Great advisor, bad situation

Marcy Brown mbrown at
Mon Nov 14 16:20:37 EST 1994

I have thought about posting to this group for a long time, and with recent
discussions about having children in grad school,  I though it was a good
time.  Sorry if it is long. 

First of all, I have a great advisor.  He has been very supportive of my
research through some difficult times (I do field research in ecology).
Although my research project has nothing to do with what he currently
studies, he is very good about learning my study system, and it has often
been good to re-think some of the dogma associated with my field by my
having to explain some of the basic issues to him.   There have been some
problems with keeping things going (especially when I broke my foot just
before my field season while working on his lab project!), but he has
really helped me out.

The problem I have is that in our lab there are two of us that came in the
same year and are basically at the same point in our research.  My labmate
(who is male) has recently gotten engaged to a woman who has a small child,
and so he is spending increasingly more time out of the lab.  Actually, to
be quite honest, he never spent that much time in here anyway, and doesn't
do a lot of what grad students really are supposed to do--writing grants,
giving talks, interacting with each other.  I have always been involved in
interactive things in the lab--giving seminars, journal club, discussion
groups, and although it is to my detriment (time-wise), I get a lot out of

This year, it has really started to bother me how uninvolved with others my
labmate is, and at the same time, how many benefits he really has.  My
advisor recently was able to provide a research assistantship to one of his
students.  I was planning to teach the lab portion of a course my advisor
teaches, and since he really wanted me to teach it, to get the experience,
the assistantship went to my male colleague instead of me.  Although I like
teaching the class, and feel honored that he asked me to teach it, it
really does eat up my time, and keeps me from being able to work on my own
research.  Meanwhile, my labmate spends little time here, hasn't really
done much for his assistantship, and his thesis project is directly related
to something my advisor is working on!  In addition, his absence seems
justified in some ways because of this child he is helping to care for.  I
don't have children, and probably won't (for other, more complicated

The bottom line is that I feel very overworked at times, disconnected
research-wise (because I'm not working on my advisor's project), and
inferior to my labmate because of the child issue.  There is a feeling of
competition, not instilled in us by my advisor necessarily, but often
because my labmate seems to project a superior attitude about his overall
situation (not just felt by me but by others as well).  

Thanks for listening.  I thought that I would post this to get other
opinions, since I feel like I have complained about this too often to my
boyfriend, and thought I would spare him for a while.
Marcy Brown
Department of Biological Sciences
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1392
mebrown at

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