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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Reasons To Love My Former Ph.D. Advisor, #572 [20050211|08:48]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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I was working on the last paper from my Ph.D. thesis on my flight home to London. (Please note, I graduated in September 2002 and have made repeated attempts to get the paper published by returning to San Diego and working on it in lab. Unpaid.) I ran across the following comment and had to put it down to watch episodes of Samurai Jack before I imploded.

I wrote: However, the resolution of the photoelectron spectra at higher photon energies precludes a definitive assignment for the A(2A') ← X(1A') transition.

He wrote: {last sentence particularly lame}

What I wanted to write in response: "I don't understand. How is it lame? Is it the content? Is it that I've ended the paragraph on an uncertain note? Is it the stilted sound of passive third-person academic writing? Is this sentence hurting America? Because if it is, let me know. I don't want to hurt America."

What I actually wrote: "Could you please be more specific?"
linkReply

Comments:
From: tdj
2005-02-11 09:14 (UTC)
My former advisor liked to circle large portions of my text with the following advice written in the margin: "rewrite".
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-02-11 10:14 (UTC)
Did you ever try waiting a week or two and then sending those sections back unchanged? I did that a couple of times when I thought a suggestion was particularly stupid or likely to be reversed (which, I'd learned from my first paper, my advisor frequently did). I'd just delete his comment in the new version and send it back. I don't think he ever noticed.
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[User Picture]From: kittenhotep
2005-02-11 11:49 (UTC)
Weird coinkydinks - i got this in an email just as I read your comment:


It is rumoured that the BBC originally rejected the Proton, claiming that it did not portray the modern computer age correctly. Acorn countered this by submitting the Proton again, this time with the function keys painted a bright orange, and no other changes. It was accepted.


Who puts these people in charge? Gah. Brilliant.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-02-12 10:22 (UTC)
They do! It's a fabulous self-perpetuating cycle. Asshattery begets asshattery, yes yes.
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From: tdj
2005-02-11 19:00 (UTC)
So it wasn't just me, then! That's a relief. I did that all the time. My advisor had once torn apart and completely re-organized one of my presentations, then two weeks later dressed me down during a group meeting practice for the organization she had proposed, suggesting rather archly in front of the group that it would make more sense to put the slides in an order suspiciously similar to my original plan.

After that, my first act upon receiving comments was to separate them into "whimsical and poorly thought out" and "marginally useful" piles.
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[User Picture]From: culturedgoat
2005-02-11 09:20 (UTC)
Well, I like it - it leaves you in suspense... "no definitive assignment" - the mystery remains!

xxx
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-02-11 10:02 (UTC)
There is no certainty. Only repeatability. That's science all over, buddy.
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[User Picture]From: culturedgoat
2005-02-11 10:12 (UTC)
Heck, that's also my love life, in a nutshell - I know how that little A(2A') ← X(1A') transition feels...

xxx
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-02-11 11:47 (UTC)
Hey, you've got repeatability, that counts for something. At least your love life doesn't belong in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.
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From: joegotamuffin
2005-02-11 16:53 (UTC)


Well, I’m no physicist. But, I know what I like.


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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-02-12 10:25 (UTC)
And that's...cheese!

Right?
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From: joegotamuffin
2005-02-12 22:23 (UTC)
who doesn't like cheese?
all things are good, in moderation.
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[User Picture]From: paris_of_priam
2005-02-12 00:34 (UTC)
Reason 572 for MY supervisor:

I collected a bunch of data in 2001-2002, and wrote it up into a manuscript in Feb 2002. Gave it to my supervisor, he covered it in red ink, microdisecting every sentence, and swapping verbs and pronouns around etc. Said 'it's not good enough to publish, do it again.' So I re-wrote it. Same thing happened again. (Lots of comments about 'last sentence is particularly lame' comments etc.)

To cut a long story short, over the next three years of hell I wrote him NINE manuscripts, none of which were good enough. Then, in december 2004, between the 8th and 9th draft, the inevitable happened and we got the shit kicked out of us by somebody who published a paper that scooped us completely. He blamed me for writing too slow, and I blamed him for being too picky, and never being satisfied with what I wrote. (Personally, I don't think I have a problem with the 'scientific writing style' because I've already written three papers that have been published, albeit in a different field, but honestly, if you're that convinced that I can't write a decent paper after nine drafts, then write the f£cking thing yourself. Or...as any rational professor would have done...write the f£cking thing yourself after THREE drafts, unless of course you've got all the time in the world, and actually ENJOY getting scooped.)

So anyway, after we get scooped, and I give him the 9th draft he decides to write it himself. He gave me HIS 'version' of the paper yesterday, and honestly....HONESTLY...all biases aside, the draft HE wrote is worse than at least FIVE of the drafts I gave him! And at this point I'm thinking "you know, if you ONLY think that a manuscript is publishable if it's written in YOUR WORDS (ie-the way YOU SPEAK), then why don't you just insist on writing all the papers for the lab, instead of getting the students to do it? (There are actually two people in the lab that can write manuscripts that he thinks are okay on the first or second pass, but that's only because they've been in his lab for 16 years and 10 years respectively, and by now they've learned how to speak and write like he does. But honestly, it's just a matter of style, and style is not something that's a barrier to publication. I mean, obviously sometimes it can be if you do stupid things like overstating your case, or your conclusions; or (in the reverse case) watering down your good points so much that it doesn't sound interesting anymore, but I don't have those problems. The kinds of changes he kept on knit-picking about were things like substituting the word 'thus' for 'therefore,' and the word 'paucity' for 'scarcity.' Things that are PURELY a matter of style and tone.)

I was pretty surprised when I saw the manuscript that he'd written, because, honestly, the only differences were in writing style, and (again, trying to be very honest) I don't think he made any of the points as clearly as I did; confused several issues; went off on insignificant tangents several times, and didn't do a very good job. I'm pretty sure that if I'd given HIM this EXACT MANUSCRIPT that HE has just written, he would have said it wasn't good enough.

Anyway, I'm sorry that's happening to you, but I guess it's universal.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-02-12 11:56 (UTC)
Yeah, it's pretty much what's going to happen when you get a bunch of smart, arrogant, stubborn people together and tell them to cooperate in a situation where there's a definite imbalance of power between them. I distinctly remember my advisor telling mole6e23 and I that he preferred my writing style over his, and what a crappy thing I thought that was to do to both of us. Besides, it doesn't make any difference, because I have to go through just as many revisions for just as many ludicrulously petty corrections as anyone else in the group.

It also sound like your advisor may have something personal against you. Nine completely revised manuscripts, while not abnormal, would indicate that to me. I know my old advisor has a serious problem with one of the grad students in our group, and they're having a lot of trouble getting his first paper published. He's got material for at least four. He's second author on the manuscript I'm working on. He's supposed to graduate in June. Er.
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