Dr. Money Machine hurts my feelings.

This is a post I’ve been working on for quite… a… while…  I had this idea about what I wanted to say, but every time I finished, the whole thing sounded so angry, even though angry wasn’t really my intent.

Not my intent, but through the writing and re-writing process, I realized that I actually was still pretty angry.  And I had to find not only the right words, but also a new frame of reference.  I think I finally found both– you can let me know if you agree.

Once upon a time, in a land much like Hogwarts (when Dolores Umbridge was in charge), I defended my dissertation (that’s like getting your N.E.W.T.s).  (Which do you prefer– references to Harry Potter or Jurassic Park?  I can do either quite well…)  After 6 long years, I was finally given the green light to write… and I wrote my heart out.  Two weeks before my defense, I turned in my dissertation and I was proud of what I wrote.  I poured my heart and soul into that treatise on gonorrhea and chlamydia in mouse vaginas (sounds like it might be a joke, but it’s not) and I was actually kind of excited to hand it in.

Two weeks later, my mom, dad, grandma, sister, and brother-in-law flew into town and my fiance, now husband, brought them onto the base for my big day.  (The Uniformed Services University is on a naval base in Maryland.)  First was my public defense.  The room was packed, my family and friends were all there, I was wearing an awesome dress and killer heels, and I rocked it.  (I love making PowerPoints, because there is something seriously wrong with me, and I think it was the best I’ve ever, ever made.  It even had jokes!!  JOKES!)  It was awesome and I felt great.

Thirty minutes later, my family was safely tucked away with my labmates and friends and I was headed to my private defense.  I was nervous, of course, but not nearly as nervous as I had been for my public.  Everyone who had already been through this process had told me what it was like– “This is the point where they finally respect you and treat you like a peer…”  “It’s really just like a conversation, they won’t grill you like they did in quals…”  “You know more about your project than anyone else, it’ll be a piece of cake…”

Except that for me, it really wasn’t like that.  This is the point where I usually get super angry, so I’ll spare you the details, but one of my committee members went totally off the rails and got mean.  It was not constructive and I am undoubtedly biased, but I really don’t think it was warranted.

And it hurt.  Many, many tears were shed.  Even more angry words were hurled in his general direction.  And I have spent much of the last two years feeling like the whole dang thing was unforgivably unfair.

Oy.  The power of words to hurt!

But, then again, they were just words.  And as much as words can hurt, I can choose how much power I give them to hurt me.  So, let’s evaluate…

Was my thesis well-written?  YES.

Am I proud of what I wrote?  YES.

Am I proud of what I accomplished during those 6 years?  YES.

Am I now employed as a professional scientific research writer with a successful track record of publications and funded grant applications?  YES again.

know these things about myself.  And I know that those ugly words came from a hateful man going through a rough time in his unpleasant life.  And I am sorry for him.

I am sorry that he is incapable of engaging the students that he agrees to teach and mentor in a productive way.  I am sorry that he doesn’t know the pleasure of a positive approach to discourse.  I am sorry that he is so angry.

It was unfortunate that he chose to take his anger out on me on my big day.  But I forgive him, because ultimately, it has absolutely no bearing on the presentation I gave, the dissertation I wrote, or my ability to function as a scientist in the real world… and maybe he needed that outlet.  I don’t know.  My hope for him is that he can find a better way.

My hope for those who are, like me, unlucky enough to have to deal with this man at pivotal points in their scientific career is that they don’t internalize his words.  And that if they accidentally do, they get over it quickly.  (More quickly than I did anyway.)



…My hope for those who have already had the distinct displeasure of dealing with this man is that you will recognize the insanely clever title of this post and it will make you laugh.  And if that still doesn’t make it better, just remember that he never had the chance to catch your tears in a Dixie cup to sip on later.  (Thanks to DW for that visual– love it still!)

11 thoughts on “Dr. Money Machine hurts my feelings.

  1. Hi Rachel! I remember that day so very well and how proud I was of you. I know how proud Seth, mom, Abby, Stu, grandma and all your friends were of you then too! I hope you are able to put this behind you. I know how much more I seem to focus on the one bad comment rather than the 99 good comments. It’s not easy.

    I love you so very much!

    Here’s something you might like (http://workingwithinsight.wordpress.com/2007/03/13/two-monks-and-a-woman-story/):

    A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her.

    The senior monk carried this woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing.

    They both were walking and senior monk noticed that his junior was suddenly silent and enquired “Is something the matter, you seem very upset?”

    The junior monk replied, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

    The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the bank, however, you seem to be carrying her still.”

    1. Thanks, Dad! I like the monk story… although, I failed to put the lady down on the bank of the river. Nothing wrong with needing a few extra steps to let her go 😉

  2. I loved your presentation and jokes – still remember the Aaron Rodgers joke at the end! : )
    I wish you didn’t have to go through that in your private defense. His motivations for his comments may have even been directed at your advisor and not you, that’s how messed up his line of thinking gets. As you know I speak from experience! There is a LOT of stuff I put behind me, and a lot of things I don’t even remember. I really think it’s a survival mechanism in the form of PTSD. I literally blocked out years 3 and 4, and only remember a few things if someone brings something up. So yes, I know the scars, I have them too. I was able to put all of that behind me through family, friends, and a new/awesome/supportive work environment. As I hopefully continue my success, it just gets better.
    So, just remember – you did amazing work on your thesis and are doing great work now! Your success and support from family/friends/co- workers will help you to put the anger behind you. Feel free to email any time, I can tell you a TONS more. : )

    1. Thanks so much, Christina! I honestly don’t know how you did it– I suppose a lapse in memory as a result of PTSD may actually be helpful in this case. You were such an inspiration to me in grad school (no one had cleaner data than you!!) and I’m so glad that you are so happy now!!! <3

      1. Thanks! Means a lot. I always thought you had great data!

        I also had an opportunity to stand up to him…finally. You’ll get there. Time and some other realizations really help. : )

  3. Oh, Rachel. I’m so sorry you had such a rough experience for your defense. I agree with Christina–I bet it was all actually directed at your adviser, and you were just collateral damage. That doesn’t make it right, but I hope it helps you move past it.

    I’m like you, in that I have a lot of anger regarding my last job. I love my current job, but I am still so _mad_ at the way my stint in corporate America went down. I should take a lesson from your Dad’s story and let it go… Easier said than done, though! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lara… a friend of mine recently referred to it as a “crucible experience” and I love that! How true!! Perhaps that is your corporate experience? My dad is so wise, isn’t he? Sigh… someday I will get there!

  4. I am so stealing that Dixie cup thing 😉

    Funny I never knew how truly bad all that was- I’m sorry. I bet there are things that came out of that that you might not even know about- that kind of hatred and unfairness can sometimes lead to change even if its quiet change from others. I bet some people would not have been able to handle with the grace you have here- and grace and anger can def go together sometimes. Thanks for sharing your words- they are real and wise.

    1. The Dixie cup thing was totally Doug’s… you were in the lab at the same time as him, right? He did a little pantomime of drinking tears from a tiny cup with it, made me laugh so hard.

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