Early mentors and Shit my department chair says and Why I was gone

My postdoc mentor and I had a rocky road. No surprise there. We were both strong women who thought we new it all. I learned a lot from her, and she helped me get a great first job. She new my PhD advisor was a jerk and would write less than stellar letters for me. She came to me to discuss the content of her letters for me as a way of offsetting his letters. I learned a fair amount of how to be a good advisor from her.

Our paths crossed intermittently over the next 20 years, as she established a collaboration with the Department Chair from Hell. It worked for her because she wanted to do the science and he wanted the glory. She was an MD/PhD who actually was doing science and had given up practice. He was an MD who didn’t really understand research. It was a good and productive collaboration for a number of years, at least two NIH grants worth.

Then she got an adenocarcinoma. She had lots of radiation therapy, including transcranial. It impacted her mentation, but she was still functioning as a scientist. She went into remission for about 7 years, and did well. The experiments had moved from her MRU to our MRU (and I got to see her a lot, which was good). The  grant moved to my MRU, and the not-yet-Chair-from-Hell became the PI. Then, he became chair, her cancer came back, and she had more therapy.

The chair from hell became unhappy about “her commitment to the work”. He was totally neurotic about what the Dean Would Think About His Work.  So he threw her off the grant, took back her subcontract. He spent at least three hours justifying this to me. “There is so much more I can do with the money than support her”. Mind you, she was still working and productive. I thought he was an ass. This was not the first time, but one of the earliest.

Then, a few years later, her cancer got much worse. I didn’t know till near the end. The dept chair finally said something to me. I was leaving for a scientific meeting in Japan in three days. I decided to go up to where she lived (about 4 hr drive) and say goodbye. I told him this and he said (and this IS a quote, it is carved in stone in my head) “Now that I am chair, I only have time for one trip, and I would rather go to her memorial and speak”.

I did see her, she was not entirely there. I said to her there were three things I would like her to know: She made a difference to the world of science, She made a difference to me and my career, and I thank her for both of these things. She squeezed my hand. I cried all the way home.

That was nearly 10 years ago. Fast forward to today. One of my colleagues, a long time collaborator just turned 80. He lives in Europe. He still reads my grants and papers and calls me out on my bullshit. His wife called me to invite me to a surprise party for him. I pulled money out of savings and went. I am glad I did. It is good to have friends of different ages. It is good to appreciate them while they are alive.




9 thoughts on “Early mentors and Shit my department chair says and Why I was gone

  1. Pingback: Early mentors and Shit my department chair says and Why I was gone – Mistress of the Animals | the neuron club

  2. Pingback: Skills a PI needs or a snowflake’s chance in hell | Mistress of the Animals

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