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t_ruth

A cautionary tale

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Hi all.

As you all go about your applications, I thought I'd write with a recent cautionary tale from the other side of the table. This forum was a great help to me as I went through my grad school application process and hope that I can contribute to the knowledge here.

As a relatively new faculty member I am still excited to get grad applications--I start looking at them right away. I recently looked at one that listed areas of research interest that align with what I do, but did not list faculty members of interest. I wrote the applicant to ask for elaboration. I did not sign the email other than with my signature line which specifies my full name and my degrees (including PhD).

He wrote back promptly (which is good), but addressed me by my first name only (not Dr. Me) and said that he wanted to work with "Dr. Other Person" (male), because of his work (that is similar to mine).

This signals to me a few things: 1.) there are possible sexism issues, 2.) the student did not really read my web page or work, 3.) there are likely respect issues.

This was an otherwise fairly strong candidate that I was potentially interested in. No more. Perhaps he will still end up with Dr. Other Person, and it will be fine, but it is a small program, and it is always good to cultivate multiple mentoring relationships.

Perhaps those of you who are in the stage of applying and communicating with potential mentors can learn from this.

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Wow, that's a vivid example, and unfortunately something prevalent in academia but also in the field of education. Which is ironic because it's the field which studies the impact of sexism in educational settings, including higher ed. I'm male, and worked on a research project with a two PIs: a mid career female professor and a late career male professor. Both were happy to be referred by their first name, but countless times it would be (for example) Prof/Dr. Smith and Jane.

Your cautionary tale really highlights the importance of first impressions by applicants (and also that systematic bias can be fairly transparent).

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1 hour ago, bakalamba said:

... a mid career female professor and a late career male professor. Both were happy to be referred by their first name, but countless times it would be (for example) Prof/Dr. Smith and Jane.

This reminds me of a recent blog post I enjoyed: 

https://debuk.wordpress.com/2017/11/26/mind-the-respect-gap/

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1) I hope he happens to scroll this site daily, reads this and can't even swallow from embarrassment and regret. I would've killed (not really killed, but you get my point) to have been in his position and had someone from the department reach out to me.

2) As spiteful as it sounds, he does not sound like someone you would want in your program and I would let the other professors know of his arrogance (they can deal with him as they please but there's already enough arrogance to go around in Graduate programs). I've worked with too many arrogant people in graduate school to keep count and they drove everyone on staff and in-cohort CRAZY.  For instance, in my cohort, we had a girl who was blatantly racist and unapologetic in class and in practicum. She was eventually dismissed because the program wanted to save their image, but many of my classmates whom group-interviewed with her recalled her saying some problematic things even during the interview. Yet, our program directors ignored the warning signs because she was, in fact, very intelligent!

 In another case, I interned at a Psych hospital during my grad studies and on our team we had a resident doctor with ZERO ability to talk to the kids (WHOM HAVE SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESSES) without bursting into full arguments with them, consistently insulting other employees (employees he was working UNDER at that), and attempting to assume the role of head doctor (IN the head doctor's presence!). It ended with our team Psychiatrist speaking to the Director to have him removed from our unit. So repeat, if you are able to catch one of these people early on, DO SO. Too many arrogant, prejudiced jerks, whom have no ability to communicate in their field or consider others slip through the cracks just because they're pretty on paper and can hold it together for a 30 minute interview...and you've managed to catch one! Save the universe one last jerk and put the word out on him. There are plenty of other wonderful, well-rounded applicants in the sea.

Edited by TammyTams

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22 hours ago, TammyTams said:

2) As spiteful as it sounds, he does not sound like someone you would want in your program and I would let the other professors know of his arrogance (they can deal with him as they please but there's already enough arrogance to go around in Graduate programs).

I have talked to two of them about it, including Dr. Other Person, who said, not surprisingly to me, that he thought the candidate had been a better match for me anyway so hadn't been interested (it was nice to have validation on my original opinion regarding both the match and the potential sexism).

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UPDATE: I've written to four people who have not specified who they wanted to work with. Two guys so far have written back and addressed me by my first name and both said they wanted to work with "Dr. Other Guy" (though one said he'd work with me too, lol). The woman who wrote back properly addressed me as "Dr."

Get it together guys. Your biases are showing.

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On the plus side, I view this as "the system working". I drill into my students heads the importance of soft skills and being decent human beings, and it's nice to see confirmation that it actually matters. 

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Addressing you by your first name is stupid.

But it's not surprising that applicants want to work with more senior faculty than a recently hired assistant professor. This should be fairly obvious and has nothing to do with sexism. 

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Eh.... Wanting to work with senior faculty isn't always the smart move, especially when the junior faculties research much more closely aligns with your research. Most of the time the absolute best bet is to work with a recently hired assistant prof. They're going to be much more engaged in the work and their first students, and you'll graduate before they're up for tenure.

And to be honest, you should show strong interest in any faculty member reaching out to you, especially one in your area of interest. 

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Sometimes I'm happy that my native language has a formal and informal way of speaking and it is considered impolite to speak to anyone you don't know well/higher in the hierarchy/older or same age in an informal way unless they tell you so. I even talk to my grandma in a formal way and still feel uncomfy addressing my profs by their first name even though they tell me too lol. 

 

I've noticed this in class so many times though... and it still bothers me. But I have a feminazi in my group so the few guys who used to do this generally got verbally attacked (that and her raging war on evolutionary psychology or any sorta thing that proposes gender differences)

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14 hours ago, Eigen said:

Eh.... Wanting to work with senior faculty isn't always the smart move, especially when the junior faculties research much more closely aligns with your research. Most of the time the absolute best bet is to work with a recently hired assistant prof. They're going to be much more engaged in the work and their first students, and you'll graduate before they're up for tenure.

And to be honest, you should show strong interest in any faculty member reaching out to you, especially one in your area of interest. 

This is incredibly bad advice.

-  Why would you want to be mentored by someone who has no experience in that role, and has no track record of successfully mentoring students? High risk, low information.

-  New assistant professors are more likely to be especially concerned with getting tenure, not advising students to the best of their abilities

-  New assistant professors are more likely to move to another institution

-  New assistant professors have smaller professional networks

-  New assistant professors are more likely to have less of a (comprehensive) grasp of the broader field

-  New assistant professors are unlikely to have extensively published in your field

Are there some advantages? Sure...assistant profs have been on the job market more recently and can offer more current professionalization advice. They are also more likely to coauthor with grad students and be publishing at a faster rate. But neither of these benefits are required for a good dissertation chair, you can receive these benefits by building relationships with them outside of them being your adviser. That's also not to say that you can't have a good chair be an assistant professor. But to make the statement in bold is completely false and the behavior (sans the foolish addressing part) is completely rational from these applicants. 

Edited by Comparativist

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11 minutes ago, Comparativist said:

This is incredibly bad advice.

-  Why would you want to be mentored by someone who has no experience in that role, and has no track record of successfully mentoring students? High risk, low information.

-  New assistant professors are more likely to be especially concerned with getting tenure, not advising students to the best of their abilities

-  New assistant professors are more likely to move to another institution

-  New assistant professors have smaller professional networks

-  New assistant professors are more likely to have less of a (comprehensive) grasp of the broader field

-  New assistant professors are unlikely to have extensively published in your field

Are there some advantages? Sure...assistant profs have been on the job market more recently and can offer more current professionalization advice. They are also more likely to coauthor with grad students and be publishing at a faster rate. But neither of these benefits are required for a good dissertation chair, you can receive these benefits by building relationships with them outside of them being your adviser. That's also not to say that you can't have a good chair be an assistant professor. But to make the statement in bold is completely false and the behavior (sans the foolish addressing part) is completely rational from these applicants. 

I always advise my mentees to have two advisors: one senior and one junior. However, that's neither here nor there. It is about individual fit (both research and disposition). I've known terrible senior mentors and wonderful junior mentors (and vice-versa)--these decisions should be made case by case.

My post was more about the sexism and disrespect in dismissing female scholars (no matter how junior or senior) that is well-documented in academia. I suppose a secondary lesson could be: when someone reaches out to you, there might be a reason and you should probably take the time to at least read that person's website and maybe their work.

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2 hours ago, Comparativist said:

This is incredibly bad advice.

-  Why would you want to be mentored by someone who has no experience in that role, and has no track record of successfully mentoring students? High risk, low information.

-  New assistant professors are more likely to be especially concerned with getting tenure, not advising students to the best of their abilities

-  New assistant professors are more likely to move to another institution

-  New assistant professors have smaller professional networks

-  New assistant professors are more likely to have less of a (comprehensive) grasp of the broader field

-  New assistant professors are unlikely to have extensively published in your field

Are there some advantages? Sure...assistant profs have been on the job market more recently and can offer more current professionalization advice. They are also more likely to coauthor with grad students and be publishing at a faster rate. But neither of these benefits are required for a good dissertation chair, you can receive these benefits by building relationships with them outside of them being your adviser. That's also not to say that you can't have a good chair be an assistant professor. But to make the statement in bold is completely false and the behavior (sans the foolish addressing part) is completely rational from these applicants. 

I think that "incredibly bad advice" is far too strong of a statement. There are advantages to having junior mentors and to having senior mentors, and really like t_ruth says, a student should have a good mixture of both. I just really don't see why sticking with the senior person is always (or more often) the right answer, instead of saying that it depends on (personal) fit and interests and the individuals involved. Some junior people are rising stars and certainly have name-recognition and a good network. Some senior people are very inactive (or worse, hated or disregarded, which as an undergrad or beginning grad student you may not even know). Some junior people are wonderful mentors and are willing to invest in learning how to be a good advisor, and some senior people are notoriously terrible advisors. (And vice-versa, obviously.) Most junior people are much more willing to learn and adjust and go the extra mile than senior people, in my experience. Most junior people will be more familiar with cutting-edge research and new methods, whereas it's not unheard of for a senior person to decide that they really enjoyed some theory from the 80s and that's what they're going to continue doing. They can get away with that, but their students have more of a hard time, despite the boost of the famous advisor. 

For me, working with a combination of junior people and senior people was the best solution. At the end of the day, junior people need to get experience, otherwise you'll just be pushing the problem past tenure but you'll still have a set of unexperienced profs and a set of famous and apparently busy-with-tons-of-advising profs.* That's not going to be a reasonable way for a department to operate. But either way, disrespecting someone who reaches out to you is outright silly, and that seems to be a gendered property, which is the point of this thread and which I wholeheartedly agree with. 

*As an aside, as a junior person who's just beginning to advise, these early experiences will most likely shape my advising style for years to come. I'm sure I make mistakes, but I also put a lot more into it than my colleagues. I see this for students who I co-advise in how much input they get, how fast they get it, and eventually who they come to with their questions. The senior people definitely have a lot to contribute, but so do I. 

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You should always have senior mentors, but I generally encourage my students to choose a junior faculty for a committee chair if they have the option. You can have *bad* mentors that are junior or senior, but when you're picking a committee chair or primary advisor, my experience biases towards the better experience with the junior.

3 hours ago, Comparativist said:

This is incredibly bad advice.

-  Why would you want to be mentored by someone who has no experience in that role, and has no track record of successfully mentoring students? High risk, low information.

-  New assistant professors are more likely to be especially concerned with getting tenure, not advising students to the best of their abilities

-  New assistant professors are more likely to move to another institution

-  New assistant professors have smaller professional networks

-  New assistant professors are more likely to have less of a (comprehensive) grasp of the broader field

-  New assistant professors are unlikely to have extensively published in your field

Are there some advantages? Sure...assistant profs have been on the job market more recently and can offer more current professionalization advice. They are also more likely to coauthor with grad students and be publishing at a faster rate. But neither of these benefits are required for a good dissertation chair, you can receive these benefits by building relationships with them outside of them being your adviser. That's also not to say that you can't have a good chair be an assistant professor. But to make the statement in bold is completely false and the behavior (sans the foolish addressing part) is completely rational from these applicants. 

Taking this point by point:

  • No junior faculty member at an R1 has no experience as a mentor. You don't get to that position if you don't. 
  • Generally, getting tenure at most schools will involve successfully graduating students. For senior faculty, they don't really care if you finish or not- it's incredibly important that you finish successfully for a junior faculty member. 
  • It's unlikely that a junior faculty member is going to move, but my statement qualified "new" assistant professors- the first likely move would be at tenure, by which you'll likely be either graduated or OK to stay on your own at the old institution. 
  • New professors don't necessarily have smaller networks- and they have a lot more sway with the networks they do have, imo. Older faculty can, if they socialize well, keep extensive networks- but they can also fall into the rut of just associating with the same old group while new faculty are aggressively and broadly networking.
  • No faculty member, old or new, is going to have a poor grasp of the broader field. 
  • Similarly, you aren't going to get a faculty position at an R1 without a strong track record for (or potential for) publishing. Newer faculty are much more dependent on getting work out, which is why they're good to work with. Senior faculty can pick and choose what they want to work on, and can afford to take years perfecting a single work- new faculty can't. 

Anyway, you seem to have an interesting view that in no way matches my experience with reality- you also seem quite arrogant in your assumptions of junior faculty, most of whom are exceptionally successful in their field or they wouldn't be there. There's a reason many senior faculty say they would not be competitive for the positions they're currently hiring among new faculty.

As said, overall fit with the mentor is the most important property, but taking out obvious red flags (interpersonal issues, major funding problems) and aligning research areas (both are fields you want to work with), I think the better bet is usually going to be the junior faculty member. It might be a bit of a higher risk/reward proposition, but down the road being one of the first graduates of a well-known faculty member will continue to serve you very well as you progress through your career, much more so than being one of many graduates they've had over the years. 

And the negatives of that position balance out by finding experienced senior faculty members to act as mentors- they can provide the insight and experience a young committee chair may lack.

Most of us give advice based on our personal experiences- we don't do multiple PhDs to be able to comment on parallel experiences with different areas. But in the programs I've been in, this has held true- as with the career trajectory of myself and my colleagues, so it's advice I continue to give to my students. 

Regardless, as mentioned, fit is the primary factor- choosing a senior person who's a worse fit for your research interests over a junior person who's a better fit (as is the case in the instances discussed in this thread) just because the person is senior isn't a great idea.

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t_ruth,

I am so sorry to hear that this happened! I just got an interview offer from a female professor and I made sure to explicitly show her the same level of respect I show any professor regardless of their sex. I am extremely thrilled and excited to have gotten this opportunity and I think it would be absolutely crazy to not show a professor respect. Maybe that was just my upbringing, but I am always extremely cordial when talking with professors. Even if we are partner scholars, they are still to be respected. There are professors at my undergraduate institution that I became very close friends with and I still call them Dr. Name.

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On 11/30/2017 at 11:01 AM, t_ruth said:

Hi all.

As you all go about your applications, I thought I'd write with a recent cautionary tale from the other side of the table. This forum was a great help to me as I went through my grad school application process and hope that I can contribute to the knowledge here.

As a relatively new faculty member I am still excited to get grad applications--I start looking at them right away. I recently looked at one that listed areas of research interest that align with what I do, but did not list faculty members of interest. I wrote the applicant to ask for elaboration. I did not sign the email other than with my signature line which specifies my full name and my degrees (including PhD).

He wrote back promptly (which is good), but addressed me by my first name only (not Dr. Me) and said that he wanted to work with "Dr. Other Person" (male), because of his work (that is similar to mine).

This signals to me a few things: 1.) there are possible sexism issues, 2.) the student did not really read my web page or work, 3.) there are likely respect issues.

This was an otherwise fairly strong candidate that I was potentially interested in. No more. Perhaps he will still end up with Dr. Other Person, and it will be fine, but it is a small program, and it is always good to cultivate multiple mentoring relationships.

Perhaps those of you who are in the stage of applying and communicating with potential mentors can learn from this.

Would "Professor Person" be acceptable as well? I had undergrad professors who did not like being called Dr. so I usually use the Professor title.

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47 minutes ago, Aromando said:

Would "Professor Person" be acceptable as well? I had undergrad professors who did not like being called Dr. so I usually use the Professor title.

That seems respectful. The point of the story was the difference in respect paid to the two named faculty...

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9 minutes ago, t_ruth said:

That seems respectful. The point of the story was the difference in respect paid to the two named faculty...

Yeah I understand. I just wanted to confirm that "Professor" is just as respectful. It does not matter to me whether the individual is male or female. 

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I remember before applying to all of my graduate programs I specifically contacted the professors I wanted to work with to let them know I was applying and if they were taking graduate students. But I always addressed them as Dr. (last name), even when they said first name was okay. This also gave me a chance to see if they were the kind of academic that is too busy all the time or would actually reply to potential students. This process REALLY helped me filter out some programs I thought were great, but either had no space for me or the faculty never responded. I actually ended up making an email template where I would insert the professors name, and a section about how my undergraduate research specifically related to theirs; so it wasn't just a mass email. It also ended up giving me the opportunity to talk to them about NSF GRFP research ideas, and at two schools I was offered early summer research if accepted! I ended up taking one of them and am incredibly happy where I am.
 

On 11/30/2017 at 9:01 AM, t_ruth said:

Hi all.

As you all go about your applications, I thought I'd write with a recent cautionary tale from the other side of the table. This forum was a great help to me as I went through my grad school application process and hope that I can contribute to the knowledge here.

As a relatively new faculty member I am still excited to get grad applications--I start looking at them right away. I recently looked at one that listed areas of research interest that align with what I do, but did not list faculty members of interest. I wrote the applicant to ask for elaboration. I did not sign the email other than with my signature line which specifies my full name and my degrees (including PhD).

He wrote back promptly (which is good), but addressed me by my first name only (not Dr. Me) and said that he wanted to work with "Dr. Other Person" (male), because of his work (that is similar to mine).

This signals to me a few things: 1.) there are possible sexism issues, 2.) the student did not really read my web page or work, 3.) there are likely respect issues.

This was an otherwise fairly strong candidate that I was potentially interested in. No more. Perhaps he will still end up with Dr. Other Person, and it will be fine, but it is a small program, and it is always good to cultivate multiple mentoring relationships.

Perhaps those of you who are in the stage of applying and communicating with potential mentors can learn from this.

Very sorry to hear that you experienced this though. As a male graduate student in STEM with a female advisor in a predominately male field, it is sad to see what she has to put up with sometimes. I'm very proud to say I work with one of the best chemical physicists in the nation, and everyone always starts with "What's his name?". :(

Edited by Phancy_Physicist

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15 minutes ago, Phancy_Physicist said:

Very sorry to hear that you experienced this though. As a male graduate student in STEM with a female advisor in a predominately male field, it is sad to see what she has to put up with sometimes. I'm very proud to say I work with one of the best chemical physicists in the nation, and everyone always starts with "What's his name?". :(

This sort of thing is very common, even out of STEM fields.
Glad you found a great match for your work. It sounds like you will graduate and become an ally to other female academics--much needed!

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