Thursday, March 4, 2010

I hate it when you're right

Paramed  and I got into a not-so-little tiff last night. We were supposed to be enjoying a relaxing dinner. He was stressed from several insanely busy weeks, at both school and work. I was frustrated because of a number of things going on at work. During the course of conversation, I commented that I realized I needed to start thinking about a backup plan to the tenure track. Things went downhill from there.

That statement surprised Paramed because he'd never heard me express any doubt about where I would end up in my career. It was also not an easy thing for me to say aloud because, as irrational as it may seem, it felt like I was giving up a little bit--though when Paramed voiced that same sentiment, I denied it. He asked what I would do, if not what I've been working toward for years. I responded, "I don't know. There are a lot of options. But I do know that I don't want to stay at the bench if I'm just going to be treated like a set of hands the rest of my life."

"Do you feel that you're treated that way here?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied. "Guru has told me exactly what experiments to do. Before I can even finish a set of experiments and think about where to go from there, he's telling me the next set of experiments that I should do. I don't even know what the big picture is; I've asked and all I got was a bullshit answer." I should note here that as a grad student, I was expected to design my own experiments, to take ownership of my project. Bear still had a hand in guiding the project, but he did this largely by asking questions to get me thinking about it, recommending priority order for experiments that I designed, and sometimes suggesting experiments but in a more abstract manner, leaving the design and interpretation to me for the most part. Perhaps I am idealizing my past experiences, but I have always been more committed to and excited about projects that requires critical thinking (outside of technical troubleshooting) and interpretation. I thought that's similar to what I would get here, but it turns out Guru is a micromanager--and I don't respond well to micromanagement. Anyway, back to the story at hand...

The ensuing argument revolved around the following main points:
  • Paramed was pissed that Guru was making me doubt myself.
  • Paramed was pissed that I was not being assertive and implied that I should stand up for myself and call Guru out when he's spouting bullshit.
  • I was pissed that Paramed was telling me that I was doubting myself and that he was telling me what I should do.
  • I was pissed also pissed that he was not accepting my excuses for me not being assertive.
  • There was back and forth about the correlation coefficient between amount of listening vs. amount of ranting on both sides.
Now only if said argument had taken as little time to fizzle as it did to write out those points. Eventually we called a truce and we got over it.

Of course, after I had calmed down and started thinking about what was said, I realized what had really pissed me off so much: the fact that Paramed was right. Or rather that what he said was true. It kills me that I've fallen back into being so polite and diminutive that I don't take a stand, that I've allowed that monstrous self-doubt to creep back in. I felt that I left grad school as a confident scientist, but I no longer feel that. And it was tough to be forced to admit it. Paramed can be brutally honest--which is a great trait and yet often painful at the same time. I am reminded of an insightful post and am now at the point where I "sack the fuck up and feele extremely grateful for his penetrating insights". Next to decide what to do about it.