Tuesday, February 15, 2005


I've begun to realize something -- old boys networks exist everywhere. Personally, I embarked on a career in science hoping that I'd escape it. To my dismay, I've learned that the old boys network is perhaps strongest in the world of science. Professors, who are primarily men, protect fellow faculty members from harm's way. In my time doing research at a major institution, I've seen professors protected from the consequences of embezzlement, scientific misconduct, sexual harassment, discrimination of all forms and finally, severe emotional abuse -- all of which are crimes inflicted on graduate students.

In the world I live in, graduate students accept such abuse because they're convinced that if they do so they'll land their dream job -- a faculty position. What's worse, there really doesn't exist a suitable grievance process for students that have had to endure such treatment. Moreover, if you complain you might as well kiss your career goodbye.

Upon discussing the situation with professors I often ask them: "Why can't professors do more to protect students." Sadly, they often answer: "Well, we have to work with our fellow faculty members for twenty or thirty years. Graduate students come and go. You can see why 'collegiality' pays off."

Granted, I've also met some amazing professors. Brilliant men and women dedicated to the intellectual growth of their students. Unfortunately such people are rare in my world.

I guess the worst of it is the consequences it has on the students around me. For the most part, they're miserable. On a daily basis I see the careers of brilliant students drift into oblivion. Often, but not always, this occurs because of the irresponsibility of their research advisor.

I've lived my whole life in love with science. As a child I spent hours in my garage building things and countless time in libraries studying. As an adult, I wanted to be a professor so that I could teach people how to do science properly. I wanted to nurture and mentor them. I wanted to experience my childhood joy everyday and impart it to others. Lately, I must say that my love of science is being overwhelmed by my hatred of "collegiality." For those of you who know me personally, you know how painful this is for me. I can't help it... I'm running out of gas.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Advisors do not have to care about graduate students outside what they can get done for the advisor. Even when they help them later finding jobs it is more to increase the original advisors standing. "Fred is a great advisor. He has placed students at MIT, Harvard, Stanford."

11:57 AM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

You're right. Usually students are placed at great universities only to help increase the visibility of the advisor. It's sad that we think that they "don't have to care." In principle, nobody has to care about anyone. These people are called mentors, yet they don't have to care. Sigh...

12:57 PM  
Blogger thc said...

If you give up your dream, then he, and all the "old boys" win. Don't let them.

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Merry Stitcher said...

V -
Shedding light on the issue can help...if not for you right now, then perhaps for others in the future.

Don't let the ol' boys get you down, and keep shining the light.

You're a scientist....what does it take to make a systemic change? You are definitely doing your part.

Hang in there,

12:59 AM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

Thanks for the kind comments. I'm sticking with it. I'm surrounded by ego driven maniacs with power. My goal is to beat them -- not join them.

4:37 AM  

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