Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A bridge I wanted to burn but wisely did not.

I have an upcoming meeting to attend with a company with whom I have some collaborative research, though this meeting is related to some new endeavour rather than one of the projects I'm already working on with them. At the lead of this new endeavour is another collaborator, from the institution where I recieved my PhD. This collaborator was also, back in the day, a collaborator with my research supervisor and so I am well acquainted with him.

In advance of the upcoming meeting, Dr. Collaborator called me to chat about the project, having seen my name on the list of attendees and not being sure what my role was in the new endeavour (I am not sure either, actually. One of the company guys that I work with just said to the company people planning the new endeavour, "Hey, I work with this woman at this other institution who does those same things. She should come to the meeting.").

Dr. Collaborator said, "Nice to meet you." I said, "Actually, we've met before. I got my PhD five years ago at Your Institution under Dr. Research Supervisor." He said, "Aha! I thought your name sounded really familiar but I wasn't sure why I'd heard it before."

What I sort of wanted to say then, but didn't, was this: "You'll probably recognize my face, when you see it, too, because one time you spent about 45 minutes yelling and swearing right into it."

One day while I was in grad school, I was working with Research Supervisor, another of his students, and one of Dr. Collaborator's students. We were out in the "field" collecting some data using a piece of equipment that Research Supervisor and Dr. Collaborator shared, when the marine battery we used to keep the equipment powered conked out. Research Supervisor suggested we hook the equipment up to our vehicle battery for the remainder of the data collection, which we did. At the end of the day's successful work, I jauntily skipped over to Dr. Collaborator's lab to return the equipment to storage (as much as one could jauntily skip carrying a marine battery). I found Dr. Collaborator to tell him about the battery problem, and when he asked how we were able to collect the rest of the data and I explained we'd hooked the power cables to the vehicle battery instead, he flipped out, calling me several unflattering things and greatly disparaging my judgement skills while making some un-nice predictions about my academic and scientific career. For an extended period of time.

I calmly said, "I will certainly relay your concerns to Dr. Research Supervisor." And then I ran back to my office and cried white hot tears of anger and embarrassment. (Incidentally, I did relay his concerns to Research Supervisor, who several days later had a very boring conversation with Dr. Collaborator about the relative interchangeability of the two batteries for that purpose, and that was the end of that. I did not relay to Research Supervisor that the concerns had come with the free bonus of a long and passionate berating.)

Anywhoo, what I learned was: some professionals are prone to episodes of unprofessional behavior, and Dr. Collaborator is one of those people. I am glad I did not snap back at him even though I had really wanted to, but I am also glad that I already know this about him, and learned it in the relatively safety of my position as a grad student who was just caught in his crosshairs. Should the opportunity arise through this new endeavour to share any equipment or data or anything with Dr. Collaborator, I will not be all that excited about it.

1 comment:

Ms.PhD said...

I just love that he didn't remember you at all, while you have a vivid memory of this scarring experience.

I wonder if he would have remembered you if you had to told him to step off? For all you know, he would have forgotten that, too.

Anyway, good luck. I suspect things will go more smoothly this time.