Thursday, January 12, 2006

defense blues

Warning: Extreme cattiness ahead.

The only other person to start a Ph.D. in my department at the same time as me had his defense today. I'm thrilled for him - he's done some really cool work and he's one of those people that seems likely to go forth and shine in the future. But as I listened to his advisor laudingly introduce him, citing his numerous accomplishments, I felt a sense of inadequacy. Here's why: He's defending in <3.5 years, and as his advisor pointed out, he would have defended in exactly 3 years if not for some funding issues. While he's been here, he's published 2 papers from his masters (mine's been shelved, never again to see the light of day), has on Ph.D. paper accepted, another in review in Nature, and two more ready to submit (one to Science). My accomplishments just don't stack up at least not on the publication front. But I can think of a few things to console myself:
  • His specialty is more likely to publish papers in Nature and Science than is mine (I don't have data to prove this though).
  • I've gotten more teaching experience during the Ph.D. than he has (but he had a lot more going in).
  • He's been in the office early every morning and, for the first 2 years, he seemed to be there late every night. I've had other things going on in my life besides work (but what they are and when I do them I'm not sure).
  • He did way less field work than me (but probably more lab work), and as everyone knows, field work is really time intensive.
  • We've applied to a few of the same jobs, but even with his better pub record, if a department really wants someone in my specialty and only sort of wants someone in his than I may have a better chance than him at getting the interview.
  • He's defended his diss without having a job or postdoc lined up for the fall, at least I've got the good sense (and the funding and the work left to do) not to defend until August.


K said...

I don't think you should be down on yourself for not being the same as the guy who already defended. You're on track! It's not as if you aren't working! It is OK to have some life too. Life is all those things you don't remember doing but kept you sane.

Nuthatch said...

He has an advantage, and that is that he's a he. Nature has done some pieces on the gender bias against women in science. To whit: Women in science fields had to be about 2.2 times more productive than their male counterparts to be as successful in securing financial support. In considering grant funding, women have to publish the equivalent of something like 20 more papers in journals with an impact factor of 3 than a man to be considered equally competant. How depressing is that? I put the permalink to a post about it as my link on this comment.

ScienceGeek said...

It is always somewhat depressing when someone the same year as you defends before you. There are six PhD students in my area that started at the same time I did. When the first one defended it was a bit of a kick in the ass. I'm hoping to be the second but from overhearing one of the other PhD student's conversations today it looks like I'll be third. Hopefully not sixth because I'm determined to finish before the other person in my lab who is also the same year as me.

Although I have already been lapped by a PhD student who started a year after me. However he was also one of those who came in early and worked late and on weekends all the time. He's from South America and hated Canada and his supervisor so he had an extra push to get done as soon as possible. He also had no life.

she falters to rise said...

It's important to also keep in mind that your research is not only dictated by your field and specialty, but also by the resources available to you through your mentor and department. Some students get published in great journals because they have access to things that other students do not.

I understand what you are going through, though. We have one student who came in with me, yet finished 9 months ago with the crappiest thesis ever. His funding was running out, though, and no one else could take him on, so the program decided to let him finish with what he had.


Dr. Mon said...

It's interesting to read about the difference in science--in terms of funding and research experience. But the struggles of just being a grad student are so universal. I know your future is bright and that you will be well-prepared for a lifelong (or at least as long as you want to be in the field) career of scholarship.

B said...

I understand where you are coming from, my lab mate is writing up his first publication while I have months of data analysis left ahead of me! Hang in there, everyone has their own timeline and it sounds like you are doing great!Plus having a life can bring inspiration and a different perspective that more scientists need.

volcano girl said...

As a friend and colleague of both science woman and to the guy who just defended, I am amazed by both. It's not fair to yourself to compare!

Defend when you are really ready. The length of time it takes to finish is MUCH less important than its quality. And science woman, your thesis is fascinating.

As for the job market, I am competing with good friends for good jobs too. And it sucks to hear of them getting an interview, when I hear nothing. And I hear jealousy creep in when I get a break and the others don't. It seems arbitrary. And strange things set you apart - experience with government agencies or willingness to collaborate. Let your strengths shine!

PhD Mom said...

It can be incredibly frustrating when someone finishes ahead of you. I beat myself up about it despite the fact that I had two kids in grad school, and that had to have slowed me down a little.

It is really amazing the transformation that finishing your Ph.D. gives you on perspective. It is almost like high school. In high school, the hieracrhy seems fixed. There are cool kids, jocks, geeks etc. When you go to college the world becomes so much larger, with so many shades of gray. Similarly, when I finished my Ph.D. it was no longer about my thesis. It became about my body of work in general. I began to take pride in my papers. They may be fewer in number, but they are strong.

I am not currently working in a field that would lend itself to Science/Nature pubs so I understand your fatigue on this subject. Most researchers recognize that publishing in these journals is a combination of who you know, how 'sexy' your field is, and the quality of the work, probably in that order.

If I saw an application with lots of Science and Nature pubs, I would give it a second look, but I wouldn't exclude those that don't publish in those journals. Additionally, the number of pubs is based almost entirely on your field. My subfield is the hardest to publish in. This can make me feel wholey inadequate compared to my collegues, but frankly I am doing some bio work and those frisky cells don't always cooperate. Compare that to a computer modeler who mostly worries about power outages and machine time. Often it seems so unfair!!

Chin up! I'm sure that you will do well.