Monday, June 22, 2009

AdvisorA and AdvisorB

I've been trying to figure out how to write about my current sucky grad school situation, and I've decided that I need to break it down into two parts. Part One is below. Part Two, detailing the hideous conversation that I had last week with my advisor, will be forthcoming later in the week. I was going to write the whole thing today, but thinking about it still has me seeing spots and wanting to punch walls, so I'm breaking it into two. Today's installment is mostly background. Part Two will have the fireworks.

First, our cast of characters:

AdvisorA: my primary research advisor. I've been working with her for almost five years now. In the middle of this time, she decided that she wasn't happy at "my" university, and took a (tenured) job at a different university 3000+ miles away, so now we work together remotely, and she funnels funding for me back to my university. All of AdvisorA's students who were further ahead than me when she left have since graduated or dropped out, and all of her students who were behind me found new advisors when she left the university. I was the only one "on the bubble," so I'm now the only student that she still has here. AdvisorA is a late-career academic, married with no kids.

AdvisorB: When AdvisorA moved cross-country, I aligned with AdvisorB so that I would have somebody local to sign paperwork and bounce ideas around with in person. My research is not totally within his current field of expertise, but he's done some work in the area in the past, and he actually thinks that the work that I'm doing is very cool. Most of the entertaining advisor stories that I've told (like this one and this one) have been about AdvisorB. He is also very advanced in his career, never married, never had kids.

BossLady: Before starting grad school, I worked at a private research lab, where BossLady was my manager. I've continued to work there part-time during the academic year, and full-time during the summers, always reporting to BossLady. BossLady is probably more well-known and respected than AdvisorA, and the two of them have collaborated on projects together in the past, including the project that I've been doing with both of them for the past 5-6 years. BossLady is married and has two young children.


When AdvisorA announced that she was moving cross-country, I had long conversations about funding with both AdvisorA and AdvisorB. AdvisorA assured me that she would fund me as long as necessary, and her leaving our university wouldn't effect it at all. AdvisorB assured me that, should funding become a problem anyway, he would fund the end of my graduate career (the last year or so, while I was writing my thesis) on his own personal overhead funds. AdvisorA and AdvisorB and I all met together, and everyone was very cheerful and optimistic, and told me not to worry, because they had primary and backup funding plans in place, and everything would work out great.

When I announced that I was pregnant, I had more funding and graduation-timing conversations with all three of our players. Everybody was very cool and supportive. I even expressed some concern because the huge contract that had been paying for 95% of my graduate career was going to be running out, and I was worried about what project would provide me with funding for the last year or so, while I was working on my thesis. Everyone assured me that it was not a problem. The only person who was worried about money was BossLady, but I told her that I wouldn't have much time to do work for her for the next year, anyway, because I would be focused on writing my thesis, and AdvisorA backed me up and told BossLady that she would cover me for that last year, including paying me during this upcoming summer. Once again, the world was good.

Fast forward to last week. Out of the blue, I get an email from AdvisorA informing me that she couldn't afford to pay me for the summer. I asked her what had changed, and why she was letting me know so late, when it was too late to make alternate summer plans (eg, working for BossLady). She wouldn't give me a straight answer. I made enough noise that after a few days, she told me that she had "found" more money, and she'd pay me for the summer after all, as planned. But after years (yes, years!) of having no funding concerns, and being told repeatedly that my funding was secure, I was suddenly nervous. If AdvisorA was having problems for the summer, what was going to happen in the Fall and beyond?

I wasn't too worried yet, because I still had my backup plan: AdvisorB's overhead funds. So, I met with AdvisorB, and reminded him about his promise to fund my last year, if necessary, while I was writing the thesis. Three things came out of that meeting: (1) he thinks that I am perfectly on track to graduate next June, so we really are talking about just one year; (2) he has no money for me, because AdvisorA has so much available to her that AdvisorB didn't bother reserving any money for me; and (3) he didn't say so directly in these words, but he basically said that AdvisorA is lying if she's implying that she can't afford to pay for me. He knows that she can.

So, with my backup funding gone, and one more year in need of funding, I needed to have a detailed talk with AdvisorA. And as it happened, AdvisorA was in town last week for a conference. So, everything that has happened since then got to happen in person. Yippee.

More later.


  1. on the edge of my seat...can't wait for Part 2.

  2. I loathe situations like these. I am sorry you are in the middle of this but glad it was able to be done in person.

  3. Ugh!! My stomach is turning just imagining what is to come...

  4. This sounds very stressful. I hope that your department chair is able to provide some support or advocacy for you.

  5. I'm with Advisor B...I think Advisor A is giving you the run around. I work in research administration in academia, and my suspicion is that she would rather use her funds to pay for work closer to home than fulfill her commitment to you. That's just my gut reaction.


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