On not being that cool prof

So some stupid things have happened amid some wonderful day–day things. The wonderful: DW is pretty cool. 7 is the best. No, seriously: she’s pretty much the prototype of an awesome 7-year-old. But this is going to be a whine about bad things, so on with them.

Maybe in a nutshell: This is why you don’t try to be that cool professor. I have tried, not just because I wanted to be cool or liked, but because I wanted a subset of students to have an experience where they did real research with real consequences and were treated more like colleagues than underlings. Well. My fault for trying, right?

I work with a good* group of undergrads, especially the group that came together in my research lab about 18 to 24 months ago. Most of them have graduated or faded to other things, but some are still working with me. We’ve done good research, traveled, written together, and socialized, too. Until recently it’s been pretty great.

One of these (my favorite; don’t tell the others) got herself into a relationship with someone I don’t like. I think her partner is manipulative, entitled, overbearing, and maybe a bit sociopathic. And that partner suddenly (last year) wanted to be part of our lab. OK. I love Favorite, so you can come on board, too, Partner. This semester Partner enrolled in research with me for credit. As usual, I tried to set up some expectations, etc. Partner avoided almost everything, then suddenly sort of turned it around at the last minute. Sort of. And I had already lowered the bar a good deal. She did a project and it was actually kind of lame. I was prepared to be as positive as possible, though. I tried. During her presentation I asked questions (as is my wont) and made comments on her ridiculously short presentation, partly, I think, to draw it out beyond three minutes so it would seem (for Fave, who was there) like it wasn’t so sad. My questions were interested and complimentary but not challenging or critical. I was trying to be supportive.

As a result I got irritated comments from Partner, and then extreme annoyance, then pointed, nasty personal insults. I have rarely been spoken to like this as an adult, let alone as a professor evaluating student work. I held my tongue because Fave was there, and I didn’t want to trash someone she loved. However, I told Partner I didn’t appreciate the unprofessional behavior and her response was that it’s OK LOL because nothing she says to cis males should be taken seriously.

Seriously? Her insults and sarcasm at the presentation had nothing (at least on the surface) to do with gender identity or sexual orientation; if I had to guess, I’d say she just didn’t want to have any kind of discussion of her mediocre presentation, possibly because she was self-conscious about how mediocre it was. Her response suggests she reserves the right to be an asshole to anyone in certain identity groups, in any way she chooses and for any reason, and she expects no consequences because she is in a protected group. Fuck that.

The more I thought about it, the more annoyed I got. She came to me for this opportunity, and I created it for her (without any compensation, of course; we don’t get paid or get workload credit for this). It’s research, but I have seen no evidence she wants to learn anything. All the evidence (not just her presentation behavior but several other things) suggests that she is only interested in telling people things, and having them shut their mouths and not reply. And maybe she’s interested in inserting herself into all social situations her partner (Fave) values, to keep an eye on her. Her presentation’s mediocrity could be largely described by saying there was no evidence that her literature review had taught her anything; everything in it was information she already had. I don’t have a lot of respect for someone wanting the badge of “research” without any intention of learning.

So that’s shitty situation one.

Shitty situation two: I went out for a drink with a different student. I had done this before, with another faculty member present (and he was rumored to be this time, too, though he didn’t show up and maybe the rumor only came from the student in the following depressing story). This time, Student was drunk off his ass. I drink very, very little. In fact, I’ve had maybe 10 drinks in my life, and finished maybe one of them. Alcohol is neither delicious nor fun to me. Student knew all of this. He and I had worked together for two years, on a few different research projects, and socialized a little, too, with other faculty or other students. He flirted with me, but he flirts with everyone, AFAICT. He knows lots about drinks, so he had made me a couple of drinks before, with little alcohol b/c he knows my history.

Well, this night he became an asshole. He tried shoving drinks at me over and over, and I kept refusing, and he was ignoring my refusals. I finally had to literally yell at him to stop it. He apologized and asked his bartender friend to make me a drink he said I’d like. And then he propositioned me fairly explicitly. I said No, pretty firmly, and sipped my more or less fruity-tasting drink.

About 2 ounces in, suddenly my head was swimming and I didn’t know if I could walk. I tried standing but thought I’d fall over. I freaked out mentally, asked the bartender for water, and guzzled like someone dying in the desert. I made it home that night and then after the weekend I told this student I thought he had tried to get me drunk to do things I had been clear (for two f*cking years) that I absolutely did not want to do with him. He cried & left my office. And he hasn’t spoken to me since. He graduated and left town.

So to hell with all this, right now. Maybe the problem was trying to be the prof who treated my research students like colleagues. Maybe I should have just refused to work with a student who flirted with me. Maybe I should not have socialized with students. All of these ideas make me sick, though. This isn’t high school; it’s college. It’s not regular classes; it’s my research team.

So I’m kind of pissed at lots of things and people because I don’t know exactly whom I should really be angry with (except Partner, who was a complete jerk to me, possibly b/c she had no interest in my research and just wanted to keep tabs on her partner because she’s jealous and controlling, and Student, who might have tried to sexually assault me and at the very least seems to have had no deep learning from the past two years studying and researching things like consent; I’m mad at them, especially Student).

 

*Qualified by recent events, I suppose