Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'll do it myself.

I threw a single tantrum in public when I was small. It was completely out of character, shocking my mother completely.

She and a friend had taken me to the mall. I often went there with Grandma and Grandpa and they indulged me to the nth degree. But on that particular day, we had finished shopping and I was perhaps a bit tired. We descended the escalator in one of the department stores and as we reached the bottom, Mom’s friend reached for my hand.

“I want to do it by myself,” I told her, pulling away and readying myself by watching my feet carefully so as to step away at the right time as Grandpa taught me. My focus was so complete that I didn’t notice her reaching for my hand again until we reached the critical moment and she ruined my moment by helping me off the moving steps.

According to Mom, I flipped the hell out. “Apparently,” she said, “your history of not throwing tantrums did not arise from not knowing how to do it.” I went limp, refusing to walk and screaming at the top of my tiny lungs with pure, indignant rage. At my sound, Mom’s friend released my tiny hand and I fell to the ground, now crying pitifully but loudly. I wailed that I wanted to do it myself and would not be consoled by Mom’s promises that we could make the trip again and I would definitely be allowed to depart the escalator independently. She promised toys and treats and anything else she could think of to make me stop embarrassing her, unaccustomed as she was to her toddler’s terrible behavior in public.

She and her friend, seeing that their former efforts were futile, hid behind a rack of towels so they would be out of my sight. Mom reports peeking around the fluffy terrycloth displayed in multiple colors to see me look around, immediately stop crying and sit up. She said passersby would speak to me and I’d smile sweetly in return. After giving me time to calm down, Mom approached me again. I screamed until she retreated. We repeated that a couple of times until she finally scooped me up and buckled me in my seat whereupon I cried all the way home.

Most of the time though, I was eager to ask for assistance. Dad once scolded one of my friends - an older girl in my neighborhood - for saying I broke a toy. “When Katie breaks something, she brings it to me right away so I’ll fix it. She never hides it - then she wouldn’t be able to play with it later.”

And so goes my general philosophy. If it’s broken or I’m confused or a project’s failed already, it seems simpler and easier to ask for help. The problem with this is that I become dependent on people very easily. For example, say I have a crush who makes me happy by paying attention to me. But then he goes away and I’m despondent. Or I’m worried about my moods and unable to work so I start taking anti-depressants. When my doctor asked if I wanted to wean off of them for a while, I vehemently refused. I need them. They help me. When I have trouble praying, I tend to meet with my pastor. When I struggle in general, I call my mom. Something wrong with the car? Dad advises and I trust the people at my local service station. I’m lonely? I have a pretty puppy and a stripey cat.

Advisor employed a pretty hands-off policy when it came to publications. He would “read” drafts I sent and write “Looks great!” on the top of the first page. Occasionally, he would make some changes or cut some superfluous text. But I wasn't taught how to pick a journal or how to outline a paper. It may very well be the case that it’s a ‘learn by doing’ situation, but due to my defense experience, publishing graduate work was a rather miserable experience.

The exception to that rule was the paper I almost abandoned and worked on with Boss. He rewrote that manuscript with me more times than I can remember. We worked for months to make it appropriate for the journal he selected and that process - seeing where I went wrong and how he structured sections and paragraphs and even sentences - has cleaned up my writing considerably. And that paper did well! One of my images was on the cover and I have copies displayed at home and at work. My parents have a copy in their living room that they show to people. It was selected for a virtual journal and has gotten some attention (mild attention, but still.) from several groups.

So, like a broken toy I might want to play with again, I take new manuscripts to Boss and smile as sweetly as I know how and ask that he fix them so I can get them published in upper level journals. He has commented sparingly of late and indicated he was very pleased with how I’m writing now. But I continued to push him on the reject and resubmit paper. I want it in that particular journal - I picked it, but it’s the right choice, I think - and I don’t know how to convince the reviewers. So I emailed and nudged and asked in person and begged and asked some more. On Friday, he said he planned to get through it. It was on his desk.

He did not give me comments before heading out of town this weekend.

I know he’s been busy. Perhaps he wants me to be more independent. To trust my own work and deal with the criticism that results. Take what he’s taught me and apply it.

It was with some disappointed irritation that I took the paper out again today. In the month since I’ve looked at it, some errors became clear. So I fixed them, read the reviewer comments and nodded in satisfaction that I addressed all of them that I could. So I uploaded the files, checked the pdf and pressed submit.

I would have welcomed a steadying influence and held Boss’s hand as I stepped off this escalator. But in the absence of that option, I remembered what I learned about timing and balance, watched my feet as the floor grew closer, stepped off the moving stairs and toddled away on the ground floor.

I’m rather proud of myself. Perhaps next time I’ll be a bit more eager to try it on my own.


Propter Doc said...

I didn't realize until I read this that my PhD advisor did less with every paper we wrote. The most recent paper? I edited his writing more than he edited mine. I didn't really realize what a good progression we made. We didn't do the formal stuff like discussing how to write the paper or how to structure it, it just kind of happened.
Training wheels?

Psycgirl said...

Good for you Katie! I think choosing a journal and tailoring a paper that way isn't taught very well in grad school. You reminded me of this experience I had when I was younger, with your mall story, that I suddenly realized is exactly how I react to life now! I'll have to blog about it. (It would be a very long comment!)

Alethea said...

I also agree that you did well with the resubmission on your own. If it gets in this time, what vindication!

Do you get enough compliments? You write really well. I loved the anecdote about the mall: lots of imagery. And I also really like when you post dialogue, a style I would never be able to carry out. So, bravo!

EA said...

Hey! I'm proud of you too. :o) I think it's a vicarious thing... maybe someday soon I'll be stepping off the escalator on my own too...

Psychgrad said...

It sounds like you're making some excellent progress as an independent researcher. I still have moments of panic over submitting anything without my supervisor's full approval. But, more and more, he's saying "it's up to you". Probably because I'm becoming braver and arguing my points more, but it is very intimidating to have my own successes/failures resting entirely on my own shoulders.

I am new to your blog -- I just read your defense story and feel ill about that happening. Both that you had to go through it and that it is even conceivable that that could happen. I had a pretty rough proposal defense and am really scared about an equally rough (or worse) final defense.

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