recommendation letters/alternate careers

J. Johnson siddo at
Fri Nov 29 17:02:23 EST 1996

Dear Alice,

Thank you for writing this letter!  It couldn't have been said more
eloquently and it was greatly appreciated!  I have a few comments to add.
You are right, I am still furious.  I think I will always be resentful to
the fact that I should have my PhD.  It really hit me hard on wednesday
when Sarah graduated.  I am so incredibly proud of her - to have endured
for so long and to give the finest defense I have ever seen (chock full of
Sarah's zaniness!).  I feel like I can live vicariously through her
accomplishment; and I have and will support her throughout any aspect of
her career that she choses.   

On the other hand, being there at her defense was very difficult for me.
I realized that I should have had my degree and what made me leave was the
negativity and abuse that was  so prevalent in the situation I found
myself.  Granted I proved myself later, as a scientist; but I was a
scientist without my PhD.  I am as capable as a post-doc but do not get
the recognition.  Why?  Because I was screwed by my advisor, my committee
and myself ( for not putting up with the crap and abuse).  Frankly, on
this last point I could not have endured anyway - for I could not exist in
the morally debase environment I was in.  I guess in spite of having
resentment I must keep things in perspective. It is truly a shame that I
was shafted, but I am far better for it (no, that doesn't justify it).  I
am way happier and am finding support in Legal education that I never saw
in the PhD program or in my advisor and other  professors.  Negativity is
a horrible environment to learn in - incredibly counter-productive and
tiring.  Science does not need this attitude, it is pervasive and morally
wrong (I think it ties in to everything from the letter issue to pregnancy
in science).  When, if ever, will it be positive?  I am not sticking
around to find out.  

 I also agree with you about how important it is that WOMEN should
support other women in science - but you know?  My two biggest adversaries
were my advisor and the other WOMAN on mt committee!  It is a shame, what
happened to me and countless others (men and women) in this wonderous
field of science.

I always thought that I was entering a field where intellegence and hard
work would allow me to achieve great things.  That idealism was thwarted
by the reality of my graduate experience. Don't feel too bad that I am
going into law - I will still be in science.  But part of me wants to
alleviate the wrongs as well - perhaps that is also a fantasy but maybe
law is the place I should be as a rogue woman.  Thank you for your


 On Sun, 24 Nov 1996, aloisia
schmid wrote:

> Dear Sarah,
>       I find you to be remarkable and I have no doubt you willdo extremely
> well wherever it is you go and in doing whatever it is you wind up doing! 
> I am impressed that you had the courage to write all of this and even more
> so, that you have had the skills to face the Jenn situation with such
> insight and tolerance.  
> There were a few things I feel I should respond to;  for those of you
> reading this on the newsgroup---I am splicing responses to Sarah's
> posting.  
>   It is almost a bad morale
> > problem, it seems, among people I know to dwell on how incapable or
> > incompetent they are instead of the positive accomplishments.  
> >
> This happens SO OFTEN I cannot tell you!  Here at the U of I, in the lab I
> am in in particular, the people (graduate students!) here were so hostile
> when i arrived they were CONSTANTLY ripping each other AND ME to shreads
> at every possible opportunity.  There was nothing good ever said about
> anyone, and the people who were in the lab were back-stabbing and
> unbelievably petty.  At journal clubs people would go around the table and
> take turns ripping the paper being discussed to shreads.  God forbid you
> ever actually LIKED  a paper!  Ever actually thought something was
> beautiful or elegant!  It has taken two years for that to change, and it
> has been the most painful process I personally have ever experienced.  it
> has changed though because my boss recognized a problem in having cynical
> people in his lab form narrow cliques that were not only
> counter-productive, they were insidiously  cruel and evil.  (I realize he
> was in some measure responsible for allowing this kind of behaviour to go
> on in the first place.  Neverthelss, he recognized the problem and
> replaced the evil people as they left, with nice people who DIDN'T behave
> this way!)  Petty negative people like this go to meetings and I can tell
> you--they are catty and snide and embarrass strangers at their posters and
> talks, and establish reputations in the field for anyone associated with
> the lab--eventually the ENTIRE lab is thought of as being impossible to
> collaborate with and untrustworthy.
> >
> > 
> > How can one really define "commitment?"  Is that something that falls into
> > this black and white recommendation letter category that should doom
> > someone?  To me, that kind of statement is not something that should be
> > judged because I really don't think it can be. As someone who has outside
> > interests that include education, I worry about being branded or
> > blacklisted in a similar way.  In general, I think this whole thread about
> > alternate careers - while interesting and important for today's career
> > woes - has to be looked at against the backdrop of graduate training and
> > career recommendation letters.  In my department, many PIs will criticize
> > anyone who expresses an interest in a non-academic career like teaching or
> > industry. ...... To the woman from
> > Cornell who described her PhD/teacher-friendly program:  I applaud that! 
> > Man, though, you wouldn't get that where I work!!!
> It seems to me these are two completely different issues.  There is a
> commitment to science and one's work and there is a commitment to
> research.  Sadly, I think people who love science but do not love research
> are thought of as not being committed and are dismissed for that reason. 
> I have never seen any realistic suggestions on how to combat that attitude
> though--and I have never been able to suggest anything either......  
> > Most students I know who want these kinds of careers literally do hide
> > their feelings from their bosses because they know they run the risk of
> > getting screwed on a recommendation letter of any sort.  It's like - some
> > bosses will literally try to screw you just because you don't do what they
> > want you do to... because your NOT pursuing an academic career is somehow
> > an EMBARRASSMENT to them. 
> Yep.
> > 
> >  Jenn, as
> > illustrated by her posts, is also something of her own rogue person.  She
> > was the one who trained me and critiqued all my writings early on and I
> > consider her brilliant, creative, exceptionally organized, and gifted with
> > scientific writing.  Her successful career in biotech. (five years, with
> > promotions throughout) and now lawschool stand testimony to that.  She did
> > keep her own hours a lot, though - working from 10 until midnight - and I
> > think the boss somehow perceived this poorly
> Sorry, Sarah, your boss sounds like something of a rod-up-her-butt
> asshole.  I mean really.  10 till midnight and that's a problem?  I used
> to work REALLY wierd hours (noon till dawn!) when I was in graduate
> school.  Who really cares as long as the work gets done?  One of the perks
> about this work is that you are supposed to be able to set your own
> hours.  
> >> 
> > 
> > Jenn's leaving the dept. WAS a devastating blow - Jenn was the top recruit
> > in her class and most faculty were shocked to see her leave because she
> > had shone brilliantly during her early studies. No one talks about what
> > happened in that case much anymore;  certainly the boss and I have never
> > aired our feelings on the matter fully.  She, the boss, has realized that
> > I know and support Jenn but wouldn't say much on the matter for years
> > after Jenn left.  I always felt I walked the line in the lab knowing both
> > women and relying on them for something/support.  Recently, I had to audacity
>   to go in and chat with the boss when Jenn was starting lawschool and I told   
>   her this - she was visibly thrilled and had nothing but genuine happiness, 
>   saying she hoped I would pass this on to Jenn.  I think the years since this 
>   have perhaps changed her mind in some ways. ...
> Just out of curiosity, Sarah, does your boss read this newsgroup?  I would
> be interested in what her opinion of all this is.  If I were Jenn, i would
> still be FURIOUS at this woman and would not be willing to let bygones be
> bygones at this late date merely because she is pleased Jenn has managed
> to find success in another career path.  Too little far too late.  I don't
> care how inexperienced, raw or even roguish this woman (the PI) was----I
> vow that if I ever get to have students, especially WOMEN students, that I
> will be supportive.  I will not sacrifice them to my own career goals.  I
> have seen it happen over and over again and wonder why people are willing
> to do it---has it never been done to them?  
> > 
> > All I know if that when I defend, Jenn gets my dedication.  She earned it.
> > She and all the other rogue women scientists out there;  roguishness, it
> > would seem, is often an Achilles' Heel to women scientists!  
> Bottom line is that as women in science---presumably planning to change a
> cut-throat and silly system---we cannot just ignore foundering students,
> or technicians who want help in figuring out how to plan a future, or
> colleagues who need political networking favors or even higher-ups who
> want someone to get involved in something that might be unpopular.  We
> especially cannot ignore them when our only reason for doing so is that we
> don't know how to help or we don't want to risk ourselves.  We have to be
> willing to risk ourselves.  Our own futures.  Our own well-beings. 
> Because otherwise you get cowardly people like Jenn's and Sarah's advisers
> sort of oozing their ways through the system and people like
> Jenn--brilliant, incredibly organized, scientifically literate and 
> gifted----becoming lawyers.  I wish Jenn all the best of course--and have
> no doubt she will do the bar proud, but it still strikes me as a tragic
> loss that she was sacrificed as she was.  And I suspect Jenn's and Sarah's
> adviser deep down knows this too.  
> This whole story---pettiness and less than noble behaviour and ambition at
> the cost of less powerful people, people entrusted to the guidance of
> people with power and no backbone......this whole story is something that
> is appallingly common in science.  Maybe the questions we ought to be
> discussing are how to deal with people who have your entire futures in
> their hands---with those letters or more informal recommendations on the
> phone----and who are immoral and unethical, horrible people.  My graduate
> adviser was one such case.  The man for whom  I work now---and who changed
> the personality of the lab I work in is a 
> GREAT GUY and one of the nicest and one of the most truly good hearts I
> have ever met.  But he's very rare!---how do you combat the bad apples?
> Anyway, I'll get down off of my soapbox now.  This whole story was so well
> and carefully crafted, from both Jenn's and Sarah's points of view--- I
> just had to stick my two cents worth in.  
>                                        Alice Schmid
> >

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