Grad School “Mentor”

One thing I haven’t found so far in my grad “career” is that person who you can run your research, your papers, or anything you have by and who will give you great, honest, critical advice and criticism. Really, the only person I get any of this from is my supervisor. Well, him, and any reviews I get on papers.

I meet with a research team weekly. And we all discuss our research – what we’re working on, what questions we have, etc. And it’s suppose to be, an environment where people will attempt to pick apart each others work. This is not actually a negative exercise. It’s instead a chance for people to get that initial round of criticism, and then to work as a group to improve whatever it is. Is there a better analogy, or story to explain some complicated concept? Does the experimental design potentially lead to unexpected behaviour or confusion for participants? How can we make things as clear as possible?

I really really like, actually love, the whole idea behind this. My problem, is that it doesn’t work in practice. Well, that’s not quite true. It doesn’t work for me in practice.

I’m a very opinionated person. Probably too opinionated at times. And I can also be a very critical person. I see things, and my mind immediately goes to work on how can things be done better. Because I know this about myself, I work hard to try and not be, well, me, in certain situations. I don’t want to overpower a conversation or make others feel like things have to be done my way.

What I wish, is that there was another person in my group who was also willing to pick things apart. Because when I present my research – even when I ask very specific questions looking for feedback – I generally get silence. And if I get feedback, it’s usually very basic (“oh there’s a typo on line 4”) or from my supervisor.

However, if I had this mythical person in my group who would pick apart my research, here’s the one thing I know I would do. They would be the first person I would try to run ideas past (should they have time). If I knew they could usually shred (with good reason) my work in these meetings, I’d have them look at it beforehand. Why? Because a) it gives me a chance to fix this and not derail an entire meeting to fix basic mistakes and b) it wouldn’t happen in front of a bunch of other people.

However, what I’ve noticed, is that very few people who have access to these types of resources (people) use them. Instead, either they really are that clueless that this is an option, or they take a sadomasochistic pleasure in having this happen in front of witnesses. I really don’t get this.

I do have one friend, who mentioned that after giving an really great and thorough review of another’s work, that person continued to approach her for advice. And they asked her to review other pieces of work. And I think that’s awesome – because there’s someone who realized what a value resource my friend could be. It’s not like my friend got nothing out of it – in a sense, she became a mentor and got to practice being in that role.

I envy that person. And I’m going to continue to look for who can be that person for me. Although, I’m starting to doubt I’m going to find it where I currently am. But, I’ll keep hoping.


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