Last April, my adviser (that’s, like, your boss in graduate school) informed me that he didn’t think I “had it in me” to finish a Ph.D. and that he was washing his hands of me. He then ordered me out of his office with a grandiloquent, “Thank you, Mejs!”
In the fifth grade, I once forgot to do my spelling pre-test. The teacher wrote my name on the board. I nearly toppled from mortification.
The good news is, I was not nearly as mortified at the prospect of being kicked out of graduate school. I think this shows great personal growth.
But despite my “God’s in his Heaven, all’s well with the world” approach, I was pretty sad. I was never going to be an expert on using satellites to study rivers and coasts. I wouldn’t finish reading the 3,000-page journals of one of my favorite authors (she who wrote “Anne of Green Gables”) on the eighth floor of Davis Library. The ragwort in Coker Arboretum would still blow, golden and tipsy, every spring — but it wouldn’t be mine. And I would never again write a Daily Tar Heel column, and I think that made me most miserable of all.
I had to find new advisers or else. I went through the list of professors I could possibly ask and shrank within myself. At least one of them knew me only as the “weird one who never opens her mouth.”
And what if they felt insulted that a failing student would actually aspire to receive time and effort from them? Maybe they would say things like: “If it didn’t work with your last adviser, why would it work with me?”
Even if I stayed up all hours of the night working; even if I listened to that cheesy Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey song about miracles nonstop; none of that mattered if I couldn’t find new advisers. So I had to ask, and they didn’t have to say yes.
But they did — right away.
I didn’t even have to wait in suspense. They didn’t eyeball me as though I was really stupid, didn’t sigh as though dumping my situation on them was a big imposition.
Instead, they read my papers, sorted through my statistical methods, helped me plot my next steps. They were happy for me when things went well, paused their lab experiments to talk when things didn’t.
Every time I got hauled into the offices of the higher-ups to explain myself, they had to come, too, and never said: “Really? I really have to deal with this?”
When I worried I would fail all over again, they just said: “Don’t relax completely, but don’t stress, either!”
In the thick of it, I was sitting in one of their offices, thinking I really need to thank this person. I was going for, “Thanks for helping me when I’m a big loser,” but all I managed was, “Thanks for helping me when you didn’t even have to.” That professor just said, “Well, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Knowing one person like that is worth 70 million of any other kind of person.
UNC faculty, you’re all right.