Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Asking for Help. Graduate Student and Post-Doc. It not "internalization of the aggressor," but taking care of your students as you wish you had been cared for.

The research literature suggests that a graduate advisor or a postdoctoral advisor can make a big difference in the training of a student and beginning researcher. Some advisors are proactive, others less available, others impossible.

But you have to ask for help, be persistent, and not be sidelined. If your advisor proves unhelpful, you need to find another, pronto! If you don't understand something, or need to learn something which you believe everyone knows or that should be easy to learn, but it is not for you, find someone to help you. If people put you off, keep looking.

Some advisors take it upon themselves to train people, others may leave it to postdocs to do the training of the student. But postdocs are so involved with their own survival and careers, they may be of little use. You have to persist. You need to make lists of what you don't understand, make sure you are not a tool in a research program, but are being educated.

Usually there is lots more to learn after you have completed your coursework and exams. And that is true after your PhD and even later. Your advisor should in effect be demanding, making sure you have learned. But many practice sink-or-swim, figuring it was good enough for them, so it will be good enough for you ("internalization of the aggressor"). Nonsense.

If you are stuck in a bad place, it's almost always better for the long term to get out of it if you can find another landing place, even at a different institution. The cost of not doing so may well impact your future career, and your sense of your competence.

Of course, you could decide this is not for you. That's a different question. Here we are concerned with the education and training and discipline you can learn from an experienced teacher. And it is not a matter of independence from your advisor--it's a matter of having a supportive person watching out for you.

Some are independent souls, able to do it all on their own. I know of very few.

As for advisors--you have to be proactive, work with your students and postdocs, be specific and demanding, and be open to mismatching and mistaken placements. It's simple: would you want you children being treated as you treat your students?

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