Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Winter Break Escape

My Christmas tradition is rejoicing in the academic lifestyle that sends me home for three weeks, while those around me, the ones who have "real" jobs, are hard at work. I didn't even ask my advisor if I could have time off, I simply booked a flight to the home of my ancestors (or my father, at any rate), and prepared to enjoy my warmer, snow-free surroundings. I have not analyzed data, I have not worked on my dissertation, I haven't even dealt with many emails, as my advisor is too busy dealing with her own cold and the colds of her two sons to keep up with the usual rate of requesting information she's seen before and insisting "we" should follow-up on things.

Next week I may pay for this time off, as I simultaneously attempt to put together the fourth chapter of my dissertation (on the third experiment) and devise a fourth experiment that my advisor might actually sign off on. But for now, I am luxuriating in the freedom from research. I just need to recharge enough to last one more semester.

Friday, December 11, 2009

When Advisors Shouldn't Try to Advise

Once upon a time, my advisor met weekly with her undergraduate honors thesis students. The meetings were only half the time devoted to her graduate students, but they were consistent. She helped them choose their projects, decide what to do when problems arose, analyze data, and write.

Then she realized that she had graduate students who could do this for her. The transition started gradually and ended abruptly; suddenly, she met with the graduate students, and the graduate students met with the undergrads, and never did the faculty and undergraduates see each other.

One of my thesis students has been working with me since she was a senior in high school. She picked up one of my side projects - one I would like to do if only that dissertation didn't get in the way. "Our" faculty advisor helped me brainstorm the project, but has been uninvolved since then. She has not met individually with my thesis student. She has not emailed her. She has not responded to my student's emails, beyond instructions on how those emails should be done better. She did not attend my student's lab meeting presentation at the halfway point of data collection.

And now, suddenly, out of the blue, she emailed my student asking why she didn't do *this* instead, where "this" is a plan we had specifically decided against in that lab meeting, and my advisor had implicitly condoned. If the thesis time constraints were really that important.

Which means I sent a very careful but adamant email reminding the advisor that a decision had been made at lab meeting, that if she had any problems with that decision she should have said it then, and explaining exactly how tight the constraints were.

I did not say that she had no business interfering in my mentoring relationship with my student, or butting into a project she has had nothing to do with for almost a year. But I really, really wanted to.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Dissertation Proposal...Take 2

High on the list of things I never thought I would do a second time: Write a dissertation proposal. Not that the original experience was anywhere near as scarring as, say, my comprehensive exam, but neither was it a joyous experience I yearned to repeat.

But, Experiment 4 of my dissertation is killing me. For assorted technological and practical issues, I have given up hope on it working - and did so just as reviews came back declaring Experiment 4 to be absolutely vital for our interpretation of other dissertation findings. My advisor didn't want to let the experiment go. I told her that the experiment was toxic, and that I would sooner pursue an alternate career than get it to work. I was only slightly exaggerating when I said I was starting to think longingly of a career at McDonald's.

Our compromise: She will back me on changing the experiment, if I can restructure the dissertation so the research seems motivated but the current Experiment 4 doesn't seem so obviously necessary. I am to write her a dissertation proposal, which she will approve (or not), and which I can then send to the rest of my committee so they at least have a "heads up!" that the dissertation has changed before I plop it into their inboxes.

It is a good compromise, and it's not like I had much else I would have been doing for the next few weeks anyway. (The original plan was to write later chapters of the dissertation, but the motivation was no longer there). If I get frustrated, I can console myself with the knowledge that at least this time I only have to convince one person, not five.