was completely out of line with my comments, but felt at the time they were deserved. But we didn’t speak often and when we did, we were polite. He replied to the email and noted he would make sure everything went smoothly and that I should schedule a date.

My parents – between July and October – had bothered me nearly incessantly. Each time we talked, I was asked what I’d do if I couldn’t get published. Why I didn’t file complaints. Why I didn’t go to the Dean. Why I didn’t get something in writing as to what the rules were. Why they could make up rules not in the handbook. I didn’t want to talk about it or think about it. I just wanted to wait until I could make it OK. It had to be OK. I would finish and be grateful I hadn’t burned bridges. It would somehow be made reasonably OK.

I went to campus in October for my seminar and was greeted kindly. Advisor took everyone to dinner afterward in celebration of my talk. Most students had a defense dinner – and I would have had I defended in July – but we instead dined and talked of how my talk went well and that I would come back in November to defend.

I arranged the meeting for 8:00AM on a Friday morning in November. I actually don't remember the date. I arrived in town on Thursday afternoon and checked in to a hotel near campus. I went shopping, buying a couple of university t-shirts for Christmas gifts, a book from Borders and a little red purse from Dillards. I picked up a sandwich from my favorite shop, a piece of chocolate cake from the grocery store I used to frequent and some soda from the gas station next to my former apartment. I then holed up in my hotel room, practicing the talk I’d perfected at interviews and had since forgotten in my eagerness to avoid thinking about the defense that might never be.

I spent Thursday night in and out of the shower. I was absolutely sick, shaking with fear and wide awake despite 3 Tylenol PM. While I tried to convince myself it would be fine, there was now a part of my brain that knew there was a possibility that the world could crack open and swallow me whole. There was reason to fear these people – they’d shocked and humiliated me before. I didn’t think they’d do it again, but I didn’t know for sure. In an interesting twist, I finally fell asleep after reading an erotic story. I’d read somewhere that people afraid of flying should read pornography on planes since it’s distracting enough to ease the fear. The story I read was about a woman who met the love of her life online, finally meeting him (hence the erotic parts), then marrying him. When I met Peter, I was convinced that the world was paying me back for the dissertation hell by offering my own version of the love story that might have saved my sanity. Sad, isn’t it?

Anyway. I dressed the next morning and arrived at the huge lecture hall I’d been forced to reserve. I hadn’t brought treats or coffee. It was me and my laptop, standing in the hallway outside the room, trying not to shiver.

Advisor arrived first, smiling and asking how I was. “Terrified.” I answered and he laughed weakly. Senior member then arrived, asked the same question and received the same answer. We went in the room and I set up the laptop, waiting for the other three members to arrive. One did, apologized for being late, then settled in. I hadn’t invited anyone to attend. For the July defense, I assumed the entire group would be there. My parents would have come so we could’ve celebrated afterward. Dave - another friend - had planned to make the trip back to campus. It would have been a big deal.

The actual event was treated like a secret. I wanted nobody to know in case something went wrong. So it was me and 5 faculty members. Well, four in the beginning, actually. Pete didn’t come. After waiting for 15 minutes, someone called him and said we were waiting. I started without him, he arrived a few minutes later, then asked a single question. Senior member asked another question. They were both easy and gentle, then I was asked to step outside. Advisor followed me out not more than 2 minutes later to congratulate me. I went back in to shake hands as the four other men filed out, unhooked my laptop and packed up my things.

I returned to our office space and began completing revisions so I could print a final copy for approval while I was still in town. I found a quiet lobby of the hospital to call Mom, then Dad, (both were at work) to tell them it was over. It went fine. Nothing was wrong. I’d be home that evening.

My dad went back to campus with me over Thanksgiving to print the 5 copies on the right kind of paper so we could turn them into the graduate offices. Poor Dad was worried about me and had the day off. So he drove me to and from campus to wrap up the details. We turned a copy into the various offices, I got my packet of alumnus materials, paid the final binding fees then drove home. We stopped for a cheeseburger on the way.

“I wanted to buy you something special for lunch.” He said, frowning. “To celebrate.”

“Sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to.” I said. “I just wanted it to be over, Daddy. And the cheeseburger is actually pretty good.”

34 comments:

Propter Doc said...

I'm verging on speechless. I cannot believe that any academic system could allow something like this to happen. I'm amazed you ever set foot in a research group at a university again and admire greatly your strength to get through that. This should never ever happen to anyone. Advisors have a responsibility (as do committee members) to ensure that candidates meet the requirements, and with that comes a moral responsibility to be fair and tell the truth.

You are amazing.

phd me said...

Good lord. My graduate school experience was pretty awful but this is, indeed, indefensible. No one deserves such cruelty, especially you, especially from her mentors. This may be petty, but I hope you never have to interact with those bastards again.

JustMe said...

i am so floored. this is insane. i am so sorry you had to deal with this and am so glad that it's over. seriously, what the hell is/was wrong with those people?

zelda said...

thank you for writing that. i'm in tears. i'm so, so sorry that happened to you. and thank you for writing to me, as well. it means so much.

post-doc said...

Propter Doc-
Thank you. It's one of the reasons I can't fully embrace the academic world anymore. I have this paranoia that the next huge betrayal is right around the corner.

PhD Me-
I like petty - that made me smile. We do speak, though not often. I don't think we've seen each other since my defense, but Advisor was the last author on all those graduate papers. I did take Pete off one of them as punishment, but I don't know that he was ever aware that it happened.

JustMe-
I don't know how to sort out if it was them or me. It continues to be a problem, I guess.

Zelda-
I'm hardly the poster child on how to get through something like this. I became very depressed and wasted the first year of my postdoc. I'm lucky enough to work in a place where I feel safe (and haven't gotten fired for a certain lack of productivity and face time). I hope you do much, much better than I have. Thank you for writing and reading.

ScienceWoman said...

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I am so proud of you for getting through that and showing all those stupid, egotistical old men that they were dead wrong. I don't blame you for not wanting to be in academia anymore after such an awful experience. If I were you, I think I would try to warn future students working with pete (and more directly than your friend warned you). And I can't say I'm very thrilled with your advisor's behavior either.

baggage said...

Oh gosh. I'm so sorry this happened to you. It seems so unfair.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience with my masters project (note, not even a thesis as I had taken the exam option)... complete with advisor refusing to stick up for me. 4 years later, I am barely over it. Even though I do not want it to color the trust in my new PhD department, it does. Things like this are hard to recover from. I'm sorry you had to go through this.

DRD

Veo Claramente said...

oh my god oh my god! That is the worst thing I have ever heard! I am so impressed that you stayed in academia after an experience like that. I wish, how I wish there was some retribution that these people could be made to face for their treatment of you! The very worst of manipulative, arbitrary, uncollegial and CRUEL behaviour. Gives me a disgust of the scientific establishment.

similar story said...

Three years ago I left my PhD program after 3.5 yrs of study because my advisor wanted me to defend within 6 months, and I wanted another 1.5 yrs. I hadn't done work that I believed to be the quality of a PhD. I admit that I had been depressed and not focused enough throughout my PhD studies. I hadn’t published any papers in a journal, only conferences. Not only was my pride in the way, but I was deathly afraid that one of my other committee members would pull a Pete. I saw my advisor trying to go around the system to graduate me. He tried to select committee members he felt he could manipulate. When I told him I was leaving, he tried to get me to do even less to obtain a PhD. He said I could use/claim some work that he had been doing independently to make up for what I thought were deficiencies in my work. I was horrified at this suggestion. Leaving was the best thing I ever did. I went into the PhD program for all the wrong reasons. I just wish my advisor had been more forthright and shared with me his expectations earlier. The title “advisor” was not meant to be paradoxical. I am so sorry for all emotional torture you have suffered. Good luck in your future.

Jane said...

Wow. The behavior of Pete was horrendous, but the behavior of your advisor was truly reprehensible. No advisor should do that to a grad student. Ever. Ever!! I admire your strength in dealing with a situation that no person should ever have to deal with.

Thanks for sharing your story.

A Female Scientist said...

Its very bad that you had to go through this. You should be really proud of your courage and strength.

post-doc said...

ScienceWoman-
I did try to warn people about Pete and mine is one of those stories that still circulates. In terms of doing something more, I didn't feel capable of doing so. (Not that I got the impression that you were looking down on me - I just wonder if I should have.)

Baggage-
Thank you. As you know though, life can be far more unfair than it has been to me. You and your family are in my thoughts - I hope the girls are doing well.

DRD-
The recovery is difficult, isn't it? I'm so sorry it colors your present experience, though I don't know a way around that. It's definitely affecting how I view people here and they've been nothing but wonderful.

Veo-
I was disgusted too, at least at first. Now I feel more sad that this does happen to people and that there's so little we can do to prevent or stop it.

Similar-
I'm so, so sorry. It sounds like you were far braver than I would have been. I wonder if some advisors are just icky people or if the pressures of research and funding turn them into really poor mentors. It's wonderful that you feel good about your decision - I wish I was as confident that things went the right way for me. I'm wishing you the best of luck as well.

Thanks, Jane. I was profoundly disappointed in Advisor as well. I was pretty clear in communicating that to him, but I sometimes feel badly about that.

Female Scientist-
The sad thing, I think, is what I took away from the situation. I don't feel strong or brave or amazing - though I certainly appreciate people saying so. I feel naive and paranoid and afraid.

That's the overriding feeling. After being betrayed by people I knew and trusted, I'm terrified that it's going to happen again. And I'm not sure how to get around that.

Thanks so very much for the comments though. I didn't expect such a response and I'm quite grateful.

Lucy said...

That is horrifying! I don't understand what Pete or your advisor were thinking. Grr!

Psycgirl said...

Thank you for sharing this. This brings tears to my eyes as well - I've had those empty times where my advisor has not stood up for me. Where I'm looking, expectantly, and he says nothing. This is a million times worse than that - no advisor should treat a grad student the way you were treated.

You're a strong person Katie. You really are - I think I would have said "Fuck this then!" and walked away without my PhD. But you persisted and you really are proving them wrong. All of the things you said to your advisor (which you think were poor behavior but I think were amazing) were completely correct.

In the end, I think you will be very successful, and they will be aware of your success, being in the same field, and they will realize that they didn't see your potential.

Terminal Degree said...

I am proud of you for the way you handled this. And I'm disgusted by your advisor.

angrygrad said...

This makes am so angry, You advisor sucks! I would be so so tempted to do something totally ridiculous to get back at him. I am filled with admiration for the way you handled them. I hope only better things come your way from now on. Many virtual hugs to you Katie.

Anonymous said...

read it, bordering on horror. it takes a lot of guts to stand up and do things the way you did. good for you. but sometime a cautionary tale should appear about such academics. but how? on messageboards, in college committees. its like being notified that a sex-offender lives in the neighbourhood!

Phdladybug said...

I read your story with horror. I can't believe they did this to you, that anyone would do this to any graduate students. Thanks for sharing the story and to show us that we can make it through even if it can be very very hard.
I wish you all the best!

Psychobunny said...

Oh my goodness! Their conduct is just inexcusable. And you are so amazing for being able to stay above it all. Are you by any chance available to be my guru? :D

post-doc said...

Lucy-
Grr, indeed. And it bothers me that I still don't know what they were thinking.

PsychGirl-
It's a terrible feeling - watching your advisor fail to act as he/she should. I definitely sympathize with anyone in those situations. As for my future success, you're very sweet to be so optimistic. Thank you.

Terminal-
He disgusts me too if I think about it too much. Which is why I sort of pretend it never happened. I'm not sure that's healthy.

AngryGrad-
I contemplated revenge! :) I couldn't think of anything bad enough and I wasn't really capable of doing much other than surviving at the time. Things are better now, so thank you for the good wishes.

Anon-
That's part of my follow-up post actually. How to inform others, what risks there are to my career, what I wish I would have done. It would help if I knew any of the answers.

PhDLadybug-
I'm wishing you all the best too. I don't think my situation was as awful as it could have been and I'm still working on recovering, I think. But I do hope hearing it makes someone feel less alone should she be dealing with anything similar.

Psychobunny-
If I were your guru, I'd instruct you to find a better guru posthaste. :) Your comment made me smile - thanks.

Estrella said...

Wow. I agree with the first comment- "You are amazing."

Colst said...

I'm late to the party, but I really don't know what to say. Still, I felt like I had to pass along my compliments on and appreciation for a powerful post, and my best wishes on finding your way forward from this contemptible experience.

PonderingFool said...

It amazes me stories like this. The idealistic side asks, how in the world are people like this allowed into an educational setting and retained? The cynical side responds with it is not truly an educational setting. That is at most a potential nice side effect at these places. Glad you were able to make it through. Really do admire how you handled it. I probably would have blown up and be without a degree. It is hard to fight such a system without support and resources.

sam said...

Wow, congrats on your courage and strength! I would probably have just walked away.

Maybe I'll wait an extra year before defending, even if my advisor encourages me to finish. Now I'm paranoid...

skookumchick said...

Oh my god, this is just terrifying. Thank you for writing it all out - I just wish I could send it (somehow anonymously) to my advisor, this is just what I am worried about for my defense. He's pushing me to defend, everyone else seems supportive, but the disaster of my prelim defense makes me not trust anyone, least of all my advisor. And I've got the job lined up and everything too... cross your fingers...

Kate said...

Unfortunately, this sounds very similar to what happened to me last semester, only instead of a committee member, it was my advisor.

Thankfully, my dissertation was just approved this week and I graduate at the end of the month. I filled out the form today saying that I wouldn't bother coming to graduation, and they can send me my diploma.

Fuckers.

Amelie said...

I'm shocked. Why did none of the other advisors step in? It seems they were not all happy... You were in the weakest position!
You are strong indeed for having made it through this. I hope you'll never again have to meet such... people.

Caro said...

Thanks for posting. I went through something similar although in my case my supervisor was powerless against the external examiner despite his best efforts.

Anonymous said...

That is simply disgusting. I simply do not know how those SOBs sleep. My partner is going through something similar, and I am waiting for the day - which if I hold my temper as I should will never come - when I get to tell her advisor how much I've learned from him about running a research group.

STM said...

As hard as this was to post...thank you.
There are a couple pitfalls with my department that I'm worried about and your story highlighted how they can happen.

I need to think a little harder about my committee and who will be on it. (assuming I ever get there)

Free the Grads... said...

Thank you for sharing your story; you have no idea how much that it means to grad students who are in the throws of a horrific advisor situation to read your words (both hands raised!). As sick as this sounds (and, let's face it, no one is completely well when they are grad students), just knowing that you're not the only one is a comfort (a small one, but I'll take it right now).
My only hope is that universities will WAKE UP and not give these egomaniacs this much power over others. Good luck to you and thanks.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God. I finished up my EE Ph.D in August and, even though I had a relatively "good" adviser, I can completely sympathize with your situation. I have friends who have been through committee hell.

What bothers me most about your story is not that Pete was a backstabbing asshole (I could throw a rock and hit three backstabbing assholes), but that the rest of your committee, and in particular your adviser, didn't get your back. That's unforgivable and shows he/she is a spineless and weak person. There's a unspoken agreement between adviser and student which states that the student does tons of hard work (for little if any pay) for an advisor, in exchange for true mentoring, a degree, and some protection from the evils of academia during the process. In that regard, your adviser completely let you down and should be ashamed.

My advice is to live well. Get a great job, be happy, and don't become a bitter burnout. Those gomers on your committee have to look themselves in the mirror every morning, and that's punishment enough.

Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

it happens anywhere, so sad, truly sad

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