I think the title says it all about how I feel about last week and its meetings. I feel like I was mugged and beaten, and the signs should show all over my body. In reality, all the damage is to the soul, all invisible, except for those who look closely.
I know I’ll heal. I knew this might hurt. I knew I might get nowhere. This feels like nowhere. Or marginal progress towards anywhere.
So what happened? First, I hope I don’t have to justify to anyone here why I involved the faculty ombudsperson. After all the misunderstandings I’ve had with the department over my job duties, when it appears that now we have a new one, I went to her and asked her to attend the meetings with me. This was, I think, a good thing overall. Documentation!
One conversation I needed to have was with the Principal Investigator (PI) of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant. I am the co-Principal Investigator. I always thought that made me co-responsible for the program. I’ve got a lot of good qualifications and successes with undergraduates and research, and it was logical that’s why I was asked to be involved with the program.
I’ve heard third hand reports of a meeting the PI had with the department chair discussing my position with the REU and credit I should get for the position. Some of what I heard did not match with my understanding. It’s not fair to just get angry. You have to ask the other person their side.
Perhaps he was offended that the ombudsperson was there. Perhaps I offended him. I don’t know. But when I told him I was hearing stories about this conversation and wanted to know what was going on directly from him, he replied with a hostile, “That was a private conversation and I will not discuss it.” Private my ass when I’ve heard about it third hand. But that was certainly a conversation stopper, or hook, and I was hooked and off balance from it.
Things didn’t improve from there. The conversation felt hostile to me. The ombudsperson felt that the PI was apathetic and ambivalent about the REU, rather than hostile. In the course of the conversation, I discovered my duties during the year consisted of nothing more than
- Assembling the applications from students.
- Sending out acceptance and rejection letters.
- Arranging dormitory accommodations for the students.
- Sending them an informational email about College Station and TAMU.
- Arranging a get-together every other week in the program with lunch.
- Arranging for them to give their final presentations.
I was flabbergasted. I confirmed that list more than once to make sure I got that down correctly.
I’ve been doing a hell of a lot more than that. No wonder we want to devalue my contribution if this is all the contribution that is expected. I made sure to clarify that in his mind my performance would be considered excellent — by him — if I did nothing more than that. Yes.
I asked about all of the other expectations that have been placed on me, usually in the form of statements of what my predecessor in the position did. I got dressed down for not, until now, formally requesting a list of expected duties. No, instead I asked, “What needs to be done?” I asked, “How can I help?” I asked, “What is expected here?”
Let’s notice something else about this list. This list is entirely secretarial. And presented to a woman Ph.D. — the only such involved with the program — who has a solid track record in mentoring undergraduate students in research. How insulting can you get?
The last issue I will discuss is whether I was asked to bring a research project into the program last summer. I recall that I asked what needs to be done to find research problems for our group. I was told some came from the PI and his collaborators, but that my predecessor usually brought statistics related projects in and mentored those. This set me up for the expectation that I should do this too, and I busted my ass to make it happen. I mentored two students solo. I was informed by the PI that I had done this voluntarily, for my own professional development. I am sure I commented that I thought it would be good for my professional development to try to do this, but that’s not where I recall us starting from.
The fact is, that I felt obligated to figure out how to get this done, and at a fairly high cost to myself, I did.
It has done me good in the long run, but ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
I walked out of that meeting, back to my office, asked the ombudsperson to please shut the door. I buried my head in my hands, and I started sobbing.
I had less than 20 minutes to pull myself together and get to my next meeting, with the department chair, who seemed rather unconcerned about my report of this previous meeting.
This is still bothering me. Greatly. I have a meeting with all the REU mentors on Monday and I am trying to figure out how to handle it.
With my head held high, and with professionalism. Obviously. But I’d rather hide in my closet.
It was hard to sit there and listen to someone devalue me professionally like that. Especially after the incident this past spring. When I know I’ve been trying my guts out to help, to do what’s right, to do it well. And when I realize I’ve not been given resources my predecessor had to get the job done. I did do it well. I did a fantastic job. Then to find out the job requirements are so minimal and different from what I thought I was supposed to do, and all that other stuff is considered “volunteer work”. I know I was asking good questions. I know I didn’t go into this with a cautious, document everything, legal mindset. I trusted that we all had a common goal we were working for.
Common goals aside, apparently it is more important to put a lecturer in her place than to make sure this program runs well. I’m disappointed in the PI. Disappointed in the department. And disappointed that my internal radar didn’t give me warning that I was dealing with people who are untrustworthy.
This is yet another reason why I don’t want to stay at Texas A&M. Dammit, you idiots. I have done so much for you. Is it too much to ask that you value me accordingly? Good luck finding my replacement.
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