I recently heard a story that reminded me of how much graduate students can suffer.
Some graduate students out there suffer enormously and needlessly because of unprofessional and untrained mentors. To be fair, scientists in academia wear lots of hats. They typically have to do all these things:
Unfortunately, faculty tend not to have any training in management, leadership, or mentorship. In the private and public sectors, managers and leaders are trained, and in the best organizations their training never ends – they might have new training every year, perhaps a week-long seminar focused on a different aspect of management or leadership. Just as importantly, managers are often selected for their management ability to begin with.
Some faculty are naturally good at mentorship, and many are passable, but this is mostly due to luck and the sheer decency of these people. Since academic culture doesn't train people in mentorship, and doesn't reward good mentors or police bad ones, we'd expect, as social scientists, to see a lot of bad mentorship – and we do.
At its worst, it's absolutely heartbreaking to watch. I've never seen suffering like grad student suffering – not anywhere I've been, any job I've had, any organization I've experienced, not even the Navy.
I've never seen so many people in therapy, or so many people on anti-depressants. I've seen people ground into nothing, having been convinced that they were worthless and hopeless, quitting their programs two years in.
The emotional beating some people take from their mentors and programs is not functional. There is zero evidence that it works. Much of what we see in academia is unnecessary and unscientific torture. Much of it is simply a function of psychologically imbalanced and unprofessional faculty.
Yes, many of us suffered greatly in graduate school and emerged from it fine. Perhaps we can trace episodes of professional growth to times we suffered, times when they told us we weren't good enough or our work wasn't good enough. That does nothing to empirically bolster anything I'm talking about. We can tell people that their paper sucks or their idea sucks without telling them that they suck, or that they'll never make it. It's not clear why anyone would think that the global, essentialist you suck judgment is functional, or does any mentorship work.
I wish I could bring some of these people back, people who left their programs and advisors in a trail of tears. I wish I could mentor them myself, show them their strengths, flood them with optimism and support, and build, step by step, week by week. Maybe some of them would end up being titans in the field – I wouldn't rule out the possibility. (I just finished graduate school and am on the faculty job market, so here I'm taking liberties and fast-forwarding to a Joe-as-faculty universe. I used to manage teams of software professionals before grad school/social psychology, so I'm fairly confident in my mentorship skills.)
If you're in graduate school now, if you're suffering badly and need someone to talk to, I'm more than happy to talk, to give advice, to listen. If you're reading this, you're probably in social psychology or related fields, but your field doesn't really matter. Maybe a therapist would be better than a Mexican, but I'm not too sure – the evidence for therapy is mixed and exquisitely complicated, and therapists and Mexicans are not mutually exclusive anyway.
In any case, I'm here, I'm a good listener, and I care. There's too much needless suffering out there, and if I can help one person, or even half a person, this post will have earned its keep. Hit me up. Now, I know some grad students who never use their phones for talking, and even find it awkward to talk to someone on the phone. I'm open to all mediums, but if you haven't experienced long, unhurried conversations with other humans, I highly recommend it. firstname.lastname@example.org