Saturday, June 23, 2007

All By Myself

I didn’t talk to Boss. I will. Soon. Honestly.

In the meantime, there is something about which I can complain.

Many moons ago (does that mean months? If not, I mean months and misused a phrase.), I worked with Joe on a project involving mice. By “worked” I mean I stood two steps behind him while he worked, making horrified expressions and generally fretting until such a time I could return to my desk and hope the residual sickness eased.

After a good deal of time, I told Joe and Boss that I no longer was able to deal with the tiny brown animals with their sweet little ears and admittedly icky tails. When I quit that project, I basically severed many ties with the main polar bear world since Joe was my only real contact.
I should be completely clear that Joe is a wonderful guy. He’s very bright and successful, yet consistently funny and kind and lovely. In the transition from post-doc to junior faculty, he had a tremendous amount of responsibility. I didn’t expect that he’d hold my hand through other projects when I definitely let him down with the mouse work. And we basically lost touch except for an occasional smile when we’d pass in a hallway.

Of late, Joe has been a more vocal presence. He is attempting to solidify a research focus for one group and merge multiple paths into a cohesive group goal. This is admirable and important – providing a community, building resources, forming a reputation as a group throughout the field. All good things and I applaud his efforts. Honestly.

But it’s making me feel isolated and unimportant and awful.

It started with a website. Joe listed all the topics of research he felt were important, and asked some of us to contribute. While everyone else had 4-5 lines on the list, I had only one and it was only vaguely representative of my current work.

Why feel badly? I haven’t been very open about my work outside my safe, little community in my department. Therefore, it’s my fault that people aren’t aware of my recent endeavors. But I don’t want to be a bother and I didn’t want to do another seminar after the first one was – largely – a rehashing of graduate work.

So I sent off little blurbs to Joe, as requested, to create a small in-house Wiki.

He responded by wanting to confirm that the work was done here rather than elsewhere. So I called him a whore (in my mind – not to his face) and confirmed that was the case.

But it cemented in my mind that people here feel I haven’t done enough or contributed substantially. Even as I’ve grown more productive and felt moderately successful, I haven’t found the welcoming and supportive environment I had hoped would be here.

One afternoon this week found me in a meeting with delightful people. I didn’t know them – hadn’t even seen some of them before – but they were lovely.

Joe entered and began to talk about forming a community and working together toward a common goal and unification of purpose and sharing strengths and conquering weaknesses… And the work I do wasn’t mentioned. So they talked about shared problems and interests and goals and I listened politely and hoped I’d get to leave soon.

Yet at the end, we formed small focus groups. As people were casually assigned to various areas, I waited and tried to appear as small as possible as my stomach grew increasingly upset.
“Did we get everyone?” Joe asked, glancing around, and I winced before raising my hand a bit.

“Yeah,” Chris said from behind me, “I was going to suggest Area C, but then I realized Katie would be the only one in that group. So…”

“Well, where can we put you?” Joe said, looking around, and I felt like we were picking teams for gym and not only was I undesirable, I had no relevant talent to contribute. Everyone is working far outside my area of interest and experience.

“I’m fine.” I said, shaking my head at Joe.

“You don’t want a group?” He asked and I shook my head in lieu of saying, “No, I don’t get a group. There’s a difference, and it sucks, but that’s life.”

“You two could be a group.” Chris suggested and Joe nodded before adjourning the meeting. I pounced on the opportunity and scampered from the room as quickly as possible. When I’m hurt or upset, I tend to withdraw and desperately needed the quiet calm of my office outside the polar bear habitat.

Joe sent email yesterday – a forward – and I read it. He had asked several relevant professors to join our large, overall group in Area C. But he hadn’t included me in the original email or talked to me at all. Which means that I don’t even get to play within my own small group. There are only 2 of us, and even then, I'm not important! Now, perhaps Joe thinks I’m not interested, which might be fair. I’m uncomfortable and awkward around those people and my urge to escape could be, I suppose, interpreted as disinterest.

Ahead of the forward he wrote, “I forgot to include you in this email. Sorry.” Then there was a frowny face that I think was supposed to indicate regret.

I replied without thinking overly hard about it and said, “Being forgettable and not included is apparently part of what I have going on here. So no worries.” It was overly dramatic and likely inappropriate but I want him to stop hurting my feelings! I felt badly about it at the same time – he’s not a hurtful person and I knew it wasn’t intentional.

He replied and wrote, “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever read. Please don’t hate me.” So I told him I didn’t hate him at all, was feeling overwhelmed and pitiful and that he really shouldn’t worry about it. I had earlier mentioned that I was looking to leave in a year – I wanted to protect my feelings and let them know that if they didn’t want me around, the feeling was mutual. I wanted out.

So when Joe asked for slides today – recent work that could be included in an upcoming presentation – I shrunk into myself and stopped the work I’d be doing most of the day. I don’t want to submit something he won’t use so I feel badly about recent work of which I am pretty proud. Yet I can’t submit nothing since he asked and I am very involved in research in this area, albeit on a human rather than animal level.

So I’m sad. And bothered. And feeling very alone and jealous of people who have research communities. I wish I had one. Even though I'm pretty sure the blame for my lack can be placed directly at my feet.


LeRoy Dissing said...

I hope you can be assertive and honest enough with those who can help you Katie. Actually you are helping yourself mostly. You may not be as alone as you feel you are. I am sure others where you work may have the same feelings. I am glad you are able to express your thoughts and feelings here as that could lead to actually shaping how and when you may express them to others.

You are feeling unwanted, unheard and unappreciated where you are right now...and feel it is time to make a change. How do you feel wanted, heard and appreciated? When you can answer that question and still want to move on, it will be for better reasons otherwise the same feelings could be carried with you into the next environment.

Just an observation that is not meant to be critical.

Rebecca said...

Sounds like you've come to the first step in creating a happier environment for yourself: recognizing that you are in part responsible for the predicament in which you find yourself. Now for part two: what can you do to make things better?

I agree with Leroy, make sure that you're not going to carry the same ineffective behaviors into the next work environment. This problem is going to follow you around until you resolve it.

Good luck!

Oanh said...

Oh, rubbish.

I don't comment very often - have I even commented before? - but I've lurked for a while. I'm not in academia which is one of the main reasons I don't comment. But here goes:

It sounds from your story that Joe is being petty, and possibly purposefully excluding you. As a more senior member of faculty, who is striving to make links and create groups etc, it is his responsibility to involve your work, because you are an important part of the entire team, irrespective of what he thinks. He does not know where the direction of the whole group is going, and he should be making the most of whatever anyone contributes.

If you can put up with it, I think you should thrust yourself and your work forward, and force him to listen to you.

But then, I'm a rather confrontational person, and you don't strike me as such. At the very least, you should make it so that he excludes you - not so that you exclude yourself because you are feeling excluded. If you get my drift.

Hope it turns out well for you.

post-doc said...

You haven't commented here before, but I enjoy your blog a great deal. So thank you for interpreting this not as a personal failure but as an icky situation with which I'm trying to deal.

I actually agree that I'd like to be more confrontational and be more clear that I'm not OK with being excluded and want some recognition and respect if they want my help in building the program. So thanks. A lot.

Leroy and Rebecca-
It's obviously easier to take something that makes me feel better about myself than worse. So though I'm obviously defensive, I will say that I agree that I am responsible for part of the problem. I also think that - having never faced this problem before in various work environments and having heard similar complaints from many people - it's not all me.

I admit I have various and numerous problems, but collaborating is not one of them. That I've formed strong relationships outside this group says to me that there's a problem inherent in my fitting with the people who should be closest. Solving that problem for me means finding a new group who shares my focus rather than trying to force a rather unnatural fit.

Given that I've been beating myself up about this very situation for the better part of 2 years, the thought that I need to reflect further and analyze my failure was unpleasant to hear. But I appreciate that your thoughts were for my benefit and do understand the point I think you attempted to make.

The Contessa said...

The wind that blows one door closed, opens another. THe things that make us feel badly and unappreciated and not wanted and not heard are sometimes signs of a change. Sometimes you have to initiate based on those feelings and sometimes the path you are on will make the change for you.

Either way, human beings tend to resist change as a whole, even the good ones. some are better at it than others.

The changes that look bad on one hand can open the doors to wonderful things for you if you let it.

You are doing really well in recognizing the behaviours and changes that you need to make to be happier in your life, now you have to make sure that you apply them and trust that the changes that come with it will benefit you in the long run.

By the way - I loved that you called him a Whore in your mind. That made me literally laugh out loud.

LeRoy Dissing said...

That I've formed strong relationships outside this group says to me that there's a problem inherent in my fitting with the people who should be closest.

This is an interesting statement Katie that you made. I agree that the issue is not all yours. However when you say you that the probelme is inherent with people who should be the closest, I wonder if it is just this group of people or an issue of getting too close. Something is causing you as well to pull back or put up a boundary that says: come this close but no closer. I don't know what it is about his group that is causing that (if in fact that is what is happening). Again, I am not commenting to make you feel defensive, only to see if there are things from an outside perspective you might find useful.

Anonymous said...

katie, i'm sorry that things are so yucky at work for you. i agreen with oanh that joe is not doing all he can/should. though change is hard, sometimes it's really good, and i hope that you find a wonderful special place to work at that will understand how great a polar bear you are!

doc-in-training said...

Katie, I don't agree with you when you wrote: "I'm pretty sure the blame for my lack can be placed directly at my feet."

To me, you're part of the team, then Joe should include you. I mean, what's his problem for excluding you?!

To whether to stay or to leave the group entirely, however, I sense that it's a much more complicated problem. Always listening though.

Kisha said...

I don't think you should feel bad for replying, and sticking up for yourself. It is not a "pitiful" think, but it WAS a good way to point out the way he was treating you. This is a great opportunity for you.

Rebecca said...

Katie, I am sorry that you found my earlier comment hurtful. What I was trying to say is that we all have patterns that we can fall into and repeat if we are not careful, and now that you know what part you played in implementing and establishing this particular pattern, that you need to be careful not to play that same role next time.

I say this out of experience, because it took me years to break the ingrained interrelationship patterns that my very dysfunctional family environment had instilled in me, and I kept wondering why all my friendships ended up the same way. (I'm not trying to imply that you are anywhere near as pathological as I was, or that your family is unhealthy.)

I apologize for leaving a comment that made you feel badly. That was not my intention at all!

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