Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Things They Don't Tell You About Grad School, Part 2: Listeners vs. Personalities

The degrees toward which I am working are housed in different departments of different schools: the counseling and educational psychology (CEP) department in the School of Education and the department of kinesiology in the School of Public Health (SPH).  As you can imagine, the faculties that populate these departments are significantly different.  No difference is more noticeable than the fact that CEP faculty are literally professional listeners - they have a doctorate in essentially interpersonal relations - and SPH faculty are professional....personalities, I guess would be the kindest way to put it.

Dealing with the CEP faculty is calming, equanimous, enjoyable even.  Dealing with the SPH faculty is sticking your hand into a bag of feral cats.  Their interpersonal skills are whatever they were born with, unlike doctoral training in counseling psychology, which rounds down the sharp edges and replaces them with sensitivity and empathy.

Since August I have engaged in a cultural/anthropological case study in the wilds of the SPH hallways.  I'll preface this story with the fact that if I were a weaker person, I would probably be seeking counsel from one set of my professors in order to deal with the other set.  Instead, I laugh a great deal at bumbles and learn what not to do.  I offer the story because it's the reality of my grad school experience.

The SPH faculty member who was recently put in charge of my graduate program is an older gentleman visiting for two years from Turkey.  He's not my professor, but ostensibly my advisor.  Early on in the semester our roles were reversed: he came to me a lot to learn how the department worked and which classes had what reputation etc etc.  We also talked about European vs. American research and rebuilding my program (that he heads) and sailing and traveling and racing and a broad range of other professional topics.  I always gave him my opinion straight up and considered him to have a good start on being a solid mentor among the faculty.  And then.

One day he found me teary eyed at my desk because my swim coach was being an ass and shuffled me off to his office to talk.  I told him the story and he preceded to claim that I was lying about the real reason for my tears - he thought I was hiding "boy problems" - and being more emotional than the situation warranted.  In the moment I was stunned because it was just so not how it's done!  How had this guy been advising students for a 35-year academic career and be so incredibly bad at counseling them?

He pretty much lost my trust and initially I was wary about what and how I said anything to him.  It balanced out such that I didn't seek him out, but acted normal when he left me no choice but to talk.  I found I wanted to see the train wreck up close some more!  Boy did I because "and then...."

About two weeks ago, at the end of a conversation during which I expressed my clear preference that professors put their syllabus on-line before the first day of class and he called me "fussy," he told me that I needed to grow my hair out because I "need a better look".

That's when I realized, I totally confound his notions of "female".  I don't look traditionally female to his Turkish sensibilities, but am not butch enough to be misidentified as male, and I have a stronger personality than he is used to from both females in general and his previous female students.  

So his hair comment probably meant "I see you as a b!tch and longer hair would help soften that image FOR ME".  
Utterly fascinating.  My hair and emotions are my hair and emotions, and he clearly isn't very used to or comfortable dealing with them.  Of course our language difficulties confuse the exchanges on top of the obvious cultural and personality differences.  He has become great discussion fodder for my multicultural counseling class.

But my main point is the sheer lack of interpersonal tuning, sensitivity, and empathy in one department which is so noticeable compared to the other half of people with whom I deal in a day.

1 comment:

the intern said...

holy s***. thats unreal. when we talk next (lets schedule it, for real), remind me to tell you about an experience i had in grad school and another one post grad school when i was in india.

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