Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I woke up this morning, the birds were singing, the sun was shining. It was if I was trapped in a pleasant Disney movie. "Good Morning, Mr. Vavoom" my neighbor said.

Yes sir, I was already having a great day. The BART strike was averted. Everything was looking up.

I hopped in my truck and got ready to hit the road. As I turned the key I heard, "Wa zhu zhu zhu zhu... wa zhu zhu zhu zhu." Perfect. My car won't start. The BART strike was averted and my car won't start. Great. I hopped out, opened the hood, pretending I knew how to fix a car. I fiddled around with the car for 30 minutes, tried the ignition again. Voila -- it started. Keep in mind, at this point I was annoyed.

As I walked into the lab, I saw my coworkers huddled around talking. "What's up guys," I said. "So. We saw that you that you got a lot done over the 3 day weekend." Trying to be modest, I replied, "Oh, you know, I just got a little bit done... no big deal." I tried to be friendly, but nobody was smiling.

"Well, it looks like you actually are competent. I've always thought you'd end up being an idiot," said one postdoc. Normally, people might say such things in jest. Nobody was joking. What the hell is going on? Another postdoc said, somewhat angrily, "You should have consulted me before you tried that experiment. Those results are my results." I asked why. The response was, and make sure you're sitting down for this, "Technically, you work under me. You're a new grad student. Whatever work you do is my work."

I see. So when things aren't working, when there are 45 people breathing down my neck I'm on my own. Suddenly, when I make things work, this postdoc wants credit for my work. When I get angry I can feel my pulse right at my temple. Yes sir, it was there and pounding.

"Hey. Listen," I said to the postdoc, "If you think you can claim credit for my work, to which you made no contribution, you're sadly mistaken. I may be modest, but I'm not stupid. If you think you can condescend to me like that forget it." I stopped to take a deep breath, doing my best to avoid blowing up. "I am new in this lab, but I've been doing science for a very very long time. I've seen people like you before. You jump on the successes of others and claim it as yours. You won't be able to do that when dealing with me. I promise you that."

The postdoc replied, "I bet no one has ever put you in your proper place, have they? We all know your story. You're a retread. A complete loser."

Now I was pissed. Not angry, pissed. "You know what? I think putting me in 'my place' is a fantastic idea," I responded, "Let's get some paper and pencils. What subject would you like to discuss? Physics? Math? Biology? Chemistry?" Yes sir, this had all the makings of an intellectual shoot out. Please believe me, I never have done anything like this before. Never. I was angry.

The postdoc suddenly looked sheepish. I needed to finish this. I continued, "I am so confident I'll embarrass you in front of all our group members. C'mon big shot, put me in my place. Let's see you do it. You've got a PhD. You think that gives you the right to beat up on a new graduate student? Think of all the people you've pulled this bullshit on. All the ideas, projects and results you've taken from others. Today is the day karma catches up to you. Pick the subject and I'll show you who the retread is."

He looked around the room. Everyone was silent. Suddenly, I saw his eyes tear up. He simply turned and walked away slowly.

I feel badly for having to hammer on this poor guy so badly. I feel outright guilty. I was always raised to be modest and never do this sort of thing to another person. Yet somehow, deep down inside, I think he needed it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, some people need it. He did. Being exposed is a great equalizer. Bullies need stuff like that. The lab should be different now.


2:06 PM  
Anonymous lilith said...

well done mate! you seem to have dealt really well with one of my biggest fears re. doing a PhD. People in labs can be evil - talking from personal experience!

2:44 PM  
Blogger irishkeough said...


also, some math books, shall I do that for you?

3:31 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

You're on the Candid Camera show right?


What a jerk. Well done, Vavoom.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

1st of all, I understand your guilt because you remind me of me. In situations like that I will let people push and push and push me. Alot. But I have a line, and when you cross it I have a tendency to say what I really think. Which sometimes hurts someone's feelings. Which I hate to do. But at the same time, had he not been a bully, and either hateful or dismissive, then I don't think you ever would have said anythign to him.

Some people need to be reminded about humility and modesty every once in awhile. Besides, if it was going to hurt his feelings to be called a retread maybe he shouldn't have ever said it to you. The Golden Rule and all that.

Sorry that's kinda longwinded, but that sort of stuff really gets to me! Don't feel guilty. If you are sorry then apologize and if not then let it go, but don't waste your time on guilt.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Teri said...

Way to go Vavoom! I admire the way you handled the situation. Looks like the person who needed to be "put in his place" was put there.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Rattie said...

Please tell me this happened in the biology lab back in high school between you and the school can't be speaking about adult behaviour.

You feel guilty? You deserve a standing ovation!

6:09 PM  
Blogger The Disgruntled Chemist said...

I think you just saved all the grad students that will work with/for that guy, in his postdoc and if he ever gets a teaching position, a lot of hassle.

You did all them a favor, and you did him one, too. Maybe he'll become a better scientist because of it.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You did the right thing. You don't deserve to get pushed around. This guy started didn't.

Good for you!

7:13 PM  
Blogger An80sNut said...

I think there is a line we all have that can be crossed. Some of us have lines so far back that it will be a very rare moment for that to happen. I'm happy to see that when he pushed it, you had the ammo. Congrats, Vavoom.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Danilo da Silva said...

actually, you did very well. You shouldnt really feel sorry because this was an honorable behavior since it was done in the right momment and to the right person. It really was to your benefit and to the benefit of others.

'Cause you know what could've happen in the future.. you dealing with all of this situation and you could lose a lot of the motivation you have to work. So... your department and science itself would lose.

Well done!

8:57 PM  
Blogger Moose said...

I understand your feelings of guilt, but I think you did alright. Is it possible that he knew of the sabotage and the fact you didn’t report it? It may have given him the impression that you could be walked on. I’m sure this was a real eye opener for him.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Davydgrey said...

Vavoom, thank you for reminding me why I got out of academics. I think you did great standing up to the school bully. Whether it be on an elementary playground, a high school gymnasium, or in a grad laboratory bullies should not be tolerated. Way to go.

10:39 PM  
Blogger dahvid said...

you know, actually i'm inspired in some ways ;)

good for you vavoom.

10:57 PM  
Blogger thc said...

Sometimes you've just got to put the hammer down...

11:15 PM  
Blogger RT said...

Bravo Vavoom! I don't mean to sound condescending, but I am so proud of you! Standing up for yourself, and telling someone point blank that their behavior towards you is not acceptable.

However, from what you've previously told us about these people, I suspect that the war is not over... Be prepared for some retaliation. If that happens, don't back down! Stay steady and strong in your convictions and they will come to respect you, or hate you. Either way, you can be comfortable with yourself.

12:05 AM  
Blogger The Lazy Iguana said...

Awesome use of the pimp smack!!

You made the dude cry, and best of all it was in front of others! This is too good!

Do not feel guilty. You did nothing wrong. You did what needed to be done.

12:09 AM  
Anonymous PhatPharma said...

I'm all caught up now and I'm impressed. Your stories fascinate me. I hope you'll take this energy with you to the Berkeley of the east. Let's hope your balls still fit in the overhead compartment.

12:22 AM  
Blogger RT said...

PS: Did you say your truck??? And your truck broke down? Is this the same truck that you pick up car-poolers in? OK, maybe I won't be so quick to accept a ride from you after all... ;o)

2:13 AM  
Blogger Rat said...

What a jerk !!!

5:49 AM  
Blogger dusty said...

wait..let me get this straight..the jackass cried when you put HIM in HIS place? LMAO..walks like a bully, acts like a bully and sounds like a bully to me..must be a bully..good show dude..glad you rented a set of nads and bitch slapped the guy!

6:02 AM  
Blogger FantasticAlice said...

He may have a PHD but he is still in the same place you are.

Kick the horse he is sitting so high on out from under him. You don't deserve to be belittled or deal with the ignorance of such a man. Obviously he has security issues if he is that hateful.

Remember Alice's favorite quote "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." written by the always eloquent Mark Twain.

7:42 AM  
Blogger James d. said...

Good for you, Vavoom. If you feel a little guilty, it probably just means that you know that laying the smackdown is something that should rarely be used. But this was a proper time.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous FNPhD said...

You are lucky that he didn't choose the field of external ballistics....

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You go girl. Looks like that person needed to be shown their place not you. I do not think I would leave results in plain sight if possible in that group.

3:21 PM  

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