Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Miserable Student Comes to Us For Help: The Jane Smith Post

I am writing this in the belief that there are professors out there who go beyond cynicism and see that not all students are brain-dead ignorant idiots. I am writing this in the desperate hope that some of you will have enough compassion to relate to my experience, in the hope that some of you may remember the time before you achieved professional success, the time when you too had to struggle and prove yourself, when your professional future completely depended on the mercy of the professor you worked with back then.

I received a grant to work with a professor (we'll call her Jane Smith) on an original research project. Although over 7 months have passed since then, we have made zero progress. I spent all my summer programming the experiment; it was all ready to go but she doesn't respond to emails for weeks; she makes various excuses to delay it indefinitely--her computer broke down, her files got deleted, her daughter was in a hospital, her dog had the flu, she had flat tire, and the usual "I was really busy."

All her promises, such as having me present at a conference, are nothing but lies, for she always finds a reason not to do it in the last minute. It got really bad when she made me schedule meetings with people and then forced me to cancel them the night before--making me look unprofessional and unorganized. I know what you must be thinking: why not just ignore her and move on? My main concern is that the grant agency, once it finds out that no progress has been made with the research money, will take various unpleasant actions. Since we all know that the professor is always right, Jane will obviously find a way to blame me for it, and voila, here goes my career down the toilet.

So here is my question to you people, who know the field and the rules people play by: what should I do? I can have an argument with Jane, but I know that she'll win anyway and, worse, will complain about me to other professors and damage my reputation. I can complain to the grant agency, but since it's affiliated with the university, I feel that they will side with Jane, and everything will backfire at me. I can do nothing, in which case I run the risk of having problems with the grant agency.

Or I can continue to do what I've been doing, which is begging Jane to do her job as my research supervisor--which hasn't been effective, and which I am tired of doing. Do you know if grant agencies typically check on the progress of the research work? Do you have any suggestions as to what I could do to resolve the situation? I would be most grateful to all (any) of you who respond. Please email me to