Friday, May 04, 2007


I don’t feel well. I woke this morning at 6 and shuffled down the hall, as is my habit, to check email and read blogs. I went back to bed – just to rest my eyes for a minute – but woke several hours later. Sighing heavily, I came back to the laptop and stared blankly at the screen. I’ve been working quite a lot lately and I really am tired. The energy level just crashed this morning and I’ve been unable to get it back.

I stood in my closet around 10:00, staring at the wall of summer clothes, and sighed. Chienne was huddled in a corner. It’s been raining and my dog has an irrational fear of thunder. Instead of choosing a shirt, I sat on the floor to cuddle. As I dodged kisses and told her that rain wasn’t so scary, I also confided that I didn’t want to go to campus. The only reason to go was to hear the resolution of Dawn’s recent struggle.

Given that I failed to pick a suitable outfit as I stared up at the row of hanging clothes, I realized my chances for making it to the office were low. I had plenty I could do from home and my head was bothering me. As I was pouting my way through a shower, trying to talk myself into driving to work, the cell phone rang. When I checked my messages, I eagerly returned Dawn’s call.

“How are you?” I asked immediately.

“I’m doing fine.” She replied. “I resigned my position yesterday.”

I frowned, trying to decide if that meant for EB’s lab or for the overall fellowship. “So the meeting didn’t go well.” I finally said.

“Oh, no.” She drawled. “We went in and nobody wanted to talk about my issues or all the paperwork I brought.” Obviously, I thought. If one takes email to refute a professor’s complaints, chances are said email will not be closely examined. I still scowled at more evidence that the world of academic research is sometimes driven more by ego and power than curiosity and fairness. “So I sat and listened to them complain about me and insult my work, then when I tried to talk, I couldn’t even finish a sentence. So I started packing up my stuff to leave.

“One of the other professors was offended by that and asked what I was doing. So I told her I couldn’t even finish a thought! Why should I be respectful to them if they were being so rude to me? So I told her that I didn’t mind listening to everyone else, but I expected the same courtesy. If they couldn’t extend that, then I was leaving.

“She told me to feel free to express my concerns, so I did and nobody would make eye contact with me. So I finally stopped talking and waited until I could leave. I kept putting things in my bag and was told that I could take a day to decide if I wanted to continue to work in that lab. If so, it was clear that I should do as I was told, regardless of how fair I found the request.

“I took yesterday to write my letters of resignation. Then I went in late last night to return my keys and gather the last of my things. Then I stopped by our office and picked up my stuff from there.”

“Oh.” I said simply, saddened. No more pink flower clock on the wall with the bumblebee on the second hand? The exasperated outbursts, complaints about parking and searches for free lunch were to be no more? I’m just going to go in on Monday and never see her again?

The thought makes me ill.

“But you’re still working with us.” I said hopefully. “You just left EB’s lab.”

“It’s unclear. I gave my letter to Boss as well, but he said he knew what it was and wouldn’t open it yet. He’s going to try to find another way, talk to some people. He’ll let me know.”

“OK.” I said, trying to figure out what to say next. “I want you to work with us.” I offered with all sincerity.

“Thank you.” She said kindly. “We’ll see what works out. I just told him that I was really unhappy with EB – it was affecting my health and I didn’t want to be that miserable doing my job. I was happy working with you guys – the atmosphere is completely different. So I hope it works out. We’ll just have to see though. We just got paid on the 1st, so I’ll be OK.”

But, I wanted to protest, you were talking about buying a house! How you wanted to publish and teach and give seminars! How are you OK with losing that because someone is a miserable human being?

Then I realized that there must be – for some of us – some sense of acceptance. There are fights one can’t win. I can’t make someone love me. She can’t create a fair situation when working with these particular people. So you let go of a dream and move forward because clinging to what-might-have-been just doesn’t work. But it still makes me sad.

We talked for a while longer – her weekend plans, the funny things her cat does, the dog she hoped to have if she bought a new home eventually. We both were huddled in our homes, still wearing pajamas, talking on the phone as if we were friends. We should have been at work, plotting how to get a free lunch. While the difference between the former and latter does upset me, I’m also not completely shocked by it.

I asked Pete – a few months after I graduated – what had happened. The fact is that I still need him and Advisor. They are the logical choice for letters of reference as I apply for grants. So we all pretend things are lovely and they’ve both written me beautiful letters. But before I asked Pete to contribute to my grant, I asked what he thought of me. If I was really so untalented and stupid and awful as he made me feel.

“I never thought you were anything but smart and talented and focused.” He replied to my email. “I did think you were a bit naïve.”

That innocence is gone now. I no longer expect that the fair option – one that favors the student and offers an avenue for professional growth – will be the one taken. I’m not sure why the research fields can be so brutal – funding crunches, a perpetuation of poor training environments historically, insecurity and unhappiness being inflicted upon others – but they sometimes are. That was a hard-learned lesson for me, but I did get it.

So upon hearing Dawn’s news, I wasn’t all that surprised. I realized she wasn’t about to back down and didn’t have much faith that Boss would back her up to a great extent. Though he still might come though – he is a good man – I’m resigned to the fact that sometimes it just sucks. Some people leave without degrees. Others quit jobs.

I’m disappointed. And sad. And still wearing pajamas.


Psychobunny said...

Ohhhh. I hope everything works out well for you and Dawn.

doc-in-training said...

Post-doc, thanks for sharing the story. I feel that I'm very much like Dawn - being very naive. Sigh. And after reading your story with Pete, I feel that I'm very clueless about the academic world too.

Part of me wish that I would never have to learn the lessons that you and your collegues are learning about the academic world, but I know I will.

Thanks for sharing.

Phdladybug said...

I hope evreything works out for your friend.

It's too bad that the academic world is so terrible because when I arrived in it I had this feelings of a wonderful learning and growing (positive) experience.
One thing is certainly learned from the bad example around me and around people I know: it is what I don't want to be. I might not know what I want to do or how to do it, but I know I don't want to became that kind of academic. I can't compromise on respect, honesty and integrity.

The Contessa said...

It's sad for Dawn and for you. She's obviously a tougher person than I am - she just isn't going to tolerate someone who is disrespectful of her and her work. I can completely understand and applaud that but the fact remains that this sad event had to go this far.

I hope it all works out.

EA said...

Life isn't always fair, is it? I like what you say about accepting and letting go. I like Dawn's approach. I'm doing my own accepting and letting go lately. It sucks and it really hurts to let go of dreams about the way I thought things "should be," but I'm getting through it too.

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