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Feeling like an idiot...

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by SaltySqueegee, May 3, 2007.

  1. SaltySqueegee

    SaltySqueegee El Rey de Salsa 10+ Year Member

    Jul 10, 2003
    Know what I mean?

    Okay, so I'm cruising along in my educational path. First two years of medicine... done. First year of PhD... done. Feeling like I'm ready for my written and oral qualification for candidacy. Met with my committee to give a short 15-30min presentation of where I'm at and where I think I'm headed with my project, to see if they feel as though I'm on the right track. Turned into a 2 hour verbal critiquing where I did not get past the 5th slide in a 10 slide presentation. I thought I knew what I was doing?

    Know what I mean? I'm assuming this will make me a better scientist? My head is still reeling and it has been a week since the event. I'm trying to regroup the small pieces of my shattered project. Guess its better to have it now, then to be dealt it later in the form of an unscored RO1. What doesn't kill us makes us... ... ...


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  3. dphoenix

    dphoenix New Member 7+ Year Member

    Jun 11, 2003
    What kind of meeting was this, your qualifier or a thesis committee meeting?

    In any case, I only see three possibilities why your meeting didn't go well:

    1) Your project is not well designed - it could be that your project has major problems and that the committee members responded fairly, in which case you need to sit down with your advisor and talk about whether the project is fixable and how to do it. Honestly, your advisor shouldn't let you go into a meeting with an ill-advised plan.

    2) Your project is well designed, but your presentation sucks - how long did you prepare for the meeting? it could be that it is a good project, but you need to work on your presentation skills. The only way to get around this is practice practice practice - read a lot of papers, and talk with your labmates about your project specifically to work out the details, possible scenarios. This helps enormously to deal with questions on the fly. As an aside, I have grown to learn that this is the most important skill you need as a researcher. If you can't communicate your ideas effectively, it makes no difference how good your science is.

    3) You have a malignant committee - this seems to happen more commonly than people think, and i've seen grad students deny it for a long time and usually until its too late. What kind of criticisms were given? Were they constructive? or just a pile-on? Talk to other students who have had the same members on their committee to find out if this is normal for the member or not. It is NEVER too late or early to change a member on your committee. As a MD/PhD especially, you need members who are sympathetic to the time constraints of the program (remember you still have residency to go)

    Hope this helps you figure out whats going on - really deal with these issues now before you can't. be glad that this is happening before you have data on your project. If this was your 3rd or 4th year, you would have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. As for the bruised ego. . . you have to learn to deal with that, as the research path will humble you many more times than you think.

  4. gbwillner

    gbwillner Pastafarian Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

    What doesn't kill us makes us... salty?

    Anyway, Keep your chin up. You're still early into this whole process. Part of getting a PhD is getting humiliated. You need to learn to take criticism, and not take it personally. Your committee is a lot smarter than you are (well, maybe a lot wiser) and they ARE trying to help you. Take their criticism and use it in a positive way. Chances are, if they trashed your project it had some huge flaws. If they suggest you change things significantly, I would really consider doing it. If they're getting after you because you misspelled a word, drop that committee member.
  5. Circumflex

    Circumflex Junior Member 10+ Year Member

    Mar 6, 2006
    I wouldn't worry too much about this - your still a youngster with a lot to learn. Everyone goes through this in some way - it's all part of the education. You might consider going to see your committee members individually and talk about the exam and your project in a less hostile environment. I found that I got some good advice in these informal meetings. Just learn and grow from the hard times. There were many times that I felt like throwing in the towel, saying "screw you guys, I'm going back to med school!" But, I'm glad I didn't - you will be amazed at how much you have grown in the end. Good luck.
  6. RxnMan

    RxnMan Who, me? A doctor? Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Be glad that this happened to you early on; you still have time to switch things around. Did your committee give a list of things to do, or did they just critisize your project? If you don't have a list, or some direction, you need to get it.

    Getting an advanced degree is not about learning anything, or making a difference with your research (though those things may happen). It's about satisfying your committee. Sit down with each member and find out what they want. If that means spending a month doing a series of experiments to satify one codger's curiosity, then do it (but don't spend any more time than that!). If their directives are contradictory, then talk to your chairman, and let him have the final say.

    If it was a bunch of critques, then the answer is probably dphoenix's #2. I remember one of my prof's telling me that he always graded the first few assignments of the term very harshly, but then let up, reasoning that the first few set the tone of the class, and 'trained' the class to meet his expectations. That may have happened here. Suck it up, work on your skills, and be better prepared for next time.
  7. IBleedGreen

    IBleedGreen Junior Member 5+ Year Member

    Nov 5, 2005
    What a coincidence! I just had my quals, and even though I passed, it was brutal. Then again, It was my fault for submitting a proposal that had some potential major issues. I'm trying to learn from my mistakes as well.

    Just wanted to let you know that you're not the only one going through that this time of year!
  8. SaltySqueegee

    SaltySqueegee El Rey de Salsa 10+ Year Member

    Jul 10, 2003
    Maybe a clarification to my somewhat ambiguous post. It was a preliminary meeting to discuss whether or not I was in the realm of qualifying. At any rate. To answer dphoenix's post, it was a little of all of the above:

    -My advisor had a grant deadline that I became aware of a couple weeks before my committee meeting. So, I do believe I received little to no help from that end. I think my advisor had his own personal critiques, but refrained from discussing them in the committee meeting as he felt I was already receiving "enough" from the other members.

    -Realistically, the scope I was trying to tackle was too large. So, I do believe the criticisms were in part a mechanism to prevent me from becoming a 10year MD/PhD student. Which I appreciate. But still, the ego doesn't like the criticism, and I'm finding that the ego is a vestigial psychological organ that is unnecessary in obtaining a PhD.

    So, what have I gleemed from all of this:

    I will never do "that" again. i.e. I will probably be exponentially more critical of my own work and presentation before I present it to others. Like I said, what doesn't kill us makes us... [fill in the blank]

    At least it didn't happen at a national/regional meeting or anything. That would have been the suck :thumbdown: . All in all, it was a good experience despite the $hitty feeling that ensued.

    Just thought I would post my thoughts.


  9. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd Administrator Physician PhD Faculty SDN Advisor 10+ Year Member

    Mar 14, 2002
    the beach
    This happened to me at my pre-lim. There was one guy on my committee who was very picky and literally did not believe the basic premise on which my thesis was built on. I could not convince him that certain things were true and he thought the whole thing was a waste of time despite it being an offshoot of my mentor's R01. He then proceeded to pimp me on random trivia that were very tangential to my project. This person was a big name in the field and the rest of the committee just bowed to him. Fortunately, the committee just gave me a provisional pass and nobody on my committee even bothered to submit feedback (i.e. read) the makeup assignment.

    This guy is now NOT on my thesis committee, despite everyone telling me that he should be. But these sorts of things keep happening. At a recent lab meeting I presented some data that was well above and beyond what was accepted at a fairly prestigious conference. Everyone keeps asking me what happened to a certain abstract, which I believe was crap data to begin with, which was declined. At any rate, we spent 2 hours arguing over the finer points of a poster with little of what I would call "constructive". As soon as I opened my mouth to present a new figure they'd jump on it and not let me speak. Some of it was that they didn't like my figures and some was that they just didn't understand, and I don't even think they still understand. Meanwhile other people in the lab can say just about anything and have it accepted by everyone. The PI can say things that are blatantly wrong (and does everyone know it?), but he can, cause he's the boss. Ugh.

    What's my point? This stuff doesn't seem to get any better. All that happens is you keep banging your head and losing your hair until you get your own positions, your own grants, and then peons have to listen to you. I assumed these sorts of things would be better in the research world, but it really isn't. You just don't get to feel the hierarchy on a day-to-day basis like in medicine.
  10. strangeglove

    strangeglove 7+ Year Member

    Oct 28, 2006
    And so the cycle continues...
  11. dphoenix

    dphoenix New Member 7+ Year Member

    Jun 11, 2003
    Salty - sounds like you've fallen into the age-old mistake of biting off more than you can chew. Been there, done that :laugh: seriously tho don't sweat it because we all make that mistake in the beginning - actually i think the whole phd process might be just reining in your original idea over the years until you finally figure out the few critical experiments that are useful. Remember to stick to hypothesis-based questions rather than general fishing type expeditions (I know this gene/channel/protein must do SOMETHING!) and you will be ok.

  12. tacojohn

    tacojohn Banned Banned

    Jun 28, 2006
    I wouldn't necessarily assume the worst. Faculty members who serve on committees have all sorts of motivations. Some feel like they're teaching you something. Others have an axe to grind with your advisor. Others just get a kick out of being a jerk to somebody else.
  13. ChildNeuro

    ChildNeuro Junior Member 5+ Year Member

    Jun 22, 2005
    San Francisco
    I am often amazed at how isolated graduate students can be and from the level of fear that they have from comittee members overviewing their thesis etc . . . But is somewhat similar to what goes on during the clinical years in medical school, i.e. alot of the abuse that comes from a hierarchy that enjoys exerting its power and the underlings expense. I knew a graduate student who was freaked out about quals for months on end and had several unanswered questions about their thesis they were afraid to ask, I had to answer some of them myself. Fear of punishment and retaliation from superiors is a major driving force in the academic world.
  14. greg12345

    greg12345 New Member 2+ Year Member

    Apr 2, 2006
    Learn to love getting humiliated! Seriously! Life is so much more enjoyable if you can just laugh it off and not let it affect you. You gotta pay your dues in grad school and even more so in medicine. Many times this humiliation is not malignant or intentional, it is just the simple byproduct of you basically knowing very little about either science or medicine and getting that lack of knowledge pointed out to you by someone who, by virtue of experience (and not intelligence), knows much more than you. The best part is when you go back to 3rd year (as a freshly minted PhD) and are basically doing mindless work that a high school dropout would be way overqualified to do, and you have to do it with a smile on your face after having been up for 24h straight.

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