Saturday, September 29, 2007

Advising - in hindsight

I think I got little and poor direction during my PhD and in my acknowledgements I wrote only a subtle compliment for the two people who had been co-advising me for four and a half years. I still believe lack of direction was directly contributing my delay in finishing and financial frustrations related to this delay. It took well over a year before the anger towards a difficult process and a system allowing this to happen subsided, and I'm surprised to find that I don't resent that phase of my life anymore. So why open this can of worms once more?

Almost two years have passed since I defended and I haven't been dependent of my former advisers for as much time. I started in my current job immediately after the defense and moved away from grad school city. I have kept in sporadic contact with both former advisor and keep a friendly relationship with them that fits the level of contact we have now. But I sometimes regret I didn't thank them profoundly in my acknowledgements for my dissertation, because truth to be told, I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am today, if I hadn't come across these particular people.

They did not fulfill what I consider to be basic requirements of practical help especially at the beginning of the research and writing phase, but they did make a difference in a, for me, significant way. They saw my potential, picked me out of the crowd and made me do my best. Some people have the self-confidence to stand up for themselves and ask to be given opportunites at an early age, but I didn't, and I wouldn't have gone into academia or into an interdisciplinary field or been able to make notice of myself without this initial motivation and introduction.

As much as I think former advisor #1 wore me out for a long time, because she didn't realize her perfectionist tendencies and mine put together would make me work till I dropped, she also recognized a potential that I had no idea I had. As much as I resented the flailing ideas of my interdisciplinary project and the lack of overview from advisor #2, I think his vision was right, and that my combined background gives me something unique to bring to the table now. I also know that if advisor #1 hadn't recommended me to advisor #2 and he hadn't introduced me to his network of colleagues I would not have held any of the positions I have held since the end of my PhD.

I still think proper advising during the PhD should be a minimum requirement, and I'm talking about actually getting involved in the project and assisting in navigating the process. I didn't get that and I hope I will be better on that front for my students, but I still think my advisers should at least have gotten a thank you note for getting me where I am today.

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At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


What you've described here is just human nature. The failings of your advisors who are only human, the blessings they have given you, your failure in appreciating that at the time, and your wisdom in appreciating it now. Sounds normal to me :-)

Why don't you send them thank you notes now? Tell them what you appreciate about their support. I sent my advisor a copy of my diss. thanking him in my inscription for what I really saw as his gift to me after the fact. During, it's hard to see anything but our own suffering. Since you are over the pain of their failings, I would just forgive them for that and chalk it up to human nature. But you might feel good if you can acknowledge their contribution to your development.

At 9:36 AM, Blogger saxifraga said...

Thanks for your kind words, sleek. Sorry I didn't get back to say thank you until now. I like your take on it, and it is really strange for me to realize that I am actually on the other side of the "suffering" and in a place of gratitude. I still think many things should have been done differently, and I'm looking forward to try doing a better job the day I get PhD students of my own, but I'm really glad to feel more of the forgiveness and realization of what my advisors actually DID bring to my life. Yes, I think you are right, I should thank them belatedly.


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