Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Students insulting professors

The title is not misleading.

A student comes to my office and is visibly upset since hir paper has been rejected. I take the following steps:

1) Offer my insight on why the paper was rejected.
2) Pointed out that one of the reviewers had a valid point
3) we should look at the valid point and try to revise the paper accordingly
4) we should do more experiments ( that I have advised you to do in the previous hundred meetings)

The students looks at me for sometimes and then offers hir insights.

a) The paper is fine but I am going to revise the grammar n stuff
b) the experiments that you are talking cannot be done (I know for sure that they can be)
c) the reviewers did not understand the paper and one of the reviewers was discriminatory towards me ( though the reviews were mixed and there was no indication atleast on paper that this has happened; plus the reviewer had a valid point)
d) I think that we should involve other researcher/professor who knows about research and can get me to write the paper that can be published (because of course you are no at par to this task).

I have heard points a,b,c before but the last point stuck to me. I have a PhD from a large R1 university, years of postdoc at a national lab and papers that are close to 30 in number in well-respected journals and conference proceedings.

I am sure that I know how to write up a paper that can get published. But you the student sure do not know how to even write a paragraph without making 10 grammar mistakes. Ofcourse is hir sight it is all my fault that I have not been able to make hir write a paper that is worth publishing despite spending enormous amount of time editing his papers to make it readable.

I am just wondering though is it only me or does this happen to everyone (atleast the junior faculty?) I have another colleague (female tenure track) who has experienced this sort of thing. So may be it is a junior faculty thing or this 40 something student is that naive (btw I am in my very early 30's)? but this has been weighing on me since yesterday. I know it shouldn't but I cant believe what I am hearing.


  1. I seem to always have one disrespectful student in any cohort (perhaps it's some sort of self-assembly phenomenon?) who thinks I don't know what I am doing. Americans have been overrepresented among my difficult students, because a) they think they write better than me because I am not a native speaker and b) they have been bred to think their opinion on everything automatically has weight just because, whereas no there is such a thing as not having a freakin' clue. Others just think they know best because they are smart dudes and I am just a dumb fat old woman like their dumb fat old aunt or something. The disrespect is usually not as blatant as the encounter with your student, but it's definitely there and causing a lot of friction. It's very hard working on papers with such students, it's like pulling teeth, because I can see they don't trust me and don't think I know what I am doing. It's gotten a little better now that I am older.

    Here's some related reading:

    Sorry, got carried away with links! :) Apparently I whinge a lot about students!

    When I first started, I advised a male student a couple of years older than me. We ended up parting ways because he could not see me as someone of authority and I couldn't get work done. This student you have sounds like a lot of trouble. The negative age differential is often a big issue, especially when combined with sexism or xenophobia issues.

    If I were you, I would sit the student down in the presence of a witness, and give them a stern talking-to that their attitude towards you is disrespectful, and that they are free to go work for someone else if they don't think you are an advisor from whom they have something to learn. Give them a deadline by which they have to decide if to leave or if they are willing to treat you with the respect with which the other students treat you. Actually, I would precede it with an email, which ought to be very matter of fact and to the point, ending in "I am happy to talk more in person if you have questions." Then schedule and meet with a witness. The key is to have a record showing that a) you actually addressed the issue with the student, b) you gave them a chance to address the issue in person, c) you allowed them a chance to correct the behavior, and d) gave a deadline when things would be revisited. That will cover your butt

    tl;dr It's personal, but it's definitely not just you. It happens a lot to women of all ages and to junior men as well. The older, grayer, and perhaps fatter you get, the more respect you will command! ;-)

  2. You will have to nip this behavior right in the bud. I know it is hard, but it will be much much harder if you let it run.

    I had a student complaining once to me about my "overly" high standards when deciding on whether a manuscript is ready for submission. As an evidence, he gave me an example of several badly written papers published in the journal we were targeting. I had to tell him that if he feels that way, he is free to leave and join other group as a new PhD student.

    That seems to have ended it.

  3. I didn't knew I had to be old and fat to get some respect. May be I should had just lived my life as is and would have gotten some respect that way.

    Anyway the student was in my office and kept arguing with me about a comparison to another technique (that he doesn't want to do it). I kept on telling him that you have to do it to make the paper acceptable for publication. He left in a hurry. Lets see how this ends