Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Instead of Standing Still, I'll Be Running to Meet that Bus Head On

Supposedly, my thesis advisor, who is also head of the department, has not left the country, and won't do so until sometime in the Spring. The department administrative assistant didn't really know when, because he's never told her. Or to what country he is fleeing.

He is on sabbatical already, though, and is thereby unavailable for my thesis committee.

He has not had the courtesy of letting me know any of this, of course.

I have not heard from this man in SEVEN MONTHS. I am not lying, nor am I exaggerating. I've sent e-mails, complete with extensive passages of my thesis and specific questions regarding my methodology. These are questions I need answered. If I employ the wrong or flawed methodology, I'll not only have to re-write four chapters, I will first have to re-evaluate all of my data. I'd like to at least try avoiding that scenario. I've left phone messages. I've stopped by his office, but I always manage to miss him. None of the e-mails or voice-mails have ever been returned.

So, about five months ago, I quit trying to reach him. I quit working on my thesis entirely. It was really hard to stay motivated after a nine-hour workday only to come home to work on a thesis that I had absolutely no feedback on.

My motto quickly became: Who gives a fuck? Clearly, not my advisor.

I almost started laughing out loud when the office administrator told me he is available by e-mail this fall.

This has not been an easy process for me throughout. My advisor is scatter-brained and never really offered me any helpful criticism until I was in a meeting with my entire committee. This made me feel so stupid. So unworthy of the project ahead of me. I felt under-prepared in front of my committee, and certain they thought they'd agreed to take on a trainwreck.

I didn't need these extra (not to mention, public) blows to my academic self-esteem. Throughout grad school I suffered mightily with consuming thoughts that I wasn't good enough and certainly not smart enough to be in this program, attempting to complete a master's degree. Everyday I'd beat myself up for what I thought (and still do, honestly) was an utter lack of creativity in my approach to the subject matter and a woefully inadequate capacity for critical thought.

I had never doubted my mind or my ability to meet a challenge until graduate school. Needless to say, I didn't (and still don't) know how to deal with this new and devastatingly crippling self-doubt. A. has been witness to more than one very messy and extremely mortifying meltdown. (I mean, he has really seen me at my worst. And here he is. Staying.) I would so thoroughly convince myself that I was mediocre and utterly inadequate that I'd become completely paralyzed. I wouldn't even be able to construct a complete sentence.

So, to be dismissed like this is really disheartening, to say the least. So many thoughts run through my mind. "Dr. BadAdvisor is scattered and over-commits; maybe he just doesn't remember I am trying to finish my thesis." "Maybe he knows I don't really have what it takes to finish this and he's hoping I'll just sort of forget about the thesis and will disappear." "Maybe he thinks I am too stupid to understand my topic." "Maybe my e-mail address has been filtered to his junk mail folder."

Well, capable or not, I've decided this is bullshit and I am moving forward. (Finally! Black Sheeped, J should have hollered at me over and over!! Tell him thanks for believing I deserve something better. That means a lot.)

I have a meeting set up next Monday with a department head/professor from another department that I respect very much. I am going to ask her advice on how to best maneuver a change of advisor, both politically and so that I get the support and resources I need. Then, on Wednesday, I'll be making the switch.

I'll be asking the second person on my committee from my department to be my chair. He has already been the most engaged with me and my project, recommending readings and discussing my methodology. He seems excited about my topic. He's at least heard of the authors in my lit review. He would seem like an obvious choice, no? Then I'll ask the only female professor in my department to replace him as my number two member. She is going to kick my ass regarding my writing and will really bring me to task with any assumptions I make in my arguments. Just knowing she'll be reading this inspires me to try harder.

Also, I think it will kick ass that 2/3 of my committee will be women. Awesome.

Hopefully, as I rearrange my committee to better suit my needs, a clear path will begin to emerge. Much like these new telephone (?) poles being constructed a couple of miles from my home.

Thanks for listening.


  1. I think you are taking the proper course. I would believe that the other members of the committee have got to be aware of your advisor's obvious lack of committment. But, I am so sorry that you have to deal with this on top of the already nervewracking ordeal of actually working on your thesis. And I am positive you are being too hard on yourself as to your ability to take this on. Even your entry was well thought out with good flow, reasoning and backup...and I'm an English major.

  2. Oh - on of the other thoughts I have all the time is: "I know he is busy, but I am a part of his job, too!" So I do feel the need to assert my right every now and then. ;-)

    MrsGrumpy - you are sweet. And your encouragement means a lot. How are you doing today? Hanging in there?

  3. Way to stand up for yourself. Obviously, given that other professors are engaged and interested in your thesis and your research, your advisor is just confused or preoccupied or general just a bad advisor. You should totally discredit the theory that he thinks you don't have what it takes, because you obviously do or you wouldn't be in the program, and if he had issues with the direction you were going in, it would be totally irresponsible to just ignore the problem and hope it went away. If that were the issue, he should be going even more out of his way to discuss with you. In fact, if he's paying even marginal attention to your emails and not responding, it's probably because he doesn't have much to say because he thinks you're on the right track. Still a jerk, but whatever.

    Anyway, I'm all about you taking control and reorganizing your committee. I am looking forward to hearing how your meeting goes on Monday.

  4. Jess - funny, I'd never once considered that I wasn't hearing from my advisor because he might think I am on the right track. What does that mean, I wonder. Thanks for the new possibility!

  5. Dude, I worked for a couple of professors in grad school and some of those people are just not...right. That is why they are in academia and not the Real World. Good luck.

  6. Good luck! I'm so sorry this has been such a pain for you. I've been lucky to have an adviser who actually cares about her students (and who just took a program director appointment that will require her to stay in the country for the next three years!), but I know many others who have advisers who are worse than useless and it's made grad school just that much harder than it has to be.

    And I can sympathize about the self-doubt. All my life I was told---and therefore believed---that I was smart. Then I came to grad school. And every day I'm terrified that someone is finally going to point out the obvious: that I'm in way over my head and don't belong here.

    But you made it this far---you're writing a thesis. You obviously have something original and intelligent to contribute or you wouldn't have made it to this point.

    Again, good luck! Sending you happy thesis vibes. Don't give up!


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