Thursday, March 4, 2010

Babysitting my advisor

Aaargh.  Making progress, but not as fast as I wanted, and you know whose fault that is?  Dr. Chair's, that's who.  If I had a cattle prod...

So, as my loyal readers will recall (or scroll down to review), I told my committee I'd have the diss ready by Monday.  Please let the record show that I had it ready by Sunday afternoon.  The next step, naturally, would be to give it to Chair, have hir look it over, and proceed from there to nail down a defense date, thereby allowing me to orient my stress and anxiety toward a specific calendar marking.  But, as these things have a way of doing, the path took a detour.

I should explain here that three of my committee members, all of them within my department, are here at DOU.  The other two, though, are not only out of department, but out of DOU altogether.  To my way of thinking, this just made the idea of sending them all a PDF of the diss all the more attractive.  But one of them -- call hir Dr. Sparky, since zi is a very recent PhD who was once a fellow grad student in class with me -- is botching this now.  Zi emailed me that zi would like me to mail a paper copy of the diss to hir office.  !?!?  Excuse me, Sparky?  You want an impoverished, unfunded grad student to mail you a 214-page draft?  What's the expression I learned for this situation...?  Oh, yeah: fuck you.

Ahem.  Back on topic: I was worried about printing/mailing costs for this business, so I emailed Dr. Chair and asked about protocol, lest I embarrass myself in front of the entire committee by sounding cheap and petty.  Chair wrote back on Monday morning that I should send paper to Sparky, since that request had already been made, and that I should email the draft to everyone else and ask if they would like paper as well.  (Oh, fine.  Harrumph.)  So, that's just what I did. 

Later that same day, I went to a talk, and had the chance afterward to talk with Dr. Awesome.  Before I could even ask hir out loud if zi would like a paper copy, zi starts in on me, "So what are you doing, emailing us the PDF?"  I assume (correctly), that zi, as an inveterate stickler for academic formality and hierarchical deference, thinks it's tacky even to email the thing when paper could be generated.  But that's not Awesome's main beef.  "Why would you email that to us in the first place?  We haven't heard anything yet from Chair, and until we do, we can't do anything with it.  Zi needs to tell us when it's time to read, since we will give you our comments at the defense."

Um, excuse me?  "But Chair explicitly told me to email it to all of you!"

Awesome sounded mostly amused but a little peeved at this.  "Ah, so zi's trying to make us do all hir work for hir, eh?"  'Fraid so.

So, once it was clear that Chair has once again done something stupid, pointless, and counterproductive in hir neverending quest to avoid pulling hir full weight as a departmental professor, I seethed for a day at the thought that I now looked foolish and rebellious by emailing everyone directly.  Monday evening was made of stress for me for this reason.

The next day, I visited Chair during office hours.  I explained (very calmly!) that I'd spoken with Awesome, who was, as I put it diplomatically, very confused by the email.  I reviewed aloud all the bureaucratic maneuvers that necessarily hinge upon Chair's reading and evaluating the diss before everyone else, and then declaring to the committee that it was time to swing into action.  Chair nodded slowly, and seemed to grasp for words for a minute, much like a small child who has been caught red-handed doing something forbidden, and can't think of an explanation.  Finally, zi exhaled and said, "Okay."  (Like I was asking for a favor!)  Zi explained -- if that is really the word for it -- that zi had hoped that the entire membership of my committee would read the diss collectively and decide if it were ready to defend.

What. The. Fuck?  Who in the hell does that?  You can't just cede chairing authority on a committee, and pretend it's some touchy-feely consensus-building exercise!  How can a professor with twenty years' experience not fucking know this already?

So, now Chair understands that zi has no escape: all of us, but especially Awesome and I, are waiting expectantly for Chair to suck it up and read the dissertation this week, and be prepared by Tuesday to state hir assessment: either it needs further revisions, or it's ready to take to a defense.  Since further revisions would require further reading on Chair's part of a document that zi is plainly trying to avoid, I highly doubt that zi will take serious issue with anything -- provided, of course, that I'm correct in thinking that I've addressed all the comments I've received and haven't screwed anything up seriously.

Zi thought zi could farm out supervisory oversight to a committee of five people, two of whom have yet to see a chapter of the diss, much less the whole thing.  God damn.


  1. Oh, the politics of a department rearing its ugly head. I've heard horror stories like yours, but I'm sorry you have to go through it.

    I can't believe that a young committee member would want a hard copy of your paper mailed. A large reading I do for class is on pdf...get with the times!

  2. Bleah! I don't have much advice since my filing was pretty smooth and uneventful (a letdown even!) so I don't know what strategies would be best for corralling this advisor.

    I have heard of grads using the (passive-aggressive?) method of documenting the whole process in an emailed memo to the advisor:

    Dear Stupidhead:

    Thanks for meeting with me on X day and working out the preparation for my dissertation defense. As I understand it from this meeting, you will do blah, blah, and blah while I do blah, and blah. After blah happens I can set the defense date with the rest of the committee.

    My ideal defense date would be X --- would you be able to do blah and blah by Y date so that I can get this, that and the other thing all ready in time for it? Thanks so much!


    Frustrated Dissertator.

    (Note: savvy grad students can really shape the upcoming timeline by how they word it in that email, so go ahead and be assertive in your delegations rather than ask a lot of questions or leave his/her vague brushoffs standing.)

  3. @EnglishAdjunct: Sparky isn't actually that young, which kinda-sorta explains hir correspondence preferences. Zi had a whole pre-doctoral career outside academia for a while. Still, like you said: get with the times!

    @Sisyphus: Brilliant advice! Clearly, I need to be extraordinarily proactive in this process, or I'll get screwed by professorial inertia. I'm due to email a reminder to Chair tomorrow anyway, so I'll certainly keep this in mind. I have no problem at all being passive-aggressive; after all, hasn't Chair already surpassed me in that regard? One man's passive-aggressive email is another man's seizing of academic destiny by the throat!