Thursday, September 11, 2008

Against the Drafts

From time to time, mostly in the summer, I advise students from small colleges in research projects. Most of these students do very well, but on occasion there are students who don't like the BigU environment. In particular, they don't like the fact that they are not the main focus of professorial attention. I spend a lot of time interacting with my undergrad researchers throughout their projects, but this time is surely less than what some of them are used to.

I like to think that my SLAC interns are getting a glimpse of what life might be like for them as graduate students at a BigU, for better or worse. So, in addition to getting a research experience, they are getting a cultural experience that might help them make informed decisions about their post-graduation plans.

Below, in abridged form, is correspondence between a SLAC intern and me, highlighting an example of differences in expectations and priorities between a small college student and a BigU professor:

FSI (former summer intern): I'm sending you a draft of an abstract I'd like to submit for the X meeting next year based on the work I did with you. I think it's pretty good and I worked really hard on it, so I hope you like it too! Please send me comments as soon as possible!

FSP: I can tell from your abstract that you have a good grasp of the motivation for the study, but the text doesn't contain any of the data or conclusions from your summer research. I know this is your first conference abstract, so maybe it would help if you looked at some examples of abstracts from recent conferences of this sort, to get a sense for content and style. In the meantime, I've written a few sentences to show you how the abstract might start, and I've listed topics and data items that could form the bulk of the abstract.

FSI: Thanks for the comments but the way that you sent them was not helpful to me at all. The sentences you wrote make things very difficult for me. Please do not write any actual text, just general suggestions. You write better than me so if you write some text I will never learn how to do that myself. I am working really really hard. I am going to work on the next draft between 1-2 pm today and then send it to you, so if you could be in your office then (taking into account the time zones), you can send comments back to me right away.

FSP: I am happy to help you with the abstract, but I am going to use my best judgment as to the most constructive way to do so: a combination of text + general suggestions. The research results are interesting, and I am sure you can come up with a good abstract with a bit more work. Alas, I cannot be in my office at the time you specified, but I will send further comments in plenty of time before the submission deadline.

FSI: OK, here is a new draft. I am going to sleep now but please send me more comments soon so I can work on this in the morning.

FSP: The new version you sent me is identical to the first version. I think you must have attached the wrong file.

FSI [next morning]: Sorry! Here is the new draft. Please send me comments SOON! Please do NOT rewrite the text for me. Just send me general comments!

FSP [afternoon]: This new draft if better, but it still needs quite a bit of work in terms of content and writing. I have provided both specific and general suggestions on the attached draft.

FSI [same afternoon]: Thanks, here is another draft. I took all of your suggestions and I wrote some new parts about the data and results.

FSP [that night]: In the latest version, you have not fixed any of the errors that I noted in my last set of comments. I am sorry that I do not have time to repeat these comments and to go over more drafts with you, so I have made the edits directly in the abstract. You can submit this version of the abstract. I think your summer research results will make a great conference presentation, and I look forward to seeing you again next year at the meeting.

FSI [next morning]: I really want there to be at least a few sentences in this abstract that are 100% my own and not ones that you have changed at all, so I have added some new sentences to the beginning and end. I am attaching a new draft.

FSP: I can appreciate that you want the abstract to be your own, but the sentences that you added contain incorrect or misleading information, as well as new typos. I do not think it is a good idea to cast doubt on decades of existing work unless there is a good reason to do so. It would not be a good idea to submit an abstract with these statements as-written.

FSI: OK, I will submit the version you want. I looked at the submission form and it says that I need your department address and office phone number. Do I really need these? If I do, can you please send them to me? I also need the addresses and phone numbers of the other coauthors. Can you send those as well? I really want to submit this soon so I hope you will send me this information. I may need your help with other things too. Can you be in your office at 2 pm today?

[FSP email not sent: Yes, No/Google, No/Google, No]

...............................................................................

In discussing this with colleagues, opinions are divided as to whether I should have been more helpful with respect to the student's desire to be independent, even if it meant repeating the same editorial suggestions and going through even more than the 4 drafts I eventually read vs. whether I was too accommodating of the student's lack of organization, initiative, and demonstrated ability to work independently.

There is also the issue of whether I should have showed my annoyance with the student's demands about how and when I should provide comments.

Given my quality control freakiness, there was no way I was going to consent to submission of a highly flawed (and in one version, offensive) abstract, but I think I would have let things slide if the only problems were somewhat awkward sentences.

I don't know what happens to a student who needs so much help with so many things so continually and who wants to attend graduate school. There aren't such things as small liberal arts graduate schools in Science, as far as I know. I can, however, recommend to my former intern some smaller programs or less prickly advisors with small research groups, in the hopes that this will be a better environment for her than my somewhat-large research setting was.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, it was offensive in one version? I don't even know how one does that in a physical science paper. What did it say?

That whole thing was really over the top.

-K.A.

Anonymous said...

perhaps you could send the intern a copy of this post and the resulting comments? Whoa....

Alex said...

I'm not at a small school, but I am at a school with no Ph.D. students and in a department with very few majors. Our majors are used to a certain amount of attention, but that student sounds high maintenance by any reasonable standard.

A thorough chewing out would not be productive, but a gentle explanation of how things work would be useful.

And if you are dubious on that student going to graduate school, then politely explain that you don't think you are in a position to write a good letter. There is no inalienable right to get good graduate school recommendations. If this student happens to have more promise than you got a chance to see in her, then no doubt she knows other people who will be able to write strong letters and she will do fine. And if there are no other people who can write strong letters for her? Well, there's probably a reason for that.

Anonymous said...

FSI's mails were certainly not the way one should interact with a former (or current, for that matter) supervisor. However, I often wish my supervisor would tell me whether I'm taking up too much of his time, or sending him stuff too early, or not taking his suggestions into account enough. I don't think that's the case in my case, but I find it really hard to learn how much help one is "allowed" to ask for and when you start turning into a whiny girl everybody hates... I mean, how are students supposed to know all these things? Especially when they come from a different academic setting than the one their supervisor is in... Why can't someone just give us a rule of thumb?

Anonymous said...

I have to admit being rather horrified by the student's expectation that you would be at their beck and call, and that they would make the decisions and call the shots despite you being the supervisor. . . perhaps an initial statement that you only comment on drafts twice for your students, and have the final say over submissions might help? This whole thing sounds outrageously annoying.

Sesquipedalian said...

@Anoymous 1:39 am: It's hard to give a rule of thumb, because different supervisors have different preferences, depending on their advising style. You can always just ask, in a suitably confident and professional way. e.g., "Let me know if you'd prefer to comment on a more polished draft."

helena.heliotrope said...

I've spent two years at a small liberal arts college, where we didn't do science, in the modern sense.
Total, I've taken ten credits of college level science.
But even I know that that is completely inappropriate and inconsiderate behavior. Especially sending someone several copies of drafts with typos. That's just disrespectful.
It sounds like you were as polite as possible, but an explanation might be appreciated.
Might also not do any good.

Fia said...

Impressive, I wonder how somebody can come up with the courage to send you emails like this. Demanding you'd be there at a given time...

However, I totally agree with anon#3s opinion. Some of us are just socially inept and do not pick up conventions as fast as others might. I often also wish my advisors would tell me what exactly they expect from me. You do that to quite some extent (and I wish my advisors would do that sometimes). Maybe what that student needed was somebody to tell her/him that this is abstract is for a real world conference and not a college project? And that other people than his advisors will read it. That it is not for his/her personal training in the first place but for the exchange of information and knowledge with other scientist. Maybe that student didn't get the difference between writing an abstract/paper for grading or an abstract/paper for submission to a scientific journal.

Anonymous said...

I am at a BigU and I still have this needy interaction with my interns/undergrad assistants. Yesterday for example, conversation with my current "helper."
ME- please print this conference poster on the big plotter.
HIM- I can't get to it from my computer.
ME- Use the lab's computer
10 min later
HIM- This is bad, it is cutting off the right side.
ME- Make sure the document settings are right.
5 min later
HIM- Yeah, I think it is working
ME- Good
5 min later
HIM- Spoke too soon! It still isn't working.
ME- I don't have time to troubleshoot for you. Ask the IT guy.
20 min later and lots of 1/2 printed posters. I walk by the computer lab.
HIM- it just isn't working!
ME- change it from horizontal to landscape
[that works]
Now, should I have just gone and done it when he first had problems? Or was it a learning experience for him to spend an hour fiddling around? And yes, I was much to busy to troubleshoot - which could have taken much longer.

PhysioProf said...

In discussing this with colleagues, opinions are divided as to whether I should have been more helpful with respect to the student's desire to be independent, even if it meant repeating the same editorial suggestions and going through even more than the 4 drafts I eventually read vs. whether I was too accommodating of the student's lack of organization, initiative, and demonstrated ability to work independently.

Are you fucking kidding me? Mark the motherfucker up with a red pen, give it back, receive another draft, mark that motherfucker up, the student implements the final edits, and you move the fuck on. Four drafts for a fucking conference abstract!? You are the senior author on this abstract, and you have final authority over its content.

As far as pedagogical style for teaching trainees how to write, they learn by having their work edited by people who already know how to write, and by implementing those fucking edits without a fuckload of hand-wringing and meta-discussion.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting a research project with a few students at a SLAC as part of a research outreach project from BigU.
I am now VERY VERY AFRAID as to how this will go.
Going from the "do you want to work on this project with me?" intro through the "please sign the research contracts" phase, I have gotten some strange emails and questions.
Next week begins the real work - pray for me and send much-needed(?!?!) patience my way.

Lynne said...

I've been in both the small college and big research environments, and I remember making that transition in grad school myself. It *is* hard to get used to. But this student is unusually demanding by any standard.

I've now returned to teaching at a small college, and we tell students "no" and are firm with them all the time here. You were in no way wrong to edit the way you prefer, and it's not only okay but *good* and sometimes necessary to draw boundaries for when you are available (unlike the small college I attended as an undergrad, where I am teaching now apparently this kind of aggressive tracking-down of faculty at all hours to demand attention is a lot more common. Professors here have to set firm boundaries about it. It's a weird result of the culture, maybe when the college is particularly small).

It sounds like this student wanted to be independent (the constant requests that you not write the abstract for her) but had no idea how (uh, doing it herself). That sort of thing takes a good year or two to learn for some students, in my experience. But I don't think you did anything wrong - you need to work the way you work, and students need to deal with it. It sounds like you were perfectly compassionate about it and not unfair.

Am I a woman scientist? said...

Wow. I went to an SLAC and I can't imagine any of my professors putting up with the tone of the emails, the frequency of the emails, and the demands made in the emails. I think this person is, as one commenter said, a high-maintenance person and not typical of an SLAC... or at least I hope it's not typical. Maybe you just get stuck with the high maintenance SLAC students because their professors STRONGLY recommend they go to an R1 university for some weeding out prior to grad school? I can imagine some of my SLAC profs doing that....

Short Geologist said...

I have been guilty of "forgetting" to change some (relatively minor) things that I don't agree with my professor about. But this is in my thesis, not a little abstract.

At some point in the ping-ponging of miscommunication, the best thing to do is to drop by or pick up the phone and discuss it. The former intern should make the effort, but the prof can certainly suggest it.

landsnark said...

I think you handled this with astonishing grace. I couldn't have done nearly as well. You were kind, firm, and clear.

Ambitwistor said...

anonymous (K.A.),

Maybe the offensive part was alluded to when FSP said, "I do not think it is a good idea to cast doubt on decades of existing work unless there is a good reason to do so."

beautyredefined said...

Wow. That student went too far. I can't imagine sending any professor I wanted to work with e-mails like that, especially as an undergrad. Maybe it's because I went to a research institution for my bachelor's so I'm used to this environment, but asking a professor to be in their office waiting for your e-mail at a certain time is incomprehensible.

I think you've been very patient with FSI, and his/her attitude is too demanding. I understand the desire to want sentences to be your own, but you are listed as a co-author, so it's perfectly acceptable to have you edit text, right? (On the other hand, it is a grey area - it's alright for papers where every author is listed, but for fellowship applications or other such things?)

grad student said...

Um, wow. Demands for comments immediately?!? Not even using themm when they're given?!? having your sentences essentially rewritten by someone who is a more experienced writer is a great way to improve your writing.

I don't think this student will like hearing it, but he/she needs to be told that this isn't how this works. I'm not convinced this is entirely due to the student being from a SLAC (although I've always been at big research universities).

Anonymous said...

My experience with the last round of abstracts was nearly the same .... but with my grad students, none coming out of SLACs. Comments like "I worked really hard on this" and when they go to bed really get to me. I honestly don't care if you work 1 hour of 15 on it. It's the end quality that counts, and I'm not letting a bad (or wrong) abstract go in with my name on it.

I don't mind multiple drafts, but I would like it if students actually took my suggestions on things like looking at previous abstracts and including results!

Jenn said...

Maybe the student was used to making sure you'd be in the office when she needed you when she was visiting? I have no idea. I pretty much smack down anyone who expects an immediate (<2 hour turnaround) email response from anyone who doesn't have a desk job. Well, except my advisor--all I can do is be silently resentful of this in him (since he's right down the hall and could either come down himself to tell me about a meeting he just called or even send his personal secretary to do it, expecting me to leave lab to check my email every half hour is just ridiculous).

I do, however, agree with one of the anonymous commenters. It can be really hard to know when you're overstepping academic boundaries without anyone telling you. Every professor, field, and school is different in exactly how involved they want to be in the smaller details of research. I wish my fellow students had done what I just did with the two new students who just joined our group: given a sort of overview of group/advisor dynamics and explained who to talk to for what kinds of problems.

Average Professor said...

This is not totally germane to the topic at hand (but, on the topic at hand, let me just say that FSP is a model of diplomacy and is always kinder and more helpful than I would be in cases like this, and it's a shame when a student doesn't know how GOOD they have it!), but I think it's funny that commenter alex assumed that FSI is a "she."

I assumed FSI was a "he," perhaps just because almost all my own students are.

I don't mean to be gender-lensy. But if I WERE to put on those lenses for a minute I guess I'd reevaluate my assumption and decide that it was more likely that a guy FSI would be one of those people that submits a weird and crappy abstract with FSP's name on it without even telling her. ;p

Anonymous said...

Wow! Having attended a small liberal arts college myself I can say that the environment is very different here at a BigU PhD program, but I would have never in a million years sent an email like that to my advisor - even though I was her only student at the time! I agree with Alex that the student in question sounds very high maintenance.
As for liberal arts students going into graduate school - my experience is that I learned more about independence at my SLAC which has in turn prepared me better for grad school. On top of that I have a broader educational background and better reasoning/critical thinking skills than many of my PhD student colleagues who attended a BigU for undergrad.
Everyone learns differently, and this student seems to need the extra hand-holding, but coddling would have only been in FSI's worst interest.

a physicist said...

To anonymous 1:39 am: Ask other students what is expected. Better, ask your advisor what are reasonable limits, and what their expectations are.

To anonymous 12:42 am: FSP's original post said "I do not think it is a good idea to cast doubt on decades of existing work unless there is a good reason to do so." My guess is that this was the offensive part. The student probably implied that their experiments were vastly superior to previous work.

About the original post, I usually try to avoid having to insert my own sentences into an abstract, although in extreme cases after several iterations of an abstract, I'll tweak the final version, which usually means that no sentence is 100% the student's own in those rare cases. But so far I've been spoiled, this process has never taken more than four iterations, and the student FSP discusses clearly would have required more than that using my approach.

sandy shoes said...

It's one thing to be a bumbling newbie and not know how things work, etiquette wise. All that can be respectfully learned.

But your FSI? Is an arrogant little shit, and needs to learn basic manners.

Female Science Professor said...

Yes, that's what I meant. It's not a good idea to say "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" if you don't have a good (scientific) basis to say so. I think the student was just trying to find a dramatic way to end the abstract, and did not mean to disparage anyone else's work.

compsci grad student said...

I went to a SLAC, and while I did receive more attention than I would have at a BigU, I learned by the time I graduated that professors are busy and when receiving personal help on something you make do with what you get.

However, that was a gradual process of simply learning to act like an adult and to be treated like an adult-- something sadly lacking in my high school experience. I'm embarrassed at some of the interactions I had with professors earlier on in college, and very grateful to the people who basically told me, "Grow the hell up" (even though I resented them at the time). You did the right thing by voicing your annoyance. You would be doing no favors to the student (not to mention her future bosses) to take immaturity in stride.

sarcozona said...

As far as pedagogical style for teaching trainees how to write, they learn by having their work edited by people who already know how to write, and by implementing those fucking edits without a fuckload of hand-wringing and meta-discussion.

I'm an undergrad and I'm very lucky to have an advisor that seems to love helping with writing, even for scholarships and class papers associated with my work with him. He's not the gentlest critic and I've had entire abstracts and paragraphs rewritten. And like physioprof said, this is what helps me the most - when I can compare what I wrote to what I should have written.

For example, my first conference abstract came back with his edits and there wasn't a sentence in it that hadn't been totally changed. But my second conference abstract only had a few minor edits.

chall said...

"I really want there to be at least a few sentences in this abstract that are 100% my own and not ones that you have changed at all, so I have added some new sentences to the beginning and end."

HAHA, this - if nothing else - proves that it is an undergrad/not finished grad student who doesn't grasp the idea with abstract/papers.

I'm sorry but isn't the main point with the abstract/paper to send the point across as good as possible?! If someone is better at constructing sentences then by all means do it.

I think the whole "i wrote this" is something one can argue in your thesis - if it is that important. For me, I'm going to go with "how ever makes the best sentence to tell readers our statement will be the winner". For my personal satisfaction, I'd love it to be me everyonce in awhile but still...

In general> I think the student might have misunderstood communication skills and somehow the hierarchy of Academia. It's not really to say "return tonight so I can work in the morning" unless the deadline is tomorrow morning. Otherwise you write "please return to me as fast as possible" and Thank you!

And I think I would not respond to the address thingy - or maybe just attach it to your signature in the email?! the coauthors, not a chance. that's something you do when you are in charge of the abstract.

FPP said...

I knew a bunch of people like that in grad school. I went to a good-but-not-great R1. They were generally very unhappy with the culture for a year or two. Then the ones who were talented and enjoyed research adapted, and the rest left after battling the evil system to get a Master's degree. I think it would have been helpful to them if somebody had tried to discuss the institutional culture with them. They probably would have railed against it in righteous indignation, believing that they, as students, were the center of the academic universe. Persistent, kind discussions with them probably would have helped a lot. They weren't hopeless, just from a different culture in which they were used to being right.

For awhile, I convinced the people in charge of first year advising in my graduate program to include this sort of thing, and it worked very well. Then somebody who didn't believe in meetings ran that committee and the nice, promising new first year advising plan bit the dust. Although I was never like the student you describe, I have appreciated it very much when people have pointed out to me that my expectations and communication were off-base. There have definitely been times when I made unreasonable requests and was both ignorant and demanding. I had no idea -- and I was very clueless sometimes. It's much easier to correct yourself when you know what's going on. It's very difficult if people aren't doing what you want, seem annoyed, and you don't know why.

On a different note, it seems to me that there's also a conflict between the student's student-like behavior and the requirements of doing science professionally. Part of what students, particularly graduate students, need to learn is how to function in the culture of professional science. It seems to me that this student doesn't understand how to interact with coauthors, or how being a student in a research group is different from being a student in a class. I bet that this person's education would benefit greatly if you found a gentle way to point out that they're treating you disrespectfully, or opened a discussion of the ethics of authorship and how scientists collaborate to write papers together with language and information that everyone agrees upon.

River Tam said...

I loved that the student thought that they could expect instantaneous access to you. I run into that at my institution. Students think they can schedule their comprehensive exams for a specific time and day without discussing with faculty whether or not they are available. Since I seem to be one of the few faculty who has conflicts, I can only assume that most of them have a lot more free time in their schedules than I do...and it breeds a certain level of expectation in the students.

Anonymous said...

This is really self-entitled behavior. I don't think this is acceptable at SLU, although it may be more tolerated. I don't think it is quite your job to explain to this student that they need to be respectful of your valuable time, they really should be able to figure this out on their own. Any guidance you do give them is essentially a favor from you to them, meted out at your fancy. If they annoy you, they may not earn favors, ce la vie.

The AstroDyke said...

Oh my goodness, thanks for this post!

I had similar experiences with an R1 student this summer. He was extremely bright, but missed or showed up late to every scheduled appointment, dropped by my office at 6pm with complex questions, returned to his R1 two weeks before his agreed-upon departure date, and left the results he'd produced in a proprietary format (rather than ASCII.)

Since this was one of my first advising experiences, I assumed this was all somehow my fault. I'm now realizing that I should have more clearly laid out, as the summer progressed, the ways that he needed to improve, but that some of the responsibility does lie with him. Thanks for the perspective.

scicurious said...

Thanks for this post! Sadly, I recognize in that behavior some wincingly similar things I did as a first year. In my case, though, I didn't pick up on the culture as quickly as others did. My advisor has always encouraged familiarity, and she had to bring me in and tell me that my behavior was NOT professional. And boy, did I get the hint.

The demands she was making about writing, telling you not to make edits, etc, are more than a little over the line. You are her supervisor and she needs to be flexible about the way YOU edit, not the other way round. And asking you to be in your office at a specific time is ridiculous. I think you're right to assume she just doesn't realize that she shouldn't communicate this way, so I think a gentle reminder is a good idea.

This is great post! I wish I'd seen it when I was a first year, I probably never would have needed to be talked to.

Becca said...

I am a little bewildered by most commenters seem to be so hostile toward this student.
I will fully grant you that the student needs an attitude adjustment. However, it may be all that would be required is a bit of information regarding the demands on a professor's time.

The really sad part about this is that the student is clearly trying to be
organized, take inititive and be independent. And they want to improve their writing, to boot.

This student isn't an "arrogant little shit", and they will not learn as much from FSP entirely replacing their writing as they would from going over draft-after-draft.

That said, FSP is not responsible for adjusting the student's attitude nor for devoting endless hours to the writing process.

Kea said...

I've written a few sentences to show you how the abstract might start, and I've listed topics and data items that could form the bulk of the abstract.

Oh My God. You're kidding me? You go to this much trouble? Are Americans really spoon fed like this? I wouldn't have asked for that much help as a 7 year old.

Social Scientist said...

FSP, you are a goddess. I wish every undergrad would-be-researcher would read this blog before they even think about asking me for my time. I actually feel that way about some grad students too.

And as for their not taking advice? It's not up to them to decide what they need to know. It's up to you and if they don't get that, it's very unfortunate they have to learn the hard way -- hard on them that is.

As I say:
You, FSP, are a goddess!

Davey Jones said...

As a SLAC student myself who has undergone undergraduate research in the past, I would never expect that much spoon feeding from an adviser, so I think that student was a little out of touch.
I really hope to do some more undergrad research this summer, hopefully at a bigger college this time, and if I do something stupid, I would hope the teacher would inform me. I'd rather find out now that I'm not cut out for grad school than after I'm accepted.

Lora said...

All things considered, I know many schools simply do not make an effort to teach science writing methods and styles very well, if at all. It may be that your advisee is coming from this situation.

Is it possible for you to say, "I do not think we will be able to get this abstract in suitable condition for the upcoming conference; instead, let's submit it to (another conference, vaguely similar, several months hence). In the meantime, it seems that you could benefit from a science writing course in general--may I suggest (some course), or reading (some book about writing for science)?"

When drafts are that far off from what is needed, there is no way that some redlining will take care of it. You'll be doing 20+ drafts because the student just does not grok. If you are not teaching Science Writing 201 here, then just send the student to a class that does teach that.

A good text is _A Short Guide To Writing About Biology_ by JA Pechenik.

Eugenie said...

As a current SLAC student myself (and just finished a lengthy summer internship at a major research facility) all I have to say is YIKES.

That student has guts- no way would I have done that when I was writing my paper & abstract.... I did get terrible comments back (long story), but I never emailed the people I was working for demanding for promt revisions (since they did take ages to get back to me).

I've done research throughout my undergrad and when I wrote my first abstract, I re-wrote it about 2 times and then sent it to older friends before I sent it to the advising professor. I find myself doing this because I'm overly paranoid to think the advisor will see my first draft and think I'm stupid (to be frank).

Perhaps the defense of being "independent" could be a sign for a paranoid feeling?

Don't write all of us SLAC students off....

butterflywings said...

I'm not sure good writing does come from experience.
It's an ability you either have, or you don't.

I currently work in publishing and have to accept painfully bad writing. Not actually grammatically wrong, or misspelled, but just - bad. It pains me to do so, but the people who write crappily are senior to me, so I have to suck it up.

I do sometimes make changes and hope it isn't noticed.

On the other hand, it might just be writing style, not that one version is objectively better.

I can understand that the student felt they wanted the writing to be theirs. In fairness to them, it's not necessarily a learning experience to reword the thing for them...they either just cut and paste and don't realise *why* the rewording is better, or get defensive, as your student did.

It may take longer, but they need to figure it out themselves and not be spoonfed.

I've had similar reports returned with what I felt were very nitpicky rewordings.

Also, agree with others that students do not know what behaviour is expected of us - spelling out is not a bad idea. Things that seem obvious after a few years' experience are not always obvoius to a student.

That said, expecting professors to be around at a specific time is definitely rude.

Ms.PhD said...

This seems very typical to me. I actually had a very similar thing happen this week with a 'senior' grad student (I am at a BigU).

This was one of those situations (I blogged about it a little) where the senior PI did not respond to the email, nor did any of the other co-authors, so while I am only listed as 2nd author on the abstract, I did all the editing and back-and-forth that you describe here.

I disagree with PP. I personally HATE it that the norm in science is to just re-write, as if that is faster. In the long run, it's not faster because it ensures that the same exchanges will occur over and over and over, unless the re-writes are accompanied by some explanation as to why they are better.

But I completely agree, 100%, there is nothing more annoying that someone who asks for your edits and then DOESN'T PUT THEM IN.

But this is yet another great example of, what the hell are we teaching undergrads in science programs so that they're about to apply to grad school with zero skills? And zero clue of what they're getting themselves into?

It's no wonder grad school takes so long when no one wants to include formal instructions in the most basic currency of what we do as 'professional' scientists.

Writing is so under-valued, and yet, it is the only really permanent record we have of what we do. At least until the Journal of Visualized Experiments becomes the standard. Somehow I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Big points for patience, FSP. You're a saint. But it's kind of sad to me that this student might not realize how annoying she's being, and unless you tell her, she's going to make the same mistakes anywhere she goes.

I think the good mentoring thing to do here is call her up and tell her what you really think, in the most kind but firm way that you can.

Rather than, for example, complaining about it on your blog like she should have known better? Who's going to tell her? Obviously no one at her SLAC, and if you don't, eventually someone will and they won't be very nice about it, either.

Female Science Professor said...

It always surprises me when someone, especially someone with a blog, assumes that I have no other conversations and activities other than what I write.

jonah said...

I once had a summer research advisor rewrite an entire conclusion section, 1.5 page of Latex, of a report I had written. After swallowing my pride, I realized I learned a lot about how to write in science from that experience. Sometimes, recognizing that it is to early to be entirely original is the best way to learn.

female SLAC professor said...

Here are my thoughts-

This student is displaying alarming self-centered and selfish behavior. But it's also naive, and the student is showing some initiative. The tone is certainly rude, though. many others have commented that perhaps this student would be well-served by being told about etiquette. I agree 100%, and perhaps FSP did some of that to her credit. In fact I think some of FSPs emails hinted at the issue in a subtle and appropriate way.

I am personally offended by many comments here about SLACs. I went to one, then went to a top ten R1 university for my PhD, and now teach at a SLAC. I would never have expected such attention from a professor. As an undergrad, I did work over one summer at an R1 and yes, I was interested in learning what graduate school would be like. However, I do not think that I wasted my advisor's time nor the time of grad students/postdocs. Yes I needed guidance, but I like to think that I was respectful and hard-working. I went on to succeed in my graduate program at a large university. I found it to be a cold place, and as a first-year student did miss the happy and dare I say supportive environment of the SLAC, but I learned about the larger scientific culture and norms etc while immersing myself in the rigors of a phd program. It was simply a different experience. Not everyone knows that they want to become an expert in a specific field of study as an undergraduate. SLACs are great for offering a liberal education! But SLACs do not pretend to be the place to turn out advanced degrees.

I have been happy to return to SLAC life as a professor. With respect to immersion in a research group, you can say that SLAC students are naive, but they are not typically arrogant. It is disturbing that this is the age of entitlement. Many students are spoon-fed. I am guilty of doing it to some degree. But I am offended that people in these comments seem to think that SLAC professors encourage the rudeness that the FSI showed. just like an advisor can't always control their grad students, we SLAC profs can't always control our students.

I will close with this- at my college we are very careful now about what students are encouraged to try summer intern programs at R1schools. We try to send our best students out. If we sent poor students out, we get a deservedly poor reputation and then nobody wants to accept our students for the summer programs or graduate programs!

Janka said...

At the risk of offending people much higher in the academic rank than I am, I cannot help but argue that professors who use words like "fucking" and "shit" when talking about students who obviously *try* (even if they try in a totally bizarre and rude way) are somewhat biased when it comes to criticize the students for rudeness or attitude.

Despite of no doubt being distinguished scientists in your fields, I feel that you have no right to ask for respect if you do not at least put on the show of courtesy yourself. Next time, maybe you guys should think of us grad students who read this blog and try to lead by example?

FSP, judging on the emails posted, has every right to expect respect from the student, though. I am very lucky myself to have an adviser and senior colleagues who like writing and are happy (or at least willing and polite about it) to endlessly revise what I have to say, and I know how valuable it is. Too bad the student described here seems unable to appreciate it.

(For the record, I assumed it was a "he" - probably because the only other case I know of who resembles that kind of behavior happens to be a male.)

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree here with Janka. If grad students don't enjoy listening in on conversations among faculty maybe they need to go make their own blog elsewhere.