10 April 2017

Grad student stops meeting supervisor, who doesn’t notice

Two years ago, Eleftherios Diamandis wrote a horrible piece in Science Careers that glorified overwork. This was widely criticized. And for this, he now gets... a platform at Nature?

Yes, Diamandis just published a new piece in a glamour magazine, in which he freely confesses to being a negligent grad student mentor. He writes (my emphasis):

I remember remarking on the slow progress of one PhD student's research project at our second review meeting (typically held six months after their project launch). Three months later, I repeated my concerns, which were mainly about how slowly the student was learning essential techniques such as mass spectrometry, the workhorse of our lab. But instead of addressing those concerns, the student stopped scheduling meetings. I was too busy to notice for another six months.

I should be surprised by Diamandis’s lack of self-awareness, but he’s already amply demonstrated his obliviousness. I guess I’m surprised that when he boasted about all the time he spent away from his family and the hours and hours and hours of working, I somehow thought that he might actually care enough about his work to be competent at it.

Grad students are not loose change that you can lose in a couch cushion, for crying out loud.

When Diamandis suggests the student do a master’s degree:

I was horrified when my suggestion elicited tears. The student and I decided to give the programme another try, with the proviso that we would hold mandatory monthly meetings. I also ensured that the student could get technical support from my lab manager. After three years, the student published in a good journal, and 18 months and two research papers later, was ready to write a thesis.

This guy is surprised that a student cries after literally forgetting that the student did not meet with him. And why is technical support not available to grad students all the time?

He may publish a lot of papers (and he does), but this event marks him as an incompetent supervisor. Diamandis cares only about one person: Diamandis.

Hat tip to Justin Kiggins and Meghan Duffy.

Additional: I’d forgotten than Diamandis had another Nature piece last year, pontificating about when he would retire. I think one of the more revealing moments in that piece is when he talks about how much he loves the h-index as a measure of productivity. It explains why he can take the time to write all these career opinion pieces but forget his student.

He measures his importance by his publication record, his h-index, and the Impact Factor of the journals he publishes in. Those are things he values. His trainees, not so much.

Given what he’s written, particularly the newest piece, a lot of people might suggest he move the clock on his retirement up quite a bit. Like, “You can retire any time now. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”

Update, 11 April 2017. Edge for Scholars has summarized  some of the reaction from social media to Diamandis’s article.

More update, 11 April 2017: I changed the title of this post. It was originally, “Grad student goes missing and supervisor doesn’t notice.” That was not a correct characterization of the situation. It is not like the student vanished, nobody knew where he was, and a missing persons report should have been filed. The student was there, just not making progress.

A couple of other issues raised by Diamandis’s post that have come up.

First, I noted that this article shows how disrespected master’s degrees are. It is seen as a failure, not an achievement. This is a bit of a slap to the many faculty and students who work hard at master’s degrees, whether they do not want, or are not able, to do doctoral work.

Second, Kevin Wright noted that this is a sign of the inefficiency of large labs. Someone making no progress would not escape notice in a small lab. A small lab could not afford to have a student doing very little for half a year.

Related posts

Glorifying overworking: another self-inflicted crisis in Science Careers

External links

A growing phobia
The question I hate the most
Glam Journals Whiff Again: Nature Shares Advice from Neglectful Mentor

No comments: