Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dark Side of Grad School

The New York Times ran two articles yesterday on fatal adviser-student tensions in Grad School.

Key quotes (edited):

...the nearly feudalistic power that a graduate adviser has over his student, who after 16 or more years sitting in a classroom listening and regurgitating information must now change gears and learn how to produce original research. That grueling process has been the crucible in which new scientists are made ever since Plato mentored Aristotle, and although it rarely leads to murder, it can often lead to disaffection, strife and lifelong feuds.


“Graduate students are like apprentices,” said Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago. “It’s from another era. It’s something we don’t do well anymore, hand-crafted training.

Advisers write recommendations, decide when it is time for a student to defend his or her thesis and divvy up credit for the work that gets done together.

The bond between student and adviser is almost like getting married. You’re going to be working and interacting with this person the rest of your life.”


...“It’s hard to understand just how powerless you can feel as a graduate student unless you have been a graduate student.” - Janet D. Stemwedel, a philosopher at San Jose State University.


"Asian students were often marginalized because of a perception, 'unstated racism,' that they are exceptionally smart and are there to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As a result they wind up as cogs in the research machine and remain isolated from the rest of the community and the culture." - James Dickerson, a physicist at Vanderbilt University


“The Chinese family in general has high expectation on their children. When they realize that they cannot achieve it, they get very upset, especially the whole family have been telling their friends about him or her. They also compete among themselves severely, I observed that within my students.” - Shing-Tung Yau, a Harvard mathematics professor.


The story (of Gang Lu's shootings at Iowa) resonated with Mr. Chen’s own experiences and that of friends who came to the United States with huge expectations and found themselves lost or on the wrong end of a power struggle with their mentors, and who either went back home or, in the case of one good friend, simply disappeared.

He said: “A lot of people came in late ’80s. They never found a balance between the idea of America and the America they experienced.”

A Padawan learner takes on his Jedi Master in Grad School. Commonly known as the thesis defense. Beware of the Dark Side! (Original link)


7366 said...

pj - one of our very own rhodes scholars?

actually takchek, might as well post this here, what is the purpose of an education - like seriously speaking? Since you're a grad student - can you share some insights about life in general and why you chose this path?

musafir said...

Wow, this post (the quotes, really) really resonates with my experiences the past 2.5 yrs. Though, it's heartening to know that many professors acknowledge this disheartening phenomena of foreign Asian students in the US.