Who's the Boss?


One of my academic pet peeves is the phenomenon in which a graduate student and/or post-doc refers to his advisor as his ‘boss’. Although I truly appreciate the situations in which the advisor very clearly is the Boss (overbearing, unrelenting, merciless, etc.), I see an overabundance of examples in which researchers are entirely too flippant with their use of the word.

For me, one of the utopian dreams of academia is mutually-beneficial collaboration. The best advisor-student relationships that I have witnessed have been rooted in mutual respect, and both parties have worked together to achieve a common goal. The advisor does not boss the student around (except maybe during the first phase), but instead guides the student as s/he makes her way through the research gauntlet. I love this concept; I relish in the deliciousness of saying I work 'with' someone, whether that be my advisor, another grad student, or my undergraduate intern. I feel like the term 'boss' violates the core principles of academics, universities, and the whole Ph.D. process.

The other day, my colleagues and I were discussing our disinterest in some of the plans and goals that our supervisor has laid out for our common project. I indicated that, while I might be willing to spend some of my time working on the uninteresting research, I would choose to focus on something I found more appealing (but still related). One of my colleagues was totally flabbergasted, and yelled at me: "But Supervisor is the Boss! You will do what he says!" It was then my turn to be stunned. I shot back, "He is NOT my boss. I am here to use my own head and to contribute to this research in a valuable and meaningful way. I am NOT here to be someone's drone."

It is just so irritating that this concept of a boss has pervaded my new academic home. Is this what people really expect of me? To follow someone's orders?

Sometimes, I don't know what I'm doing here.

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