Thursday, July 1, 2010

Twelve Hours

I interrupt my incessant whining about the car accident and insurance and lawyers and gestational diabetes for an important announcement:

I hate graduate school.

Most people seem to have a love-hate relationship with graduate school. It is a long, exhausting process with many many ups and downs. Other than a few specific low points, I never minded graduate school all that much. I had lots of intellectual freedom; I had flexibility with how I used my time; I enjoyed bouncing ideas around with smart people; I found a great mentor in AdvisorB who appreciated my approach to science and who actually seeks out my opinion on research topics, even ones that are far outside my own dissertation area. Yes, working for below minimum wage for six years kind of sucks, but I kept my eye on the prize and never doubted that I would be able to graduate one day. There were definitely some aspects of graduate school (yes, I'm looking at you, ridiculous soul-sucking qualification exam!) that appeared to be more hazing ritual than actual educational necessity, but for the most part, I could see the value in most of what I was expected to do. And I believed that if I kept doing well at the things that mattered (research, papers, service to my lab, networking) everything would end up okay.

Then, almost exactly one year ago, I got to experience one of the truly ugly sides of academia. (Story starts here, and continues here.) Short version: AdvisorA cut off my funding when I returned from maternity leave because she didn't agree with my choice to have a child. My department helped me to find alternative funding (it helps that the department chair and financial manager are both working moms who were fairly outraged at AdvisorA's behavior) and life went on. Freed of her financial obligations to me, AdvisorA turned to passive benign neglect, not standing actively in my way but not responding to emails or questions, and making herself generally unavailable to me. That went on until a little over a month ago, when I pointed out to her that helping me to graduate would also get me permanently out of her hair. She was suddenly super supportive and helpful. Which kind of makes me hate her even more, but it does get me closer to graduating.

So, it's time to put together my dissertation defense committee, and pick a date for the actual defense. AdvisorB made it abundantly clear that he thinks it is absolutely vital that AdvisorA participate in person, which means finding a time when she can fly out here for a day. I gave her a three month window and asked her for dates when she could be here. She helpfully supplied me with one week. That's it. Five days when she's willing to be here, and no other times all summer. Armed with that single week, I went in search of two final orals committee members who were interested in my dissertation topic and available during that week. And it turns out that week sucks for most people. I had brainstormed lots of committee member options with AdvisorB, but I didn't find anyone who was available during that week until I got down to my sixth and seventh choices. But hey, they're warm bodies, we expect them to be supportive, so let's just go with it and schedule the defense! Between those two guys and the existing members of my reading committee, there was exactly one day when they're all free.

So, I innocently sent out an email to everyone saying, Here's the day! Do you guys want morning or afternoon? And everyone wanted the afternoon. Some of them had hard constraints limiting them to the afternoon. And that's when AdvisorA decided to join the conversation and insist on it happening in the morning. Why? Because if the defense is in the morning, she can fly back home that afternoon. But if the defense is in the afternoon, she'll have to spend the night and fly home in the morning. And she doesn't want to wait those extra twelve hours to get home.

In the last 24 hours, my committee members have exchanged nearly three dozen email messages trying to negotiate a time for my defense. (I'm staying out of it, because it does me absolutely no good at all to pick sides on this.) AdvisorB even found a flight that AdvisorA could take that evening so that she *would* be able to get home that night, but she's just ignoring his suggestion. It's ridiculous.

AdvisorB has been a professor for well over 30 years, and he says that he has never had this much trouble scheduling a defense, or seen an advisor being this much of a roadblock. He's planning informal meetings with each of my other committee members to bring them up to speed on the situation with AdvisorA, just in case she becomes a problem during the defense itself. But honestly, the entire committee has been witness to the email exchanges of the last 24 hours, so it should be fairly obvious to all of them that AdvisorA is a pain in the ass.

In the mean time, if they can't agree on a time, my defense will need to be pushed into the fall, which means staying in grad school for another semester. Which sucks. Not just because I have to be here for even longer, but also because it erases any hope of starting a job before my upcoming maternity leave. All because AdvisorA doesn't want to take a later flight.

I hate graduate school.


  1. You have my complete sympathy. I had scheduled one of my exams, organized with all 4 people, timed it so an international 'outside' person would just happen to be in the right place at the right time because of a conference ... and my "A" advisor 'forgot' ...

    But here's to at least have a second advisor who seems to understand in full the situation and is working to make sure everyone else does too.

  2. What a terrible situation! I cannot believe she is being so difficult. It's too bad that she has to be involved.

  3. That just sounds terrible. You have my COMPLETE sympathy. When this is all said and done, will you every say anything to her about this awful behavior or just let bygones be bygones?

  4. Ugh. That sucks. AdvisorA sucks. I'm glad AdvisorB doesn't suck, but the whole thing sucks nevertheless. I hope they're able to sort this all out among themselves so you don't have to have this drag out any longer.

  5. :( AdvisorA sounds like a real douchecanoe. Hope things start looking up for you real soon.

  6. After I finished my thesis defense, (hell on earth) and graduated with my M.A., I decided not to use it to pursue a career because I wanted to be home with my little kids. I got a part time job writing grants (which is hard, boring, lonely work and not in the field I studied so hard in) but I am grateful that I can work from home and be with the ones I really love. Sometimes you have to put your true loves above your achievements.


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