For those of you who had/are now having a difficult time in grad school, what support was/is lacking? If you don't feel comfortable posting from your handle, PM me, I will post for you.
From a student: I’m having a super hard time in grad school right now. I think it’s partially due to this atmosphere-like idea that everyone is working toward the same goal, of excelling in academia. 1/3
All of the support systems and opportunities are designed to further an academic career. There’s not much opportunity to learn about other subfields within the same program or other professional skills. 2/3
There’s no programming or support for students who want to use their degree in a non-academic capacity. It makes me feel like I can only focus on my concentration, and pressured to reconsider my career goals to be more oriented toward academia.3/3
From another student:
-Support was passive, not active. Seemed to be assumed we'd seek out support from faculty, but faculty would very rarely offer.
-No structural support for dealing with emotionally abusive advisor or peers. 1/4
-Faculty made it clear it was up to grad student to change their situation (otherwise it was viewed as "whining").
-Faculty would typically support each other over grad student complaints of harassment or emotional abuse. 2/4
-No standardized means of assessing students during qualifying exams.
-No structural training for non-academic / non-R1 career paths.
-Explicitly expected to receive little to no external validation. 3/4
In addition, many of my friends experienced the same or worse and in addition:
-No structural support for being parents.
-Lack of cultural competency; labs were isolating or othering. 4/4
Student 3: The problem my advisor had was that there was a cultivated atmosphere of fear, where she often held information very tightly and would literally scream at people if mistakes were made, and very, very often those were due to her not giving people basic information.1/3
The final straw for me was being accused of plagiarism by my own advisor on the first draft of a grant proposal, where I had independently come up with a similar idea as her postdoc as a very, very logical next step in the long term dataset we had been working on. 2/2
Seems like in this case, the committee should have been more supportive of the student. As faculty, perhaps we should state clearer that the role of committees is to support the student and serve as a liason between the student and PI.
In one of my past institutions, a PI with a particularly explosive personality was told to take steps to descalate anger, which included meditation/yoga classes. The result was a transformation for students in the lab.
Student 4: I just dropped out of a master’s program. I felt like support was passive: “don’t hesitate to reach out, there are programs to help you” etc. There was a lot of pressure to publish/present at conferences and not a lot of talk about non-academic paths post degree. 1/2
S4: It felt like everyone was under so much pressure to come up with the next new field-changing idea/innovation. We talked about mental health all the time but no one did anything to change things. 2/2
This is such a common theme. Students ask for help and faculty don't offer specific help. We're good at solving research problems. We should be as good at answering student's problems.
Student 5: I repeatedly had problems with supervisors disregarding my dyslexia. In my master's the course organisers told me it was my own issue to organise my time to deal with my disability. 1/3
S5: During my PhD my supervisor got extremely angry if there were grammar mistakes. He refused to help me and I was lucky enough to have a cosupervisor and a postdoc who helped me. 2/3
S5: But his behaviour to me caused to hate myself for a long time and get really frantic because it's something I can't change. To this day I can't walk by his office without having a panic attack. 3/3
This illustrates 2 more needs: 1) support from people who aren't faculty. This is easier in a large Uni with staff/postdocs. 2) support for students with different learning needs. This includes dyslexia, ESL, and others. This is an institutional need but depts need training too.
Student 6: My PhD advisor was extremely abusive to/manipulative of their students. When I went to other faculty about the issue as a student, I was given a pamphlet on how to deal with difficult people. You stop asking for help when you don’t feel supported...1/1
Important in this one: the student mentioned that the dean approached the PI with evidence from several students. Administrators need to be supportive of students as well. So rare.
S7: My PhD advisor didn't...advise. He had tons of time to fuss over and second-guess the minutiae of experiments, but never returned comments on chapters/paper drafts. Committee told me it was "my responsibility" to get his feedback. He also yelled, a lot, over everything. 1/1
This student lost their funding when they pushed back on the advisor's abuse (they are doing much better now!). Important: Students need a way to push back without threat of being kicked out of GS/losing funding. There is a definite power differential.
Student 8: Long one. To sum: I am struggling w/how to say no to my advisor when the additional projects handed to me are not related to my dissertation, can't be published (or may be allowed to be published only years later bc of funding source), and are not interesting to me?1/n
S8:I expressed multiple times that I don’t have time & am not interested/don’t have motivation, and I can tell from my advisor’s face that the PI is not happy that I don't want to do what he tells me to do. I have been doing many side projects that will never be published. 2/n
S8: When I pushed back, The PI looked super disappointed that I prioritized my own dissertation research over the request for a side project. When I asked for a recommendation letter for a grant from graduate school, the PI said 'I don't feel like writing it..' 3/n.
S8: It is unfair for the PI to threaten me to do side work in order to get rec letter when writing letter is the PIs job & those side projects are not my job. 4/n
S8: Should GS do whatever their advisors tell them to do when the tasks will interfere w/their research progress & physical & mental health? I can't go to my committee and my department coordinator bc my PI is more senior and has a big administration role/collaborates w/them.5/n
So much here: Committee is failing the student. The PI is failing the student. And PIs: GS are not your poorly paid workers! Please don't make them do side work when it will interfere w/dissertation work.
Student 9: tenured professors acting like absolute maniacs toward their students, stealing their research, and leaving students nowhere else to go except an administration that advises you to settle things "in-house" so as not to "ruin your career." 1/1
I just can't. Administrators, I know it's hard to deal with these situations, but the onus cannot be on the student to work this out. You took that leadership role. Lead.
Great suggestion from my inbox: If faculty had a means to deal with other toxic faculty independent of the university administration. The worst part of the situation is that the rest of the department knew what was going on, but seemingly had no way to deal with this tenured PI.
Student 10: Student was a married to a man in the same field. He was a couple years ahead of her in his career when they met and then she took time to have their baby. When she was in grad school, he was already established in the field. 1/3
S10: Her qualifying committee (her PI was not on it) accused her, completely without evidence, of having her husband do her qualifying project for her. He didn't. An investigation was launched. She was on the verge of being thrown out of school and having her career destroyed.2/3
S10: She had notes to prove that the accusation was completely without basis, and she was exonerated but it took a while. She had a professor on her committee who her professor had just voted to deny tenure. You can't have your professor's enemies on your committee. 3/3
Student 11: PI for my lab was super abusive and tried to isolate me from collaborating with others (students and faculty). I'm one of several students who no longer work with them. There are several faculty that won't either. 1/2
S11: My department knows this but does nothing. They are also aware this PI forces students to do all their work (because the PI talks about this) and they still do nothing. 2/2
Several students said that other faculty know there is a problem but do nothing. There has to be a mechanism for students to turn to for help, outside of the department and not from administration. Also, PIs who try to stop students from collaborating are harming their students.
Student 12: I was planning to start a PhD but got kicked out of my dept. I think it's an... example of a relatively unique facet of academic structure making resolving interpersonal stuff a lot more difficult and damaging than it would necessarily be in, e.g., a private firm 1/1
Student 13: During my PhD (years ago), every woman in my department went to the dean to complain about my immediate supervisor (a postdoc that was also the lab director) I did not because I KNEW he would take it out on me and the abuse I was going through would be worse. 1/2
S13: Support from college =0, from Department = 0 , from professors = 0, from the male students = 0 2/2
Holy frickin A people. 10 women went to the admin, and nothing happened. The obvious moral of this story: listen to your students when they tell you they are being abused!
Student 14: First issue was the constant intellectual bullying from the lab postdoc. Basically my advisor left most if not all ‘mentoring’ during my first two years as a PhD student on his postdoc. 1/6
S14: This postdoc, for two years and sometimes even now, had nothing encouraging to say about my research tried to convince me to quit, telling me every week that I should quit etc. 2/6
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