Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Importance of Communicating with your PI

I have probably lost a ton of followers and readers over the last few months.  Which saddens me, but eh, what can you do when life gets in the way in of blogging. I still have to write an ode to my little monkey for his fourth birthday, but since I'm over a month late whats a few more days right?

So this post is to shine a light on the good PI's. Yes I know, its hard to believe they exist, with the blogosphere filled with tales of woe (justifiably so).   Heck, I originally started this blog because of the issues that I was having with my original PhD advisor. However, the stars deemed me lucky enough to land me in my current lab, with my current advisor that you are all sick of hearing how wonderful she is. 

Not to say that we haven't had our issues, for which a lack of communication was the core issue.  You would think that would've taught me a lesson but you know, I"m a slow learner :)

My goal for 2011 was to not sink and more importantly to not be feeling like I'm constantly struggling against sinking. I want to swim this year.  Being pregnant and not wanting to spend years getting this PhD, I need not swim. 

I was not swimming this past January. Mostly because the PI for whom I was TAing for was a completely unreasonable douchnozzle. S/he had extremely high expectations for the amount of work I was supposed to be doing, expected me to not only apply course content but to also help create it. I would speak to my PI about it periodically, who would rea-affirm that no SM you only work 12 hrs/week, no you only apply course content, would you like me to say something? Tell PI, you can not do x and y because I, your supervisor, need you to do z. Always supportive.  It didn't matter what my PI said, this person I was TAing for was a controlling bully that refused to understand that my priority is research and helping the students, not being his/her bitch.  At the end of January, I broke down in our lab office, to our Research Associate. I had been up since 3 am trying to figure out how I was going to get all my TA duties done and get enough data for a paper by the time Parasite decides to come out, while actually being a good mom and wife as opposed to the stressed out exhausted person I was. The DemandingPI was not listening to anything I was saying. The students were complaining to me and asking me to do something. It was just a bad situation.  One that I never openly talked to my PI about.

I didn't come in to the lab, the day after I broke down as we were going on a short family trip but I received an unexpected email from my PI. She told me to enjoy my weekend and relax.  WTF, why was she emailing this?  I may not always succeed, but I try my damnest to a mature, independent student. And I try to solve my problems on my own, which is always the smartest thing. Our amazing RA had recognized that I was being bullied by the other PI, that is was neither fair or healthy to be in the situation that I was. S/he also recognized that I wasn't going to ask my PI for help. So she did.

I don't know all the details, other than my PI was not impressed when she found out the details of what was happening. She got on the phone with our departmental advisor and with the PI I was TAing.  Found out what was happening, through various sources and made it clear that the treatment I was receiving was unacceptable.  She stood up for me. She protected me.  To say I feel like a weight as been lifted is an understatement.

I've since had a meeting with our Graduate Advisor to determine what I should've done, where I went wrong etc. It was great to have that meeting as s/he, very diplomatically, assured me that I wasn't crazy, that I did the right thing, and yes I was in the right.  I've been sorta vague on details but through the whole situation I was being made to feel like I was not in the right that I was supposed to be doing these duties etc.

My point is that had I actually openly talked to my PI earlier, I could've saved myself weeks of grieve. If it wasn't for our RA, I would probably still be struggling not to drown. Power differentials can wreak havoc on someones ability to stand up for themselves. The fear of financial are huge to grad students. I did not / do no want to be the "problem TA". I did not want to cause any waves that would make it hard for me to TA in the future. These fears, prevented me from standing up for what was right. Thankfully I have a PI and RA who saw this and stood up for me.  I am also thankful because I don't think my PI is unique in doing what she did. For all their faults, both my MSc and my original PhD supervisor would've gone to bat for their students.

Now that I"m getting closer to a strong swimming stroke in lab and life, hopefully I'll be back posting more regularlys.


Juniper Shoemaker said...

I have probably lost a ton of followers and readers over the last few months.

I often feel the same way, especially after I write angry crazy-ass cryptic posts about all of my epic emotional baggage. Oh, plus I spent tonight wondering if my PI has started to hate me despite my ever-increasing efforts for reasons that are my fault. And I can't just come out and ask him some shit like that, can I? That would be totally inappropriate. Not to mention annoying.

(I don't write about how wonderful my PI is for two reasons: 1) this is the blogosphere, where 99% of science bloggers seem to hate their PI's and 2) I am superstitiously afraid that as soon as I make his shining awesomeness public he will be magically possessed by the PI Demon that allegedly possesses every PI to ever walk the face of the planet and start to hate me. So it is nice to know that I am not the only one with a PI she's thrilled to work with.)

With a buttload of classes and six lab techniques to master fairly soon, I barely have time to blog-- in fact, I am supposed to be in bed right now-- and I'm a raging bachelorette (complete with a wardrobe that is far more substantial than my set of furniture). I'm guessing that you have even less time. That's okay. You should do what you have to do.

I'm also here to say that I don't think you've lost as many of your readers as you seem to think. I get the impression that a lot of people are insanely busy.

Anonymous said...

Dear SM,
you surely did not loose me! And congrats! And I hope you actually had a relaxing weekend!

Fia said...

Ups. Pressed "comment" too early. Anonymous above was me.

microbiologist xx said...

Well, I'm glad things are getting worked out. Even without the details, that TA business was sounding like a nightmare.
I am still reading your blog! What else could matter? ;)

Isis the Scientist said...

Happy birthday Monkey!!!!

EcoGeoFemme said...

Sounds awful, but really good that you figured things out. And that at least learned something from it that you can use in future (and share with us!). Don't worry about readers -- rss is a Good Thing.

ScientistMother said...

Juniper - I should probably realize that since I still go to read when I noticed you've posted something new, that others do the same for me....I'm glad you have a have a good PI. THe PI you have during grad studeies can either make you hate science, or remind regularly whey you fell in love with it. Remember that s/he is one of the good ones, when they make mistakes (they will they're human) or when something doesn't happen the way you thing it should. Ie my PI was right about postponing my comps.

Fia - thanks! how you do this with three is beyond my comprehension!

MicroXX - Duh, you're so right! :)

Isis - the monkey thanks you!

EGF - what a positive way to look at things, and you're right. Hopefully this doesn't happen again.

Girlpostdoc said...

You haven't lost readers. I think readers come in waves. Sometimes its a big one and staying on the wave is often hard when there are other commitments, other times readers just get washed out on blogs.

Melanie said...

I know I've said this before, especially when you were looking at new labs, but your PI freakin' rocks. One of my faves. If your RA is still who I remember, her too :) I'm dying of curiosity about who the course PI is though!!!

Remember this in the future my dear - your PI will go in swinging a proverbial baseball bat at heads for you.

ScientistMother said...

GPD - I also think that ppl are crazy busy and probably read but just don't have time to comment as much, which is the boat I am in.

Mel - Haha! Yes PI & RA are amazing. I count my lucky stars every day that you made me email her a second time. You know who I was TAing for. You know her/him all too well. You can email me if you want confirmation :)

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