Monday, November 13, 2006

You lose some.

I have a very nice, bright graduate student who has a lot of trouble trying to do "research". The student has a number of strengths that are quite suitable and valuable for this student's chosen profession, but the student also has some weaknesses that make traditional graduate study difficult, particularly when it comes to some of the details of pulling together a masters thesis.

I am gridlocked with the rest of the student's graduate thesis committee. I won't go in to details about all the points of disagreement, but . . . they're significant.

AND I AM BEYOND STRESSED. While I know I should not feel like this student is my personal responsibility or completely a reflection of my research skills and my mentoring skills . . . I feel that way anyway. And, I feel bad for the student because I know the student feels somewhat brutalized by this whole process.

I am trying to remain positive, and do my best to ensure an equitable outcome for all parties. But it's not easy! Perhaps I should just have a good long cry and then force myself to snap into detached problem-solver mode, right? Or something. :(


~profgrrrrl~ said...

OOh, these are tough situations. This has been one of my biggest frustrations as a new faculty person. Advising students who don't fit the easy mold can be so difficult, and we're bound to make mistakes with them (not saying you have, just that I'm always worried about it). Hope things improve!

Ms.PhD said...

Where I get stuck is whether to advise the student HOW to fit the mold, and then let them try to get there, or if we shouldn't try to fix the system to include a more diverse group that learns differently, thinks differently, and discovers different things? Of course you have to pick your battles, but if you give this student advice and they make excuses or don't try their best- however different that is- then you can't feel sorry for them anymore.

I've been helping a few lately who seem to think they're not taking forever to finish writing, while I can understand why they're able to sleep at night until this thing is done.

Professor Zero said...

I feel your pain. My problem one is very bright, and her ideas are good, but she does not have the background to develop all of them as a thesis yet, and she does not recognize this.

Furthermore: she isn't working with the REAL expert in her chosen field we have around here, because that person insisted she limit her scope but gave only ONE example of how. I originally told her, look, that's just one example, you DO need to limit your scope, and finally she at least believes that.

I have received nothing from her this semester and my tendency is to give her a U (unsatisfactory). This of course could mess with her funding, etc., etc., but REALLY.


Anonymous said...

I have been reading your writings for days, but leave no comment. I am the one who always tell others that I really like to stay in academia. To be honestly, I have tried really hard to prepare myself for such a day. Now, I have gone through all the interviews and almost to the final line. This or next week, I should know whether I will get my dreamed job to be a new femal assistant professor at a nice university. But, once the clock ticks, I am a little bit scared about the situation. I wonder if I have all the guts to survive in a complicated system. I am a very simple person having a simple life and are surrounded by many nice friends. I like my job here, even just a postdoc. So, why do I have to chanllenge myself to go to somewhere else? I am headache now.

Anonymous said...

My only solution is: go on a long, long run. Usually everything becomes clearer afterwards. If not, then it's SERIOUS and I have to resort to various cognitive readjustment tricks, like writing out all my negative thoughts on a piece of paper on the left-hand column, and then "correcting" them with positive thoughts on the right-hand side, complaining for hours to friends and family, reading lots of fiction, and hanging out in the city observing that there are lots of people out there with crappy jobs I'm really glad not to have before coming back to deal with it. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -

Somehow, after reading your reply, I have trouble believing your story that "This or next week, I should know whether I will get my dreamed job to be a new femal assistant professor at a nice university."

The grammar demonstrated in your brief post is the sort of grammar I would expect from an overseas freshman undergraduate, rather than from a postdoc. While it's true that Spell Check is the academic writer's friend, the productivity required of a professor seeking tenure is sufficiently large that first drafts need to be written with relatively few errors so that the revision process goes relatively smoothly and rapidly.

A brief note about myself. I have an M.S. degree in the biological sciences and I am female. I have been told on a couple of occasions, "Maybe you're not cut out for science."

Now it's my turn to tell others that excellent written communication skills are key to being able to produce the quantity of written output that is required for a tenure-track position.

From another "Anonymous" -

Female Science Professor said...

You have my sympathy too. I've been there many times, and am no closer to knowing the best way to deal with it than I was 15 years ago. Every person and situation is so different.

Average Professor said...


So, ultimately the student passed. But it wasn't pretty.

One of the committee members said that her performance and products were "an embarrassment" and that that represented a failure not only on the part of the student, but also on the part of "the mentoring she received while at this institution."


Two years ago this potshot would have stung, and sent me into a tailspin of self doubt, but today it just confirms that I should never have this guy on any of my students committees in the future (and I will hope he doesn't show up on the promotion and tenure committee the year I go up).

Anonymous said...

if he can make out an average thesis, it should be ok for a masters. many students develop their skills and adjust with the research environment gradually. may be in his later research years he could work it out better. you shouldnt bother too much on it. just give constructive comments.

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