Dear Mr. Head Honcho Who Has No Clue What His MD/PhD Students Are Suffering Because He’s Too Kooky Himself:
Before it comes to your attention that I am not making satisfactory progress in your program and thereby hurting your chance of receiving NIH funding for it, I would like to make clear the failures in your program that have led to the waste of my valuable potential, which five years ago, you thought would blossom through your program.
First off, we need more guidance. Even those of us who were very much involved in research before coming to medical school do not know how graduate school works. We assume that someone will tell us and guide us through the process since it is in your best interest that we finish in a reasonable amount of time. I waited and waited for this guidance and it never materialized. I even tried seeking it out through your required semiannual meetings with my appointed advisor. The last time I met with my advisor, I told him of my concerns with my major professor’s mood swings and unwillingness to be open to my ideas and outright unprofessional behavior towards me. I also told him that I was not making the progress I would have liked to make by that time and that I feared that I would not finish my PhD any time soon because of my major professor’s failure to be a good mentor to me. He sent you a report of my progress. But you seem to still think I am doing just fine because I have not been called to your office yet. My cry for help fell on deaf ears. I tried going to my graduate group advisor, but he told me that he cannot help me because of my unique situation being in this program. So I had nowhere to turn but my classmates, who were and still are just as confused as me. This lack of guidance is a big reason for why I am most likely not going to finish my PhD in the allotted time.
Second, you need to enforce guidelines on your major professors as to what they can and cannot make their graduate students do. I fully understand that since we are paid by them, that they should have a certain leeway in what we do for them, but certain things are just plain unreasonable as they take too much time away from our own research and do nothing for our professional development, especially considering that this program requires us to compress four-plus years of research into a mere three years. We need major professors that will do their best to make sure we finish our PhD in the allotted time because we have the rest of our medical training to do as well. And it is in your best interest to produce graduates in the allotted time to impress the people at the NIH. I should not be reduced to being a secretary. I was never told that answering phones and making Powerpoint presentations were what I should expect as a graduate student. I should have some rights. When I tried to nicely tell my major professor that the things he was making me do were not part of my job description and that they were impeding my progress, he dared me to go ahead and take it up with you because you would be on his side too. What choice does such a statement leave me? What recourse do I have when the whole system is working against me?
Most dangerous of all the offenses that my major professor has committed and your lack of supervision and a proper system of checks and balances has allowed is the fact that my scientific creativity has been oppressed by the fact that I cannot bring up new ideas without being yelled at and having doors slammed at me. I would love nothing more than to have an open discussion where the merits and lack thereof of my ideas were discussed rather than tantrums thrown because of the fact that I dared to think for myself. How am I supposed to develop as a scientist when every new idea I have is shot down simply because my major professor did not think of it first and not because there is actually something wrong with it? As I mentioned before, I brought up this issue with my advisor who had nothing to say or do about it.
As you can see, the oppressive environment that I have been placed in and the fact that my major professor equates me with being a secretary (minus the salary) as well as his refusal to allow me to change projects even though mine is not working after two years of work on it have seriously stunted my progress and growth as a scientist. This outcome could have been prevented if someone listened to me when I asked for help and if your program were better structured such that these issues could more easily have been caught and remedied early on. At this point, all I want is to finish, which is sad because this experience has truly turned me off to academics when I was once so sure that a career in academics was exactly what I wanted. I hope that I have shown that any failure to make satisfactory progress on my part has been due to a system that clearly does not support its students or their development. I hope that my letter has brought this issue to your attention so that future MD/PhD students may be afforded with better opportunities than I myself have received here.
- the dreaded phd qualifying exam*I’ve put it off way longer than I should have. And it’s not my fault. Well, not 100% my fault. When I first started grad school still high from that adrenaline that pumps non-stop during those hectic first two years of med school, I wanted to take my quals as soon as possible so that I could finish my PhD as soon as possible. Then in stepped my major professor, who told me that I’d be committing suicide by doing so and that I should take the quals at the last possible minute to ensure that I would have enough time to study for it. Adding to his argument was the fact that one of the classes I wanted to take was only offered in alternate years and not that particular year. So I really had no choice but to wait until this fall to take my quals. So I putted along with my grad school classes (none of which could even come close to matching the difficulty of a single med school class, by the way) and dutifully met with my advisor at the end of the year. I had listed out the courses I still needed to take before being done with the required coursework, including the I-put-off-my-quals-to-wait-for-this-class one. When he saw this course listed, he told me that it had not been offered for awhile and that he didn’t think that it was ever going to be offered again and to confirm with the professor. I emailed...
- advisor = saboteurIt's that time of year again. Time for progress reports. Meetings with advisors to discuss said progress reports. I haven't met with mine yet because it's just not something I look forward to when I have no progress to report. My illustrious major professor serves as advisor to four of our (rather unlucky) MD/PhD students. He met with two of them in the last two weeks. And he didn't like them or their plans for the future. It must have been because they weren't cute obedient girls. And because he's a narcissist and no one can ever be good enough to deserve his praise. I didn't really think much of his comments because he usually makes belittling comments (i.e., "talks trash") about people behind their backs but writes glowing reviews. Unless, of course, he's on a power trip (but that's usually reserved for evaluating candidates for positions in the department). Imagine my surprise then when he called the director of our MD/PhD program this morning and voiced his "concerns" about these two students. I have never, not once in my gazillion years of indentured servitude in his lab, ever seen him do such a thing before. And the sad thing is that these two girls really didn't commit any horrendous crime: Victim #1: A little too gung-ho on endocrinology and naive about who she can choose as a major professor. Sheesh. I was naive too. That's how I ended up with him. Cut her a break already. Victim #2: Super...
- sometimes i REALLY wonder why i’m doing this md/phd thingNote the emphasis on "really." Because I wonder why I'm doing this every day. No. Every waking moment of everyday. No. Even in my sleep. I want to be done with this so badly that I dream about being on rotations and how great that is (which it isn't, or so I hear). I kid you not. And nothing reminds me more of why I hate this whole PhD thing than having to give a talk about all of the progress that I failed to make since the last time we all got together (which led to this brilliant post about my lack of progress) to rub our fellow MD/PhDers' faces in just how much more brilliant we are than them. I'm sure I'm such an easy target now that it's not even any fun anymore. I'd love to talk about something besides my experiments not working. In fact, I'd even settle for something I actually believed in even if it doesn't work. Because back during my un-jaded days as an undergrad in my major professor's lab, I actually believed in his work. I don't today. The only thing I've learned from him is how not to do research and how not to be a mentor. I guess I've also learned how to bluff and pretend that I've done a lot more work than I really have. How else do you explain the fact that I haven't yet been reprimanded by the powers-that-be for my complete and utter lack of...
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