Monday, March 05, 2007

Relationships (In Two Parts), Being the First

For the past, oh, three weeks at least, I've been feeling run over by a lorry, rather à la Pierre Curie. Laying in the roadway staring at the twigs. Thinking vaguely that perhaps I should get up. Not caring.

I was sitting at the table analyzing data. "When you get a result," I asked Mr. S, "do you always think, Oh, that can't be right, what did I do wrong?"

"No," he said, "I think, Oh, that's the answer then."


Here's an object lesson in zero support, how poisonous work atmospheres get you. Nobody believes your results, so you don't either. It's protective: if you doubt yourself more than them, they can't hurt you. Here's what supportive co-workers do: they find ways to test your data, they don't cut you down. It's the difference between trying to falsify hypotheses in all good faith and humility, and... not.

As Propter Doc so lucidly points out, intellectual and moral support don't correlate with gender. I suppose they correlate with personality- whether one wishes to be a constructive critic, or cut people off at the knees. It's not because my lab is sexist (though they are), that they're by and large difficult to work with. It's because my advisor fosters a hostile and poisonous atmosphere. Or at least, he fails to prevent it. The effects are the same.

Excuse me while I go lay down in the road again. I hear another bus coming.

When I was a fresh-faced eager 21, I moved 600 miles with my college boyfriend to come to grad school together. I'd worked in labs, done my own research, it was interesting; I thought I had a future with him, we should make plans together, I liked science, why not go to grad school too?

A week after we got here, we were no longer speaking. A month later, it was painfully and messily over. Two cold, misery-filled, bitter months later, I finally managed to move out.

I spent the next year laughing brightly in public and, at home, laying in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to move. Ever since a very bad year a very long time ago, I associate being very cold with being sunk into depression. Depression is a nice easy word for hating myself every day for month after month after month and not having the strength to stop. It was a cold, cold year.

I spent the next year, I thought, healing. I made friends, dated the town's most eligible Jewish bachelor (who turned out to be a loathsome toad, more's the pity), went out, played sports, flirted. I thought I was done with my regrets.

I still see this ex every day because he and I work in the same lab. (We won't even talk about why, but suffice it to say that it was one of many bad decisions that year.) The first few years were full of me being polite and professional- I assure you that I was unfailingly polite- and him being vindictive and destructive. It still reminds me every day how stupid I was. And it adds to the atmosphere in so many ways.