Thursday, February 23, 2012

Disclaimer: this is not about wedding, and it might make small children cry

So the reason I've been absent for so long is because I had a big thesis committee meeting that I prepared my bee-hind off for and that didn't go so well. To an outsider, if I were to give you all the details, it wouldn't seem so bad (I have to finish my latest paper, which is almost finished, and then start writing my thesis, and they say I can graduate in August). In fact, most people that look in at scientists look at us as passive-aggressive, harmless weirdos that stare at our shoes all the time. And you ask "How could one of those losers make anyone feel bad?!" If you spent time with us, really spent some time, you'd come home feeling really bad about yourself... every day. I know there are some scientists out there that who are immune, or at least handle it better, but I'm not one of them. The reason is that I am not passive-aggressive or harmless and I don't stare at my shoes. This offends most scientists, who end up thinking I'm cocky (because anyone who doesn't stare at their shoes is no real scientist) and that I need to be knocked down a few pegs.

The reality is, I have no confidence in myself as far as science goes. I do the best I can and recognize that most of the people I surround myself with are better than I. It's aspirational, I strive to live up to everyone's expectations and try to put on a brave face. Again, this brave face is taken as an unfazed face. My committee's sole purpose is to wipe that look off my face. Usually, the meetings end up with that brave face more stiff and plastered on than usual. This time I wanted to crawl under a rock with my brave face. They were just passively-aggressively nasty yesterday. So much so that my boss felt the need to comfort me afterwards, which almost made it worse.

And he said something that, despite his good intentions, really pissed me off. He said "Well, graduate school is a very humbling experience." Hold on a sec... Did I not just get done saying I do not, nor have I ever marched around campus like I'm better than anyone. I'm not. There might be something in me that's better in some way than someone else (I don't stare at my shoes all day... but that doesn't count in the lab or in the meeting room), but I don't think well on my feet, I get nervous really easily and panicky and feel really stupid every time my whole committee plus my boss are in a room together with me. This leads me to feel that nothing I have ever done while in graduate school has been worth a damn. I don't think you can get any more 'humility' than that.

I've been there for SIX YEARS with, in my opinion, nothing to show for it. If it wasn't for my boss and my endless desire to make him proud, I would be really really angry that I've wasted as much time as I have on it, all for a few extra letters at the end of my name that I can't for the life of me figure out what I want to do with! My boss is usually also the only one that keeps me sane, but I'm taking a mental health day, and so I've had all day to think about how much time has been wasted pursuing a future I don't even really believe in. News flash, it's not mentally healthy for me to be on my own with my thoughts. I used to think maybe I would teach at a university or start my own lab or be the director of something but my time in graduate school has done nothing but make me feel like I'm not good enough for any of those roles.

What bothers me most is that I got into science because it seemed like such a supportive career; in that you're in an educated environment where you can create projects out of your own imagination and try to help people. In science, you don't have real hard deadlines; as in, there's no 'You better get that report done or you're fired' or 'You better hit that sales target or your ass is outta' here!' Instead, you define your research goals, you create projects, you write papers, those papers are peer reviewed, and you prosper. If you have a little trouble, you collaborate, because maybe another scientist has resources you don't have. But the spirit of collaboration is scholarly and, dare I say, friendly. This is what they sell you. This. is. a. lie.

I have never, from anyone but my fellow lab mates and boss, gotten one piece of CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Enter the self-confidence bomb. I can take criticism, I can take flat-out insults, what I cannot take, and what I am so sick and tired of, is the snide, passive-aggressive comments that always have the undertone of 'Wow, you're such an idiot for thinking that. Let me bail you out again and drop some of my infinite wisdom on you.' Not once has anyone ever consistently told me what I have to work on, and so it's led me to believe that I just don't have 'it.' No one has just come out and said it, but that's because no one says that in science, they just talk about you behind your back. And I never want to hear my boss tell me that this is not the case, because he's above it, but I know he still doesn't get the respect he deserves from most of the other scientists that have been there longer than he has. To them, he's a young upstart who's just gotten lucky. I wonder constantly if he knows this. If they don't respect him, how could anyone ever respect me?? He's a lot smarter and works a lot harder than I do!!

I've been told that everyone reaches this point and that once you reach this point, you've finally earned a PhD... That is the shittiest thing I've ever heard. What the hell kind of message does that send?? What have I actually done with the last SIX YEARS of my life?! I'm spent, I'm at a loss. Usually I would apologize for a rant like that but I spent all yesterday afternoon apologizing... so, in the wise words of Forrest Gump: "That's all I have to say about that."

1 comment:

  1. Oh chica, keep trying to look on the bright side and don't get discouraged you have come this far and worked FAR too hard!!! Keep your chin up! :)