Thursday, July 31, 2008

For Crying Out Loud

Although I have not been keeping close track, my best guess for the number of crying students I encounter in a typical year is 5 ± 1. The number is higher if I teach a large class or if I'm on a committee that deals with student issues, but in most years, the numbers are in the mid single digits.

I can think of 4 crying incidents so far this year, including two this summer. I suppose female students are more likely to cry than male students, but I encounter both male and female crying students.

Crying is a perfectly acceptable way of expressing emotion, even in a 'professional' setting such as academia, but I seldom know what to do when a student cries. I am not particularly effective at comforting weeping or teary-eyed students. My maternal feelings begin and end with my daughter, though I of course feel sympathetic when a student is in distress.

The reasons for the tears vary tremendously, but typical reasons are:

Grade-related sorrow. Some (most?) of these tears are real, though I had a particularly theatrical student last year whose tears were very effective with the TA's, resulting in extended deadlines for assignments. My typical response to grade-related weeping is to give calm advice as the situation requires. In some cases, students are more upset than is warranted by the situation. In these instances, I can comfort the student with facts, showing them that their panic is unfounded. In other cases in which there is nothing I can do (e.g., at the end of a term after the grades are filed) and/or in which I am unsympathetic (e.g., if a student just assumed they could pass even if they didn't attend class or turn in assignments), I give a neutral but polite response.

Research-related anxiety. Two student-crying episodes this summer involved undergraduates who were starting to get involved in research and found it frustrating and confusing at times. In the most recent case, I was surprised that such a small setback resulted in tears, but maybe there were other things going on beyond the realm of academia. My response was to solve the research mini-problem as quickly as possible, give some brief words of encouragement, and let the student get back to work. Perhaps I should have been more comforting or sympathetic, but at the time I just wanted to help solve the problem, demonstrate some strategies for overcoming an obstacle, and get the student back on track. There seemed no point in dwelling on being emotional about a minor glitch that could be fixed.

Sensitivity to criticism. Some people cannot handle criticism, real or implied, however constructively worded and intended, and academia is an intrinsically criticism-laden environment. I have written before about how difficult it is to work with students and colleagues who are easily devastated by criticism, and I have mused ineffectually about whether ultra-sensitive people can get over this unfortunate condition while in an academic setting.

During a crying episode, it is probably clear to my crying students that I am not entirely comfortable with the situation. When my daughter cries, I know what to do, but the reasonable options available to a professor when a student cries are of a different sort and are rather limited. I suppose I could pat the student on the shoulder and say "there, there", but somehow that doesn't seem very useful.

Despite my discomfort, I don't try to rush the students out of my office or tell them to go away, unless they are in the midst of a grade tantrum to which I am unsympathetic. I tend to go into problem-solving mode and talk or work through the issue, though this may reinforce the view of scientists as unemotional robots who are uncomfortable with emotions. Even so, I find that talking through or solving the problem is the best comfort I can give, other than handing out tissues as needed.

43 comments:

The Bear Maiden said...

I can't tell you how many times I cried in school. A lot. You're right... usually in a student's life there is SO MUCH going on, particularly if it's an older student and one who has a family. Grades, student loans, finances, conflict between work and family, student working so hard to get good grades to keep the financial aid, feeling guilty about time away from family, really wanting to do well for various reasons, and voila... crying jag.

Tissue is helpful. But sometimes just saying "I know it's got to be rough, but trust me, it gets worse" might make them laugh, or saying "It'll get better--in a few years you'll look back on this and see how far you've come" will also help.

Not saying anything can make the student feel dumb but worse, being completely unsympathetic is liable to make the student write really nasty reviews at the end of the year.

One teacher in particular, I completely broke down in his class. He didn't say much while I was crying, and while the class was in session but afterwards he took the time to make sure I learned what it was I was struggling with, and he is absolutely one of my favorite people in the whole entire world...

OTOH, I did workstudy in the Financial Aid office, and had several people break down on me. One, I sent to counseling. Some of the others I knew were just being drama queens and would merely hand them tissue... but a lot of the time I knew it was sheer stress and would try to make them laugh at least.

female in academia said...

I want to comment on your last two reasons why students cry:

I think you are right, when you say that
"academia is an intrinsically criticism-laden environment". My feeling is that you react correct, maybe you could additionally give this information to the student, tell him/her that he/she has to learn how to cope with criticsm and use it to his/her benefit rather than being devastated, if he/she considers a scientific career. The need to know this.
Same goes for research-related anxiety - one has to learn (sometimes the rough way) that unexpected, sometimes unwanted problems and/or results are in the nature of conducting scientific research.

If you'd explain this to them (maybe once they calmed down), it might help them to assess whether academia is the right choice for them.

I've never ever cried in front of any of my supervisors - not because I never felt like crying but because I was always aware that it wouldn't help much - and most because I also would feel very awkward.

Candid Engineer said...

If I cry at work, it is almost always because of personal issues that have infiltrated the working part of the day. However, I do recall one work-related crying session in my grad advisor's office when I was particularly convinced that nothing I did would ever work and that I'd be doomed to failure forever. My advisor was very kind, and talked me through the situation logically, and I left his office feeling much better. I think that's really about all someone in your position can do! In retrospect, it would have been nice if he had some tissues.

female in academia said...

Got inspired, and posted my further commentshere.

Dr. Confused said...

I'm a crier. I have a social anxiety disorder (which I'm making progress overcoming), and in undergrad every time I had to speak to a person in authority, I would cry. Professors were the most intimidating people I could think of. It's somewhat ironic that I'm about to start a tenure-track position myself.

It didn't matter what the subject of the discussion was. I wouldn't approach professors for simple problems like not understanding some course material, but only in cases in which I saw no other option. For example, I cried asking permission to hand a lab report in late due to a bad case of mononucleosis (for which I had a doctor's note, also acquired with much crying, as doctors are also scary people). It took me weeks to ask a prof to correct an addition error of his that resulted in about a 15% lower grade recorded on my midterm than I had earned (I would not have approached him for a smaller correction).

From what bear maiden wrote above, it seems I'm an exception, but what I wanted more than anything else was for the professor to ignore the crying. I was embarassed and wanted to pretend it wasn't happening. And professors were not capable of comforting me; it's like having the monster under your bed put its arm around you and tell you everything is ok. I didn't want to prolong the interaction. I came with a specific task in mind and just wanted that dealt with as quickly as possible so I could run away.

Maybe my background will make me a little extra-sensitive to the shy and scared students. Or maybe I risk over-identifying with them and giving them what I needed, rather than what they need now. It's not easy dealing with emotional students, and it's clear that they don't all want the same response, and that you can't read minds.

Anonymous said...

(sorry for rambling, I'm just now having my coffee. how DO you get these posts up so early?)

I have only cried a few times in my career thus far. Most often it's the second category. However, it's not that I can't handle the stress, but rather, I am stressed and this is my body's reaction.

Once it was when my PhD advisor was going postal at me for no apparent reason - looking at a poster preprint, and ranting that he couldn't tell what ANYTHING!! was (despite every axis labeled, plentiful clear and plain titles and legends, etc.). I think he was probably upset over something else, and just taking it out at that moment. I told him as evenly as I could, as tears rolled down my cheeks, "Can you be more specific about which plot is the problem or what needs labeled? Or should we take a look at this later?"

I was indeed crying, but doing my best to turn a blind eye and ignore that one fact. Almost as if I had a huge pimple: it's there, can't ignore it, but it doesn't have to enter the conversation.

So when I do cry, it's just stress and my body. I try to let people know, often directly even saying, that it's not their fault or responsibility to cure. So, FSP, sometimes the crier would also prefer that your maternal instinct is left to the appropriate recipient!

Allison said...

I tend to cry when stressed or frustrated, and with less impetus than probably most people. It's just the way that emotions tend to express themselves with me.

It's pretty embarrassing, and I very much prefer a problem-solving approach, or for people around to quickly check in, then ignore the tears and carry on with what we were doing. For me, someone going into mom mode just makes the whole thing into a bigger deal than it was.

FPP - Female Physics Postdoc said...

I have a tendency to cry easily and be very hard on myself, which has resulted in my crying in various professors' offices throughout college and graduate school. In graduate school, I had a lot of problems with harassment which increased my stress level so much that I was on the verge of tears all the time anyway. As an undergrad, I was working too hard both in school and in the job I had so I could afford school. I hated crying in front of professors, and wished I didn't end up in that situation. The most helpful professor attitude I encountered was a sort of detached sympathy. It was weird if the professor didn't acknowledge that I was upset, but it was generally bad if they tried to be really nice. It made me feel worse if they tried to talk about why I was crying or make me feel better. It was most helpful when they made an effort to understand what I was trying to say in my emotionally affected state, handed me a box of tissues, and continued the discussion as if I weren't crying. What I wanted most in those situations was to resolve the academic issue that brought me to their office, and for them not to think I was an idiot because I was crying.

JRB said...

I am a crier. I hate it, but it seems to be my uncontrollable reaction to any and all strong emotions, happy, sad, frustrated, angry, exhausted...all can result in crying. It is embarassing and I so wish I could stop it. My graduate adviser (a woman), told me that I make all other women look bad when I get too emotional. I don't do it to get sympathy points or to be otherwise manipulative.

I don't know what the correct response is for a professor to give a student who is upset and crying. But putting the entire welfare of 50% of the world's population on her sobbing shoulders is not a helpful response. Usually when I am upset, I just want to be alone for about 10 minutes to pull myself together so I can move on. Talking to me while I am upset only exasterbates things, but if I can calm myself down, I am fine and we can talk all you want about whatever the issue is.

Once, in an attempt to make me feel better, my adviser told me that when she was going through menopause and was on estrogen therapy, she found that she was overly emotional and cried a few times. So I don't know if she was telling me that she understood what it was like to be me, or if she was telling me I needed hormone therapy to make me less of a woman.

physics*chick said...

To speak to the issue of sensitivity to criticism, I think people can adapt. I think I have come a long way in dealing with the heaping loads of criticism (constructive and not-so constructive as in the case of "mean reviews") handed out in academia.

As a child and teenager I was generally accustomed to doing well and being told so, which made hearing criticism a bit of a shock and difficult to deal with. I got called a cry-baby. As an undergrad, on a few occasions, I cried in prof's offices (much embarrassed to be doing so, but unable to help it... which sometimes makes things worse... "oh god, I'm crying in front of my prof, this is awful" perpetuates the panic) and threw tantrums in private over low grades and suggestions that I needed to do more. My father's response to all of these episodes was "toughen up" (not because he was mean, but I think he wasn't sure what to do).

By the time I got to my grad studies, I was less likely to cry, but more likely to take offence to critique. I think this comes with confidence in one's work, but is also not so constructive. I think now, at the end my PhD, I'm much more likely to stand back and try to fish out the useful criticism. When I receive a review (not so many grades being handed my way anymore) I tend to read it quickly, react with shock, horror and indignance, go away and sulk for half an hour and then come back and read it for real.

I wouldn't say I'm cured, and my response to criticism still depends highly on my mood, stress level and other factors in my life. I have to admit I am not always so mature as that, but I certainly think I've developed a much tougher skin and more logical perspective than I once had. I have not once cried in front of my PhD advisor. :) Of course, he's a pretty nice guy anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hi. This issue is important to me, because I am a cryer. I'd like to give the perspective from this side. :)

First off, crying (at least for me) is never an attempt to gain sympathy. Actually, I am always extremely embarrassed when I do cry, and that makes it harder to stop.

FYI - emotions that involuntarily express themselves with crying: guilt, anger (at self or others), embarrassment, self-doubt, extreme stress...

Try to imagine how YOU are, outwardly, when you feel these emotions. Now imagine every time you feel these emotions, you instead CRY. It's really annoying! argh.

Secondly, I don't think that crying during criticism means one cannot accept criticism. When (negatively) criticized, I think most people have some kind of emotional (angry, disappointed, guilty) reaction. The difference is how good they are at masking it.

I know people that cover their reaction very well in front of the criticizer (outwardly agreeing even), but 10 minutes later are ranting and raving to me about how wrong their criticizer is and how stupid they are.

On the other hand, even when crying I often agree with my criticizer's points, and if I respect the person, I will take their suggestions to heart. The difference is that my emotional reaction is visible to all. I question, however, whether I am "worse at taking criticism" than the person described above.

So, what kind of response do I want? What I really don't want is for them to get very expressive about "making me feel better." I definitely don't want them to hug me or say "oh, it's okay" because honestly that will just make me feel more stupid.

The best thing is usually to offer a bit of positive reinforcement in a cheerful way - change the tone of the conversation. eg. "hey, sorry that came out a bit harsher than I meant, let's think about how we can solve this issue." Taking a 5-10 minute break from the negative conversation, and starting it anew can also be helpful - a reset, then start with something positive, a joke or anecdote, etc.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the number of times I've broken down in my advisor's office. I take some solace in:
1) I really don't want to cry and I try my best to suck it up (but he seems to sense that too, which sometimes makes keeping it in harder!)
2) I actually cry about more important things now (husband and I are trying to figure out grad school & future tenure years vs. babies, dealing with his company's layoffs, having panic attacks, etc.). Most of my early years anguish was due to putting too much on my plate. Rectified that situation for the time being.

I don't think I've ever cried in anyone else's office, though. And I know other people (at least 2!) that have cried in his office... hmmm...

Anonymous said...

I have always been a cryer, so the first time a student cried on me, I could barely contain my sense of satisfaction that I had "arrived". Turnaround, finally.

My methods:
I always have a box of tissues handy.
I assure students that I use them also.
I do a quick check-in: "do you need to take a break and continue later or should we continue talking?"
And then proceed as normal.

Crying is natural and normal and from my point of view preferred over some alternates such as hostility, belly-aches or headeaches, and/or anxiety attacks.

Jessie said...

I'm an emotional crier - when I get mad, upset, happy, whatever...here come the tears. It bothers me more than anything else, especially since the people closest to me aren't sure how to deal with it. I second the bear maiden - humor is often the best method. When people have gotten frustrated with my waterworks in the past it just makes it worse because what they don't understand is that as frustrating as it is for them, I don't like to cry, but sometimes I can't help it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a crier -- the last time was when talking about the AIDS epidemic in a public forum. Everyone probably assumed that I had some personal reason for crying. But, I didn't, I'm just emotionally moved by things, and this sometimes results in my crying (usually of the form of my eyes filling with tears and a hitch in my voice). Poetry, phrases like "But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.", can easily bring tears to my eyes.

Regarding more personal (or louder crying) I think the right thing to do in a professional setting (and students are a bit tough, since the student/teacher relationship has a bit of the maternal/paternal in it) I think the appropriate thing to do is give the person a chance to gain control of themselves. The tissues are merely a mechanism for that.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those can't take criticism students. Still trying to work out how to deal with it.
My advisor often gives the critiques in written form, which helps me because I can look at it once in private, go ahead and be upset over it, then calm down and look at it again, and then fix or discuss the issues.
Of course this doesn't fix the underlying issue. It's amazing how difficult it is to separate "you messed up" from "you're worthless drain on society"

Anonymous said...

I've cried a bunch too. In undergrad it was mostly being overwhelmed and lack of self-confidence, but in grad school I found myself crying basically as a stress response - frustration as much as anything. I can usually speak pretty well through the tears, so sometimes people don't really notice from across a room.

A really reassuring thing for me was when one of my committee took me out for beers after my prelims (I couldn't stop crying afterwards, sort of a post-shock thing) and told me that he "was a crier" too. Other than that, practical advice and politeness is really quite helpful. Offering a tissue but not making a big deal of it. Often I'm as embarrassed by the tears as the other person might be.

Isis the Scientist said...

I work with someone who keeps a tissues in a gold box (like the decorative kind you would keep in your powder room) on his desk for just such an occasion. He too has commented on the number of crying incidents that he encounters.

AsstFemaleProf said...

I only had once instance in grad school which led me to tears. It was a culmination of research related stress/personal life related stress.

My thesis adviser had an especially poor reaction, something along the lines of shouting "grow up".

A collaborator (also a professor), saw me outside the building after, and took me into his office, handed me a box of tissues, let me vent (essentially). Then, he calmly helped me "take a step back" and see that my life wasn't ending and that I could deal with everything if I just took it one thing at a time.

I really just needed some perspective on the issues, which a second party who was detached from the situation could provide.

So, I think that is the role that professors can play.

Unless, the students are just crying in hopes that it will help draw sympathy for their grades...

Rosie Redfield said...

I assume that the student who's crying is even more embarrassed about it than I am. So I treat the crying very casually, passing them the kleenex and making a friendly acknowledgement of their tears before going on with the matter at hand.

usagibrian said...

Oh, my single least favorite student encounter. Usually when they're breaking down in my office, they're on the verge of leaving school, most frequently for reasons outside their control. It's ugly.
On the plus side, something I've managed to insinuate into the administrative consciousness around here is that this is sometimes a good thing. It profits no one to have a student hang around paying leave fees for a year when what they need to do is exit the program, deal with whatever the crisis is, and come back when they can actually complete a dissertation successfully.

sarah gann said...

I too am ambivalent about students crying about grades, not meeting expectations, stress, etc. Usually I'm dealing with middle schoolers who have the social training of a small puppy, but I've taught as an adjunct at 2 colleges in town, and I've had criers there too. Sometimes, with the adult students, it just seems manipulative. Would they cry in front of a male teacher? If so, what result would they expect? I sometimes think it just plays the mommy card and I don't react as sensitively as I perhaps could. Then again, there's no crying in baseball.

Anonymous said...

I have cried multiple times in front of professors, and every time I would describe my feelings as embarrassed/humiliated at my inability to control my emotions. I don't think the students need sympathy, that would just be weird for everyone. But they may benefit from being told how common it is for students to cry in front of professors. Take the edge off that humiliation.

Beyond that, I think the best you can do is follow the students lead. Problem solving can be good, but if the person is very upset then they may be too overwhelmed to benefit from your problem solving.

Kate said...

I cried a few times in my advisor's office. Usually from hormones (female) at the wrong time of the month, combined with frustration. It usually happened when my advisor would want to psychoanalyze me and why I was frustrated with my project and want to talk about my life or whatever. I HATED that and it usually would make me cry because she was dwelling on my feelings too much. I really wished she just would have dealt with the science issues and tried to make my project better and not try to figure out why I was frustrated and try to blame it on my home life or whatever. (if she would have solved the science issues, or at least actually thought about them once it a while maybe I wouldn't have been upset!)

Just my experience.

Kris said...

I am going to grad school this fall. There is school that I can go to and it's mediocre, but its in-state (if I'm going to be going to classes in person it has to be in-state as I have a mortgage and have to work full time at a local job).

That being said, I can attend a more prestigious university but I can only take classes online (the whole degree would be online as the school is 1,000 miles away) because of my situation. What should I do? Opinions? I know that I will get a better experience going in person and that it would be more fun, but, that being said, is it worth the sacrifice in prestige? There are no prestigious universities that I can attend locally for my area.

Thanks,

Kris

ScientistMother said...

I am a crier. Its the only emotional reaction I have, and at work it usually occurs when I am really really frustrated or when I am really really pissed off. Either way the only other alternative is to go hitting a punching bag (not available , at least in our lab). Tissues and not treating me with kid gloves are appreciated. Also, I am always quick to ensure that the individual(s) presnt that my feelings are not hurt, I just cry.

Julia said...

I cried a lot the first summer I did undergraduate research. I sincerely wanted to become a good scientist, and I felt like every setback was an indication that I was just not good enough. It was discouraging.

Eventually, though, assurance from the grad students around me and my PI that this was not to be taken personally (I was doing molecular biology) led me to calm down, grow bitter, and leave the lab and join a different one, where I still experienced setbacks, but took them much less personally. When I left the first lab, my parents commented about how much happier I seemed to become.

Although I was bitter about my first research experience for a long time, I can look back at it pretty happily now. I learned a lot of really cool science, met some great people, and all in all it was a good way to learn that not all setbacks are worth crying over.

Anonymous said...

I am a doctoral student and was a TA for the first time last year. I had one of my students burst into tears after receiving a poor grade on the midterm. It was so hard because I am fairly sensitive and it made me want to cry too - I felt really bad for her. Everyone has been there. I ended up leading extra study sessions and doing lots of extra work to try to help everyone do well in the class, but overall the students really didn't work hard, pay much attention in class, come to office hours etc. So, it wasn't that surprising... A frustrating situation overall. I am much more wise this year.

I have also had a few crying spells this year about my own research and the general frustrations of being a doctoral student. Sometimes you just need your mentor to know you're struggling and that you need more guidance and that's how it comes out.

Anonymous said...

I have cried to my advisor because he is mean and scary and I'm completely freaked out. He also makes me do lots of things are not in my thesis which prolongs my graduate career. He lies, and says I just have to do something 'once' and it turns into a huge commitment. When I cry he thinks I am 'frustrated' by my data or something when really I am in complete despair of ever leaving here and I could not hate him more.

Hermitage said...

I cried on a fairly regular basis about grades...but never in front of an authority figure. The only time I remember crying is when a professor relentlessly dismissed my education as inferior and unworthy of His Fine Institution. Even then my eyeballs remained fairly dry until five steps outside his office where I proceeded to start sobbing.

Anonymous said...

Here's a different angle. Sometimes, tears could mean frustration.

Once when I was an assistant professor, I was getting a very bad run-around from the university telecommunications office, and I became so frustrated with the waste of my time, I could have hollered like a tornado. I didn't decide to put tears in my own eyes, but that's what they were there for. Later someone commented on them as if they meant I felt weak. I certainly felt disempowered as in not able to do the job I was hired for, but I didn't think the problem was my doing.

Anyway, FSP, that's a totally different thing than what you're posting about but I do think tears mean different things in different situations.

Pagan Topologist said...

I wonder whether students are more likely to cry in the presence of a female professor? I think I have had students cry about something in my presence fewer than a dozen times in 43 years (counting my three years as a TA.) When it has happened, I have taken time to listen and figure out how to be supportive. I have had students try to convince me to change a grade who were quite upset, but not crying. I have on rare occasions offered an extra credit project which was far more work than it would have been to have just kept up with the class to start with, if I thought such a project would be educationally useful for the student. Only twice in my career has this actually led to a changed grade. I am not sure just how I would respond to someone who cried in such a case, but I think it would make me neither more nor less likely to offer a way to improve an already assigned grade. It would, however, get a bit more of my time and attention, most likely .

ScientistMother said...

Hi FSP,

heres a link to the newsletter, they featured blurb from the blog and directed readers to come here to read the full post. http://www.scwist.ca/newsletters/SCWIST_News_-_July_2008.pdf

Grad Girl said...

Because professor yells at student. This would be the only reason I have cried in the presence of my PI--the time he saw fit to take out his stress by critisizing my lack of excitement, loudly & angrily, not to be stopped by my devolution to a state where I couldn't speak through tears. Apparently me seeming unexcited gets in the way of him enjoying my data. Apparently the deaths of a parent and a close friend in the previous year did not constitute mitigating circumstances. I think he found it to be a productive encounter, as since then I've made myself smile and agree with his over-interpretation of my results.

Short Geologist said...

I just wrote a long post about this, and my experience is similar to a lot of other folks' who are criers. It's nice to see that I'm not the only one!

If there was some way to change my nature, I could. But it could be worse - I had a male friend in highs school who was a crier, just like me. And you think we ladies have it bad!

Lauren said...

I have cried in front of 3 professors, all during class, twice (same day, back to back classes, residual despair leaked into the second class) i was wearing a hat and mostly kept my head down pretending to be taking notes (did much worse on a test than I thought i deserved. Turns out the prof graded it wrong and missed a problem when he was adding up the points. I was doubting my ability to properly add and subtract thinking i was just too panicked to be subtracted properly from 100).
On the other occasion (ok...fine. 4-5 occasions, but we watched a lot of movies and the lights were off), we were watching a sad war movie in my history class and I always cry in movies. I can just hope no one noticed the sudden productive sniffing that started about the time so-and-so died and so-and-so-else said something touching. It was only for a moment or two!! I promise!! :)
That being said, I must admit, I'm a cry baby. I have had to try VERY hard on several occasions not to break down in tears in front of my profs if for no other reason than I would be mortified. I think that if i did break down in front of a prof i would probably wish to be excused from the conversation and come back when I've calmed down to try again. I can definitely understand how once you start crying in front of someone it can be difficult to stop under the pressure to stop. that would suck

MommyProf said...

My classes tend to be the hard ones, so I always make sure the tissues are well-stocked at the start of the semester.

Anonymous said...

I found it really reassuring to read about the other criers out there. Usually I'm mortified and figure that I'm the only student to cry to a professor before, so it's nice to see that I'm not alone.

Crying in front of authority figures makes me feel like I'm letting down women everywhere for not being able to keep it together.

The_Myth said...

I was immune to tears from my students. Other TAs remarked about it in awe that I seemed able to ignore the tears and deal with issue at hand calmly and without catering to the students' attempts to use the tears as a bargaining chip. Sometimes the tears were emotional [bad grade tears] and I think the student appreciated my ability to just deal with them as a student [as opposed to a crying student, if you get the difference].

An odd thing happened though in recent years: I started getting criticized in course evals for being unsympathetic, rude, and "smug"...usually by students [who I could discern from the comments] were ineffective at emotionally manipulating me. Apparently my immunity to tears is a double-edged sword.

The AstroDyke said...

I too, am uncomfortable around student tears, but don't want my awkwardness to make the problem worse. I've appreciated the How-To advice column on this subject from AASWomen.

Delaney Kirk said...

I had a male student cry during class on the first day of school. He was sharing a story of how his boss had yelled at him several years before. I really didn't know what to do and tried to change the subject hoping that the other students wouldn't notice his tears.

Samuel Rivier said...

I am a male, and a particularly stoic one at that. But at no time did I want to cry more than when I had to tell my advisor the inevitable fact that I would have to take at least a year off grad school. At no other time did I want to break out of the shell so badly and seek pure sympathy and caring advice from someone I respected. I cried myself to sleep, alone, at home instead.

Anonymous said...

I uncontrollably cry in front of authority figures and it kills me. I don't want to, but it's always the same any conversation that deals personally with me(particularly negative, but even positive things) puts me into tears. I hate seeing professors and bosses suddenly start apologizing, it's really not their fault and I try my best to get that across. Most people are nice, I had a prof who experienced it and decided to meet weekly with me to get me comfy enough to not burst into tears around him. But the truth is I'm 25 now and I need to be getting over this but I can't. I've tried anti-anxiety drugs and they work to a point but it's still there. What makes it the worst is that people do think I'm just being dramatic but I honestly can't stop. Reading the responses here made me cry, just because it brings up all those awful situations.

Now I'm supposed to meet with a prof who terrifies me and I know he's going to think I'm just being dramatic. I truly wish more people knew about this, especially profs/bosses. If anyone has some advice, I'm all ears. This is ruining a otherwise promising future.