*Warning: Navel gazing ahead. And pissiness.*
I should really not review other people's papers when I am pissed for some other reason. Because I should probably not write that the paper ought not make it into the journal they submitted to because it's nothing but fashionable wishful thinking. So these authors will have to wait a few more days for the review until I am cooler.
I had a pretty unpleasant altercation with a relatively new student. New to my group, switched from another one. He's been doing great so far and I thought things were going smoothly, except for an occasional tongue-in-cheek smartypants comment about how certain things are done in the group, which I let slide as they were sufficiently couched and there were always other students around so I didn't want to make a big stink.
Now, my group has a number of high performance desktops and a cluster, and the same operating system and compiler for our main programming language on all of them. Desktops also have several standard programs that we use for non-coding parts of work, such as data processing, graphics, text, presentations, etc. Uniformity makes it easier to develop the code and obtain data, as you debug, compile, and run across different machines that share the same platform and have the same compiler. As additional computing power, students can access one another's computers when they (the computers) are otherwise idle, which is also helped by uniformity. And last but not least, uniformity helps me with paying for licenses and getting upgrades for everyone. These constraints hold for group desktops; of course, students use whatever platform and software they want on their own personal computers, I don't interfere there.
A few months ago, I told the student in question to install another operating system (one that he likes very much) on one of the machines, so we could test a specialized program that does not run on our platform. Yesterday I found out he had actually abandoned his original desktop and is instead using the one with a different OS as his primary computer. When I emailed him that this was not the deal and briefly explained why it was important that the platforms be uniform, he responded with a petulant outburst basically indicating that what we are using was stupid, our compiler was stupid, he didn't like the original platform and if I insisted on him switching back then he would just use his own personal computer for all of his work. *pout*
I have been pissed all day about this. One of my biggest issues when dealing with people is that I get really, really upset (more than average for a given magnitude of the "aggravant") and it takes me a very long time to calm down (longer than average). An incident like this one easily derails me for a day, maybe more. I know all the things you are supposed to tell yourself, that it doesn't matter (which it doesn't), that I don't control other people's actions but only my own (I know that too), that I am in control my own reactions (um, doesn't seem so)... None of it helps when I am drowning in adrenaline.
I showed his email to my husband, the world's calmest person who doesn't react to 90% of the things that tick me off, so he would tell me if I was imagining it or if the student was really being a dick. Yes, big-time dickishness has been diagnosed by Hub as well.
There are many students with whom I never have issues like this one. We get along well -- they recognize that they need to talk to me about things that arise and I am usually pretty flexible when I am kept in the loop. I want the group members to be happy and productive. But, I hate being kept in the dark about issues that are important for our work. For instance, in my first year on the tenure track, a student just vanished (with family) nearly a week before the 4th of July, he was completely unreachable. As a result, I could not get a hold of some of his data and we missed a conference deadline. All he needed to tell me was that he would be out of town, I would not have objected, but would have likely asked that he do his part for the abstract before leaving. After this incident, I explicitly tell each student that they need to tell me if they are going to be out of town, so I am not blindsided. Although I am perfectly sure there are many students who would do this anyway, without being prompted.
Most students actually behave professionally and don't cause me headaches or ulcers. Maybe I should write about them more, as they are the one who make this job very enjoyable. Instead, I seem to always write only about those who send me for Advil or Tums... Sucker for punishment, I am.
This is not the first time I have had this difficulty with students, this know-it-all aspect accompanied by a real nasty attitude. Obviously, I can't discuss anything like this with my colleagues because it is a sign of weakness, like I am not in control. So it's between me, Hub, and the www. This inability to share woes openly with peers is probably a topic for a whole other post...
So I talked with my husband today why there are these students with nasty, very disrespectful attitudes. I wondered how it is that I seem to them, because they feel they can talk to me like that -- do they think I am too nice, do they think I am stupid, or what? Hub said that perhaps it's the fact that I am a woman. That they subconsciously think it's OK (or at least not particularly bad) to be disrespectful to a woman in a way they would never be to a male advisor, because that's the behavior they have seen often and that they emulate, and that the fact that I am usually nice and friendly with my students enforces this view of a harmless female (or do they think I am their mother so they can behave like brats?)
I certainly know that I have faced plenty of young guys full of themselves in my years of teaching high school and undergrads, and you would think I would get more immune to their attitude as I get older... And I am, I but when it's within my research group, the sting is particularly painful as it feels like betrayal. I have been trying to decide why I got so upset. I think I am personally hurt, because I think I have been extra nice and helpful during this student's transition to my group, and I was trying to be very supportive and encouraging, and then I get this snide outburst.
My biggest challenge after an incident like this one is getting over it. Right now, I don't want to see the student at all (he has sent a couple of very apologetic emails to my "are you freakin' kidding me?" initial response). I will eventually calm down, but it's safe to say that our relationship has soured in my eyes, perhaps for good. Still, I have to go on advising him -- he's smart and thorough and has the potential to do very well, and I am his second advisor (you'd think he would be sensitive to that fact as well) so everyone should tread lightly -- and I have to find a way to be OK with that. I am better about finding a way back to a workable situation than I was before, but it's still not easy.