Monday, March 17, 2014
A PhD Candidate Horror Story
The Star Grad Student was in the writing phase of her PhD dissertation. Next step: the lunchtime pre-defense "brown bag" presentation for hamster social sciences faculty and grad students. Star Grad Student's topic involved federal funding programs for hamster habitats, and while not exciting to many attending, was squarely in the ballpark of everyone's interests.
Star Grad Student was already teaching undergrads as a full-time instructor, had several solid publications either in press or under consideration, and was well-liked and respected by faculty and fellow students. Not yet on the market, she was clearly on the fast track to a TT post somewhere in the Big Time, at least at an R1.
The presentation was just about two-thirds done, with data sets explained and the board filled with graphs, when Star Grad Student started to transition into her conclusions. Newly hired Hamster Theory Assistant Professor (with brand new Ivy League PhD) raised his hand and asked: "Since you haven't developed a theoretical basis for any substantive hypothesis, aren't any of your conclusions therefore trivial?"
Dead silence for what seemed minutes from Star Grad Student. A feeble attempt to recover and pivot to her conclusions was followed by an equally feeble response from Star Grad Student's advisor, a very senior prof in Hamster Theory who had championed hiring Hamster Theory Assistant Professor.
Over the next weekend, Star Grad Student cleaned out her office, left all her dissertation materials in boxes outside the office door of her advisor, and never came back, not even to finish her semester's teaching.
Postscript: Hamster Theory Assistant Professor got tenure and later left to become a Department Chair in the Big Ten. Hamster Theory Senior Professor later left to a Named Professorship at Yale. Star Grad Student moved back to her hometown, and after coming out of a deep depression, started a highly successful career in the gaming industry. She died a few years ago in her early 60's.
Sociological footnote: Hamster Theory Assistant Professor is white and male. Hamster Theory Senior Professor is white and female. Star Grad Student was black and female. Old Fart Prof draws no conclusions from these facts; just thought they may provide readers with additional detail.
- Old Fart Prof