It’s not you, it’s me

My thesis is due. In 20 days. We’re not talking due to my advisor for sign off…no. It’s due to the department, ready for binding, with all three of my committee member signatures on it, all spelling errors fixed, and printed on super expensive paper. 20 days from today. I gave my advisor a copy of my thesis on Sept. 8. Last Monday he said he hadn’t read it yet and wanted a revised copy by last Friday. Done. Nine 0’clock on Sunday he emails me some revisions which say things like “I hate this section. Rewrite it” or “I don’t agree with your conclusions. See me and rewrite your discussion. Make these changes by tomorrow.” So I tried. I tried really really hard to make the changes. But my desktop computer, you know, the one that I’ve been using for the past years to store my data, write my thesis drafts and print everything, has decided that it doesn’t want to allow me to use Word, or any other text editor for that matter. So Dean (whose birthday it was by the way, and he was a tit bit tipsy) gave me his windows laptop–which decided it didn’t want to open anything from my version (or my advisor’s) version of word correctly, so all the formatting was off, none of the 20 figures were present, and nothing was italicized. So I tried using my Mac—which decided that Dean’s lap top had the right idea, but wanted to one-up it by not having any of the correct fonts installed and making sure I couldn’t change the margins (which were 3 inches). So I tried on Dean’s desktop. He has a linux box, or something of that nature. It didn’t even TRY to open my document…it just gave me a blank page. So I tried Ben’s computer. It apparently had talked with Dean’s desktop and they decided to show a united front. Now it’s been 2 hours, I work in the morning, and I still haven’t been able to make any changes to my thesis. You know that feeling when there’s a ginormous tumor growing in your chest that then reaches into your brain stem and uses your hypothalamus as a punching bag? Yeah, I had that felling.

Of course, if you don’t know my advisor, then you won’t understand. Let me tell you about him. Dr. Jeff Honda is the only entomologist at San Jose State University. He had just be hired when I interviewed for graduate school. Everyone there said that he was great and they all loved him. When I actually entered graduate school a year later, however, all their tunes had changed. Apparently, that “good teacher, nice guy, great mentor” thing he had going on during his interviews was all a front and he’s really just a great big bastard. I’ve learned over the past three quarters of a decade that Jeff takes offense very easily, holds a grudge for years on end, is willing to ruin people’s careers for retarded reasons, and can’t handle any type of opposition without blowing up. Oh, and if he’s in a bad mood for any reason what-so-ever, he’s perfectly willing to take it out on whomever is nearest (and he’s often in a bad mood). About half way through my master’s program, I thought about changing advisors. Jeff has this habit of not helping with any project or advising on any school stuff, or really knowing what is going on with his students at all. He says it’s because he wants self starters and people who can work independently. He doesn’t–he wants students who magically know what to do and then can read his mind and do it his way. Anyhow, I was tired of just making shit up then being yelled at when I didn’t make the right shit up. So I emailed some entomologists at universities and asked what they looked for in a PhD student. The one thing in common? They really liked seeing a great recommendation from their master’s advisor, and that recommendation carried even more weight if that master’s advisor was an entomologist. I can understand–as an advisor you’re taking on an unknown student and promising to mentor and teach her for some ungodly amount of time. You want to have as much guarantee that the student will work hard and do what is necessary to make it worth your while. But what I also took from this was that I’d have a much better chance of getting into an entomology program if my master’s advisor was an entomologist. Jeff is the only one at SJSU. So, I stayed with him (despite all the advise to the contrary from friends and family). I tried to look at it as a lesson in how to deal with really difficult people. I know lots of scientists, and some of them are big old jerk offs. I’m gonna have to deal with them eventually, so I may as well learn how now, right? So I was still Jeff’s student, just struggling with a badly designed experiment and sketchy support at best. Then comes along another student-let’s call her Laurie. Laurie didn’t know how to deal with big egoed men who weren’t good at interpersonal relationships. Laurie got into many, many fights with Jeff over her thesis work. After every fight, Jeff would hold a grudge for a long, long time, and not give Laurie any advice, or sign any paperwork Laurie needed signed. Laurie went to the Dean of biology to register a complaint. A warranted complaint. One that was long overdue. Jeff got called into a meeting. Jeff left said meeting very, very angry. None of us got anything signed off for an entire semester because of this meeting. None of us even talked to him about anything but how horrible Laurie was for the entire semester. I ended up taking art and aerobics that semester because I had no idea what else I was supposed to do, and I needed my advisor’s signature for any of the higher level science classes. Laurie decided she was going to change advisors. She did. Good for Laurie! However, since she did her research under Jeff’s supervision in Jeff’s lab, she needed Jeff’s permission to use any of the data she recorded–it’s technically Jeff’s data, and any paper or thesis that results from the data has to have Jeff’s name on it. Can you guess what Jeff did? Yep, he refused permission. Laurie had been working on describing a new species of microscopic wasp that Jeff collected on one of his trips to Japan, and Jeff withdrew any permission she had to use any of the drawings, pictures or specimens she had been working on for the past 3 1/2 years. Laurie tried for a year and a half to fight him (with many angry phone calls and emails–after each one, someone still in the lab would get screwed over somehow. I got it when I submitted a poster I was presenting at a conference for Jeff to approve, and Jeff didn’t notice that the authorship took up 2 lines…so after my long full name and title, his name was on the second line. He freaked out, I got a 3 page email in all caps about how horrible I was and how I was trying to cheat him out of his rightful publication, I received a formal letter from the department reprimanding me for leaving off his name, I got called into the Dean’s office to discuss the matter, and Jeff took the keys to the museum, where all my data was stored, away from me. This was because he misread the poster. That took forever to get cleared up). Anyhow, Jeff never signed off of Laurie’s project, and after 4 years of work, she had to start anew. She hasn’t graduated yet; I think it’s because Jeff keeps threatening to show up at her defense. God, what a jerk. So that is what happens when you piss this man off. Now you know.

Back to my story. Jeff didn’t read my thesis when I gave it to him. I said nothing. I’ve actually learned a rather sneaky technique–since I know so damn many professors in the department (I’ve taught for all of them), when I see them in the elevator, I talk about my thesis, I mention how busy Jeff is and how I don’t want to burden him with anything else but I just gave him my thesis and I hope he gets around to reading it, then I mention that he’s a great mentor and I’m lucky to be working with him. Then I look stressed and tired and I leave (that last bit takes very little acting…I am stressed and tired). If you don’t know, professors are the biggest gossips. So when I say this stuff, even to random Dr. Bob in botany, it’ll get back to Jeff via the grapevine. It’s not as direct as talking to him myself (which is pretty much guaranteed to make him never, ever read my thesis) or going to the Dean of the department (which is guaranteed to make it so I will never graduate), but it works. This is how I got him to read find me in the hallway and ask for a thesis revision last week. I, of course, mentioned how my thesis has changed since I sent it to him and I’m glad he didn’t read the first because I hadn’t finished all the stats. This got him to promise to read this version over the weekend. Ass kissing takes forever.

So this is why I was so damn stressed about not being able to make the revisions on Sunday night–it’s taken me months on end to get him to the point where he’s willing to read my thesis at all, let alone give me revisions to do with some sort of guidance. If I don’t follow his directions, he will get all pissy and not work with me for a few weeks as punishment. He’ll be “too busy.” Yeah, too busy trying to make me cry. He’s done it before. So I freak out. And then I can’t sleep, because I’m freaking out. Horrible. I wake up after almost 3 hours sleep just before my alarm goes off yesterday and try and figure out how the hell I’m gonna keep him on my good side.

He came into my office hours yesterday (I work for 12 hours on Mondays…I use my office hours to eat breakfast. Not the best time to get my stress level rising). I printed out his revisions from my office computer, and made some vague comment about making the changes on my laptop. Luckily, he believed me. He then when over all the changes he wanted made. Good! At least I know a bit more about it now. There were some major and minor things–and several sentences he just read incorrectly, then tried to revise based on his incorrect readings, then got more confused, so he just underlined them and said “this is very confusing! Rewrite!” He reiterated this sentiment during our meeting yesterday. I nodded and promised to fix them. I’ll fix them by just taking away the revisions. Done! At the end of the meeting, he asks for the updated version by Friday. I counter with “what about Wednesday?” He says “Well, if you want to do it that way…” I nod eagerly. You see, once Jeff decides that the thesis is good enough, I still have to send it to 2 other committee members who will hate it and make me make changes. All this in 20 days.

So, what I’m trying to say with this long-winded tirade, is that I have 20 days to play politics and get some damn good writing done before I lose my graduation standing. I’m not sure if I’m gonna make it, but I’m gonna work my ass of and try. So please, don’t be offended if you are one of the many, many people who have sent me emails that I haven’t responded to, or the hundreds of friends who just want to say “hi” which I ignore. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ll be much better in just under a month, I swear. Come over for International Day of Baking Goodness, November 22. I still like you, I do! It’s just I may murder someone very soon, and I don’t want it to be you. See you in 20 days,



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