My Name is Pamela

My name is not Pamela.

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‘Pamela’ declined to share a picture.

My Worst Moment:  In the last year of my PhD, my PhD advisor made it very clear that he was interested in me (this came completely out of left field for me), and I found myself in a series of inappropriate and awkward situations despite my very clear communication that I was not interested.  In addition to effectively losing the ability to seek mentorship from my PhD advisor for the rest of my career, this caused me to completely lose all confidence in myself: maybe I wasn’t actually good at science at all?  Maybe him telling me that I was great had been a ploy in the hopes that I’d sleep with him?  Going into my postdoc, my confidence was the absolute lowest it’d ever been.  Starting a postdoc exactly as I questioned whether I had anything to offer at all was a terrible feeling.

Screen Shot 2021-06-04 at 9.31.02 PMI Have Given Up On:  I have given up on covering for him.  It’s obvious that he is not supportive of me now, and colleagues who witness his behavior at meetings have asked me, “What’s his deal?   Do you guys not get along?”.  I used to make some joke about him being an absentminded professor, ha ha, but now I just affirm their observation.

I’m Afraid:   13 years later, he still harbors a grudge, and I still sometimes worry it could affect my promotion decision if the committee asks him for a letter.

This Has Cost Me: In the year after this happened, I thought seriously about leaving science – the idea of seeing my PhD advisor every year at meetings was scary.  I’m so glad I didn’t; I love the chance to try to be the kind of mentor that trainees deserve.  But it very nearly cost me my entire career (postdoc + faculty).

It’s also made it harder for me to advance in science, as I will not ask my PhD advisor for a letter of reference.  When I was a student he said that I had to be “nice” to him because someday I would need a letter from him….thus, I cannot bring myself to ask him for one now. In addition, I am not at all convinced he would write me a kind one.  Especially as a postdoc, this was a significant source of stress in applying for awards and grants.

Something You Should Know About Me:  I was lucky.  This happened in the last 6 months of my PhD; I was able to graduate, get out of that situation, and start a postdoc in another state.  My postdoc advisor, it turns out, was and is a total mensch.  I was very lucky that the acute phase where I faced him daily was so very short.

Is There a Bright Side:  I’m grateful for the very small (n=5) but amazing circle of folks that I’ve confided in - both friends and mentors.   They are truly amazing.

My Fight Song:  I don’t know what this means. J

Secret Weapon:  I don’t know what this means.  J