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2011-02-04 - 2:40 p.m.

...a small ripple on the big wave...

In case there is anyone out there who still reads this apart from me....hi!

It has been very hard to keep up my writing here. In fact, I find that I am falling victim to that strange social disease known as "tenure track." It turns out that the months leading up to the submission of a tenure package - and the anticipation of undergoing such an extensive evaluation of your career-long professional performance - are quite harrowing and stressful. Go figure.

But some good news came my way today. I am certain that I have written here before about troubles that I've had with a particular student. One who was a member of my lab for over two years, but who had not produced one single result. There were several issues that centered around this student's particular inability to listen to my input. After the first few months, I assumed it was cultural. Perhaps some element of it was. But then the same pattern occurred with every faculty member with whom s/he interacted.

This student went through certifying exams last October, failed outright, and promptly filed an appeal. We (I) then followed up with a multi-paged single-spaced response to the appeal. I am very fortunate that I keep detailed records of my meetings with students! The arguments presented by the student were so strongly slanted, cherry-picking facts. I was able to go through and pull out documents from the student's file to support all of my assertions that countered the arguments.

Nevertheless, it took a long time, and I've discovered that your heart still sinks into your stomach when someone accuses you of inadequate supervision, no matter how unjust you feel that accusation is. This case has hit all of my insecurity buttons.

The appeal was finally scheduled for Monday, and we learned today that the appeal was rejected. The student is gone, and I feel relieved. And I've learned several very important lessons.

Be VERY careful with how you select students. Follow your intellect, but also follow your instinct. If your instinct tells you to stay away, then DO. It is easy to accept a student, but very hard to remove them once they are there.

Document everything. Everything. I am lucky that I already have a tendency to do this, and it helped me to pull out crucial details: specific dates of meetings; specific lists of required tasks; specific quotes. The hope is that you never need this information. The reality is that sometimes you do.

Always remain professional. If you feel a risk of losing it, then get up and walk away and resume the meeting when you are more reasonable.

Other lesson that I learned? Key members of my department supported me. Of course, they were in this with me to a certain extent. But my past experiences suggest that things could have been a lot worse. In this case, they listened to me, looked at my story, and tried to help. That's quite valuable.

Finally, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses but try to believe in yourself. None of us is a perfect supervisor, and I have made mistakes. But I make the promise to myself and to my students to support them as much as possible. I am thankful that I have more than a handful of really bright and wonderful human beings working in my group, and we have very productive, professional relationships. That does not mean that I never make mistakes, but it's got to be worth something. A lot, actually.

And now that this 2 year chapter is finally over, on with more important things in life!

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...they are just words, Suzi... - 2011-08-29
...the nature of doing science... - 2011-07-22
....what is your place knowledge? - 2011-07-21's Friday... - 2011-07-15
...a small ripple on the big wave... - 2011-02-04

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