another update

17Apr10

The immediate crisis I’ve been speaking about is kinda over. My continued progress in the program was being blocked even though I had more than met the requirements to continue. I’ve made it through that particular obstacle.

And everybody around me sees that as a good thing: yeah, it’s been an incredibly sucky five months (once again, due to no fault of my own) but I’m not being kicked out of the program so it’s all good, right?

No.

It is not all good.

How is it all good that I am at the same point of work, research, and writing as many of my colleagues, indeed ahead of some, including people a year ahead of me, and I was one day away from being kicked out?

How is it all good that I had to sit through the most abusive meeting possible in which baseless claims and comparisons were thrown at me as though they were gospel truth?

How is it all good that nobody seems to be able to guarantee that that won’t happen again?

How is it all good that all the work I’d done to recover from this winter’s depression has been wiped away in a matter of two weeks to the point where my medication will have to be adjusted?

See, the thing is that it’s all good for the people who aren’t in the situation (some of whom mean very well and some of whom don’t want to do the hard work of properly sorting this out). But it is not all good for me. I’m left wondering how the hell did this happen? How is it that I thought things were fine, bordering on surprisingly good, this past summer and now it’s been implied that I’m the worst student in my department? How exactly do I come in for this kind of criticism after all the archival work I’ve done and the chapters I’ve written and the positive feedback I’d received on said work?

And why is it that my friends and colleagues will look back on graduate school as a challenging but exciting time of intellectual growth and I’ll look back on it with nothing but bitterness at the emotional waste it’s been?

Because let’s be clear: I’m getting the PhD, I may even continue in this field (after the hell I’ve been through, getting a job is the only thing that’s going to make grad school [EDIT: remotely] worth it). But I don’t think there will ever be a point when I look back on this time with any fondness. I’ve sacrificed too much to be here, I’ve lost too much of a personal life to be here, I’ve powered through too much with too little support to be here. And where is here? Here is wishing I’d never come to graduate school because nothing is worth going through these past two weeks. Here is being in constant fear that my academic world is going to be shaken up at any moment. Here is dreading walking into my department building. Here is wondering how I’m ever going to have another meeting with my advisor. Here is having the things that were said on constant replay in my mind because even though I know they’re not right, they were still said and they cannot be unsaid. And here is doing all of this alone.

So no, it’s not all good. It’s not going to be worth it in the end. I deserved better but, as frequently happens in my life, what I deserve bears little resemblance to what I get.

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6 Responses to “another update”

  1. 1 Anon

    I had a huge blowup with my advisor at the end of my second year, and during my third year I switched advisors completely. I switched to doing a different type of research just so I could avoid my former advisor completely. Everything felt really terrible for a while, but after some distance from the situation things calmed down. I just kept quietly doing my own thing and avoided the department as much as possible, and eventually built a good relationship with new advisors. I’m concerned for you because it sounds like you’re still working with the person who has been really terrible to you, and I hope you’re able to either work it out or work informally with other professors who are on your side. I know it really sucks to be made to feel like a problem student when it’s not your fault — nobody ever believes that professors are the problem, unfortunately, and that can make it really frustrating.

  2. 2 thefrogprincess

    Yeah, anon, I’m still working with this person because I don’t have much of a choice. I’m not in a field where I can work with any number of people without some adverse career effects. Bottom line: I need to have this person sign off on my degree if at all possible. But some other people are being brought on side. The situation is largely “solved”, at least for now, but I’m left dealing with the devastation and in some ways that pisses me off even more.

    You’re completely on point though about “nobody ever believes that professors are the problem.” My situation was so severe that I think there was a consensus that I have never been a problem student (among everybody except the professor in question) but it’s not clear that anybody is willing to state outright that the professor is the problem.

  3. You want to know what both pleases and enrages me about my situation now? When I was in the middle of the shit, no one would utter a word of negativity about the professor who was ruining my life. Now that I’m done, people are happy to say out loud that she was clearly the problem. My reaction to this is completely ambivalent. Thanks and…uhh are you kidding me??

  4. 4 thefrogprincess

    Ah yes, Anastasia. Funny how little help all that solidarity is this far after the fact. I already see this coming down the pike: once I finish, this professor will pat themself on the back for having pushed me to do such great work and I’ll have to smile and say effusive thanks in the acknowledgments page for not being able to complete this program without the generosity of said person. That is such a trigger for me: I may be more upset about how selfsatisfied this person will be than I am about the situation itself.

  5. 5 Liz

    Dear FP,
    I’m coming from Historiann, and haven’t read back months and months of your blog. But as you note above, getting a t-t job is what will make enduring the abuse worth it. I have the PhD, been in several departments and am on the t-t BUT and the caveat here is that you assumed the abuse ends with the assigning of the degree. But it doesn’t. Besides having to get letters of rec (and that person will torch all chances of you getting a t-t job anyway in their letters) for jobs and grants, etc but that assumes you won’t be abused by your senior colleagues in a future job. You’ll just face new kinds of abuse. Historiann has been particularly descriptive of her past experiences as an example.

    I’m not trying to crap on your parade. But I’ve learned that maybe, sometimes the abuse is not worth it. I’m watching a friend struggle now with an advisor refusing to pass their dissertation and I had another friend whose dissertation advisor never knew their name (ie never read anything they did and essentially ignored them) and another friend whose advisor was like a venomous poison in their field. All have survived this (so I’m not saying you can’t) and all have t-t jobs, but it has sucked the life out of them. But they all have good colleagues. I had a good advisor (although I didn’t speak to one committee member for two years for good reason) but I’ve had some of pretty wretched experiences on the t-t. You just never know, and all this is to say, be very true to yourself.

  6. 6 thefrogprincess

    Liz, thanks for commenting. I’ve been assured by those in the know that there won’t be any issues with letters of rec; all part of what makes this situation incredibly weird and anxiety-provoking. The quality of my work is explicitly not the issue.

    But I should clarify: I don’t think getting a t-t job will make what I’ve gone through/am going through worth it. But at least it will be in service of the end goal. We can never know how things would have turned out if we’d gone down other paths but I can say with a decent amount of certainty that certain crucial parts of my life likely would have been more pleasant had I not gone to graduate school. Put another way, I’ve made enormous personal sacrifices to go to graduate school (sacrifices I didn’t realize I was making until well into the program). To step out of the academy now means that the past several years, the painful realizations of what I’ve lost, and now this incredibly unfair situation will all have been experiences I could have easily avoided. And, at the moment, I’m not ready to view the years of grad school as wasted time. I don’t view t-t jobs as nirvana and nothing’s going to make what I’ve gone through ok. But I have little use for a PhD without a career in academia (and maybe administration should be more my thing?) so yeah…all of this needs to be in service of that goal.


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