Your Advisor: Just Not That Into You

One of the more depressing moments in a grad student’s life is when she figures out that she is simply not all that important to her advisor, at least compared to how important/influential the advisor is to her.  I–and I’m betting other grad students do this, too–idolize my advisor, and for good reason.  He’s written a brilliant book and finishing an even better one; he’s been published in academic as well as public-intellectual-type journals; he’s kind of famous, both in and out of acadame.  And I found out last week that my absolutely favorite historian, the Grand Poobah of my field, assigns my advisor’s book.  My first reaction was: AWESOME!  I’m that guy’s advisee!  Me!  And then I thought: who cares? I mean, who really gives a shit?  Certainly not the Grand Poobah or his students or their advisors or their other students or people who read journals or book editors or hiring committees.  And, sadly, probably not my advisor, either.  Not that he’s insensitive or mean; to the contrary, he’s probably one of the nicest people in this business.  But the fact of the matter is that I do absolutely nothing for him or his career.  I haven’t got my shit together and published the book and three articles I promised I would.  Hell, I haven’t even moved along in the program as fast as I thought/said I would.  All I am is a time-drain for him.  And it makes me feel like I did in junior high: the geeky fat kid who chummied up to the nice cool kid, who let me hang around out of pity.  What an icky feeling.

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7 thoughts on “Your Advisor: Just Not That Into You

  1. Without asking you to reveal anything personal — in what context did you promise your advisor a completed book before taking your prelims? That’s an insane expectation. Even the three articles would put you way ahead in your profession — I’m going to submit two this semester, and as far as I know I’m the only pre-quals student in my whole program who’s doing any this early.

  2. Well, I should be more precise: I never promised my advisor that I’d get the book done, and I think I only “promised” one article. The book and other two articles are on my own shoulders. And my advisor never expected that I’d get all of that done; he’s got a pretty good sense of what is and is not possible as a graduate student. Still, I can’t help but be bugged by my own failure to move along like I wanted to. Part of it is my own objectives (get through, get a job, change the world, all of that), but part of it is my desire to please my advisor–to make him proud. I know, that’s weird. I have issues.

    Also: sorry I’ve not been around much, J, either here or at PH. Yet another failure to deliver on my part!

  3. It is sad that you feel this way. If you aren’t careful you could easily get into a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop that will fuck you right up. Don’t do that. The very fact that you are giving so much energy to this sort of obsessive introspection probably doesn’t make you any more attractive a prospect to your adviser. It almost certainly is contributing to your inability to progress with your work as quickly as you would like. I would question your assertion that you don’t do anything for your adviser’s career. You aren’t the center of his world, of course, but you are significant nonetheless. An important part of a professor’s role is to mentor students. Try not to underestimate or overestimate your importance in the scheme of things. Have some dignity and self-respect.

  4. I feel quite similar. Perhaps recognizing it as a structural anxiety that many graduate students confront will make it easier to handle though (therapy via objectification). You’re certainly not alone.

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