Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mediated Effects

The really big event of the day - the reason attending the PhD Procrastination talk seemed like such a good idea - was a mediated meeting with my advisor. There had been a few incidents last semester of miscommunication, stress, and extreme uncertainty, which we hoped to resolve by having a third, impartial party direct the conversation. We can judge this to be a success, because there was nothing awkward about walking back to our building together.

The meeting focused on a few key issues, primarily trying to allow for better communication in the future. The first was what exactly my job description is. My advisor went to a school where pay was never linked to whether you were teaching or on a specific person's grant, and didn't realize that juggling perceived research and teaching responsibilities could become incredibly difficult when the advisor judges your progress but the department signs off on your paychecks. So my advisor thinks of us as professionals in training, not as his/her employees when we're officially RAs. I also discovered the role of department evaluations (We get letters once a year saying we're doing a good job. No one knows where these letters really come from, or what they're based on) in adding to pressure and uncertainty.

I had a few meta-cognitive issues with the mediation process. I watched Mercury Rising over the weekend, including the behind-the-scenes features where a psychologist discussed how difficult it was for a 9-year-old actor to stop nodding his head or making any visible recognition that someone was talking to him. Most of us do this automatically; autistic children don't. I therefore spent an entire hour noticing every time I was nodding or adjusting my facial expression in response to something anybody said. There were also a few pop-business-psychology buzzwords that had me wincing internally.

As an interesting tidbit, I learned that way back when, PhD comics saved my advisor's sister's relationship with their parents: the sister when to the same school as Jorge Cham, and took 11 years to graduate; she provided the PhD books to the parents, who accepted that if there were books about how horrible and long this process was, the length of time could be excused. I shall have to remember to keep providing relevant links to my relatives as we get nearer my "probable" graduation date of 2010.

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