Friday, November 20, 2009

Hypocrisy is an ugly beast

I was very angry yesterday because my Ph.D. advisor let me down yet again. We do this dance every time I need a letter of recommendation. He says he'll write it, then he goes into a phone and email black hole until the day of the deadline (or after). I don't understand what's so hard about responding to someone's email and saying "I did see your email, and I will get back to you by ---." Is it really more effective to completely ignore the person, thereby stressing them out?

I should add that I try to keep my emails to a minimum and I'm very courteous and grateful in them. The last thing I want to do is piss him off. But how can he be too busy to meet a deadline he agreed to... and then I find out he's off camping? Everyone needs a break, but shouldn't you finish up your obligations beforehand?

So with a recent deadline for a fellowship, he as usual stopped picking up his phone and answering his emails. Then an hour before the website stops accepting submissions, he finally picked up his phone. (I always know he's done with a letter when he finally stops avoiding calls.) He said he was done and had submitted it. Except I had just called the fellowship office (shamefacedly) to ask if he had submitted, and they hadn't received anything from him. It turns out he had submitted a letter for something else by accident... and the deadline for that something was still a month off! So we went back to our little game until he finally submitted just before the deadline.

The several days leading up to the deadline were so stressful for me. I had worked hard to submit all my materials on time, all my other recommenders had submitted on time, and all I had was this missing letter from my advisor who was ignoring me completely. I think one thing that finally helped nudge his hand was when I called on a few friends who are still in his lab to go to his office and bug him in person. (The in person reminders were the only way I used to be able to get him to do anything when I was his student.)

I should also add that he once sent me a letter one week after a deadline. Luckily in that case it was something I could mail in and I had accounted for his usual irresponsible quirk by giving him a deadline that was a bit earlier than the actual. So I still managed to get the application in by overnighting it.

I think the thing that bothers me most is that he used to complain so much when I was a graduate student about how his students always leave him with unfinished papers and then he never hears back and has to do all the work, or else it's like pulling teeth to get them to respond. I have always been prompt to respond to his emails when we were publishing together. I even respond promptly to his current students who still periodically email me with questions about the apparatus I built. Hypocrisy is an ugly beast.

1 comment:

  1. I've talked to others with similar problems- what a stressful situation to be put in time and time again. You would think that advisors recognize when they accept students into their group that they will probably be writing letters for that student for the rest of his or her life. Keep going with the artifically early deadlines whenever you can get away with it.