One of the awesome things about writing a blog is that I can articulate the crazy thoughts that go through my head. This is one of those posts.
My graduate program has become a very hostile environment for me. I hate going to campus, and I especially hate running into people from my department. As much as people have tried to talk me out of it, I dread every day that finds me on that campus. Needless to say, there are many days when I’m simply not on campus. It doesn’t help that the days I do show up reinforce the aforementioned observation. Case in point:
Yesterday I showed up to campus. I got there just before 5:00, so I stopped by my adviser’s office to say hello. The whole experience was bizarre, but this was the clincher: he said (and I quote)
I’ve told you before and I’m telling you again. I don’t think you have the capacity to do the Ph.D. program. I’ve told you, I’ve told your doctor, I’ll tell anyone who asks. I’m very concerned.
So I asked, Can you elaborate. Is there something specific that you’re concerned about? His response:
Yes. After our meetings this summer, I’m concerned that sometimes you’re so exhausted that you don’t obtain the full benefit of the reading. I also don’t think that you are capable of performing the rigors necessary for dissertation research. I mean, you have to travel to an archive. You have to work from open to close. You have to spend the night in a hotel. You have to wake up the next day and do it all over again. Then you have to drive to the next city to repeat. You can’t do that, and it will be very expensive for you to stretch out that research over many days.
Note that nowhere in this conversation is there any discussion of academic performance. Nowhere is there any flexibility. This is the logic: If I was you, I would not have been able to complete my dissertation the way that I completed my dissertation. Therefore, you cannot complete a dissertation.
I try to reason with this ravenous lion. I completed an extremely rigorous program before I came to this university; I was able to do M.A. level research by paying people to go photograph archival material and by using creative approaches to work around limitations. (That is part of life with a disability after all.) Furthermore, there are many ways to approach a dissertation. One doesn’t always have to use materials in obscure, far away locations. I understand that we work in the field of history, but at some point, you have to realize that this is the 21st century and there are different ways of approaching research. Does he accept this? Of course not. He points out that there are people who use published sources or even electronic sources but those are not types of research that he’s familiar with (nor is he willing to become familiar with them.) It has to be done a specific way, and he knows that given my circumstances, it can’t be done. Period.
I also find the logic faulty. This is how I see it:
A –> B If it rained yesterday, it will rain today.
A It rained yesterday.
W My brother will not attend my wedding.
For purposes of this argument, I will accept the logic that raining yesterday necessarily means that it will rain today. I even accept the observation that it rained yesterday. But it’s unclear to me how this leads to the conclusion that my brother will not attend my wedding. Is his attendance predicated on sunny weather? Is his attendance predicated on the trajectory of the weather? Or is it completely unrelated? Is there reason, for example, that my brother will not attend my wedding because I don’t have a brother. I find it troubling that after someone observes that typically Americans put milk in their cereal and that I’m on a dairy-free diet, they conclude that I don’t eat breakfast. Just because you aren’t creative enough to find a solution to the problem doesn’t mean that (a) a solution doesn’t exist or that (b) the conflict observed is the most important factor. I might use milk-substitutes, or I might not eat breakfast because I experience overwhelming nausea. So are we even arguing about something relevant? What happened to the spirit of learning and of creativity?
Another problem. I only stopped by my adviser’s office to say hello, but he had me sit down (because me standing made him uncomfortable) and then he closed the door for this serious conversation. This made me late for my actual 5:00 pm appointment even though I told him that I didn’t have time to stay. Oh well. Leave his office (finally!) and walk to the office next door where I have my next appointment. After looking in the hall for the other student who is supposed to be at this meeting, I knock on the professor’s door and say, I think we had an appointment at 5. She says, Yes. It was at 5. When you schedule an appointment at 5, you should show up at 5, not at 5 to 6. (Hmmm, it’s 5:10 at the latest.) I didn’t have time to get coffee before class (at 5:30) because I’ve been sitting in my office waiting for you to come. I respond, I’m very sorry to keep you waiting. I realize that you don’t have time right now, so I will leave.
Does she accept that? Does she go to get her coffee? No. She refuses to let me leave, asking me how I am going to make up for the fact that I didn’t have a meeting with her. (Ummm, I’ll figure something out.) She gives me a 5 minute lecture on how rude it is to make someone wait because you’re late to an appointment, and how juvenile my behavior is. Finally, she discusses a few things about the actual topic at hand, but closes with another reprimand for being late and disrespectful.
Of course, in the actual class, she brings this matter to the attention of the whole class. Then, during break, when I am talking in the hallway with the student who was supposed to meet me, he apologized for never showing up, saying that he had it written in his calendar for the next day! We discussed our presentation for the next week, and he assured me that he would personally apologize to the teacher for not showing to the meeting because part of the reason I was late was that I would have waited a minimum of five minutes for him to show up. Did he get a chance to do that? Did the professor accept his apology? No. She saw us talking in the hallway and interrupted our conversation (in the middle of a sentence no less) to reprimand us yet again for the atrocity of leaving her waiting in her office, wasting her valuable time, and making it so that she was not able to get coffee before class. When the other student apologized for not being there and said that he was at least partially responsible for what happened, she said, No. This is 100% Abigail’s fault as well. She shouldn’t have been next door during our appointed meeting time. She should have at least told me that that was what she was going to do. She is incredibly rude. After she went on and on about our unacceptable behavior, she said, I’ve decided. You need to be in my office on Monday. Then we can have further discussion. I just said, No. I cannot be there. I’m sorry. I have an appointment with Dr. Leo on Monday. Then I have a directed readings class. Then I have to attend the class I grade. I don’t have time on Monday, and frankly, I don’t want to have to deal with her any more. It’s not clear whether or not the meeting will be about our presentation, will focus on our terrible behavior, or will be a rant on what other students did to her. And frankly, I don’t care. I have bigger things to worry about. After some discussion, we agreed to communicate via email.
In summary, it was one of the worst 15 minute episodes of my life. First, to be told that my adviser that no matter what, I am a failure. Then, to be yelled at by another faculty member for being late to an appointment. Apparently having chronic fatigue means that no matter what you do, what you are able to accomplish, or anything else, you are a menace to society who should not be allowed full citizenship.
People tell me that I need to do a better job of standing up for myself. But I’m not so sure about that. There are situations when I get what I want because I demand it. I want something, and it has to be done my way at my time. I was able to tell Dr. Voluble that the off-topic conversation was over… after thirty minutes of course. I have stared down receptionists and appointment coordinators to get my way and see the precise type of medical practitioner that I wanted. But it’s really hard for me to fly into the face of authority, to talk back and say, Now you just wasted five minutes of my time, and I’m insulted. And frankly, is this really my fault anyways? It’s not fair for my adviser to arbitrarily decide that a personal limitation of mine disqualifies me from trying to earn a Ph.D. He’s not qualified to make that assessment unless it relates to intellectual or academic performance. And even when I don’t have the full understanding of the reading, I’m still performing on par with my peers (who have the opportunity to work toward a Ph.D.) And, yes, I was late, and I wish I wasn’t. I even apologized for it numerous times and was willing to accept the consequences of not having that meeting. But does it merit automatic disqualification of success in the class itself? Does that seem to be overkill?
I need some help here. I hate to become a person who always thinks she’s right and everything she does is justified. But at the same time, some of this does not seem fair. How should I approach this? And what should I think?