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.
I 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!)