Getting Help


So, I was quietly sitting in my PI's office, and he was bent over in his chair, hand pressed to his forehead, thinking.

I had scheduled this meeting with him to ask for help. I was trying to write up a manuscript on some really tasty mangoes that I had discovered over a year ago. But I didn't have a reason why my mangoes were so tasty, and everyone (everyone) wants a mechanism. I'd been searching for a mechanism for a year and a half to no avail, I was at the end of my rope, and I was trying to write up without it.

After briefing my PI about the situation, he said he'd prefer to see a mechanism in the story, and he felt confident that we could find the answer. I told him about what I've already considered, and asked him, "What else do you think it could be?"

And that's when he paused, thinking heavily, and I sat nervously in my chair.

After a minute or two, he looked up at me and said, "It could be anything."

--

Such was my concern with meeting with my PI. He is a busy man, and he is far-removed from the experimental details of my life. Why should I bother him with a problem that he probably won't be able to fix? He has enough to do.

Mostly due to the encouragement I had received after a previous blog post, I had decided to ask him for help. He is my academic advisor, busy or not, and I needed some guidance.

I'm so glad I asked. Even though he wasn't able to help with experimental details, he made it abundantly clear that he cared and that he wanted me to succeed. He brainstormed with me other people in my lab who might have the expertise to shed light on my problem. He encouraged me to reach out to them. He also offered to make phone calls to collaborators who might have the ability to help.

He asked me why I hadn't come to him sooner with my problem. I told him that I knew he was busy and that I didn't want to bother him. He did not like this at all. He said, "I am here for you. You can meet with me every week if you want. Don't be afraid of my secretary! Just tell her you want to schedule a meeting."

Little did he know that I am plenty more afraid of him than of his secretary. People in my lab have so few one-on-one interactions with our PI that (at least in my mind), I'd prefer to save those interactions for when positive things happen. I want/need him to think of me as a winner, not as someone who can't get her shit figured out. But, given the situation as it is, I'm hoping that this interaction will help him to know me better, and perhaps give him the impression that I persevere. Who the fuck knows.

The funny thing is that ever since the meeting, every time I see him, he wants to know what kind of progress I've made on finding my mechanism. This can be slightly comical, as sometimes there is as little as half a day in between his questioning. And as you all probably know, research is slow. But his mild harassment certainly does serve the purpose of compelling me to work on it when I'd rather put it aside. I figure this is just advisor tactic #227: Hound the shit out of your trainees until their goal is accomplished.

Good enough for me. I'll take what I can get.

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