V (vogtalicious) wrote in antiacademia,
V
vogtalicious
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Frustrating advisor

I have three people on my thesis committee, and the paper is done--if you're curious, the chair approved of it in it's fifth draft, not that it matters. Chair says it's fine, let's defend it. Other committee member says fine, let's defend it. 

Final committee member--who is the head of my department--says it's not in the correct paper format (APA). He then sends a fairly curt letter displaying this message, as well as the fact that I'm almost done with my degree, shouldn't I know this format by now? I see my mistakes, print out the Purdue APA example paper, and follow it to the friggin' T. I show this one to the chair again, and she says it looks even better than before. Tickled, I hand it in to my final adviser.

He sends one of the nastiest emails I have ever received from a professor, basically stating that I was wasting his time with this paper (!) and I must think I'm the class clown for thinking this is in the correct format. He also said I used improper words, like 'growing' as a verb and 'stellar'. What other 'improper' words there were, he did not state, though he did say I used too many of them. He then said that I may not contact him anymore, he is tired of working with my paper if I can't seem to improve myself, and that I should not be bothering other professors with this paper, since they will all tell me the same thing.

I was so shocked I almost cried. I then ran to my chair to ask her what to do. She looked over my paper again, and said that she will talk to this professor personally, and that he's known for not always having all of his apples in the barrel, so to speak.

I'm very glad my other advisers (especially my chair!) are on my side. But I must defend my thesis this term, as I am going on internship next term. Is it too late to seek another adviser? What can I do since he refuses to speak to me? How can I possibly defend my paper in front of him if he's already acting like this?

Arrrrrrggggh. This term was going so well, so smooth, and now this garbage happens!
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  • 19 comments
Wow, that sounds awful, unreasonable, and unprofessional.

It also sounds like you have a leg up: your chair understands what's going on, and the rest of your committee is on board. A good chair will defend you from people like this--especially during the defense--and your other committee members will likely do the same. If I were you, I'd meet with my chair and talk strategy for the defense.

At this point, I'd probably stick with the nasty guy, because the fallout from "firing" him from your committee might be worse than just sucking it up and dealing with him. Plus, finding another person and catching them up might be more trouble than it's worth. And, finally, it's the chair's decision whether you pass or not, ultimately. (This is how it is in my department, but may not be the case everywhere.) She can override this crazy man since he's being, well, crazy.

Good luck!
One quick thought-- maybe instead of going by an "example paper," you should actually get the actual Publication Manual of the American Psychological Society (available on Amazon from 2 bucks used) and make sure you're not actually, you know, messing up the finer points of the style.
This is what I was thinking too. The university library also probably has a copy that you can reference.
Er, my focus is not on psychology, so I don't know if I should use that manual or not.

I'm in Public Admin, and our style is APA from Purdue University's public system, a manual that I possess. I needed a clear picture of what this adviser wanted, and that example was what he gave me.
Chances are, the info you'd need (how to format references, specifically) will be in the summary docs that Purdue has. All the info that the Purdue manual has *should* be the same as the APA manual, of course, so technically, you are using the APA manual. You can always take a trip to the library to look at the full manual, but it's probably not going to be necessary.

The guy wants you to suffer. I seriously doubt he cares about formatting. Most faculty don't give a crap about the format--they care about substance. Maybe he liked your paper and he felt the need to give you a hard time as kind of a hazing ritual.

Oh--have you spoken with some of his current and former students? Might be good to hear that you're not the only one, and maybe they have some ways of dealing with him.
Style guides deal with more than just citations, though. It seemed like at least a possibility that this professor-- though being an ass about it, clearly-- was noticing breaks from standard APA format, and that the difference might lie in the things that the citation guide does not cover that the (fairly exhaustive) style guide does.

Armchair analysis might be good for licking one's wounds and making the thing feel less like a "you suck moment," but if someone was blasting me like this for not going according to a particular style guide, my first instinct-- or at least my first pragmatic, useful one-- would be to have said style guide *IN HAND.*
Dude, when something like this happens to me, and I cry about it on my LJ, promise me that you'll point this out to me? I think I would totally miss something like this, though it makes a LOT of sense.
Definitely. And you do the same for me. My advisor is a stylistic hardass. This WILL come up in the future for me.
Style guides deal with more than just citations, though. It seemed like at least a possibility that this professor-- though being an ass about it, clearly-- was noticing breaks from standard APA format, and that the difference might lie in the things that the citation guide does not cover that the (fairly exhaustive) style guide does.

Yes, yes, yes.

Our office has an abbreviated guideline to CMS that we created for quick reference, but people are supposed to abide by CMS in full. Being one of the two in the office who is familiar with CMS and refers to it regularly (we have an office account, goodness!), I know that I'm prone to sending things back to people with notes on following X rule per section Y. I hope that I don't come across as this crazy, though....
Many students have had him, and many students horribly regret having him. He's rumored to be fairly manic, and I've dealt with his attitude before when I was put on probation (I had a 3.2). He basically screamed at me in front of the dean of the graduate school. To be frank, I felt more humiliated for him than anything else. Later, he defended my idea for my thesis, saying it was innovative and neat. Now he's....yeah.

Maybe bi-polar? I don't know, psych is not my field!
I'm so sorry I don't even know what to say. I'd wait until the Chair had a talk with the adviser, and in the meantime Just make sure you have all your other committee members on track and maybe prepare them should they need to step into the advisory role. I hope everything works out!
That sounds ridiculous. I'd be ready to cry myself.

Just out of curiousity, though...is the head of your department from a different discipline originally than your chair/advisor? Is it possible that your advisor is *not* up on APA style? Do you have a fellow grad student who you're sure is conversant with APA to look over it for you?

It *sounds* like you're being screwed by a guy with an attitude issue, but you may want to get a second opinion on your paper just to be sure. It might be that your chair/advisor is seeing great content and just handwaving style, or not even sure of it herself. (And let me hasten to say - this isn't an insult to your advisor, obviously I don't know her, but I have had full professors, even in a graduate program, who were not particularly keen on or careful about formatting.)
...And yeah-- I don't use APA, but the impression that I've gotten is that it changes a bit over time-- perhaps to a greater extent than Chicago or MLA?

I just can't shake the feeling that the most likely scenario here is that you have a person with serious tone issues noticing legitimate style issues-- and style issues are minor until they're the only problem left, but then, yeah, they need to get fixed.

Maybe he's trying to say that the paper is basically done, but you keep screwing up basic style issues that are covered by APA. That's the scenario that makes the "you're wasting my time" comment make the most sense-- he's seen several revisions that were good but consistently weren't in keeping with APA style.
I do use APA myself and it can be tricky, especially if someone's being a douche OR you're dealing with something fairly cutting edge, since style has to change a lot to keep up. (I do stuff on new technology a lot, hence my wariness here.)

I'm a little concerned because upthread the OP doesn't even seem to be aware that she should be using APA style overall, and is instead relying on a university-provided mini-book, from what it sounds like, and those generally just don't have all the info you need for a thesis. :\
What's irritating about the whole bit is that the professor gave me the stupid mini-book as a Bible of sorts--which it is not. The entire formatting section is available on our university's website if one has the password and is in the program.

Yeah, I found out APA changed AGAIN this year...hence, I'm staying away from Public Admin academia after this degree!
No kidding. I only just recently realized how complex the Turabian rules for captioning illustrations were. I had not done this correctly in a single paper before, ever.
My chair has a ph.d in English and is married to the Chicago style format, which I used as an undergraduate. Meanwhile, this guy is in Political Science and is much more anal about papers looking a little drier--hence, flipping out at the use of certain words.
I'm so sorry! This sounds like a nightmare. I would has ceratinly cried i I were you, but I am a wimp like that.

APA just changed it's style guidelines. I'd recommend purchasing a 2009 updated APA guideline (you can get a simple one for around $18) and use this as your reference. Perhaps this Dr. Crazy Pants is not aware of the change? Or perhaps the example you followed was not updated? Either way, I think it is best to check against the most recent edition, to cover yourself. Clearly this adviser is unstable, and you want to completely cover yourself.

Good luck!!!
Yessssss....I found that out too while writing this paper. Curse them all! Why do they have to change all the freakin' time! And thanks!