There may be labs in this world in which a grad student can disappear for a week and not have the advisor notice, but my lab isn’t one of them. Advisor may not notice if one of us is gone for one or two days. But any more than that and he starts wondering where we are. He’ll ask around, look on the lab calendar and eventually send an email asking you where you are. I know this because when things have gotten bad in the past and I disappeared for a couple of days, I got one of these emails.
So, on the Monday that I left for Grandma’s I knew I was going to have to tell my advisor something to explain why I was suddenly absent with no date set for when I’d return. Advisor and I have discussed my illness in the past–I’ve been very honest about it when it has interfered with my productivity. He has also been very understanding about it in the past. Still, that was before the lab was in dire financial straits and obviously he cannot afford to pay a student who is not actually working, at least not for very long. So, I wasn’t sure how he would handle this. But, I couldn’t afford to worry about that because I was in the midst of an emergency.
So, I sent him an email. In as few words as I could manage, I explained what was going on and appologized. I believe I appologized four times in three sentences. Then, without waiting for a reply, I left for Grandma’s where there is no internet (Doesn’t that make it sound like she lives on the edge of civilization? There actually IS internet in my grandmother’s town, she just doesn’t have it herself). On Thursday evening, I came back to town, but I couldn’t bring myself to check my email until Friday.
Here is the body of Advisor’s reply to my email:
Your health is the main concern here, and really the only concern at the moment. The last thing you should worry about is apologizing to me.
When you’re up to it, we can talk about the best way forward.
I almost cried. In fact, I’m tearing up right now. Now I have to go get some tissues.
[Aside: I hate crying. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I don’t really find it cathartic. And I’ve been doing a lot of it lately. Just about every act of kindness causes me to get choked up. Including your guys’ comments on my previous post. I appreciate the support; thank you so much!]
So, I sent him an email over the weekend saying that I was back in town and feeling better and that, barring a relapse, I would be in lab Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.
Tuesday morning, after meeting with my doctor, I went into lab and sat down with Advisor. He told me that he had talked to the graduate student administrator about what my options might be at this point. Together, Advisor and I came up with a plan. I will stay in lab through spring quarter. At the end of spring quarter, I will go live with my husband. If I have not finished writing my thesis by then, I will be on a leave of absence until I finish writing. Then, I will register for one more quarter during which I will defend and graduate. Any lab work that may be left at the end of spring quarter (there shouldn’t be any, but you never know) will be finished off by the second author on my paper. She will also do any experiments the reviewers request.
This is the best possible plan for me. I have a firm date after which I will leave this environment which is toxic to me and go live with my husband which my doctor and I both agree will significantly improve my mental health. AND, I will definitely be able to get my degree, but I will no longer be under the stress of a deadline. Another important factor is that nothing is changing in the very short term. Stability and familiarity is what I need to recover and leaving school now and trying to move to California would probably send me over the edge (again).
With luck, this is also good for the lab. I’m the best person to finish my experiment and I will have time to make sure that all the strains and plasmids that I have created are properly archived and that my notes are in order and hopefully even submit my paper before I leave.
Of course, if I relapse then the lab will have spent all that money on my tuition and stipend for me to lay in bed (at home, or in the hospital). So, it’s a bit of a gamble on Advisor’s part. I’m very grateful that it’s one he’s willing to take.