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!