Sunday, August 31, 2008



Went for a little hike over the holiday. Yeah, I know it is Sunday and I'm already back.

Long story short, things aren't going so hot in my PhD program. I have passed my comprehensive exams, but on Monday, my adviser said that she really didn't think she should be my adviser anymore.

I really don't have too many ideas on what to do about my adviser.

I did finally realize that this is not MY PhD program, but THEIR PhD program. The path is idiosyncratic, but only upon their approval. If I want or need to do something different or look for an exception, it flat doesn't matter. If, on the other hand, they need to deviate from the [unwritten] rules then that will always be acceptable regardless of the individual consequences.

And even though I'd love to tell them what I think, I, for one of the first times in my life, cannot. I just want to get the hell out of here with a PhD and never look back. The best way to do that is to just shut up, work on a dissertation, and do what they ask when they ask.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Palila's thoughts on a recent e-mail from my faculty

Recently, some of the faculty had a meeting. The purpose of the meeting appears to have been a bitch session on PhD students. The outcome of the meeting was to send "advice" to all PhD students to aid in correcting their aberrant ways.

Item 1. Accept the system.

Palila's response: Accept that we expect you to do everything for us and we do nothing for you. Also, accept that your significant other doesn't exist to us, and shouldn't really exist to you.

Item 2. Self reliance – You are responsible for your own education.

Palila's response: We admit that we don't really teach the classes and accepting people into the program doesn't mean that we want to assist them. All students have cooties.

Item 3. Take a breadth of courses. Go beyond the assigned papers. Take a lot of methodology courses. Attend research seminars.

Palila's response: Again, we don't want to teach you, we expect you to get your learning from other sources.

Item 4. Use senior doctoral students as an important resource.

Palila's response: Important resource for commiseration and venting. Don't really talk to them, that's forming a gang.

Item 5. Work seven days a week – "You beat 50 percent of the people in America by working hard. You beat another 40 percent by being a person of integrity and standing for something. The last 10 percent is a dog fight in the free enterprise system." A. L. Williams

Palila's response: We really think you should be single and living in the park. Better yet, if you have a partner, they should support you in every way, but we want 110% of your time.

Item 6. Invest a lot of time in improving writing and oral communication skills.

Palila's response: Learn new ways to say "Sorry, honey, I can't go with you to anything ever again in the next 8 years. I've chosen to put myself and everyone else I know through hell, because that seems like a better use of my time than spending it with you." You should learn to say this in emails, while on the telephone, through texts, while arguing, and while cooking dinner. Scratch that last one, you'll never do that again because your partner should know better than to ask you to do anything not related to the phd program. See point #5.

Item 7. Treat your graduate research assignment as an important learning opportunity.

Palila's response: Of how to kiss ass.

Item 8. Make an excellent impression on your area faculty in terms of your diligence, work ethic, etc.

Palila's response: Again, don't question what we ask you to do. Building our bookcases and watching our kids are both very important to the education we are providing you. See point #1.

Item 9. Meet all the required milestones of the program.

Palila's response: We won't tell you what they are. Guess! Ha! You're wrong!

Item 10. Have at least one or two published/forthcoming research papers at the end of five years.

Palila's response: We admit that 4 years is bullshit. Also, you won't get to be anything but last author on any paper, even if you have the idea, do the study, do the analysis and write the paper yourself. You're working for us, and we get to boost our CVs for providing this wonderful education for you. But make sure you learn from other people, we don't want to hang out with you. You've got cooties.

Thursday, August 07, 2008



You know, sometimes you get yourself into a situation and you can't get out of it and that sucks. You just have to keep your head low, do what you gotta do, and hope it is over as soon as possible and as painlessly as possible. I'm, of course, talking about my Ph.D. program.

I don't talk about it much, but I'm really very tired of it. Performance evaluation is almost always negative and too late to do anything about correcting the issue (which is funny, because we teach how performance evaluation shouldn't be that way). We were also told three months ago that we would get huge raises on July 31st. We did not. For the second year in a row, someone in payroll f'ed up. We'll get the pay on August 31st, but that sure doesn't help with the start up costs associated with a new school year.

Three months ago, the Dean made a presentation about changes to the PhD program based upon findings from some action committee. One of the findings was that we were underpaid compared to other PhDs in similar programs (see above). We actually were (still are thanks to payroll) considerably underpaid compared to other similar programs and were (are) also underpaid compared to other PhDs on campus in other programs (I have to thank a friend in another group for cluing me in on that one).

We were also told that we would be required to work less for the school/faculty this coming year. The college is actively trying to make the program easier for people to actually get through. My department currently has three students in their 6th year (!) and one will certainly go into her 7th!! To help people get through faster the college has placed several requirements on the faculty to actually teach the needed classes (which was kind of funny). We had also been required to work 20 hours per week when not teaching and 10 hours per week when teaching for the faculty. This was much more than other similar programs (in private schools, PhD students are often not required to work at all). At the same time as the pay announcement, we were told that we would be working 0 hours when teaching and 14 hours when not teaching. Woooh!

Then the faculty raised hell. My adviser was one of the culprits (and she had the chutzpah to tell me this to my face). The college has apparently decided to go back to the old policy, but has yet to make an announcement about this. Though my department has sent out work assignments for the upcoming year with the full work schedule listed. I was complaining about this to a highly regarded faculty member in another group. At first he had zero sympathy. His policy is that grad students should have to work their asses off. But then he found out that much of it was skut work (grading, proctoring exams, doing unrelated research, helping with someone's consulting business, aiding in recruiting) and not related to research that matched the student's interests. He then sided with me. Grad students should have to work their asses off, but only if it is relevant.

The relationship between me and my adviser is abysmal. She may be tops in her area, but I don't really care for her that much and Palila hates her. The unspoken rules, the ludicrous expectations ... the relationship is so damaged it seems unlikely that I will work with her after I graduate. It is really too bad because she has a great publication rate and she generally continues to work with her former students in a way that sees them to success. Regardless, I don't think I want to continue the relationship. If I am going to be successful, it will be doing my work that interests me and it will be my ideas and my hard work, and I don't want her to benefit from that whatsoever at this point. Luckily, I am working with a much more highly regarded faculty member in another department and it seems likely that this relationship will be much more beneficial in the future (as long as he doesn't freaking retire). It is also much less acrimonious (actually, not acrimonious at all, I love the guy).

All I have left to do now is my dissertation. I would like to finish this process in a year. Unfortunately, it means I will have to stick around for two years because I cannot go on the job market without data (and actually get a job). I have had two ideas turned down so far (both were too much to do for a dissertation or not directly related to my field according the faculty) but I think I have a winner now. I guess we'll see once I talk about the kernel of the idea over with my adviser.

I try to not let most of this get to me, but it does. It has to and there is little I can do to stop it. I'm tired of being broke again. I'm to the point where I wish there was an easy way out of this. But there isn't. I've taken too much money out in college loans. I now pretty much have to see this through to fruition and get the big dollar, high paying job. If not, I'll never get out from under this debt. And it has to be better once I graduate and actually have a job, right?

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Tree, house. House, tree.

A tree just fell on the house.

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