Sunday, June 27, 2010

Research Breakthrough

So, I don't actually keep in touch with my dissertation adviser. I mean, I send him the obligatory annual check-in email with updates, but he totally doesn't respond and makes absolutely no effort to maintain a relationship with me. He's never come to a paper I've given when I've given a paper at a place where he's been, and he basically ignores me unless I'm right in front of his face. He was a very good dissertation adviser - don't get me wrong - and without his guidance I surely would not have become the scholar that I am today or gotten a job, but I think I'm finally willing to admit that he has had absolutely no role in my intellectual or scholarly development since 2003. I mean, sure, he has written letters of reference for me when I've requested them - he has not failed to do what he is required to do for me - but that's about the extent of it.

For a long time, I felt like that was a failing on my part. That somehow I had done something wrong or that I didn't build that relationship the way that I should have done. (I think a lot of that had to do with daddy issues being replicated in the dissertation adviser/me relationship - my feelings that I was responsible for the relationship, that if we weren't close - or even in regular contact - that it was because I sucked or didn't fulfill my obligations.) And I also wondered whether I would just disappear into obscurity because I was so cleanly and clearly cut off once my dissertation was defended and filed. I mean, what happens to people whose dissertation advisers forget they exist the moment that they've finished the dissertation? That's a bad thing, right?

You know what? In my case, it has not been a bad thing at all. In fact, I think it's been a great thing. Because you know why? I somehow have ended up with all of these awesome mentors - including people whom I totally admired and thought were rockstars and who I never thought I'd be, like, friends with - who do things like encourage me and recommend that I look at certain books and who do all the mentory things that my dissertation adviser does not do.

I've begun reading a book that I never would have read - or maybe I would, but I don't know how I would have gotten to it given the other sorts of stuff I've been reading - that Eminent Awesome Wonderful Fun Mentor suggested when I saw her at a recent conference. I'm not entirely sure how she knew, after listening to me talk for only 2 minutes about NB, but this book? It is so freaking important to what I'm trying to say! It is like the missing link! And it's not an obvious link - it's a sort of weird connection to make, if that makes sense - but it's exactly the way for me to get from point A to point B in my overall argument - something I hadn't known how I'd manage.

So I just wanted to blurt that out because my world is rocked to the point that I had to stop and take a breath before continuing onward with the book.


Anonymous said...

w00t on the breakthrough!

In relation to the mentor shit, I'm not sure why you assume that had you maintained a close mentoring relationship with your thesis advisor, you would not have formed additional close mentoring relationships as your career progressed.

I remain personally close to my thesis advisor, but have never relied on her for scientific professional mentoring since I left her lab. On the other hand, my post-doctoral mentor is still a valuable source of mentoring, and since I've been an independent investigator and faculty member, I've sought out various types of mentoring from a number of individuals both at my institution and elsewhere.

In fact, I would say that one of the most important skills of professional scholarship to develop is the ability to seek, find, and enlist a portfolio of mentors, each of whom provides a particular aspect of expertise and insight.

(OK. I am gonna blog this. Don't be mad at me if some of my wackaloon readers come here and act like fools.)

Historiann said...

"In fact, I would say that one of the most important skills of professional scholarship to develop is the ability to seek, find, and enlist a portfolio of mentors, each of whom provides a particular aspect of expertise and insight."

A-men to the 1,000th power to this. Physioprof is absolutely right.

I actually think it's an important step in your career when you seek out other mentors after grad school. Once you're out of grad school for more than 3 or 4 years, I don't want to see letters only from your graduate institution. I want to see letters from people whose work your work responds to, and people that you're at conferences with NOW.

Young scholars who continue to ask for letters of recommendation from their Ph.D. advisors after more than a few years post-Ph.D. make themselves look too tied to the apron strings and like they're not very well connected in the world they work in. We get it that your diss. advisor thinks you're doing important work, because (of course) ze wouldn't have sponsored you as a student if ze thought your work was pointless or idiotic. What we want to see is, does anyone else in your field think you're doing important work?

So, you're right where you should be, Crazy. There's only so much you can learn from one person--why not make your own mentors?

o/t: I heard a rumor that Rate Your Students has collapsed and died. Can it be true?

Genomic Repairman said...

I have no relationship with my previous mentor as he has slipped into depression about his relative misfortunes and fallen off the face of the earth. Luckily I chose to network outside my boss while there and have a shortlist of great people to provide great references for me and who I can also lean on for guidance. I think seeking out elder council from your immediate fiefdom is a huge necessity if you are to be successful.