Professing * Reflecting

Monday, September 25, 2006


My dissertation adviser and I have never gotten along. Due to a long sordid series of events, I was his advisee by default. While I always tried in my awkward and inexperienced way to do what I could to make that okay for both of us, he never passed up a chance to make me feel like someone else's orphan who was now so very unfortunately in his keep. Part of the problem was my graduate institution, haven of academics as nasty and haughtily exclusionary as they were talented and impressively credentialed.

So I did what I had to do. I am scrappy that way. With Jackass Adviser giving me only the barest amount of attention and feedback on my dissertation drafts, I sought out some help from others but mostly I wrote the wretched thing on my own. It was read. It was pronounced good. It was defended, successfully. And even though it was crap, oh my god how it was crap, it received praise from Very Famous Outside Reader. And even though I am done mining it for publishable nuggets and will never turn it per se into a book, it contains some really rather fine work. Got a tenure-track job. Continued to produce work. Found new mentors.

I have thought for a long time that this "throw the baby in the water and let it swim on its own or die on its own" tactic was okay, even preferable really, for creating tough and self-directed academics. I even thought that my experience was somewhat normal. I mean how much help do any of us really get from our advisers?

Today I changed my mind. I had a meeting with my old adviser to discuss my ideas about going on the market, and he did everything in his power to crush my spirit. He went out of his way to make me feel like an idiot, about everything from the places I was applying (Why would you want to go there??) to some of the work I am doing (Everyone knows that's a dead horse. It's beyond unfashionable.). So, yeah, I wasn't being overly sensitive about this "style" of advising when I, as a graduate student, experienced it as rather devastating. My sense of it as being fucked-up, which I dismissed as a product of my immature feelings of entitlement and graduate student paranoia, was actually quite dead-on. Now that I have some time and distance from it, I can see that this goes beyond a lack of support. He is full of contempt for me and most especially for my silly determination to go about my business without his help. He went out of his way to humiliate me, as he has so many times before.

It is truly remarkable that I have done anything at all in this profession. I do not mean that to sound so self-congratulatory, and I do not mean this post to be about the power of personal moxie in a cruel academic world. I have a few Fairy Godmothers, and without their advice and support and attention to my work the party would most certainly be over. I am just trying to comprehend the causes and the effects of being knocked clean of breath (nearly literally) repeatedly by a superior. And I know I am not alone in my experience. Humiliation is no stranger at this little club of ours.

If I did not absolutely know that there is a bit more to this career and this profession than the narrow sphere in which Jackass Prickface (better surname for Jackass, as Adviser never really applied) orbits, I would leave it on the spot.

So deal with me, Jackass Prickface. Deal with the fact that I will continue to smile, thank you for your time, and do whatever it is you have most recently told me I could not or would not or should not do. And, with all due respect, fuck you.



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