Friday, September 15, 2006

The eye of the storm

I had my sufficiency meeting yesterday. That’s code for “last committee meeting ever.” I was EXTREMELY nervous about it. Not that I had any concrete reason to be, I don’t need one. My boss is crazy and unpredictable. You can go over your presentation with him 10 times before the big day, and be completely convinced that you’re both on the same page, only to have him pick a fight with you the day of the presentation… in front of your committee members… and make you look/feel stupid… because of some detail that he overlooked the 10 previous times that he looked at your presentation. But, I have learned that my nerves inversely correlate with how the meeting goes: the more nervous I am beforehand – the better it goes; the more relaxed and confident I am – the worse it goes.

Now, since my boss has moved to TX, he doesn’t fly up here for committee meetings anymore, but he calls the room and we put him on speakerphone. I’ve learned that if I turn his volume all the way up, I have a better shot at eavesdropping from the hallway. When I was sent out of the room before the meeting officially started, I could hear my boss talking, and he was slightly on the negative side of decent, but he didn’t say anything outwardly infuriating – just nothing even approaching complimentary.

I was called in to give my presentation and it went relatively well. A bit of nit picking by the committee members, and a giant tangent from my boss. A tangent that he admitted from the start was “optional.” Why, then, must we belabor this topic when we may just end up dropping it from the paper as a whole?? Another example of him liking the sound of his own voice.

I told them that my goals are to submit my paper by the end of October and defend in early December.

At the end of my presentation I left the room, and assumed my eavesdropping position. My boss said that my paper wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but we’d try to submit it to Cancer Research. If it got rejected, we’d submit it to Cancer Biology and Therapy. Now, Cancer Research is a decent journal. It’s no Science or Nature or Cell, but it’s not the bottom of the barrel. Cancer Biology and Therapy (CBT) is the bottom of the barrel. It’s a journal that my boss and another guy started, so I’m pretty much guaranteed that it’ll get published. No questions asked. Whatever. I really could care less – as long as it gets published. Period.

Instead of calling me back into the room to sit me down and tell me their thoughts, my committee members just started to leave. I stopped them and asked “Aren’t we going to sit down and talk?” They said no. They said that we only need to talk if I start having trouble. I asked what they thought of my goals of October and December. They said “Good luck with that.” And “Go for it.”

Not the resounding vote of confidence that I was hoping for, but I’ll take what I can get. If they really didn’t think I could do it, I with they’d just say so. OR, if they thought I had too much extraneous stuff on my plate, that they’d do something about it. Their comments on the back of my form were “Finish paper, submit, write thesis, defend.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is my official, sanctioned, To Do List.

So I had my nice long sigh of relief over a meeting that didn’t make me want to cry. My friend N bought me dinner, and we watched TV for an hour – no mention of science or work – strictly vegetating. That’s the way to really celebrate.

Now I have to remain in high gear if I want to actually reach my goals. If you need to find me, I’ll be in the lab.


Blogger craig said...

Having never worked in the sciences, it all seems so foreign to me. Having to answer to a committee of people who decide -- sometimes arbitrarily, it appears -- if you work is good enough or lacking… ugh. No thanks. It seems so soul-crushing… clearly you’ve not excited about the project any longer, you just want to get it done with. My wife had the same attitude about her masters thesis. Seems like something isn’t working in the system.

But what do I know? I work in advertising… my work gets published every day. : )

7:41 AM  
Blogger Lil Kate said...

It is a very strange system, one you aren't likely to find any place else. And that is also why it is so frustrating - I would say that one of the biggest complaints is a lack of recourse. You'll just come off as a whiny, lazy, conniving student trying to get out of doing work. It's become "I had to work my ass off for jerks, now so do you" kind of mentality. And I can honestly say that I know more people looking to get out of the academic system and into other things, simply because their grad school experience was a deal breaker for them. The other students and I have come up with lots of ideas on how to make things better, I just don't know if we have it in us to climb the ranks high enough to do something about it.

9:08 AM  

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