mentoring

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Wed Dec 24 13:19:02 EST 1997


In article <1997Dec22.115048 at opal.tufts.edu>,  <matkisso at opal.tufts.edu> wrote:
>
>The worst experience I've had was with a PI who took the coach mentality into
>the lab.  When would say, "You can't do that," he was expecting me to rise to
>the challenge and prove him wrong.  Unfortunately, I would take his words at
>face value, and grew to believe I was worthless.

This is so telling, and I can really sympathize.  It took me a LONG time
to get even an inkling that there are people who make negative remarks,
put-downs, criticisms, etc. and intend them to be positive motivators--that
some people even think that they are doing you some kind of favor, or
"being supportive" when they treat you this way.  I went through all of
college and much of graduate school thinking that these people were just
turkeys and avoiding them at every opportunity.

I think the experience that opened my eyes that people could be negative,
critical, and apparently assholish, and still think that they were being
supportive came from talking honestly with men at my level--other grad
students, other postdocs, who didn't seem to mind being in a "turkey's" lab,
or working with a "turkey."  Sometimes they didn't even seem to understand
what I was talking about when I said "Dr. Jerk really doesn't seem very
supportive of his grad students."  If I pointed out examples, they would
say "Oh, he doesn't really mean that," or "What's more important to me is
what he does, not what he says, and I know he's been able to get his
people good jobs."  

It seems as if one way to not let the turkeys get you down is to try to
focus on "intent" rather than outcome, and to focus on actions rather than
words.  It's not a way of looking at it that comes very naturally to me,
and it seems as if more male than female graduate students have this
outlook with respect to turkey-like PI's and co-workers.  Perhaps it
benefits them in that they are more able to work for these people without
letting it get them down, and they reap the benefits of these people's 
other good qualities.  But I wonder if it doesn't hurt them, too,
sometimes, in leading to a work atmosphere that is unnecessarily 
critical and unpleasant for everyone working there.

I still avoid working with critical, negative people, but when I have to, I try
to view them as having more of a "style difference," rather than just
automatically thinking "oh, this person is a jerk."  What I view as
horrible, boorish behavior might have been intended in a helpful way.  
It's hard, and requires a lot of conscious effort on my part, but
that view of it, as "alien" rather than as "bad," at least helps me to keep
it in perspective and not to be quite so defensive as I might have been
previously.

>Differences in style make huge differences in the attitude of those being
>mentored.

Yes, I think you're exactly right.

Karen



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