Friday, June 20, 2008

Dear MSc Grad Advisor, I am sorry

I feel like I owe my MSc thesis advisor an apology. Which is a huge thing for me to admit, and I am not sure if I am completely correct in thinking that he deserves a full "I'm sorry", but he definitely is not as much of an ass as I previously thought. Two posts in particular are making me think this, but so is my current experience as a Phd student in a new lab with a younger PI. Furthermore, my own experience with PhD GradAdvisor, also makes me appreciate that asshat wasn't completely evil.
I quite enjoy Ms.Phd's blog. She is completely honest in expressing her perspective on her experience, but reading her blog and reading how bad she perceives her supervisor to be, I think crap, asshat wasn't that bad. Don't get me wrong, he is by no means a great supervisor or even a good supervisor, but he also was not evil. After reading many of the science blogs listed on the sidebar, I've realized that MSc Advisor has some really great points that have been fundamental to my success as a PhD student. The current discussion between Ms.PhD and PhysioProf (at DrugMonkey), seems to focus on the difference between a senior post-doc and a junior PI, but also on the issue of PI's knowing the technical details of experiments. Other posts on both blogs have focused on things like PI's responding in a timely manner, providing feedback and acknowledging the work of trainees during presentations. I for one have been reading these posts and have been in shock. I may be naive but I have not worked with a PI that did not know the details of projects / experiments intimately. Neither my current advisor or my MSc advisor were control freaks, but they paid attention and knew / know what I am/was doing and why. MSc advisor wasn't the best when it came to troubleshooting my immunocytochemistry but he knew quantitative imaging very well. He had very very high scientific and ethical standards, comparing to the proper controls was very very important. He also made sure we were very well prepared for any talks or presentations we had to give. He made sure to go over all proposals with a fine tooth comb. He may not start till close to the deadline, but there was not paper, committee report, poster, abstract, proposal that he did not review and revise at minimum 5 times. Even if all 6 grad students had deadlines for the same conference, he aimed for perfection. When he presented work, he always gave credit to the students who collected the data but always knew the why and whats of all experiments. My current advisor does the same (in regards to acknowledgements) and I have to say that I have not attended a talk where the PI has not expressed their utter and complete dependence on their trainees for the data and the success of their labs. To read that others are not so transparent is a bit shocking because to me it seems like common knowledge that a PI is only as good as the trainees working for them.

The point is that MSc. advisor is not evil. He is still an asshat for his inappropriate sexual comments, but on his ability as a supervisor I am not so sure, horrible mentor but maybe not horrible supervisor. Does admitting that he is not evil mean I can forgive him for destroying my confidence and self-esteem, I'm not sure. But I do not think that I would be able to whole heartedly discourage students from joining his lab. Over at Dr.drA, a commenter described strong, independent, confident female scientist as a ball busting bitch (BBB). I was a BBB when I started my MSc, and he killed that. He called me catty when I stood up for myself, made me self-conscience for disagreeing with a stated opinion and I am still working on getting over that. He was a bad mentor, but I have to admit, he is a good scientist, and he taught me how to do science with high standards.


Mad Hatter said...

Great post. I don't think there's such a thing as a perfect PI/advisor. Yes, some of them are assholes in one way or another, but there's almost always something one can learn from them, even if it's the "when I'm a PI I will never do X" lesson.

I've actually found that as my career has progressed, I've come to understand the reasons behind some of the things my former PIs did that pissed me off at the time. Doesn't mean I necessarily agree with what they did, but I can sort of see why they did it.

Brigindo said...

I think there is a large continuum on the advisor scale. And you make a good point about confusing good scientist with good mentors. You can learn a lot from a good scientist but a mentor who makes you question yourself and wipes out your self-esteem (without helping to restore it) is a bad mentor. And sexual harassment? It's evil.

Nice blog. I'm here from NCLM