A few days ago, I had a bit of a startling reality check when I received a Facebook message from one of my former classmates from Temple. The message contained a pdf attachment of the recently defended dissertation of another of our classmates. I read the title and immediately became angry because his research was pretty similar to mine.
For the record, my anger didn’t stem from purely from the similarities in our research. I always knew that this particular student existed. Although we never crossed paths during our time at Temple, people would occasionally tell me that I should meet him because we had a lot in common with respect to our research interests. I had intended on meeting him someday, but he was a few years ahead of me. As a result, he and I were barely on campus at the same time because he was busy working as an adjunct professor at other universities in order to make ends meet.
The source of my anger was the list of faculty members who served on my former classmate’s dissertation committee. Some of his greatest supporters were the professors who were my greatest detractors. Those same professors would point out gaps in my research, but would not give me any suggestions for solutions. Instead, they kept making remarks about my supposed incompetence. I was in the PhD program because I wanted to learn how to be a better researcher. I was looking for guidance that didn’t exist–at least not from the tenured professors who actually needed to sign off on my dissertation based on university regulations.
At least now I know for sure that my research interest was not the problem. The professors just didn’t want to work with me. It’s a hard pill to swallow. After all, they pretty much wasted three years of my life. However, I have already moved on to greener (yet more expensive) pastures. There’s no sense in looking back at this point. This is the journey that God has ordained for me. My time in both PhD programs has taught me that academics have the potential to be pretty petty people. (If you think not, check out this post about the conversation over my car.) That’s a part of why I am still on the fence about going into academia. I’m just not sure that I want to subject myself to such fragile, yet inflated egos for the rest of my life. At the same time, I acknowledge that dealing with petty people is a part of life. Some things can’t be avoided.
Someday (in the far and distant future), I’ll be able to look back on this and laugh, but for now, it’s a definite test of faith.