Ph.D. advisers wield the power to create or destroy research careers
|November 4, 2016||Posted by News under Culture, News, Peer review, Science|
From Rochelle Poole at Science:
On the first day of my first field expedition, my adviser abruptly shifted all the field resources to a different topic that didn’t match my experience or career ambitions, ignoring our rigorous research plans—and my growing objections. Such a capricious change was unacceptable, I said, but my adviser countered my resistance. “I have the power to do this,” he said. “This is how science works; you are just naïve.” To some extent he was right: Ph.D. advisers wield the power to create or destroy research careers, and students typically have few—if any—ways to protect themselves from advisers who misuse this responsibility, especially during remote fieldwork. I was upset, but he was the field manager, so I put my head down, carried on with the work, and kept a log of his behavior. I assumed that we would talk sensibly and find a solution once we had returned home and enjoyed the Christmas break.
Instead, while I was away visiting family for the holiday, my adviser began sending me emails about my contract, copying heads of the department. He organized a disciplinary meeting with human resources (HR) for the morning of the day I returned to work, where he recommended that my contract be terminated. He said that I was too stupid to be one of his students and made bizarre false claims about my personal habits. The meeting ended when the HR manager cut him off and suggested that we meet another time. More.
Poole ended up abandoning her studies and becoming science communicator.
O’Leary for News: This is just a personal opinion and we must factor in personalities and circumstances: One looks forward to the PhD student in this position who plans a strategy, fights back, and gets a small army on her (or his) side, demanding an end to royal privilege in these matters.
Someone who, for example, would have suspected that Dr. PowerTrip Plus would not be spending Christmas brightening the lives of the poor in his community but rather scheming against people he doesn’t like. Knowing one’s opponent is half the battle.
Still, one wishes Powers well in her new career.
See also: Why young people should think hard about going into science. Maybe this atmosphere is one reason why, for a number of years, science media releases in biology were chock full of institutional patter in the form of unexamined Darwindrivel. Advancing a new idea, however correct, would just be too risky.
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