An Oasis of Sanity

Saraswatiphd

I think I might need help.  Staying sane. Which, frankly, most days, I manage just fine.  It’s the days when deadlines got my brain so occupied, kids are getting their 3rd strep infection in 4 months (and of course, not sleeping), dishwasher needs to be replaced, fridge is persistently empty (of anything nutritious any way), dog’s got the runs… well, you know, the opening scene from “Bad Moms” comes to mind.  Except in the movie, this scenario is funny.

So, what helps you stay sane?  You personally.  If it’s diet and exercise, that’s wonderful, but that’s not what I’m looking for.  I want to know something that keeps your mind in balance of blissful homeostasis after or during an insane day, something that the internet doesn’t know about you.  Because, let’s be honest, the internet is already full of really (un)helpful suggestions. But I want less impersonal/generalized/blanket statements about how I must do this or that… until my eyes glaze over with information overload.  So I want something a bit more personal.

Ok, I’ll start.  For me, I mean besides the obvious (wine was created for a reason!), it’s probably keeping a small garden at work.  I have a large window that faces south, and I grow lots of plants. Some bloom gorgeous colors, some are just green and leafy.  They make me feel happy and calm(ish). That way, when something has gotten my mind so uptight I feel like my head could snap off any second, I take a moment to water my plants.  That feels good. I am doing something productive, taking care of a living thing, and in that moment, my mind rests. Sometimes, I dump whatever cold leftover tea is in my cup to just think “hello there green friend, thanks for blossoming” before I refill with some hot water.  That’s another reason why I try to bring my dog to work at least once a week – he forces me to go for a walk and watch him splash in puddles, chase after squirrels and be happy just by being. Also, CandyCrush, but please don’t tell anyone I said so, I don’t want anyone to know because that’s embarrassing.

 

Ragamuffinphd

I have not been shy [here] about expressing how unhappy/stressed/lost I have felt in the first 4 months of my new postdoc role. In addition to the immense solidarity I have found with a few moms with similar circumstances, I have found frequent peace of mind in the following:

  1. Getting home early enough to spend time with my baby. Because he is my first. Because at 8 months, he is still new (for how long are babies “new”?). Because he is happy and relatively easy right now. I cannot get enough of him or my husband on days that we can briefly stop time and spend a bit of quality all together.
  2. I live in Sunny Southern Cal, where there are many days that I can take a cup of coffee, step outside of my building and spend a few moments with my caffeine and the sunshine. Before I became a mother, I drank almost exclusively tea; recently, I have swayed toward the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps someday I’ll settle down nicely in the middle…

 

Megan

I have a few strategies to avoid and cope with workplace stressors:

  1. I try to identify and avoid certain types of people at work: the gossipers, the bullies, the freeloaders, and the unrelenting pessimists. If that’s not possible, I intentionally keep our interactions to polite but impersonal conversations.
  2. If someone’s having a bad day, I might jot them a quick encouraging email, or buy them a cookie. But I no longer postpone my experiments to talk for hours to calm someone’s nerves before a meeting. Or stay up till 3AM listening to someone practice their terrible talk over and over again. Or routinely clean up after someone else’s lab messes so they won’t get in trouble. Yes, I have done all those things. The funny thing is, you get more credit for buying a stupid cookie.
  3. I take walks. This is my big-guns stress-buster. Stupid things happen in academia that will drive you crazy if you let them: unfair reviews on papers and grants, soul-destroying amounts of administrative red tape, collaborators making careless mistakes that cost months of work, prehistoric department heads berating you for taking pumping breaks, etc… When these things happen, I need to step out of the lab and I’ve found that short walks work wonders. If the weather is awful, I wander the weird labyrinthine basement tunnels that connect the labs on campus. Eventually, my thoughts fall in time with my footsteps, and I can sort things out. (an added bonus: I know where all the cool, hidden places are on campus. Just discovered a ‘textbook-exchange’ room the other day– who knew?!)
  4. When the minor stressors start to get to me, I focus on my environment– what can I see? What do I hear? Sometimes I get so lost in my head, or so fixated on something someone’s said to me, it’s like I’m blind to what’s right in front of me. Deliberately trying to notice what my five senses are telling me is grounding and calming.
  5. I have a savings account with ~6 months of income saved. The knowledge that this money is there prevents me from feeling trapped in my job and servile to my PI or department head. Having this economic cushion stops me from panicking and obsessing over my relationship with my superiors. Which, ironically, has improved my relationships with them (at least from my perspective!)
  6. I do my best not to feel guilty about any of my sanity-saving methods. Taking even a 15-minute walk can feel like such an indulgence, but if stress is hampering my work, I’m no use to anyone.

 

Notarealteacher

Finding sanity has been a real challenge for me at this life phase. I have 2 small children, a job that requires me to be “on” from the moment I walk in the door, I just sold my first home and I’m remodeling a new, larger (and seriously in need of work) fixer. On top of all that, my husband was recently out of town for a month long work trip, and I often feel like I’m drowning. I don’t get nearly enough down time, and nothing is ever “done”. Here are my methods for finding sanity (though I don’t really feel like I’m in a position to be giving advice, but should be taking it).

  1. Taking a break at someplace new. Instead of going to the convenient starbucks across the street, I’ve been trying a new coffee place weekly. It breaks up the monotony and gives me something to look forward to. Simple, I know.
  2. Do something that feels tangibly productive: I am about to go clean out my work bag. I have a million other things to do, but having a little order in my life always helps me stay grounded. Some days, I clean the lab space in my classroom, clean out my car, or organize a drawer. I realize that this is actually adding more work to my overly busy life, but it helps me.

And now I’m opening my ears for all your suggestions, because my list is long and my patience is thin.

 

SweetScience

Besides chocolate chip cookie dough, my go-to when I’m stressed is arranging my calendar. I use Google calendar to map out every hour of my waking days and I check it frequently to keep on task, remember things I’m likely to forget to do, and also de-stress. Yes, I can see how looking at your to-do list could be anxiety producing in many people, but it helps relax me to know that there’s a time set for everything, so it will get done. Even when things are not getting done at their set time, it makes me feel good to just rearrange things, figuring out how the time blocks best fit together like a puzzle.

 

StrongerThanFiction

My sanity searching behaviors have changed over the years. This was an interesting exercise that helped me reflect back on the different work environments I have been in and how the stresses have changed with the different responsibilities, goals, and people. Grad school: In graduate school, it was hard to ever let go of feeling like I needed to be doing something productive. This caused a lot of guilt for me, and that increased my need to escape from it. Going to social media, and getting lost in fun internet searches, and trails was a way I used to escape that feeling. But not in a healthy way, because after this escape, this feeling intensified.

One of the more healthy things I did to grasp onto that sanity was going to career preparation seminars. I would try to sit and chat with the panel member or another mentor-type faculty member. It would help me to widen my perspective, and take in all the possibilities and good ideas without sitting there dumping all my stress onto them in return. That was a fantastic mental escape for me that would leave me with an optimistic feeling that lasted for a while. The downside is that it is not a daily accessible escape. But I would imagine that there might be a few webinars and email questions that might serve this purpose.

Post-doc: A similars set of stresses plagued me during my time as a post-doc fellow. I still sought out refreshing conversations with people who were ahead of me in the career path, but my strategies changed a little during this time, and shifted towards utilizing my peer support a little more. It was different (for me) in grad school, because being an incredibly competitive person, I couldn’t get away from that negative behavior of always comparing myself to my classmates and focusing only on the aspects were I was behind. My post-doc friends all started at different times, and we were not really competing for funding. We just were all kind of dealing with similar fears, personalities and stresses, so talking about it on a coffee run or lunch breaks was very therapeutic. One person and I had a regularly scheduled walk around the building that really helped us clear our heads. I agree with Megan, above, that the most helpful times were NOT with “the gossipers, the bullies, the freeloaders, and the unrelenting pessimists.”

An administrative person that I was friends with at the time was also a breath of fresh air. We would take little breaks and plan on which park we would visit in the coming weekend. When I moved to this new city, she had the idea of going to a new place each weekend. Yes, it did involve exercise, but it would always be early one of the mornings for no longer than an hour, so it really didn’t get in the way of social or work planning at all.

Current gov’t job: The environment I am in now is SO different than academia. The stresses I experience now revolve almost exclusively around people – mostly peers, sometimes management. So, my current strategies revolve a LOT less around people. I actually get lost in my work now, and it is so refreshing to me now when I say “no” to that coffee walk or that lunch outting. For one, it leaves the lab a lot more vacant from the (to use Megan’s phrase again) “the gossipers, the bullies, the freeloaders, and the unrelenting pessimists”, and getting out those short, relatively short reports is SOOOO satisfying. Amazing how my strategies completely flipped with the change in career.

And, like Notarealteacher, organizing also provides sanity.

I wrote above about one or two strategies I used, however, I relate a lot to many of the other things already mentioned. In reflecting back, what sticks out most to me is that I tried lots of things, and it took a while to see what stuck.

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Posted in busy moms, keeping sane, scientist mom, Uncategorized, work-life balance | Leave a comment

On Rejection

On Rejection

4 months ago

I sit here at my computer in my kitchen, wearing PJs and surrounded by Kleenex stained black with mascara. I came home sick from work, so the multitude of Kleenex are saturated with a combination of winter drainage and tears. The snot is from my cold, while the tears are from an extended, ugly crying session I’m wrapping up, after learning that I didn’t get what I thought was my dream job–writing here is my therapy.

Here on this blog, I’ve documented my struggle to find my second job. I’ve loved my first job; I’ve been teaching senior students at a single-gender school in the same city I attended graduate school. I deeply love the teaching and curriculum planning, but I have to do many, many tasks outside the school day. I have to chaperone prom, go on retreats and interview incoming students. All those evenings and weekends in addition to a full time job make me feel like I am missing my children growing up. So, as my own children get older, I’ve begun to look for something more flexible that would allow me to focus on the aspects of my current job that fulfill me.

The job I applied for was also local—it was a lectureship position at a small, private college on the other side of town. The application was extensive, including a teaching philosophy, 3 letters of recommendation and course evaluations. When I hung up after the phone interview, I didn’t think I’d done well but was pleasantly surprised when an invitation to interview on campus arrived just a few hours later. My on campus interview was a full day event, where I met with 10 members of the 20 person department, gave a teaching demonstration and went to dinner with the faculty. I thought it had gone exceptionally well and left feeling two things: 1) I had killed it and 2) I really wanted the job. Here are a few of the appealing things about the position: work from home 1 day per week, options to teach abroad, lighter course load than I have now). The next day, I sent follow up “thank you” emails to all the people I’d met, and several of them replied enthusiastically with surprisingly complimentary statements.

I became anxious when the timeline promised to me came and went without a phone call from the department. Then this morning, I got an email requesting a time to talk about the “status of the search”. I’d been dreading the call all day, and when it came, after some cordial remarks, the department chair let me know that they had offered the job to another candidate and had a verbal commitment from her.

I didn’t cry on the phone, which I’m very proud of. The department chair again talked in depth about how impressed they’d been with me, how she’d wished they’d had 2 positions and how much they enjoyed my visit. According to her, the search committee had concluded that the other candidate had more college-level teaching experience than I do. She suggested I get some experience adjuncting at a local community college before again applying to a 4-year institution.

I can’t help but be frustrated with that critique—I currently teach students that will be students at Yale and Princeton in just a few months. My former students have returned to tell me that the they had covered all of their first year biology material during their senior biology course with me and were “almost bored” in their college courses. Finally, the feedback that I didn’t have enough college teaching experience seems surprising at this state in the interview process as my experience was clearing stated in my CV, which they’d seen during the initial phases of the interview. I’m also extremely hesitant to leave a full time, benefitted position in order to adjunct on the hopes it could lead to something in the future.

So I sit here in my PJs, frustrated. My mom is texting me and encouraging me to quit my job and start a blog that documents the overhaul of my recent (and straight-out-of-1960) home purchase. I’m calculating whether it would be inappropriate to have a glass of wine before daycare pickup.

 

Today:

As I reread the post that I wrote back in February, I feel a combination of emotions. All the feelings I experienced on that day have resurged. Additionally, I feel embarrassed to share my deep disappointment with the internet, but I’m hoping someone else is going through that too and might feel some solidarity with me. Here’s what I’ve been up to since January:

1)      Work: My work life has continued to be overwhelming. I spend multiple weekends each month at school, and I’m coming off the heels of prom and AP testing. We are doing multiple rounds of interviews for a science department hire (I’ll write about that experience in a late post) and I’m chaperoning a student trip to Colorado this weekend. It is all way too much.

2)      At Home: My husband was recently out of town for a whole month, so the kids and I have been eating a lot of mac n cheese. We’re also currently living in the basement of our 1960s fixer while floors and a new kitchen are installed upstairs. We’re diversifying our diet by adding in some Chipotle.

3)      Job Search: I reached out to a group at a university on the other side of the country that is doing curriculum development for high school biology teachers. They’ve agreed to have me edit some neuroscience curriculum this summer on a contract basis. I’m really looking forward to it and hoping that it leads to something more long term. I applied for another job at an elite private school, had an interview and didn’t get the job (it wasn’t a good fit, and I’m not disappointed—but I do wonder if I’m just having bad luck or doing sometime wrong during the interview process).

4)      Discernment: I am meeting with a career counselor that was recommended to me today, and I’m hopeful that she will help me figure out both what exactly I want, and why I’m struggling to land a new job.

I think the truth is probably that I want it both ways: I want to work part time, see my kids amply and have time for my life. I also want a fulfilling career with forward momentum, prestige and an adequate paycheck. So maybe I’m chasing a unicorn? I’ve not yet decided if it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

 

Posted in alternative career, confidence, dream job, job search | 6 Comments

Winding paths

This past fall, the child that was in my big belly when I defended my dissertation started kindergarten. It wasn’t a hard transition for him. He had been in full day daycare from the age of 5 months when I started my postdoc. It was a big deal for me, though. My baby was growing up! It was also made a bigger deal by the fact that all the parents around me could talk about was school open houses they had been to, how they were going to choose a school, and how good these various schools were. People spend a lot of time thinking about where their children should go to school.

Many people go to great lengths to get their kids into the “right” schools. Sometimes moving, sometimes selling and buying houses, sometimes paying an arm and a leg or driving across town every day to allow their child access to a private or charter school. Of course everyone wants the best for their kids, but what makes a school the right school? What is it all for?

The goal of getting one’s child into the “best school” I imagine is to give the kid the best life they can live. Presumably, that is by helping them succeed in life. Everyone wants to provide their kids the education that will give them the best opportunity for success. They want to place them in the environment will set them up for success. But what does success mean?

Is success educational attainment? A prestigious job? Making the most money? Or Is success something less tangible, like happiness or “making a difference”?

Thinking about all of this brings up for me my own path and the paths of those around me. There are so many variations on educational and career paths. I didn’t go to any fancy school growing up. I lived in a small town and went to the one high school in the city limits. The big decision in my area was whether to live inside the city limits and send your kids to the city school or live outside and have your children attend the county school. Neither was ranked nationally.

For college, I went to a good school, but I chose not to attend a better ranked school because I didn’t think it was worth the extra money. It seemed like such a big decision at the time, but here I am, 15 years later, and I can’t tell you how that affected my life. While I’m sure my college experience affected my path and who I am, I don’t know what experience I would have had at a different school. What about elementary and middle school? How much of an impact do they have?

There are so many directions one can go even after a straightforward grade school experience. I had a very straightforward path up until my most recent transition. After high school, a small liberal arts college, summer science fellowship, graduate school for a PhD, postdoc. Then I had a career crisis when I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Now have a job one would not have predicted from my education. I have a coworker who had some elements of my journey, college and grad school were involved, but yet it was very different. She started at community college, she had a job in a medical field before deciding to go to grad school, and she did a policy fellowship after a postdoc. Yet now she has the same job that I have.

People find their paths. Yes, good education is important. Quality education is important for all and we should invest in education for our nation’s students. However, for a child that has a family that cares enough to debate what school they should go to, perhaps each educational decision is not going to make or break their future. They have the support to deal with the situations they will face, and a variety of experiences will help them face what life has in store.

 

Posted in education | 1 Comment

Lessons from a toddler

I thought I knew what I was doing when I became a parent. I’m the elder sibling and the oldest cousin in my family, so I changed many diapers when I was still a child myself. I volunteered in a daycare during college, I’ve conducted infant research in a psych lab, babysat often, and have done science outreach with age groups ranging from elementary school kids to teens in college. I wanted to have children for as long as I could remember, so I also spent many years before becoming a mother reading parenting advice from all corners of the internet, downloading parenting books, talking to friends who were parents…

And then, it finally happened. In spring of 2016, I became a mother. And I found out:

Jon Snow Love GIF-source

Yeah. I knew nothing.

There are SO many things that surprised me about becoming a parent, and a working mother in particular. I could easily write a novel (or another thesis) on that insane learning curve.

But one of the most pleasant surprises I got was discovering how much I would learn from my child.

My son is currently a toddler. He’s talking and starting to be more independent. He’s exploring the world fearlessly, and every so often he lets out a shout of “I DEEDET!” (translation = “I DID IT!”). He shouts this with a huge grin on, and sometimes even stops to applaud himself or give me a high-five. The funniest thing, to me, is that he’s getting excited over very small things, like getting a book off a shelf, or fitting a single piece into a puzzle. But his enthusiasm is contagious, and his instinct to celebrate himself is inspiring.

When he does this, I act like a ridiculously proud mother (forget Bringing up Bébé!), and I stop and laugh and cheer with him. These moments where he acknowledges and celebrates his little achievements light up our hours together.

He made me think—was there ever a time when I had that kind of confidence? When did it get lost?

Would it change my perspective if I celebrated all the little things I do? And can I even interrupt my own fairly constant narrative of self-criticism long enough to do so?

I’m trying it out. We all celebrate the big moments that happen really infrequently like getting a paper into a great journal, or giving a dynamic talk. But these things are hardly daily events (I wish!!!). Inspired by my son, I’m trying to celebrate the small victories.

I had a stacked schedule and was on time for everything all day? “I DID IT!”

I served a healthy dinner on time that consisted of more than fruit, cheese, cereal, and yogurt? “I DID IT!”

I cleared my inbox? “I DID IT!”

I held my son and calmed him while he got his vaccinations, and I didn’t cry or scream myself? “I DID IT!”

Admittedly, I don’t yell “I DID IT!” out loud while clapping with an ear-to-ear grin like my son does when he manages to take his socks off or puts his arm the wrong way through his coat sleeve– because that would make me look crazy, right? I just kind of quietly say “I did it,” to myself, and see how that feels.

And it is surprisingly rewarding to acknowledge my victories in this way. It’s such a small thing to do, and takes so little time, but I think it’s starting to slowly change how I see myself and my efforts. Life as a working mother is incredibly demanding—there’s just sooo much to remember!— and it’s easy to berate myself for not doing enough either as a parent or a scientist. I don’t know if changing that narrative by acknowledging these small victories has made me more confident, but I think it’s making me a bit happier. Saying “I did it,’ also helps me see where I put my energy on a daily basis, and where the payoffs are.

I’m so grateful to my son—my youngest, most adorable, most loving, most runny-nosed, and most humbling mentor—for teaching me such a sweet lesson.

Posted in female scientist, motherhood, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Motherhood has changed my perspective on my career

Motherhood has changed my perspective on my career. (gasp!)

During graduate school, everyone told me that this would be a bad thing. It would be a sign of failure if growing a family altered my career objectives. I have decided (embarrassingly late) that this is yet another very unfortunate stigma. On the contrary, the psychological adjustments that I have made are major improvements to my mental and physical health, and likely also my career path.

It has been – far and away — the hardest thing I have ever done to start a new postdoc in a new field as a new mom. But I have learned some things about myself:

  1. I am a badass. I have never been more proud of myself as a human than when I realized that I had figured out how to coordinate pumping, training fellowship meetings, learning the lay of the lab from my colleagues when THEY had free time, juggling my son’s 2-3 weekly medical appointments and actually getting to be his mother for an hour a day. And by the way, I made actual science happen during windows between these obligations. It has all failed so far because none of my projects are as developed as I was told they were, but I have been a badass investigator and problem solver.

 

  1. It is possible that I am mentally moving away from a career at the bench. Becoming a mother has made me an even more organized and punctual person than I was prior (which is really saying something!). This includes a diminished patience with the snail-paced progress, general inefficiency and overwhelming failure rate of scientific experiments. I adore trouble-shooting; it is where I shine as a scientist. But I do not enjoy trouble-shooting that is never-ending. I used to compensate for this onerous progress by working 60+ hour weeks (as many do), but right now I refuse to miss my son’s bedtime more than twice a week, so I’m working much closer to 40 hours. Admitting that may I no longer have the patience to be the operator at the bench has given me the peace of mind I need to continue figuring it out.

 

  1. My Science Careers IDP match has always listed “Principal investigator in a research-intensive institution” as my top career path*. This is because I enjoy all the components related to being a PI – asking questions, writing grants, managing projects, mentoring scientists, networking at conferences, giving seminars, teaching science, scientific outreach. However, I don’t necessarily want my job to require ALL of these activities together. I would likely be perfectly happy with a career focusing on 2-3 of these things! What I now know that I definitely do NOT want out of my career – at least for the next few years while my son in young – is a 60+ hour work week. And that is a major change for me. I think I like it.

 

So now what? What do I do with this new perspective? My current plan is to reassess my position and objectives at 6 months and 1 year into my postdoc**. I do not think that 3 months in is the right time to reassess or act on a job change. But it is absolutely on my mind. And so is getting to go home to my sweet happy baby.

 

*As an aside, the ImaginePhD IDP matches me best to a writing/editing/publishing career. Fascinating.

**A bigger subject for another post!

Posted in academia, alternative career, efficiency, motherhood, postdoc, women in science | Leave a comment

When should details of misconduct be made public?

Amid the #metoo movement, we have seen extreme publicity of the Hollywood allegations of sexual misconduct, including the shocking and sensational details revealed by victims coming forward. We have seen some spread of this movement and publicity to other arenas as well, including research in STEM fields. Academic institutions should already be prepared to deal with allegations as they arise, but should also be able to respond to the growing attention paid, by both the media and people in the field or organization, to issues of misconduct.

A recent termination of a prominent scientist at a prominent research institution raised a lot of questions – with no answers apparently forthcoming. The particular scientist and institution are not essential for the message of this post, but you can read about him here. This institution, like many others, has a reputation for quelling accusations before they reach a level where action must be taken, and for not taking action when many deem it necessary. So, many people were happily surprised to find that someone (a prominent someone!) would and could be terminated for breaching institutional policies.

But what were those policies? What actually happened? The institution has not revealed this, except to say that it was not scientific misconduct, which leads one to believe that it must have been inappropriate interpersonal behavior. Indeed, even some employees in the researcher’s lab have no idea what happened, and reportedly have asked the institution to explain, with no further information obtained.

It is certainly important to consider that the institution may be acting in the interest of the individuals involved – both perpetrator and victims – to keep the details undisclosed. But is that the best course of action?

In a time where we – all of us, right? – are trying to rid our institutions of the sexual misconduct infestation that negatively impacts both individual and field-wide well-being and advancement, institutions should be doing everything in their power to make it known that this specific act will not be tolerated here. This would encourage others with allegations to come forward, and discourage potential perpetrators from initiating or continuing similar actions, and, all in the best long-term interest of the institution, enhance the overall image and attractiveness of this place as a safe environment where misconduct will be investigated and not tolerated, leaving the work to be the central feature.

Institutions should endeavor to be as brave as the many women who have come forward to share their stories – for the benefit of the people and the future.

Posted in #metoo, academia, conflict, misconduct, Public, public image, sexism, support, women in science, Women in STEM | 1 Comment

Is this cheating or is it networking?

I’m a TA for a large undergraduate course that’s required for premed and bio majors. As I was grading the first exam of the course, I was scoring an open-ended question that was vaguely worded. So I was surprised when many of the students put together the exact cookie-cutter answer the professor was looking for.

“How on earth did they know what she was asking here?” I said to another TA. “Did you guys cover this explicitly in review sessions?”

The other TA answered, “No we really didn’t talk about that too much. But I think a similar question was on last semester’s exam? She refused to let them have a copy of that to study from, though. So I don’t know how they could have seen that.” She frowned at her pile of exams, “I’m having the same concerns with another question.”

A few minutes and a brief internet search later, we figured out that the exam from last semester was still posted online and although it was not available to current students, the exam and answer key were still accessible to last semester’s students. So, basically, any student who knew a former student would have had an answer key prior to the exam since the professor re-used the same exam from the preceding semester.

Upon review, it became clear from the lack of variety in responses to the open-ended questions that most of the students who had scored well on the exam had seen a copy of the answer key. For instance, one question asked students to draw and label the structures of the pituitary gland. The professor, on the answer key, drew the organ from an unusual angle. Many of the students did the same, although this was not how the pituitary gland was drawn in the text, in lectures, or in most online resources.

We, of course, immediately alerted the professor to the situation. She promised to make the next exam ‘harder’. In my mind, this was not a sufficient response to the inequities of the present exam, because the students clearly did not have access to the same study resources so I don’t think it was a very fair test.

Students who were able to get old exams and answer keys were simply using all resources at their disposal to study—although from a pedagogical perspective, if students simply reiterate answers they may not understand well, they’re clearly not getting much information out of the course. On the other hand, I sympathized with students who did not have access to the old exam through their social connections, studied hard, and did not score as well. I worry that they might be discouraged from putting in honest work in the future because of this experience.

What would you do in this situation? As a TA, I feel really frustrated and can imagine what the students who didn’t have the answer key feel. Of course, I think the professor should not have re-used last semester’s exam. I personally thought the professor should have done a mea culpa and not factored this exam into the final grade but she said that was not an option. I really hope she will create new exams in the future and I’ve even offered with the other TAs to write the next exam. But I just don’t have a lot of power in this situation.

Although I personally don’t think the students cheated in this case, since the answer key was so easily available, there’s a fine line between them and these guys, who, in my opinion, clearly cheated—although they seem to think their behavior was justified as ‘networking’.

Briefly, the link goes to a case where a professor re-used old exam questions although he took pains not to allow copies of his exams to fall into students’ hands. Some students managed to photograph their exams behind his back and passed them on to friends in the course. The thread was started by a student who did not have a copy of this exam, found out others did, and wasn’t sure what to do about it. Many responses posted on the thread were along the lines of this one: “Life isn’t fair, bruh, time to make some friends.”

Reading what those students wrote makes me wonder– what are the differences between cheating, slightly unethical behavior, and networking (especially in 2018 where such lines are completely blurred, even in the highest office in America)? Is cheating just networking to a greater extent?

The pre-med students who have been rewarded with high grades for ‘networking’ don’t seem motivated to outgrow this behavior either—CNN revealed radiology residents cheated on their board exams by basically the same means—which, frankly, could put our healthcare at risk.

I’m feeling naïve in my belief that students come to college to learn (as I did), or that they’re here for anything more than a grade on a transcript and a fat salary down the road. But, especially for pre-med and medical students, academia is set up to reward grades over knowledge, students learn to game this system by ‘networking’, and it’s difficult to know what, if anything, to do to change that.

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