Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The not so big meeting

Now that my advisor has secured an obscene amount of funding for the next five years, he's all about paper productivity. Over the past month, he's introduced to me four new ideas for "side projects" that he'd like me to add to my work load. Each would take about 6 weeks or more to complete. While I appreciate and understand that he is a young professor and needs both money and papers to achieve tenure (as well as to enjoy his role as a PI), I'm on a strict personal time line to defend in late spring/early summer of next year, and I simply can't take on all of these tasks and meet my goal. So, I knew we were in for a big talk. I had to tell him that I couldn't (wouldn't?) do all these extra projects. And I was really nervous about it.

It seems that the advisor/advisee relationship is really poorly defined. My advisor pays my stipend and spends (some) time advising me in my research, so I feel a responsibility to work on projects related to his grants. I have also willingly completed a couple of side projects, as well as taken on a variety of additional responsibilities for the betterment of the lab in general. However, I'm a student, not an employee, which means my primary responsibility is to gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence to become a (mostly) independent researcher, and to proceed to the next step on my career path. And none of these side projects offer significant learning for me, only a reasonable gain for my advisor. So, who gets to decide what I do and don't do? And who gets to decide when I've achieved enough to move to the next level? How would I respond if I told my advisor I'm ready to wrap things up and start writing, and he told me he doesn't agree?

We met today, and he brought up his most recent idea for a side project, and rightly suggested that when he'd mentioned it earlier I had sent out a "bad vibe." What was the deal? So, I took a deep breath, and reminded him of conversations we'd had in the past about my wish to defend this spring/summer and said that I feel "very strongly" about achieving this goal. I admitted that I have a lot of work left on my primary project, and so I don't feel that I can't take on all of his proposed extra projects and still defend on time. He looked like he was about to argue, until I reminded him that I had already agreed to take on two of his proposed projects. As soon as I mentioned this he immediately relaxed. "Yes," he said, "you should really focus on project B. That one is the most important. Ok. I had forgotten about that. Looks like we're on the same page then." And that was it. All the other arguments I'd spent time developing and prioritizing didn't even need to be brought up. We're on the same page. I'll be out by next summer. Really? Just like that? I can hardly believe it.

1 comment:

Candid Engineer said...

Sometimes advisors forget everything they've already asked you to do. And sometimes they get really excited about stuff, focusing on how cool it is instead of how feasible it is.

Good for you for having the talk with him, I'm glad he was reasonable about it.