the veiled sibyl

I have heard and said more inanities, since you took me in tow, than in all the rest of my life.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

He said, she said

Remember that game "Telephone"? The one where you whisper something in someone's ear, then they pass it on to the next person, who passes it on to the next, etc., and the last person in the line tells you what they heard? You remember how it goes - the first person says, "I want to buy a puppy" and the thing the last person hears is "Purple monkey fishmonger."

So there's this university research lab, and a graduate student decides to do her Master's thesis research there. She works for about a year on a project that may or may not be a bit too advanced for her, considering her previous experience. She makes some progress, but she's not setting the world on fire. Unfortunately for her, she is following behind another grad student who, legitimately or not, is golden in the eyes of the supervising professor. This golden student worked in the same lab for many years prior to her entry in grad school, and therefore obviously has a certain amount of advantages over any new, fresh students who enter the lab.

The second grad student, as I said, works on her project, but simply cannot meet the demands placed on her by the supervising professor, who is comparing her directly to the golden student. In all fairness, the newer student is a bit of a pain - but who isn't?

The supervising professor, seeing that there may be a problem, takes the student aside and tells her that she needs to show "significant progress" within a set amount of time, or else she should find another professor within the department to work for. Not entirely unreasonable.

But here's where it gets stupid.

No one knows exactly what happened next because it was all third, fourth or fifth person information trickling down. But, it was all presented as VERY dramatic and life shattering.

The grad student is angered and irritated by the treatment she is getting at the hands of the supervising professor and the golden student (who is now a full-fledged employee in the lab.) She decides to leave the lab, as the supervising professor suggested. She goes to another lab and asks that professor if he can help her. He agrees, but the only problem is, this new prof is not in the same academic department as she is currently enrolled in. She wants to do her research in that department, but still be awarded her degree from the other department. This is a little odd, so the new prof tells her to speak to the Chairman of her original department. She does so. She comes back to the original lab and tells one of her coworkers that the Chairman was supportive of her idea and all she had to do was write up a research proposal and they would let her split her time between departments. She presents it as if everyone is entirely supportive and enthusiastic about the whole deal. She then clears out her desk and pretty much leaves the original lab.

A few days later, another employee of the first lab tells a second employee that the lab secretary told her that the grad student has been terminated by the original supervising professor. She says the secretary also told her that some mystery committee reviewed the student's research proposal and rejected it. The secretary says that the committee wanted to make sure that the Dean of the College didn't find out though, because he would have given her the approval because, as the employee said, "he is pro-Mexican". (The grad student is Hispanic.)

Then, this same employee overhears (from the secretary again) that the Dean of the College did find out, and sent an email to the supervising professor telling him that he HAD to take this student back. The secretary says that the supervising professor wrote back a very nasty email to the Dean informing him that the student had failed to meet expectations and was terminated, and that she was not allowed back into the laboratory for ANY reason, effective immediately. (The secretary presented this in a very dramatic manner.)

Here's what really happened.

1. Yes, the grad student tried to do her research outside the department. (This is odd as there are several professors in the original department. It seemed strange that she would go outside the department before inquiring within.)

2. The Chairman of the original department was skeptical and asked for a detailed research proposal. (The reason for the skepticsm, I'm sure was that the original department was Chemisty, and the second department was Family and Consumer Sciences Perhaps it's wrong, but there was some concern about the strength of the science in that department. Old school politics probably, but it is still a legitimate concern.)

3. The proposal apparently did not meet the standards set by the original department for Master's thesis-quality research. (The proposal was reviewed by the Chairman and several other Chemistry faculty.)

4. The Chairman politely told the student this, and suggested that she return to her original lab and try to work things out with the professor. This email was CC'ed to the original professor.

5. The original supervising professor sent an email to the Chairman describing his reasons for not wanting the student in the lab. A copy of this email was sent to the student. (The email was terse, but certainly not as dramatic or nasty as the secretary implied.)

6. The student replied politely and said she would seek another professor in the original department.

7. The Dean of the College was never involved.

Oh drama......



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