Saturday, February 25, 2006

Dear Advisor,

I am sorry that you are not on top of things right now and that you are feeling overwhelmed and I realize that my hurry to meet approaching deadlines is contributing to your work and stress load. These last few days have been very difficult and strained beginning with the email exchange taking place earlier this week. I need to explain myself.

You should probably know that I had come to the conclusion that I owed you an apology for my Wed. am email response sparked by your Tues. evening message. My immediate reaction and response was emotionally charged because of the format and style of your presentation of the comments. I have worked closely with you long enough to know that this is just how you handle these types of situations. I don't like it and find it impersonal and, frankly, inappropriate but it is how you do things and I can accept that and should not "feed the fire" by letting my emotions take control.

So, on Thursday morning this is what I was ready to convey to you; that is until you caught me off guard (as you tend to do when the situation might be difficult) and the words you said engaged me yet again in the issue. In your fury of emotion, you added fuel to my fire and I am no longer willing to offer up an apology. When I discovered that you pulled the same third grade reaction that you did when we had different but similarly emotionally charged miscommunication a few years back (you took the email in question to your peers and asked them to validate your emotion), I was both enraged and hurt. While this action is not appriopriate for many reasons, I find it especially appaling in regards to something we discuss quite frequently: context. Of course your friends will validate you, you have taken the message out of the context of our relationship and introduced in into another relationship by providing it as evidence of your fairness and your "being right".

The whole issue that set me off in the beginning was that the email message you sent to me is not typical of our communication and you know it. I know you put a lot of thought into the message, worked up to writing it and clicked send knowing that is was not a typical communication. Don't you understand that your message would have been so much more effective if you had taken the 10 steps to my office, asked to talk about something that was bothering you, and said what you needed to say in probably 3 sentences? I'm hurt because I think I deserve at least that much from you. I'm angry because of the actions you took after the communication.

I was ready to let it go having said my thoughts and knowing that you know that I don't like how you communicate when it's a tough subject for you and I was ready to apologize for my own emotional email response. And, years ago, I did apologize in this somewhat similar situation because I did believe that miscommunication of years ago was my fault and I ignored the way you handled it then because our friendship was not yet clear. However, presently we are at a different place and I cannot do the same today as I did then.

As a result, this is where I now find myself:

As your student I am in a subordinate position and I will do nothing and take this interaction as a lesson learned about what not to do in the future in my interactions with you and also in my future career and dealing with my own students. I will consider context and the other person's feelings and reaction in the context of my actions and interactions with that person.

As your colleague (which I'm not quite there yet, but almost) IF I were your colleague and this same interaction had occured, I would have called you immediately on your "third grade" behavior and would have expected an apology.

As your friend, I am hurt. First, if you call me your friend, you should be able to talk to me, not send a hesitant email. Second, if you call me your friend, and you find my response inappropriate, talk to me, not other friends or colleagues. Resolve the issue with me, not with others; if the friendship matters to you then it should be my forgiveness or my apology that reconciles the matter.

Your friendship is important to me and those persons who approached me quietly on the side to find out why you were yelling at me behind a closed door all got the same response from me: I told them the issue was between you and me and we would resolve it. Why don't you show me the same respect?



post-doc said...

I'm so sorry. I've been in bad situations before, but can't seem to come up with anything encouraging or comforting to offer here. I'm just sorry it's happening to you.

Psycgirl said...

Unfortun. this is the experience with too many advisors, including my Old School Advisor. I literally keep notes on "What Not to Do When You are a Professor" for times like these. I'm sorry you have to go through this :(

Seeking Solace said...

That is powerful! I am so sorry you had to deal with all of this, because you have enough on your plate right now.

Abbey said...

Wow, sounds horrible. I think this situation is exactly why I'm most scared of going into accademia as a career. So many hats to wear. I especially hate the 'I'm almost your equal' hat because the more powerful person always has the option to put you back into the subordinate student position despite everything you've done that makes you so not-just-a-student.

I hope things turn out better once everyone has time to cool down a little and the emotions settle back down.

Bill Tozier said...

One of the most dangerous times in graduate education is when we learn that our superiors are our peers. At best.

This too shall pass.

Anonymous said...

Knowing all parties involved makes my heart hurt! I know this is an especially tough time with all the changes that are happening in your life. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help, if only, just listen....

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry things are tough. Lordy, like finishing a dissertation isn't stressful enough.

I'm sending positive thoughts your way.


ScienceWoman said...

Ugh. I'm sorry to hear that you've got to deal with this stress now too. I'm sending good vibes your way.

Astroprof said...


Sometimes professors don't live up to the roll that they are supposed to have as advisors. Sadly, I have met few that really did the job well. Sorry to hear of your difficulties.

Ms. Charisma said...

{{{hugs}}}, I feel for you.