Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is ignorance really bliss?

Embarking on the path to a PhD was not my first foray into research. I have experienced the world of condescending, non-assisting, all powerful supervisors. The frustration of working in an environment where you are desperate not to be the least productive and afraid to make mistakes due to the onslaught of ridicule from colleagues. It is not a happy place to be or one conducive to learning. When I finally defended my thesis I swore I would never do research again because of the scarring nature of the experience. Then the unthinkable happened, I realized that moving ahead in the world of science is greatly hindered if you do not have the letters PhD, behind your name. I know, I know its not impossible, its just more difficult. I am lucky enough to know many successful individuals who have gotten quite far with a masters degree, thank you very much. Unfortunately, they all tell me that it was hard and to this day they get quite frustrated. They, along with Mr. SM, continue to push me to continue on the path of research. Surprisingly I also realized when I was away from it all, that I missed research, I missed learning and I missed being my own boss.

And so I am doing a PhD, with the benefit of knowing what mistakes to avoid. I interviewed the individuals working in the lab before agreeing to be a student, I interviewed the supervisor and I interviewed past students. He wasn't perfect but I liked him, I still like him. I like that he believed in learning by doing, in trying different things, and that he understood that research was not my life. That is not to say that I was not terrified of telling him I was pregnant within three months of working for him, before I was even a student. But his first reaction was to jump up and give me a hug, to be happy for me and to tell me not to worry about the timing. Overall he has been great, again not perfect, but great. This does not seem to be the general view of my fellow lab mates or others working in our research building. A couple of my labmates are frustrated, disgruntled and dis-illusioned. I understand and empathesize with them, but I don’t blame my supervisor for their situation only because I know how bad it can be. I have been there. But which makes me wonder, is my supervisor and my situation not great, just not as bad? How do you know if your work environment is dysfunctional? I am not so na├»ve to think that everyone will like you or that you will be friends with everyone you work with. But I do think that you can be and should be civil. I know I sound so different from my original post. That is because I am still learning. I am still learning to not take criticism personally, to interact with different personalities and to be a good scientist. In recognizing that I am still learning, I must also recognize that others are also learning, how to critique without attacking, how to translate information and how to communicate. More importantly I do not care what others are or are not doing. I do not care about the lab gossip or the building gossip. I am just trying to avoid getting hit with shrapnel? Totally. is it possible to have a good, productive relationship with your supervisor without getting involved in all the drama and/or behind the scenes issues?? I sure hope so.


Melanie said...

Hi! Sorry you're having a tough time dealing with supervisor/student relationships, and drama stuff.

There's a well-known blurb about advice for new grad students, I'll see if I can dig it up for you, can't for the life of me recall who it was who wrote it anymore. And another I recall seeing posted on a door in Botany around the corner from my old work ... something about the joys of top-notch supervision or something. If I find'em on line I'll post a link for you. Either or both might help you sort things out.

Melanie said...

Found the top-notch one:
It's more aimed at supervisors, but might give you some insight into how you can approach your labmate and supervisor relationships