Don’t Throw Me Under the Bus

It’s been almost a month, so I thought I should tell you a little more of the nitty-gritty of my Ph.D. program.  It’s busy.  I don’t have time to read for pleasure anymore, but I am listening to books on tape during my drive to campus, which is an hour from my home.  I wish I could somehow utilize that driving time to get school work done, but my dad made a good point when he said I should relax and listen to fun books.  So, that’s what I’ve been doing.   And the heated leather seats in my Subaru Outback are pretty nice for relaxing as well, especially since I recently found out that my lower back pain is due to a bone deformity!

I’ve had lower back pain since early high school.  I remember asking a P.E. teacher how to stretch my lower back once after we had been running because of the pain that it caused.  I also spent some time in physical therapy after pulling some muscles during cross-country practice.  I thought my back pain was normal, or due to the time I shot a rifle and it kicked back pretty hard.  Well, it turns out, in my doctor’s words, “Your back isn’t normal.”  Okay, I get it!  I have what’s called a transitional segment.  This means one of my lower vertebrae got confused and thought it was part of my pelvis.  The wing on the side of the vertebrae has grown a lot larger than it should have and may have fused to my pelvis.  This explains why I can lean pretty far to the side one way but not the other.  It also explains why sitting on hard seats is so uncomfortable.  And it explains why running is very bad for my back.  So, I’ve done some physical therapy, and basically, to not be in pain, I have to have my abs and lower back muscles in perfect shape for the rest of my life.  No pressure.  And let’s not forget how impossible that is since I’ve already had two children!  My belly may have returned to its somewhat flat glory after my first, but after my second, nothing has been the same.

Well, that was a long tangent.  Back to my Ph.D. program.  It’s tough but I love it.  I’ve met so many smart and capable students.  Of my cohort, there are four men and one woman (me).  But there are a few other women who have been in the program for three or four years and are working on their dissertations.  There is one woman who is closer to my age and is in her second year.  I feel like we are becoming friends.  It’s a nice feeling.

I led the class discussion in my teaching technical writing class earlier this week. It went well because I brought cupcakes, but the students were also active in the discussion, which helped move things along, and they were all complimentary after class was over.  I felt good about that.

I wrote my first “major” paper for my women’s studies class titled The Culture and Politics of Motherhood.  I had the opportunity to interview my mother-in-law and my paternal grandmother about what it means to be a good mother and a bad mother and how they learned the difference.  I put “major” in quotation marks because the result was supposed to be two pages. I ended up with nine.  I may shorten it and tweak it and share the ideas with you in a blog post soon.

The most upsetting moment so far, besides those little moments of doubt that have crept in and caused me to wonder exactly why I am doing this program, has been during a class discussion with the other first-year students.  We were discussing activity theory, determinism, humanism, genre theory, and agency as it relates to technology.  I had never heard of most of what the professor had been telling us, complete with a drawing of inter-laid triangles on the board.  I listened intently, trying to take it all in and writing down descriptive notes.  (Yes, I’m old fashioned.  I still write with a paper and pen.  I don’t remember as much if I take notes on my ipad.)  Anyway, one student was involved vocally in the professor’s presentation and kept asking questions and pontificating.  I found it to be annoying, as he kept interrupting the professor, but I want to believe that he’s good-hearted, so I tried to listen and be respectful.  Well, that charitable feeling changed when this student turned to me, about an hour into the lecture, and says, “So, Emily, what do you think about all of this?  You usually post interesting discussions in the online forum, so why don’t you share your thoughts.”

Well, my thoughts were, “I don’t know any of this stuff and I’d better just keep my mouth shut and listen so I can learn it.”

Besides that, what gives this student the right to take over the class and start directing the conversation by calling on me?  He didn’t call on any of the other students in the room who weren’t saying much.  I just stammered a bit and said, “I don’t know.  I don’t know what to think yet.”

Awkward silence.  I wish I would have looked at the professor.  I wonder what he thought of this exchange.  Did he think that I was stupid because I didn’t have any deep thoughts, or did he wonder what the heck the other student was doing taking over and calling on fellow students?  I guess I’ll never know, but I do know that if this student does that to me again, I will say . . . Hmm, what should I say?  How can I respond?  How should I have responded the first time?  I’m just not that witty in those moments. Any suggestions?

Well, that’s where this post was supposed to end, but last night I had my chance to make it clear that I had not been pleased with this student’s behavior.  He actually brought it up at our research meeting.  He joked about having ladies go first, when it came to asking questions at the meeting, and then said, “Oops, never mind.  I already threw Emily under the bus once this week.”

I seized the opportunity and turned to him.  I said, “Yes, and don’t ever do it again.  You know, I went home last night wondering how to tell you this.  Here it is:  DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!”  I think he got the message, as I did the Donald Trump firing hand while I said this.  He laughed it off, but I’m pretty sure he understands my displeasure.

The funny part of this situation was my female friend’s awareness of it. I mentioned her earlier.  She’s the second-year student that is becoming my friend.  Last night solidified this process after we attended the department social together and had a chance to chat.  I confided my feelings about this situation with the student “throwing me under the bus” to her, and her suggestion was to ask him what he meant by calling on me in class.  She said that giving him a chance to explain his motives would then give me a chance to explain my feelings about the incident and to make those feelings clear to him.  Well, I didn’t have to ask because of what ended up happening, but I could see her smirking over the whole thing.

She also took the opportunity later in the meeting to make it clear to him that the people in our program are not in competition with one another.  When I had told her what had happened, she and I discussed the possibility of this man’s posturing or trying to one-up me.  We also explored the idea of gender issues, as he did not do what he did to me to any of the (also quiet) men in the room.  Anyhow, without mentioning his behavior or the knowledge of the situation, she made it clear that we are all in the program to help each other and that our research interests are so varied that there’s no need for a competitive spirit.

I like her.  I like my program.  I just need to start speaking up for myself!

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24 thoughts on “Don’t Throw Me Under the Bus

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  1. Some people can’t help but be competitive, no matter the circumstances. I’ll never understand it, since I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, but even “individual” activities often get co-opted by those who think life is a race to be better than everyone else.

    That said, it’s possible this guy was honestly curious to hear your analysis on the class discussion. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he really wanted to know what you thought. I think you handled it perfectly, making a joke out of it but letting him know that you don’t want to be put in that position again!

  2. I agree with Haley’s comment and think you behaved perfectly. And in my experience as a professor, the students who speak up in every single class (not the ones who speak from time to time) are often the weakest for some odd reason….. perhaps, because they aren’t giving themselves the time to absorb the information?

  3. I don’t really think well on my feet. I need to take notes, absorb the information and come to terms with it on my own time. I would have been livid if someone confronted me like that. Hopefully he learned his lesson; you handled the situation well.

      1. Good for you! I’m sure you’ll be able to put him in his place before too long; you’re so bright and express yourself so well. Being able to speak well is a much more powerful tool than being able to answer all the questions.

  4. I am like you and Amy. I do better when I get home. It is like everything clicks when I leave class. Your professor may have gone home and told his or her spouse the story of an obnoxious student throwing another student under the bus! That should make you smile. If I was a teacher I would be annoyed by that behavior. But I think he is a little threatened by you being a woman. He may feel like he has to perform “better” than you in order to keep up his “manhood.” What is interesting is that more women take college degrees now than men. The tables are turning in our favor! Now if we can just get a smart, caring, woman for president…

  5. I obviously don’t know the guy – but like Haley, I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Granted that’s hard to do because I think you are a very good judge of character and I don’t want you to think I doubt your read on the situation. You are in class with this guy and it sounds like he may have some areas that could use some improvement when it comes to social interactions. I don’t think he should have acted the way he did by singling you out in the class. With that said, I still think he may truly have been interested in your opinion. He clearly follows what you say in the online class forum. Maybe he enjoys your challenging and thoughtful interactions in the online class forum and expected the in-person class exchanges to be the same? Again, I want to stress that out of respect to you, he should have waited for you to comment on your own (or even asked for your opinion after class if he was truly interested). Still, maybe what he said came from a place of true curiosity of your opinion rather than intentionally trying to throw you under the bus. In fact, his later comment makes me think that he actually felt somewhat bad for what he did and recognized that his behavior wasn’t appropriate. At least he wasn’t oblivious to that!
    I had this happen to me once- but in my case I was called upon by the teacher (who had every right to call on me because she was teaching). Unlike you, I wasn’t trying to listen and pay attention to what she was teaching, I was day dreaming. When she called on me, I hadn’t even heard the question. The teacher was clearly not impressed. My example also differs from yours in that my class was a very intermediate level. To this day I don’t remember the question, but it could not have been challenging. The classes you are taking are so advanced that I don’t think there should be a single ounce of shame in saying, “I’m still trying to absorb and understand the material and have yet to make my own conclusions about it.” In fact, I find that much more respectable and courageous than the student that doesn’t quite yet understand the material but runs his mouth to cover up that fact.

    1. I do think he felt bad, but not as bad as I thought he should have felt. He just joked about it like it was hilarious. I like the way you phrased saying, ” I don’t know” but with more impressive language. That is what I should have said, not “uh, I dunno!” 🙂

  6. I wouldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. He was being a jerk and trying to draw attention to himself. You did the right thing to go right at him and should do it again if he starts posturing. There’s a lot of that sort of thing in graduate programs. I suspect it stems from insecurity — but it’s not your problem. You have enough to worry about without giving him another thought. Try to ignore people like that — unless he gets in your face again — and keep close to those who appreciate you!

  7. That scenario would have irritated me had I experienced it. I think you did the right thing at the research meeting. Thoughts (especially on theories) do need time to develop. I wonder why he would have expected a response from you during the lecture–very weird. In a way he threw himself under the bus.

  8. You remind me of my best friend, she is so nice and once got a problem with someone like that too. I used to think that ‘that’ kind of person is so full of himself, until I tried to talk to him (her, in my case) and found out that she really had no idea about it. Now she’s on of my favorite friends & she’s so true & loving.
    Maybe that guy who threw you under the bus also has no idea that he has done something bad.. 🙂

  9. I think it takes much more courage to admit that we don’t know what is going on. Far too many people blab on and on about things that they know very little, yet act like they are experts in the field because they read one article on it.

    1. I completely agree. In class a few nights ago, I made the comment that sometimes we can gain more respect from our students (it’s a teaching tech writing class) if we admit that we don’t know as much as they do about engineering or physics. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” That’s much more respectable than pretending to know and then getting found out or looking like a fool. I don’t think everybody agreed with me, but I’m sticking to that idea. It’s served me well so far in life!

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