Mixed messages

Two days ago, I was working at my bench, minding my own business, when my advisor came over to talk to me. He does not do this very frequently. He spends less than half an hour a week in the lab. So, he obviously wants to talk to me, but he’s wearing his coat as though he’s about to run off somewhere so I think he’s going to ask me something quick.

“When are you graduating?” He asks.

And I think, What the fuck? What does he mean when am I graduating? Haven’t we had this discussion? Hadn’t we already agreed that I have this one experiment and then I am going to present all of my data to my committee, set up a defense date, write my thesis and get the hell out of here as soon as possible? Haven’t I been working on, and showing him drafts of my figures? Is he expecting me to give him a date? Has he forgotten I want to get out of here as soon as possible because my husband has been living hundreds of miles away for two and a half years? Where the hell is this coming from? The question, coming from him, made no sense to me.

Which is why my brilliant response was, “Uhhh, I don’t know?”

And then, we launch into a discussion in which we talk about what I need to do before I graduate (finish experiment, meet with my committee, fill out graduation paperwork, write my thesis, write the paper, submit it, leave, let someone else take care of the revisions).  This is all shit we’ve talked about before.  He did mention the lab is having serious financial difficulties (ergo, he wants me to finish so he can stop paying me), but we’ve already talked about that before, too.

So, I’m thinking maybe this is his way of saying I’m not working fast/hard enough but when I talk to him later he says I’ve done nothing wrong, he’s just worried about money.  But, that still implies to me that I should really be getting my ass in gear (well, more in gear) so I worked hard on my figures and figure legends and proudly handed them all over to Advisor today.

And does he say, “This is good,” or , “Glad you’re taking this graduation thing seriously, or even just, “Okay, I’ll look these over,” or anything like that?  No, he tells me he’s going to be largely unavailable for the next ten days due to a study section and writing a review.  Meaning he will not be getting back to me for ten days or so.

Some of what I was thinking must’ve shown on my face because he started becoming somewhat appologetic in offering his excuses but still, he seemed to think it’s okay to wait ten days to give me feedback.  I left the office.

Over the years, I’ve wanted to hug my advisor.  I’ve wanted to smack him upside the head.  I’ve wanted to bake him cookies.  But in all my umpteen billion years that I have been here never have I wanted to grab him by the shoulders, shake him, and say, “What the fuck is WRONG with you?!”  Until ten minutes ago.

I admit, we are spoiled in our lab.  Our advisor is astoundingly available compared to other advisors.  We can walk into his office virtually anytime and as long as there is nobody else in there or he’s not talking on the phone, he will talk to us (as long as it’s work related; he’s really not the kind of guy you talk to about your personal problems, but that’s okay because that’s not required in a boss).  He reads and helps revise absolutely everything we write even if it’s just an abstract for a departmental retreat.  He listens to practice talks and gives advice on every slide of every talk every single person in the lab gives.

Which means that, usually, when he’s preparing for a study section or he has a grant due or whatever and he’s really busy and can’t talk we are very understanding.  So, normally, if he told me he couldn’t read something for ten days, I would shrug and say okay and walk out.

But.  Dude just got on my case about graduating as soon as possible two days ago!  Sure, I can work on other shit until then (thesis intro anybody?) so it’s not really going to put me behind at all but isn’t it contradictory to tell someone to hurry up and then to blow them off for ten days?

13 thoughts on “Mixed messages

  1. Really? I have embraced “What the FUCK is WRONG with you?” as the daily greeting for my former advisor.

    The current boss has “Why are you always on the FUCKING PHONE?” Which I usually stand in the doorway of his office and mouth really loud.

  2. He spends less than half an hour a week in the lab.

    Our advisor is astoundingly available compared to other advisors.

    Unless other advisors in your department are in their labs even fewer than 30 minutes per week, I am having trouble seeing how these two statements reconcile.

  3. CPP- I’m guessing he’s like my advisor- you bring the data to him in lab meeting or his office and talk to him anytime he’s here (obscene number of hours)… Except he’s not like my advisor (literally hanging over people’s shoulders to critque their *freezer opening technique* WTF?). It actually sounds pretty nice.

    Mrswhatsit- possibly your advisor just gets all worried about money whenever he goes to review grants. I think it’s somewhat demoralizing to go and tell all those people with good ideas they can’t have any money. Even at the reviewer level, a lot of the time that’s pretty much exactly what you’re doing.
    Also, in any event, it appears to be a universal principle that advisors and students never mean the same thing when the term “ASAP” is used. I think this is possibly a simply a special case of Murphy’s law for advisor-student interactions: anything that can be missunderstood, will be missunderstood. In which case, the only positive thing that can be said is that it’s totally not your fault.

  4. CPP- What I meant was that he is mostly in his office, next to the lab, and very rarely in the lab itself. We bring the data to him. Although he’s more than willing to come look at something in the lab if asked.

    As for availability, I’ve had friends who must make an appointment in order to talk to their advisor. Or their advisor is always away from the lab and office. Or both.

    Becca- Advisor used to be a little more of a micromanager (although apparently not as bad as your advisor) but he’s mellowed over the years.

  5. oh wow, i agree with sciencemama: funny if it weren’t so frustrating! hopefully he gets back to you earlier rather than later once he’s done with his 10 hiatus.

  6. If it makes you feel any better, my advisor had the second-to-final draft of my first first-author ms for 9 weeks. I feel your pain.

  7. hm, I recognise the “jacket on and stolling into the lab in the end of the day” – my old phdadvisor did that to me. Mostly during the time when he was very worried aobut funding drying out and not succeeding as well as he thought he would. And then came the questions to me and the other od students “when are you done with that” “when will you graduate” “how did you think you would present that as a paper”

    (my first paper ever and he wanted me to know that at 5 pm on a Friday….let me tell you, standing by your bench trying to crank out some data from a weeklong experiment and he strolls into it at that time and you need to talk about that then??? yeah, not so much.)

    I would try not to let it get to you. He is probably dealing with his own stress by trying to show support (wierd way but you never know) by letting you know he is interested in you graduating….

    good luck with the feed back. whenever it comes back!

  8. I don’t think a hiatus of 10 days means he’s not interested/doesn’t care. My own advisor, who I know cares, does that kind of thing all the time. It’s not like there’s a deadline looming over you in the next 10 days. Him looking at stuff then won’t make a difference (in your ability to submit a paper, the dissertation, in major experiments to run) right? If it’s a matter of minutes and critical to the start of your next experiment, that’s a different story.

  9. Pingback: Dear Advisor: « I Love Science, Really

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