Thursday, October 23, 2008

Need to Know Basis

To: seminarspeaker1@otherU.edu
From: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
Subject: your visit
Cc: FSP

Dear [First Name of Professor @ Another U],

Thank you for agreeing to give a department seminar on DATE at FSPU. Your host will be FSP, and she will be arranging the schedule during your visit. We look forward to your talk and your visit.

Sincerely,

GradStudentOrganizer


To: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
From: FSP
Subject: Re: your visit

GradStudentOrganizer,

This is the first I've heard of the visit by SeminarSpeaker1. Fortunately I will be here on the date you arranged for me to host him/her, but in the future please check with me first about available dates just to make sure I will be here. I appreciate your efforts organizing the schedule and I know it can be difficult getting every seminar slot filled, but I think it will save time in the end if you first check with faculty hosts about possible dates.

Thanks,

FSP

no reply from GradStudentOrganizer; but then a few days later:

To: seminarspeaker2@otherU2.edu
From: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
Subject: your visit
Cc: FSP

Dear [First Name of Another Professor @ Another U],

Thank you for agreeing to give a department seminar on ANOTHER DATE at FSPU. Your host will be FSP, and she will be arranging the schedule for your visit. We look forward to your talk and your visit.

Sincerely,

GradStudentOrganizer


To: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
From: FSP
Subject: Re: your visit

GradStudentOrganizer,

I hope you got my email the other day asking you to consult with me first before finalizing dates for seminar speakers I am hosting. I will be doing some traveling this term, and if you invite someone to visit on a date I will be away, this just complicates your organizational efforts because it may involve rescheduling etc. Please check with me before you arrange a visit for someone I am hosting.

Thanks,

FSP

no reply from GradStudentOrganizer; but then a few weeks later:

To: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
From: administrative_assistant@FSPU.edu
Subject: schedule change
Cc: FSP

GradStudentOrganizer,

I got an email from one of the seminar speakers being hosted by FSP saying that he had discussed with you changing the date of his visit, but I never heard if you did make this change. The original plan was for DATE, but I am wondering if you changed this to ANOTHER DATE. Has this been finalized? I need to know so I can print the correct schedule.

Thanks,

AdministrativeAssistant


To: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
From: FSP
Subject: Re: schedule change

GradStudentOrganizer,

According to my calendar, you arranged a visit by VISITOR for DATE, but the recent email from Administrative Assistant suggests that you have been discussing an alternative date. This is the first I've heard about a possible change in the visit date. These are things that the faculty host really needs to know about. We should discuss the schedule to make sure that the visitors I am hosting are visiting when I am actually here on campus.

Thanks,

FSP

To: FSP
From: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
Subject: seminar schedule

The VISITOR is coming on YET ANOTHER DATE.

GradStudentOrganizer


To: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
From: FSP
Subject: Re: seminar schedule

GradStudentOrganizer,

At what point are you going to ask me if I am available to host the visitor on that date? I have asked you several times to consult with me about the schedule, but you keep arranging visits without first finding out if I will even be on campus and able to host the visitors on the dates you arrange. I used to be the seminar organizer years ago, so I know it is a complicated job, but you need to find out not only when the visitor can come but when the faculty host is available. You need both pieces of information before finalizing visitor dates.

Thanks,
FSP


To: FSP
From: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
Subject: Re: Re: seminar schedule

If you do not like any of the date I arranged for your visitor you should email them yourself and suggest other dates. Your visitor emailed me on RECENT DATE about possibly switching dates, which is not enough time to send out another wave of invites with the hope that one person can give a talk on one particular date. Thats not fair to all of those invites, and that's not fair to me. That is why I suggested swapping with A LOCAL SPEAKER, as this is the best I can do. I have done my best to accommodate the speakers, which is first and foremost the top priority.

GradStudentOrganizer

***************************

I seldom see this student -- his office is not in the same building as mine -- so it's not easy to talk to him in person and sort all this out. I have not replied to his last email, as I really don't think it is a good idea for a professor to send flaming angry email to a student, however rude the student has been. But I'm not ready to be nice about this (yet).

I also think it is quite sad that a senior PhD student is unable to handle several pieces of information at once: the dates set aside for seminar speakers, the dates visitors can come, and the dates faculty can host visitors. Maybe I should draw a Venn Diagram for the student to help him visualize this.

39 comments:

rpg said...

Dear GradStudentOrganizer
From FSP

I have been called out of the country on urgent business on DATE, ANOTHER DATE and YET ANOTHER DATE.
I sincerely hope it all works out for you.

FSP

The_Myth said...

Wait.

Did Clueless just say "I have done my best to accommodate the speakers, which is first and foremost the top priority"?

Oh, but playing nice with the faculty of your department *isn't* a top priority?

Like rpg above suggests, it might be time to just say "no" to this particular service obligation this term.

You have tenure. No one can make you do it.

Let Clueless figure out that being a jerk doesn't get rewarded with flexibility on your part.

Anonymous said...

why is graduate student coordinating seminar invitations? This is usually done by seminar committee composed of faculty with the help of admin assistant for trivial stuff like scheduling.

Is your department paying grad students to perform administrative tasks?

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

This sad sack of a student is going to be in a mess of trouble when it comes time to schedule a defense date. The thesis committee can presumably look forward to a series of emails announcing the date and time, without any preamble. Good luck graduating, crazy!

Anonymous said...

@rpg - that's exactly the answer I was going to suggest, too!

Kea said...

LOL!! And going by the first email, he's not a very good seminar organiser, anyway....

Anonymous said...

This is insane! if you are the host, possible dates must be checked with you before an invite is sent out. The student's solution "Do it yourself then" is not the way out at all; he seems to have completely missed understanding what the organizer is really expected to do. Please do not waste any effort being NICE about this!

MM

Anonymous said...

Thank you for brightening my morning!

I have a bad feeling this is similar to how such things are organized at my school...

Short Geologist said...

That sort of thing drives me nuts. How hard is it, in this day of e-mail, to say "I am thinking of holding a seminar on days x, y, or z because those are the days I can find a room available of the correct size. If you do not respond within three days (or whatever, depending on your time frame) I will assume that you are NOT available and will cross you off the list" and then cc EVERYBODY?

You did the best you could. I would wash my hands of it.

amy said...

Un-friggin-believable! Reading this got me very riled up, perhaps because it's an extreme example of something I encounter frequently: the assumption some (many) people make that I'm just supposed to be "around," ready to drop everything and help out with anything at any time and with no notice. My male colleagues get this much less frequently than I do. Last week my dept. head announced he was going out of town so I would just have to take over this big, all-day recruiting event two days later (and he had known about his trip for months, so he could have informed me much earlier). He simply assumed I wouldn't have anything else to do that day. Since I don't have tenure yet, I feel very wary about saying no to stuff like this, especially when the "request" comes from someone higher up. If people would even ask nicely instead of just demanding and assuming I'll comply, that would make it less maddening.

So please, FSP, please do something even more assertive than your excellent emails to this jerk of a student. Talk to him in person and tell him exactly what the problem is with his behavior. If he's unresponsive, talk to his PI or the dept. chair. And then tell us about it, so I can live vicariously through your triumph!

James said...

Have you considered the possibility that he is intentionally doing a bad job? It's usually the most effective way to get out of something.

Anonymous said...

Oh, ugh - I can completely understand how you feel. Do you know this student's grad advisor? If you were on friendly terms with the advisor, would it be helpful to outline the issues you faced in dealing with this student? I am not one for ratting out people, but in this case, the student seems to have serious issues with time management, etiquette, etc. Maybe a friendly chat with his advisor on the importance of improving these skills (especially if student hopes to get a job anytime in the future) might be helpful.

TW Andrews said...

what rpg said.

Tuff Cookie said...

Holy crap, you're considering being nice at any point in this mess? It shows how marvelously patient you are that you didn't say right off that since you hadn't been asked in the first place whether you would be willing to host a speaker, you refused to go any further with the process. At this point, I think you'd be completely justified in ripping him a new one.

I like the urgent business reply, though. Or you could use this one:

To: GradStudentOrganizer
From: FSP

Unfortunately, I have been called away to be a guest speaker at out-of-state institutions on DATE, ANOTHER DATE and YET ANOTHER DATE. As those institutions have done their best to accommodate me, I'm sure you'll have no problem arranging a different host for YOUR visitor.

Cheers!

FSP

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's crazy. It may be worth pointing out to the organizer that part of accomodating the speakers is helping them arrange their trips for a time when the faculty they want to interact with will be available. If I were told that Professor Smith was going to be my host, and then discovered that Professor Smith wasn't even in town during my visit, I would not be pleased.

It would also be interesting to know how he works with other faculty hosts. Does he treat everybody poorly, or does he feel that only certain faculty deserve his respect?

lylebot said...

I hope there will be a future post where we get to hear about this student trying to schedule his or her dissertation defense. I imagine it will start like this:

To: committeemember1, committeemember2, committeemember3, committeemember4
From: GradStudentOrganizer

Committee,
I have scheduled my defense for DATE TWO WEEKS FROM NOW THAT ONLY WORKS FOR MY ADVISOR. See you there.

GSO

Anonymous said...

I agree with rpg. This is easy to deal with. Just tell the grad student organizer that you are unavailable to introduce the speaker and to find someone else.

It is not surprising that a grad student would be clueless and inept at communication in large organizations. Where would they get practice relating to people in such an environment during their previous student life? I'm glad to see you approach this with compassion and a spirit of teaching them life skills instead of pique.

chall said...

OMG, what an arrogant person. Sorry to say but this sentence made me blow a fuse : "Thats not fair to all of those invites, and that's not fair to me."

come again? "not fair to me"? How about you are orginanizing and should not pretend to be four years old.

Sorry, I have nothing good in advice but to buy heaps of buckets of patience. And go with rpg on this one.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said
"why is graduate student coordinating seminar invitations? This is usually done by seminar committee composed of faculty with the help of admin assistant for trivial stuff like scheduling.

Is your department paying grad students to perform administrative tasks?"


It is commmon in many departments for the students to do the inviting. I've heard from several faculty that you often get more yes's when the students do the picking and inviting. The departmental seminars are really for the students so why should they not have a hand in who is invited? Should they always be forced to attend seminars by people who are the buddies of the faculty? Nah, you get better student attendance and more interest when the students have a say in it.

Regardless, this kid sounds like an idiot and the faculty host should always be cc'ed on any email. It's not that hard.

Fernando Pereira said...

This type of behavior where someone assumes your availability for an event without asking first is best nipped in the bud. From long experience, I would have replied to the first message as follows:

To: gradstudentorganizer@FSPU.edu
CC: gradstudentboss@FSPU.edu
From: FSP
Subject: Re: your visit

GradStudentOrganizer,

I have prior commitments for DATE. It is inconsiderate to assume that someone will be available for an event before asking them. I will be happy to host a few speakers PROVIDED that the dates are agreed to in advance by all concerned. That's how a competent seminar organizer does their job.

FSP

If this hurts the student's tender feelings, it's not too soon for him/her to learn some manners without suffering serious consequences.

Alex said...

1) What the hell? I don't care what else is going on here, this guy is completely clueless!

2) That said, who was responsible for showing him the ropes of how to run a seminar? It may be that somebody said to him "The faculty are pretty good about helping out with hosting duties, so just keep them informed" and he WAY misinterpreted that. Still not excusable (some things should just be obvious) but it would explain a lot. If a student is going to be in charge of something important the person putting that student in charge really should make the process and professional courtesy considerations very explicit.

2b) What kind of department puts students in charge of seminars? I've been in departments where students get to help with seminars, and time slots are set aside for students to meet with seminar speakers without faculty around, but putting a student in charge of coordinating the schedules of a bunch of faculty (visitor included) just seems bizarre to me. This should be handled either by a professor on the seminar committee or a department secretary who understands the schedules, personalities, and other considerations.

3) Is this student American? Although I don't know of any culture where this would be excusable, perhaps in cultures with a different view of hospitality this guy would merely be deemed rather inconsiderate, whereas here this is just plain not acceptable.

4) FSP, merely sending a few polite but firm emails was far less than I would have done. After the second mistake I would have been in the office of this student's advisor, or in the office of whoever put him in charge of seminars.

5) Most importantly, what the hell?

jliedl said...

I love rpg's excellent suggestion. I would certainly recuse myself from any future hosting as long as GradStudentOrganizer is involved in this project!

Female Science Professor said...

I disagree. I want to host scientific visitors. Some of them are my colleagues, some of them are people I don't know well but want to get to know better. I want my research group to meet other people in the field, and I want the visitors to see all the interesting things my students/postdocs and I are doing. This is much more important than playing games with an immature grad student who is clearly in over his head with helping organize the visitor schedule (a job he volunteered for). The specific situation needs dealing with, of course, but I am not going to refuse to host visitors because of it.

Anonymous said...

In our department a faculty member organizes seminars. Not always the same one, we all rotate through this duty. It's useful especially if you'd like to invite certain people that you could collaborate with. Generally graduate students meet for lunch with the seminar speaker and attend the seminar, but are not involved in inviting the speakers and arranging dates of travel. I definitely think it's a bad idea to put a graduate student in charge with this. All these being said, this particular graduate student is disrespectful and his attitude should be made known to his research adviser and Department Chair.

Odyssey said...

I'm with FSP on this. And there's another wrinkle that makes it difficult to simply tell the GSO to bugger off. The visiting speakers have already been told that FSP will be the host. How do you get out of that without making FSP's department look bad? Appearances count - these speakers could one day be reviewing grants that come out of FSP's department (or even from FSP herself).

Anonymous said...

Why shouldn't graduate students be involved with organizing or inviting the seminar speakers? One thing I think faculty forget is that really ultimately the seminars are for the students, not for the faculty.

Regardless, this kid is an idiot. I can understand him not cc'ing FSP on the first email but to continue to disregard her emails and requests is just plain rude/inconsiderate/disrespectful.

usagibrian said...

This is far past the point that the student's supervisor needs to be told this student is screwing up very badly (assuming the supervisor is not a jerk as well, in which case it needs to go to the supervisor's supervisor). There is no excuse for this.

I also think it is quite sad that a senior PhD student is unable to handle several pieces of information at once... Maybe I should draw a Venn Diagram for the student to help him visualize this.

I think that's quite sad that the staff/faculty member in charge of this hasn't already 1) created a handbook to guide the student employee through what is (as you correctly observe) a complex process, and 2) is doing such an EPIC FAIL job of supervision (this situation aside, can you imagine the impact on the student's future if Prof. Troll was supposed to be the host?).

Cerulean Bill said...

The GSO is a jerk, first class. You have been more than accomodating.

The_Myth said...

FSP said:

"I disagree. I want to host scientific visitors. Some of them are my colleagues, some of them are people I don't know well but want to get to know better. I want my research group to meet other people in the field, and I want the visitors to see all the interesting things my students/postdocs and I are doing. This is much more important than playing games with an immature grad student who is clearly in over his head with helping organize the visitor schedule (a job he volunteered for). The specific situation needs dealing with, of course, but I am not going to refuse to host visitors because of it.

Then you might need to get him un-volunteered.

rpg said...

There's a different between playing games and pointing out that someone needs to learn a clue or six. We all like having, and hosting, visiting speakers, for many reasons. But this kid is Just Not Getting It. Short of having a word with him, in the presence of his advisor, what else can you do?

People like that grow up to be just the sort of arsehole that you (and I, and the other readers here) rail against.

Female Science Professor said...

That's fine -- I don't disagree with your point -- but refusing to host visitors is not the way to deal with the situation.

Anonymous said...

FSP --

I'm an MSP who frequently reads your blog. I often enjoy your insight and advice, so I hope you'll possibly consider some of mine in this case.

1) E-mail is not the best way to go here. When you didn't get a response from GSO, it might have been time to call GSO in for a meeting or visit GSO yourself, even if he's in a different building. Certainly after his second e-mail, it was time to make a clear statement of your requirements in a face-to-face manner. It would have ended up saving time and anguish overall.

2) When I read your blog, I often find myself thinking that you're too nice -- certainly much nicer than I am, particularly with students. I find surprisingly often students, both grads and undergrads, need to be reminded or even explained what the power structure is. This is one of those cases -- the student simply needs to be told this IS the way things will be done, at least when you are hosting, or [you will find a way to remove him from the job, you won't host, or whatever other threat you intend to follow through on]. Obviously, it might help if you have his advisor or other professors on your side, so you can make a more credible threat.

I'm not suggesting being mean about it, but your e-mails are filled with "pleases" and "shoulds". That's fine for the first e-mail, but after that, I simply think you're being too nice. Perhaps the fact that you're an FSP is part of the student's cluelessness, but I'd think this regardless of whether you were a MSP or FSP.

To be clear, none of this excuses the student, who is indeed clueless, or is meant to suggest that you have any blame for his inexplicable behavior.

Anonymous said...

"Why shouldn't graduate students be involved with organizing or inviting the seminar speakers? One thing I think faculty forget is that really ultimately the seminars are for the students, not for the faculty."

I'm the one who said in our department one faculty member organizes the seminars every semester. I forgot to mention that graduate students are requested to send nominations for people they would like to invite. I guess they can do the picking, even the inviting, but unless you are very careful how you select the students for this job, it is better to have a faculty member/committee/administrative assistant work out the details.

Unlike a previous responder, I would think the student is american. Usually foreigners have more respect for hierarchy and don't complain that much about their rights/feelings being hurt (as in "it's not fair to me"--rolleyes). That's my experience with grad students so far. International students are on average more respectful and less cocky. There is more at stake for them, and they can't afford to aggravate a faculty member.

rpg said...

I guess what I was saying could be seen as suggesting that you refuse to host visitors.

neurowoman said...

Yes, GSO is clueless, but a grad students who has never been involved in organizing something like this don't know what the ettiquette is, and have to be taught. I think it's fine to have grad students invite speakers, but need clear supervision from a faculty member or administrator. Our department has a written policy guide on this now.

Failing to respond to emails and the tone of the last one is unacceptable, however, and the student should be called to the carpet. You can't send a flaming email, but you can say, "Be in my office xpm Xday" and do it in person.

EliRabett said...

Starting from the observation that no one could be so clueless, gso is trying to jerk you around for whatever reason. You might ask others to find out whether this is generic or specific

Ms.PhD said...

rpg - funny response. But I can see why FSP wants to meet with these people.

I'm baffled by this kid. Seems to me you have several options.

1) Call or go over there and yell at him yourself. I agree with MSP- you're either being too nice, too lazy, or too scared of confrontation. Get over it. If this is how you handle students, do you let faculty walk all over you too?

My guess is that he either won't care what you say, or will be genuinely surprised that he fucked up so badly. But more likely the former, and I wouldn't be too surprised if he either doesn't get along with any faculty, or particularly disrespects women faculty.

2) Call his advisor and raise hell, including demanding that the kid show up in your office to apologize. Of course this assumes that his advisor also respects women faculty (and thinks of you as a colleague), which may not be the case.

3) Find out who told him this is how it's done, and write up explicit instructions for future students who act as seminar organizers.

Everywhere I've been, the only reason faculty EVER host anyone is when they invite the guest themselves (e.g. when it's their friend or collaborator).

So in a way, I do wonder why you didn't start going through the administrative assistant yourself if you're really so worried about it, since that's clearly the one person who is actually communicating with everyone?

To all those commenters who say it's stupid for students to be doing this, you're just wrong. Students are frequently hosts ALL BY THEMSELVES, even if it wasn't planned that way originally. Faculty go out of town and someone has to fill in. Believe it or not, graduate students ARE ADULTS TOO. (Unfortunately, like this one, some are also assholes).

Many places have an entire student-invited seminar series. And I daresay when I did it, I did a damn good job, too.

It's not too hard to see how embarrassed student would be if Dr.Visitor showed up looking for you and found you were out of town. My guess is that either the Visitor Profs have been acting like prima donnas about picking dates, and he's already tired of that, and he didn't understand that all profs are Traveling Profs. Maybe his own advisor doesn't travel at all?

Either way, this is a teachable moment for him, and I'm kind of surprised you let it go on this long.

Anonymous said...

A framework for inviting speakers will be helpful to both clueless grad students and harried faculty, who nonetheless enjoy meeting with visitors. We have a student-run committee and set possible dates 8-12 months in advance. The students themselves serve as hosts, working with admin staff to organize faculty visits, etc.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the anon msp - ask him to swing by your office hours. he clearly isn't capable of processing information by email.