The road to nowhere
Get it in writing. It was the advice I gave hospital-PI when he told me he got an offer from another hospital. Get it in writing. It was a phrase drilled into me by the military where less than honest recruiters would promise one thing, but deliver something else. I learned early on that your word is worthless, opinions change, memories fade, and you’re left with people who are upset because neither no one thought to write it down so everyone would be on the same page. Some lessons are learned the hard way I guess.
Yesterday I had a meeting with hospital-PI. Now out of all the PI’s I’m working with, hospital-PI is my favorite. It’s probably why the conversation yesterday hurt so much. I’m still kind of processing all the stuff that happened, but at least he was direct about what he would and would not let me do. If I were to stay in his lab, which he assured me we could still be friends and he wouldn’t hold any ill will if I left, I cannot and will not be able to do the project that just got funded by school-PI’s lab. It just can’t happen and if I want to go that route, I need to leave his lab.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, he offered to let me do projects in his lab to fulfill my PhD. I’m not sure what kind of wiggle room I would have in that regard so I emailed him an informal proposal for what I was thinking it may look like. I also reminded him that my school-PI is the person in charge of coming up with the requirements for my PhD and he’s made it very clear what the minimums are so I made sure to let hospital-PI know that as well.
School-PI and hospital-PI haven’t been seeing eye to eye lately (or ever really), so this will not be a fun transition for me no matter which way I go. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve spent most of my adult life working towards my PhD I would just say screw it, drop out, and work in hospital-PI’s lab. However, I was reminded recently that nothing ties hospital-PI to us and while I could’ve moved with him to the new hospital had I wanted, it’s scary not having job security enough to make that choice for myself without any fear. Getting my PhD would give me that job security (ideally anyway).
I have not heard back from hospital-PI about my proposed work, so I don’t even know what he will say or if he will just cut the cord for me and tell me to focus on my PhD. I’m not 100% sure what changed and even though this is mostly anonymous and I never named hospital-PI outright, I do feel the need to say that all three of my PI’s are amazing and I have nothing but respect and appreciation for them. I say that knowing full well that they will never read this, I say it because it’s the truth. They are all amazing, talented people, who I hold in high regard. It’s just that in this particular situation people are going to get hurt and I’m hurting because I can’t find a way to make everything fit.
My proposed work in hospital-PI’s lab doesn’t fit his lab 100% so I’m nervous he will realize that this arrangement just won’t work. My degree is in neuroengineering and he specializes in neurorehabilitation research, which as with my mechanical engineering and neuroengineering not being the same speech I give from time to time, neurorehabilitation and neuroengineering are two different beasts. Meaning we’re going to have to bend the research enough that my degree requirements are fulfilled and school-PI is happy with the scope of my project (technically all the committee has to approve, but he’s the first and most important vote).
The current fear is just that I won’t be able to get anything in writing now. The original agreement (or what I thought was the original agreement) was I would work in hospital-PI’s lab and the research would be applicable to my degree. That was the plan, we had already written an R21 grant to fund my research, I thought we were good. Once again I’m reminded that I should’ve gotten it in writing. Not to make the same mistake twice, I’m rushing to get my proposal all written out, have everyone agree on it, shake hands, and then that’s it. No more changes, no more hurt feelings, no more (as hospital-PI put it) punches or kicks. However, time is limited and hospital-PI and school-PI are rapidly going from bad terms to even worse terms. Or at least the email exchange I’m a part of regarding journal paper number four reads that way.
So that’s where I am right now. Stuck being pulled in two different directions and while one direction is the preferred direction, I can’t go that route without finishing my PhD first, I just can’t. I’ve already come so fucking far. I don’t want to stop short just because I have a job that I really enjoy. In short, this is a real headache and someone is bound to get hurt here, I just don’t know who, well aside from me.
In both cases, I’m definitely going to be getting hurt.