Thursday, February 27, 2014
I wish I had had a video cam going during my meeting with my adviser today. We were talking about the data from a study that I ran last summer, and Adviser had had it in her mind that the results were not what she had expected because I had done something wrong. I mean that was no surprise to me, because as soon as she saw the data – I mean the very first time she saw the raw data, not even the transformed (standard procedure) data – she decided that I had f*ed up step 1 of the experiment. In the past I did not press the issue because it is not my thesis project, so I was trying to choose my battles wisely. But she insists upon me making it my battle, so I said, “You know what? You have no basis for saying that the data aren’t valid because you haven’t even looked to see the stuff we did to verify my work! So let’s go take a look.” (Obviously that is paraphrased! Haha)
So we pull out the raw data. And there it was, proof positive that I had done a bang-up job. Like a BOSS! And it was pretty obvious that Adviser was completely nonplussed. Like I could tell it had not once crossed her mind that POSSIBLY I had done [what I have been trained and instructed to do]. It was like in When the Grinch Stole Christmas, when it starts to dawn on him that Christmas isn’t about packages, boxes, or bags…etc. Except with more bemusement.
Like really? First, if she didn’t think that I was competent to do Step 1 of a high-risk, high-reward (high $, too) project, she had (in my opinion) no business trusting me to do it without her being there to supervise me and make sure I did it correctly. Second, Step 1 happens to also be the fundamental skill, the bread-and-butter, of the very tough, quality lab I earned my MS in. If I didn’t know how to do it in my freakin sleep I would not have graduated; it would be like if I told you I won Olympic gold on the ice without being able to stand up on skates. She has known my MS adviser and been observing him and his students for years (we are a small campus)! She should know that there was no way I went through that lab without being beyond competent at that particular task. Third, really, is that the kind of message you as a mentor want to convey to your students? That you don’t trust them? That you give them tasks that you believe they can’t handle from the outset? Fortunately, having survived my master’s lab/adviser, I know that my skills are beyond flawless and did not doubt for a moment that I had done exactly what I was supposed to do, but not every student has that kind of confidence; I only earned it the hard way…by failing many times and being mercilessly corrected until I succeeded. Because of that, and because I have really good support from my friends who work with me who really keep me grounded, I don’t take it personally. But not everyone has that kind of experience and support. You are supposed to be able to trust your mentor to train you not just at particular tasks but at the job of being a scientist – stuff like evaluating what is and isn’t going to pay off in terms of getting good, publishable data…like when you have reached the point of diminishing returns vs when you shouldn’t give up.