Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Completely Unimportant Dilemma

Please be sure to read the title, so that you know that I am completely aware that this is a ridiculous thing to be wasting brain cycles thinking about. Nevertheless, brain cycles are being wasted, and I don't know what to do. Also, there's a certain comical absurdity to the situation, so I wanted to share. Advice appreciated.

Let's say you're a PhD student about to finish up grad school. You have an advisor (let's call her AdvisorA) who has been less than supportive for the past two years, even though you had an excellent relationship early on. She cut off your funding after you had a baby, insisting that having a child proved that you weren't serious about your career, and she didn't want to waste more time and money on you. She takes weeks to respond to emails (unless it's about something that impacts her, in which case she always responds within the hour), and you went months without speaking to her on the phone. She lives in a different state, and each time she has visited your university in the past 18 months, she hasn't even mentioned it to you until she's at the airport to fly home again. She took 6 weeks to review the single dissertation chapter that you sent to her so far, and even then, she had very few comments, and they were more aesthetic than substantive. She put you through hell leading up to your defense, and even the morning of the defense itself, you weren't sure whether she was actually going to show up, even though "showing up" just meant sitting in front of a video conferencing camera at her own university.

You're feeling good that your defense is over, but you still need to interact with AdvisorA for a few more months. She still needs to sign your final dissertation, and you need her to write letters of recommendation for you for jobs. But you're looking forward to being done with her after that, and you assume that she wants to be rid of you, too.

It's now the day after your defense. You innocently check your email and discover... wait for it... that AdvisorA wants to be your "friend" on Facebook. How do you respond?

I've asked around, and even people who get along really well with their advisors aren't generally "Facebook friends" with them. And all the professors that I've casually talked to have expressed shock that a professor would ask a current student; in fact, they all talked about agonizing about whether to accept friend invitations from their students (generally undergrads), but have never heard of it happening in the other direction. So, I'm kind of at a loss. And it's not like I'm posting drunken photos that I don't want her to see. I tend to post occasional photos of LL, and innocuous status updates at the rate of 3-4 per month (things like "I passed my defense!"). I'm not concerned about "hiding" things from her. It's more that I'm pissed off at her, but I don't want to get her more pissed off at me while I still need stuff from her.

So far, I've just pretended not to have seen the request. But at some point, I should respond. Any thoughts?


  1. Make sure your profile is entirely set to private. Then ignore the request and if she ever asks about it tell her you are so busy that you never get a chance to check FB.

    As long as you don't ignore a friend request from me :)

  2. I am actually facebook friends with my current advisor...who I have a reasonably positive relationship with currently. And you know what, it's weird. I felt pressured into it b/c she was showing me something on her fb when I was in her office, then wanted to see a picture I'd mentioned...but couldn't b/c we weren't fb friends, and she was stunned...why weren't we? So...she added me right then...anyway. The point is - I have a pretty good relationship with her, and the fb thing kind of freaks me out - I just can't see being a fb friend with an advisor I have a poor relationship with.

    One thought - I think there's a way to make "lists" of friends, and you can control how much they can see of your profile - you could make her a special list, that basically can't see anything...

  3. No way. There is no reason you should be filtering your personal life to meet her expectations.

    And by the way, congratulations on the defense!

  4. IGNORE. Then ignore and ignore some more. If she ever brings it up, you give her an "oh, Facebook? Yeah, I signed up for that ages ago and I can't remember the last time I even signed on to it."

  5. I would accept and make a filter. Facebook is a social networking tool that has grown past just "friends".

    I have older friends who are professors and they joined JUST to interact with their students. They use filters and it allows them to keep current with their students campus lives (not the drunken escapades but the departmental social events, campus events, etc).

    You could accept her now and then un-friend her later. She will never know, but I think it is safer to accept. She seems slightly petty (e.g. post-baby hate) and you don't want to piss her off right now.

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