roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Archive for July 2013

What to do When Your PhD Adviser Ignores You

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I’ve been thinking about what to do when your fucking phd adviser ignores you, because I am livin the life right now.  I’m not like one of those rappers who goes on about his tough life in the hood but has no bullet exit wounds or teardrop tattoos decorating his body-temple.

As a result of my contemplations, I’ve come up with a few different categories of phd adviser neglect:

1. Outright hostile treatment, usually with the intention of trying to get you to quit the program.  I know a few people this has happened to.  In one really horrific case, the prof in question had accepted a position at another university but was contractually obligated to stay at hir current spot until all hir phd students had graduated.  So ze set about trying to get the remaining few students to quit by maligning their reputations.  Ze claimed (despite good grades and previously filing paperwork saying they were making satisfactory progress and ‘on track’ for a phd) that suddenly the students were not capable of completing phd level coursework and tried to have them kicked out of the school.  The person I was friendly with was the only one to stick it out, and ze had to take the fight all the way to the head of the university.

2. Busy Backson Syndrome (as coined by Winnie the Pooh and Benjamin Hoff)- My first adviser suffered from this.  These people are Too Damn Busy flying around the world, giving lectures anywhere other than their home university, being on TV, and frolicking through the lavender fields of Provence and buying age-inappropriate accessories with Johnny Depp.  Clearly teaching/advising is not as exciting as all those other shiny things, but then how about don’t be a fucking professor then?

3. Benign neglect.  Now that really is a misnomer because, as the advisee, there is nothing too fucking benign about the situation, but you can be somewhat reassured by the fact that your adviser is not planning an elaborate Manchurian candidate type situation which ends with you being assassinated in a ballroom full of reporters.  Whenever they see one of your emails in their inbox, they probably think, ‘oh yes, I must get back to University of Lies soon’ and then they forget about you and your hopes and dreams as soon as they hit the X on outlook and resume watching videos of cats playing or whatever the fuck it is they really do with their time.

I have been stalking my adviser lately (in a completely legal way, I assure you), and after several MONTHS of attempted contact, recently had a very brief conversation with hir.

Eau de Desperation: A Curious and Unpleasant Unisex Fragrance by University of Lies, now available at discount retailers near you.

Me: Hi Dr @#$%^, it’s great to finally talk to you.

Adviser: Yes, absolutely.  I should tell you that I only have a few moments to speak, I’m quite busy here with some Very Important Documents.

Me: Oh, um ok.  I was wondering if you got a chance to look at the stuff I sent you awhile back.

A: No, I haven’t had time.  I’m very busy at the moment with those Very Important Documents I just mentioned, and I won’t get to look at it for another several weeks, at least.

Me: Oh, um ok. I’m really still stuck with what I was working on, do you have any advice for me?

A: Well… I recently read an article containing a Marxist commentary on Japanese Rock gardens.  It might not be helpful, but you might find it stimulates some ideas.

Me: ………

A: Good luck, let’s speak again at some point!

End scene.

What the fuck.  I assure you that the actual suggestion my adviser made was just as ridiculous as the fictitious example that I generated in the interest of preserving my anonymity because this whole phd process has made me even more of a paranoid wreck than I was before.

Since I am a trained ‘researcher’ (HA), I took my complaint to Dr Google.  And though it’s always reassuring to know you’re not alone, I didn’t find any helpful magical advice that would tell me how to make my adviser care about me and my work  (though some article in the Chronicle told me that I should have anticipated these problems before starting my phd. gee thanks, you fucking genius bastards!)   I guess that means it’s up to me to put that shit on the internet.  So here goes.

Since I am at the very end of this magical mystery tour, my advice to someone in a similar position (with less than 6 months remaining on their phd prison sentence) would be to put their head down and finish.

Again, like my last piece of advice, this sounds really fucking obvious.  But bear with me for a mo, mmkay?

Nobody drowns in academic bullshittery on my watch, old sport!

Nobody drowns in academic bullshittery on my watch, old sport!

A while back, when I was in the trenches and up to my eyeballs in metaphorical muck, faced with the task of making actual fucking Chapters out of my 87,000 scraps of paper and ideas, I had an idea about how these last few months would go.  Even though I imagined a high pressure race to the finish, I’d have the relief of knowing that my thesis was basically written and it was just a matter of making it the best it could be before sending it off.  I’d write my introduction and conclusion, and go over each chapter again, make what I hoped would be final changes, and send em off for approval.   Then, I’d get some feedback on my opening and summative material, and maybe a few last minute suggestions.  I’d make those changes, send the damn thing off to the printer, and submit.  Then, immediately after, I’d have a Gatsby like party where I would employ Leonardo DiCaprio to lifeguard and Cary Mulligan to throw beautifully constructed silk shirts from a balcony as a sumptuous visual feast for my 1000 well-heeled closest friends.

And now it looks like I was very wrong about that, along with everything else.

I can’t ‘wait’ for my adviser to answer my questions or give me helpful advice because it is not going to happen.  Ze either doesn’t care or doesn’t have any good ideas.  And at this point, it doesn’t matter which, because they both have the same effect.  I can’t afford to waste 2 days immersing myself in the extremely boring world of marxist approaches to Japanese rock gardens because it doesn’t fucking matter.  It was a wild goose chase red herring bullshit idea that ze threw at me to get me off hir back for awhile.

see also: all the times I was told to pursue something on a ‘deeper level’, and then after going away and staring at it for days, coming up with nothing, and getting depressed about how I’m not smart enough to think on a higher fucking plane of consciousness, I’d ask for advice, because I really couldn’t see anything more.  The answer each time was, ‘hm, maybe there isn’t anything else.’

What a mindfuck.

I used to think my adviser was so fucking smart, the way ze would throw out book titles and suggestions and tell me to scamper off and Think About It, because my last adviser was a Bisy Backson.  But now I realize that this kind of behavior is just a different kind of poisonous insect.

And if you are just starting off in your phd, well, fuck.  I really feel for you.  My advice then would be:

1. Get some therapy.  Seriously.  Your university probably offers free sessions for grad students, which some other blogger I’m too lazy to search for previously indicated that this should be very telling.  Take advantage of the help and use the sessions to blow off steam and formulate some kind of plan either to get the shit out of academia, transfer, or find better advisement.

2. Don’t take it lying down.  Fight for your right to have some kind of guidance.  I realize there are all kinds of ego and political issues at stake here which make the situation very complicated, but remind yourself that you are already in a pretty bad spot and you probably can’t feel much worse than you do right now.  Talk to whoever is in charge of advisement in your school and bring documentation to fucking quantify for their academic minds just exactly how you have been shafted.  Insist that something be done about it.

3. And if you’re smarter than I am, ask any honest non slimy members of your cohort if their advisers actually do their job.  Hopefully you will find someone in your subject area with a shred of work ethic remaining, and they will take you on.  This does involve a lot of luck.  It also may involve a kindly granny type with nothing to do but go to various churches and light candles on your behalf.

If your school refuses to help you or you can’t find a suitable replacement on your own, well, they may have made the decision a bit easier for you.  But the bottom line is, you don’t deserve to be ignored and miserable for 3-6 years of your fucking life.  If they clearly don’t value you, your time, and your awesome mind, there is probably a different department or industry that will.  And you owe it to yourself to find that place.

In the meantime, I will commence with GatsbyEndGame 2013: The Reckoning.


Written by universityoflies

July 11, 2013 at 17:35