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thoughts on being paired to work with a 'challenging' professor...

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by manic monday, Apr 6, 2007.

  1. manic monday

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    hi all,

    i was accepted into a phd program and matched to work with a professor who does great research that i am very interested in, but is notoriously 'challenging' to work with interpersonally...does anyone have any experience or advice regarding this issue? i have heard that your mentor can make or break your doctoral experience, and it is making me very nervous about accepting this offer. conversely, i was offered a position at a lesser-known school with research i am not as interested in, but a less 'challenging' mentor to work with and students who are seemingly far more content with the program. as i write this, the answer seems clear-cut: go with the program that will afford me the opportunity to do the research that will lay the best foundation for me professionally...but i am pretty sensitive, so i am worried that i won't be able to develop a thick enough skin to handle a professor who can go from sweet to sour in a matter of minutes...

    any thoughts?

    thanks!
     
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  3. RayneeDeigh

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    I'm assuming you interviewed with the prof in question? What have your interactions with him/her been like so far? I ask because reputations can be inaccurate. Many people in my program don't really like my advisor, but I think she's wonderful and will likely stay in touch with her for a very long time.

    So if YOU think you can get along with the person, I suggest you take the offer that most interests you research-wise. You don't need to be best friends with your advisor, you just have to be able to work with him/her.
     
  4. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty
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    You don't seem that wild about your other choice. If you can do work in an area of research you enjoy, at a good institution.....I'd at least strongly consider it. Like the poster said above, it is best to make your own opinions about someone...and not adopt someone else's, which may or may not be accurate.

    -t
     
  5. manic monday

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    thanks, guys...

    i spoke with several students working on the research team, and they all seemed to share the same view that it is crucial that you learn to develop a "thick skin" if you are going to work with this prof. the prof can at times be insensitive or abrasive, which seems to be not due to malintent but rather due to social ineptitude and/or personality/anxiety issues...that said, the prof is an outstanding researcher and students working on the team are afforded excellent research experience and funding...so, it looks like i will just need to learn to accept this professor's social limitations, continue seeing my therapist, and make the best of the situation, right?
     
  6. Ollie123

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    I'd agree with the others so far. Doesn't matter whether others like him, it matters whether you like him. Does he have a reputation for being tough in the sense that he expects a lot, or tough as in he actually does things to hurt his students professionally? (trust me, I've seen that happen).

    Just be careful. If the professor is challenging but you can be productive there, then all is well. We have one prof at my undergrad institution who is just a nightmare, and actually has about half her grad students switch to other professors just so they don't have to deal with her. Based on the stories and my limited interactions with her, I would probably choose a lifetime McJob over working with her.

    Not to say your situation would be anything approaching on that level. I'd just encourage you to think VERY carefully about how YOU would get along with this person, and if possible, get tangible examples of why that person is "challenging to work with".
     
  7. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty
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    This is a good lesson to learn in life (seriously). I can think of a few great professors and people in the field who have poor social skills, but many people have learned a great deal from.

    -t
     
  8. RayneeDeigh

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    I would be careful about accepting opinions of the prof having "social ineptititude" or "personality/anxiety issues" before you get to know him/her. That's really quite personal information and it's likely that those students are just making personality judgments which are just speculation. The risk is in the fact that accepting those opinions as fact may actually make you less able to get along with the prof in the future. I suggest keeping an open mind, believing that it's possible the students were wrong, and focusing on the great research opportunities that you're getting.
     
  9. paramour

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    Ditto. I wouldn't base your decision based solely upon other students' opinions. I have worked with a number of professors who others cannot stand due to reasons similar to those mentioned above. And, I absolutely love 'em! :D Of course, that could be just me.

    That being said, I was also forewarned about my potential mentor at my new program by a few students. I met her and she did not win me over immediately (hard to do in 10 minutes regardless of the person!) but I didn't break down in tears either, so I suspect that I'll be fine with her "straightforward, brusque manner & personality".

    G'luck with your decision! :luck:
     
  10. psychwanabe

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    I agree with what everyone is saying. Go with your gut based in your interaction with him/her at interview. Having said that...

    I would strongly urge you to be careful about what you get yourself into. I have experience with the type of person described above. Very smart, accomplished, but a terrible communicator, moody, inconsistent, etc. Facing years of working with this type of individual would be hellish at best.

    Developing a thick skin is one thing, but you can't develop a thick skin toward a human who is an emotional roller coaster and has you by the neck!
     
  11. amy203

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    I've had several people tell me that the only truly horrible decision you can make when choosing a grad school is to choose an advisor who makes you miserable. That being said, I think you can handle someone who is a bit callous in conversation; what you want to make sure of is that his/her actions aren't unreasonable. You might try asking more specific questions, with both the professor and his/her students. For instance:

    1) What are the professor's policies on authorship? (Will you get credit for your work?) Ask for some examples of publications that included previous grad students.
    2) Have the professor's actions ever prevented anyone from graduating on time? (Be careful with asking this one, but it's probably the biggest thing you need to worry about).
    3) Is the professor available to meet with you (one on one) once per week? (This question is a nice gage of how much time profs are willing to spend with students).
    4) What is the usual turn around time for papers you submit for the professor's review?
     
  12. perfektspace

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    A professor who expects a great deal and pushes you to achieve is good. Someone who makes your life miserable through their own personal hang-ups or emotional problems is another situation. Not sure which one applies for you. If his/her students are indicating one or the other I would take that into consideration. Who else can you turn to for that type of info anyways? Do you know if this person has lost students in the past few years or "booted" any students out recently? Will it be worth dealing with their difficult attitude (i.e., lots or publications or great connections)? :horns:
     
  13. manic monday

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    you guys,

    all of these considerations have been SO helpful...based on what i know about this professor, their (yes, i'm trying to be careful in masking the gender) social interactions can be callous and/or abrasive, but the professor has never stymied anyone's efforts to get published and, (if you work hard enough and 'earn your keep,') is open to helping you publish things in line with your own specific issues (if they don't completely jibe with the project this prof has spearheaded). though it's not pleasant to think about working with someone who potentially has axis II issues, i know for a fact that this professor will foster great connections in the field and numerous opportunities to publish/present. one student recently left the research team (due to personality differences), but that is extremely unusual. typically grad students working with the professor are grateful for the funding opportunities and professional development they gain, and just gripe about the day-to-day interpersonal interactions. apparently, some days the professor is as sweet as pie, and other days, is incorrigible...however, i know that narcissism and social ineptness is not entirely uncommon in academia, so developing a thicker skin would not neccessarily be a bad thing for me...

    once again, i thank you all so much for your comments/insight...i greatly appreciate hearing all that you have to say! it is great food for thought!
     
  14. psychwanabe

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    You are very welcome! It does sound like this person is truly the "thick-skin" variety and not the passive-aggressive type that I have been dealing with. Someone in this thread said that the worst mistake you can make is choosing an advisor who will make your life miserable. Let's just say I was spared that choice. Thank the Gods!

    Best of luck in your choice and new position as graduate-student extraordinaire! :thumbup:
     

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