The only way is through
Well I’ve been on a talking about mental health kick lately and I guess that fits with today’s topic. Sometimes in life we find ourselves out numbered, outmaneuvered, outsmarted, and without any real power. It never feels good to find yourself in that kind of situation. I’m proud of how far I’ve come mentally, because if the situation I’m in now had occurred even just a few years ago, I would be checking myself into a hospital for my own safety again. When the weight of the world presses you down so hard you just want to scream, all you can do is push back.
Of all the roles I have, my proudest is being a mentor to new students. I absolutely love it and while I don’t think I would enjoy teaching, I take mentorship very seriously and it fills me with a joy that few other things can. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m somewhat infamous for my speech I give to my new mentees. I don’t ever plan the speech, I never thought about it, it just sort of happened and the basics of it get repeated. Since I’ve mentored so many students at this stage in my career some laugh when they find out I’m mentoring someone new because they know the speech is coming.
The speech is basically my verbal commitment to them. I am here to help you, if you need me day or night send me an email/text/carrier pigeon/smoke signal and I will respond as soon as I can. If it’s an emergency I WILL respond sooner than that. When I’m mentoring female students in particular, I remind them that sexual harassment in any way, shape, or form is not okay, be it from a student or a teacher. I literally have no power, but I will risk my position for you if you come to me and tell me something happened.
That’s the speech and I mean every word of it. This isn’t a story about my speech though, it’s a story about the part where I say I literally have no power. Because as a fellow student, it’s true. I have no power to effect change.
Maybe I’m just trying to remind myself of that because I have said it at least a dozen times since I started my PhD. I emphasize it specifically because I want students I work with to know that I cannot really help them if they need it. I bring it up now because the corollary to that statement is, I cannot help myself even if I need it. Today was a good reminder of that, or more accurately last night was.
For months now I’ve been reaching out to school-PI to make sure my expectations and his are aligned for my PhD. I need to collect X subjects worth of data to finish my degree. We’ve already agreed on the scope (roughly) I just needed agreement to the amount of work that needs to happen. Months, literally months I’ve emailed, I’ve spoke to him in person, and I get the same stoic response that he’s busy, but he will get to it.
Finally instead of sending him the one-page proposal I worked on I summarized it. I also sent him something he’s been asking about “final paper” so a response was needed. Last night after months of waiting I finally got his answer and it was devastating. My proposed sample size was 1/3 the sample size he wants for me, there were added requirements, and he suggested that if I work hard enough I would be able to graduate before the end of next year, roughly six months longer than I was anticipating/hoping.
It gets worse.
Hospital-PI hired me with the understanding that we were in agreement with the scope of my dissertation. Tripling the number of subjects means I need to figure some way to make it all work outside of my normal work hours. Plus as hospital-PI pointed out, there’s no guarantee that the minimum requirements won’t be changed again before I do my proposal defense (thus semi-locking things into place). Basically, I’m wondering if my job is on the line here and I was sure I was going to need to get ready to step away from working at the hospital all together. Meaning saying goodbye to “big idea” and everything that comes along with working at the hospital.
I’ve had a weird relationship with school-PI since I first started in his lab, but the weirdest thing that has occured happened a year or so ago when he was pushing me to do my proposal defense only to put the breaks on it completely. I think I wrote about it… yep here. And then he wouldn’t let me collect data for my PhD dissertation, even though other students had done this exact thing (here). I’m tired and frustrated and just tired… did I mention tired?
I don’t have any power in this situation though and it’s frustrating because I’m trying to make two people happy and both have power, but neither has power over the other, only me. Which makes me the guy in the middle, not a fun place to be even when hospital-PI is looking out for me (and admittedly himself, which is fair in this situation). I’m not sure what I should be doing now honestly. I’m arranging a meeting with my graduate advisor, but there’s not a whole lot of hope on that front. The last time I met with them regarding this situation in a different context, I left more disappointed than anything.
I’m so very confused and just lost right now. The fun thing about being a mentor is that I have the answers to most of the questions a student would have, but the problem is I don’t have anyone to ask questions to or get advice from. Once again I’m charting my path with no idea which way I need to go. One year left, that was my goal. Now I’m not sure what will happen, but as the title suggests the only way is through.
I just wish it didn’t have to hurt so much along the way.