Saturday, January 26, 2008

Persistence Pays Off.

“So Elusive didn’t call me back,” I told Friend on our way to dinner Thursday night. We had decided on Greek food and while she lost a week’s worth of work for some sciencey reason, I was stuck because Elusive broke his promise to get back to me in the later afternoon. “He actually returned my page in the morning, but was busy. So he said he would call me in the afternoon. But he didn’t.”

“Shocking,” Friend offered.

I arrived on Friday morning, looked at my neat desk and nodded decisively. I paged him again and looked around happily at my repotted violet and extra workspace. I threw out some old journals and made room on my shelves for the texts Friend had given me (she was going to throw them away). I took out my pages of numbers that I’d forced myself to work on and began to type in lines of code and write down numbers. Over and over and over.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you yesterday,” Elusive apologized when I picked up the phone moments later. “But I’m around today. In [room I didn’t know]? Would you like to come over?”

“I’ll be right there,” I said and quickly printed a document in case he didn’t have the one I gave him. I then hurried across campus - Mission Impossible theme playing amusingly in my head (if you click on the link and allow it to play in the background while you read the rest of my story, it's completely awesome. Honestly.) - and walked in the room. I didn’t see him, so I interrupted someone in the darkened room to ask about his whereabouts. I found him in a corner, peering at a computer screen with a student, and waited patiently - feeling quite victorious - until he finished what he was doing.

“There’s a bit of light here,” he said, pulling two chairs into a small pool of illumination by one door. He withdrew the documents I handed him, we spoke for a few minutes and he pledged his support to continuing the project.

“Thank you,” I said sincerely as I took my leave. “I’ll be in touch when we need you again.”

My sense of elation was short-lived, however. With Elusive contained for the moment, I must return to stalking SPB to get money to do my next experiment. The hopeful element is that I’m getting better at making people pay attention to me.

But I wrote email to Friend once I returned to the office.

“Elusive has been captured. Repeat: Elusive has been captured.

And, um, the crow flies at midnight.”

We currently rest at 1 day and counting that SPB has ignored me. I’ll keep you updated.

In more satisfying resolution, I have completed Project A. To briefly summarize for those of you who have recently joined our program in progress, I have pieced together a post-doc. I have several little projects since my major focus was a major failure. For this particular endeavor, I met Very Important MD (who grows more important all the time) and did administrative tasks so she could more easily analyze data. I actually don’t mind doing it. I like lists and organization and I’m quite efficient and helpful in these roles. VIMD slowly grew to like me after I’d proven my worth. And while the project was quite time consuming, it was never actually hard. Phone calls and emails and data transfers and filing and checking to make sure items were correct interspersed with meetings I had to remind VIMD we needed.

All was well until I was told - by the company who wanted the results - that I wouldn’t receive credit for the work. I told Boss who talked to VIMD and it was decided that since I hadn’t been paid for the labor, an authorship would be demanded. I still met with resistance from said company, so I got tough. Well, more annoying than tough, but still. I moved the project firmly to the bottom of my priority list and, when nudged, reminded my industry contact that I was getting nothing from this so my attention was better directed elsewhere. I found a way to mention authorship in every single exchange we had and when it became clear that without my pushing the project forward, it sort of stalled (VIMD is too busy and important for them to bother her directly - they had to go through her minion, yours truly), attitudes changed.

Worn down and discouraged by the recent lack of progress, my industry contact promised me authorship and Project A made my list of things to do again. I started doing what they needed in a timely fashion and met with VIMD last week to finish the last of the analysis.

“That’s it for us, I think,” I told her as I closed the files I’d labeled ‘Final’ and emailed them to myself.

“What’s your plan?” she asked. “How much longer is your fellowship?” So we talked about projects and timelines and my hopes for that faculty job. She offered her influence if it became useful and I thanked her. I won’t use her though - she knows me as a minion, basically. I’ve done nothing overly impressive beyond putting in time and caring about the quality of the research. But her name does appear on my CV and this paper would be a big deal.

In my final email to Industry Contact I noted the finality of my files, gave a statement about billing for VIMD’s time, I closed with “As the last of many reminders, it would be quite important to my young career if you'll remember me when it comes time to write the paper. In the meantime, I'm happy to help answer questions that come up.”

She replied with answers to several questions and closed with,

“Katie, I would not forget your contribution on this project. I have mentioned to Dr. [project leader] about the authorship and he agreed. I will make sure your name is included when the manuscript is written.”

The lesson I hope I remember is that while life may be wildly unfair at times, people - in my experience - try not to be so. If I can articulate my problem and the ideal solution clearly (and frequently), some agreeable compromise might be reached. For me, seeing problems written out helps. Venting on my blog and reading comments and gaining confidence in how I feel can nudge me past the worst of my discomfort over bothering people and allows me to ask - or demand - what I need. And while this may seem easy and obvious to some, it was a non-trivial lesson for me. (I should note that I don't think this is a feminine thing as much as a Katie thing.) But I do - at long last - seem to be getting it.


Psychgrad said...

I can definitely relate to going on hunts for elusive people. I know people are busy, but I have very low tolerance for those who do not reply to e-mails/phone calls/etc. I recently wrote about "when good intentions don't mean sh*t".

In my experience, I find people are well-intentioned and say "yes" to getting involved in interesting projects. But, in the end, if their schedules are already overloaded, people actually wanting to devote time to a project bare the brunt of the overcommitted person's unavailability and the whole project stalls.

CharlieAmra said...

Score one for the Home Team!!! That is so awesome you made them see the light of day and agree to the authorship that you earned!!

It was frustrated to read the poor logic that they were using not block you getting credit (you were not getting paid so you did not rate authorship). I am glad that you stuck to your guns and forced them to recognize your efforts. You should be applauded.


EA said...

Wow!! You are on a roll and I am SO impressed!!

BrightStar said...

I admire your persistence. I think it's crucial in situations like this.

I struggle a lot with over-personalizing -- taking things personally that are not meant personally, but then there is such a thing as common decency as well. Maybe forgetting to get in touch once or twice is forgivable, but constantly is obnoxious! I'm sure it's not about you and much more about the other person / people's lack of social skills.

I think most of us have to persist in this way -- fight for authorship in some situations, sort of stalk people from time to time. I encourage you not to view this as a default in yourself!

PhDLadybug said...

That's very good for you! Congrats!

I am very bad too when people don't answer e-mails -even if I know I can't take it personally- about important stuff. I think that sometimes just a brief "I am busy now, get back to you asap" is enough. Ah, what an ideal world!

Brigindo said...

Great story, wonderful ending. Congratulations. I am new to the programming but will stay tuned to see what develops.

Earnest English said...

Woohooo for you! You're so good. I'm so glad you were able to get the authorship you earned! It bothers me when people think that the person who actually keeps everything working should somehow be kept out of the good stuff. But that industry contact knows the crow doesn't fly at midnight until YOU say so! Go go go!

Amanda said...

Congrats on being persistent. Hopefully, I'll be able to follow your example!

Alethea said...

Yes, exactly - good example! Thank you for continuing to share it. Cheers.

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