Friday, August 7, 2015

Pipelined

When I was a little kid my family told me, go to college. You're smart. You're driven. You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.

When I was in 8th grade, my social studies teacher told me, go to college. Go even if you don't have the money. This is an investment in your future, a future full of possibilities. You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.

When I graduated my school counselor said, go to college. You graduated with honors, took AP classes. You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.

So I took out the loans and sent my applications, and as a child not-left-behind you best believe I went into STEM. Double major in neuroscience and psychology with a minor in chemistry to cap it off. Doesn't that sound nice? Rolls right off the tongue. I could do anything with that if I put my mind to it.

It wasn't until graduate school when cracks began to appear in the ivory edifice of the scholastic institution that I had staked so much of my self-worth on.

CRACK - when colleagues paid more attention to my appearance than to the questions I asked

CRACK - when my term paper on obesity ended in an uninvited lecture about my weight

CRACK - seeing my overqualified female colleagues' hands slowly come down as they realize that the professor isn't going to interrupt a loud white man derailing our class time with their need to hold the floor by force

CRACK - when I asked my faculty advisor for feedback and he told me he wasn't here to hold my hand like I was a child at the mall and not a grown adult asking him to do his job as a FAC UL TY AD VI SOR

CRACK - when a PROFESSOR in the PSYCHOLOGY DEPARTMENT tells me that maybe depression is a sign I shouldn't be here

I feel I should have noticed the ground becoming unstable under my feet.
But I could do anything if I put my mind to it... right?

My patch of ivory crumbled the week after I defended my master's thesis. My advisor phoned it in - both my defense, and the bad news.

You see, even if your grades are good. Even if you're meeting all of your degree requirements - even if you live every day by the rules written in the Student Handbook - the advisors and administrators can "decline to continue working with you".

And what that means, is they can kick you out.

Of course there are loopholes - you could find another advisor, make another plea to the administrators, go on academic leave to give yourself more time. I know people who've done it. I can count five people off the top of my head who've successfully switched advisors and stayed in the program. Five... men.

Not that I'll even know for sure if things would have been different as a boy, whether my advisor would have stooped to "hold my hand" by reading my first first-draft.

Or whether my depression ruined my chances of getting another advisor. Taking someone else's broken down student is risky. I might give out on you after another few months. Best to wait for a newer model.

In fact my advisor took on a new student the year I left. I'm told he takes a more hands-on approach now, that he's learned from his mistakes.

If I was brave enough to stand in front of my advisor, if my spine were strong and my voice were steady and my agoraphobia-inducing anxiety would loosen its grip on me just enough to tell him one thing, it'd be this:

Before I met you, I thought I could do anything I put my mind to.