Friday, February 15, 2013

Confrontations

One day, my professor and co-professor came to me and said that Porter told them that I only chose small trees to core, these were suppressed trees not representative of the population, but would have been easier for me to core through. If the results were wrong, I would be responsible. That lit my temper instantly. I told them that I did not choose small trees to core and that I always tried to locate the largest trees in each plot. Except the first three trees in each plot were out of my control because Mark chose them for collecting root and leaf samples. And yes, most of Mark’s trees were suppressed trees since he would not be able to get the leaves if they were too tall. I had to core his trees, so I intentionally chose bigger ones after Mark’s first three trees.
     “Why didn’t you ask me about my job instead of Porter? I was the one doing the work. Porter had his own job to do in the field. I had the basic training in China as part of my undergraduate studies. I know what suppressed trees look like.” My professor said that he trusted Porter’s undergraduate training here in the U.S. first. I was angry. I told him that what he was doing was wrong. He should not have accused me of doing something that I didn’t do, but had just heard something from another student. He had all my field data. He should have at least checked the data before that accusation. He told me that there was no way he could check it because he didn’t follow me around while I did my work. I said, “if you don’t have a way, may I suggest a way to you?” He wouldn’t listen to me until my co-professors suggested he listen to what I had to say. I said, “You are right that you cannot follow us around, but your job is figuring out how to check our work out there. You have all of our data. Porter measured every tree in the plot so he would have the average tree size for each plot. I only cored 7–12 trees in each of his plots of which Mark decided the first three trees of mine. And Mark and I would also have an average size of the trees I cored. If my trees were smaller than the average size of Porter’s, then you and Porter would be right. But if my average is larger, that indicates that my trees were dominant trees and not small suppressed trees.” Even if you think that I made up the data to make them bigger, I took every one of my tree samples back to the college and you could measure the cores yourself which would tell you the diameter of all my trees,” I added. Finally with my co-professor’s help, he agreed to check my data against Porter’s. He said, “Okay, I will go home tonight to calculate all of Porter’s averages, you do yours. Tomorrow at 8 o’clock sharp, let’s meet here to compare them.” I was hoping Porter would do his own calculations and I would do mine and Mark’s data.
     The next morning, I compared my data against his. Every one of mine was 2–3 cm larger than Porter’s average. Not a single one was smaller. Then my professor said, “Okay, you are right. You did not choose small trees.” I received no apologies from anyone.
     This incident forced me to take charge of my own research. I had been always out of the decision-making process too many times. Sometimes, I didn’t even know where we were going and what we were going to do there. One week, we went back to one of our old sites from which we had already collected samples in the previous year. For me, I didn’t know what to do because I already had all the samples I needed. Porter said that we needed to help Mark find the three trees that he sampled for roots and leaves in the woods. The trouble was, there was no way to find them because he did not tag or mark the trees. All the shrubs covered up everything and they all looked alike now. I was upset most because I did not even think that this was the purpose for revisiting the site after driving and walking for so many hours, and because I knew it was a waste of time and energy. I had a big argument with my professor after I got back. I asked him why not let me know if there was a meeting before the trip. He said that he had told Porter to let me know. Porter said that he left me a note on my desk but wasn’t sure. So I told my professor that he should simply leave a note in my mailbox or inform me directly, since I, like Porter, was also his research assistant. Secondly, if all of them claimed that they had better, or basic training on sampling here in US, it was a stupid idea just even to think they could go back to a forest to find a few untagged or unmarked trees a year later. Then, my professor said, “It was my idea, okay; am I stupid?” I was upset. I said, “Yes, you are a stupid professor.” My sharp criticism shocked everyone because I was always quiet. I said, “My being quiet doesn’t mean that I don’t think. Just because I don’t say anything, does not mean that I don’t have anything to say. Plus you guys never gave me a chance to say anything. Then you wanted to dump all your problems on me. I let everyone else go first to show my respect. But that doesn’t mean that you guys should take over and not gave me a chance to speak.”
     Later on, Mark wrote an abstract about our work for the annual pathological conference. He put Porter’s name first, then, his, then mine, followed by the two professors’ names. I thought it was okay until the second round I saw this red circle around my name and a note “I wonder if her name should be here at all?” I asked Mark about who wrote that and he said that Porter did and they already had disregarded his comment. My name should at least be there, if not second. I said, “Porter again?” I was upset. I sat there for a long time and I wrote him a nasty open letter telling him what was on my mind because I could not say it myself without crying. We did not have email back then. I don’t remember most of it now. Basically, I said that he must drink too much beer, smoke too much whatever he was smoking, forgot what I had done in the field, forgot how I had helped him set up his each and every one of his plot before I even started my own work. For the lab work after the fieldwork, too bad that he was not my major professor and I did not report to him what I did in the lab. I wouldn’t mind waiting for him to finish his Masters first, then Ph.D. then find an assistant professor position somewhere and maybe then I would report to him or let him check my work. I was just angry with him for the years we worked together and he never stopped undermining me all the time.
     My professor came to my office with the letter on his hand and asked me to go with him to his office where Porter and Mark and my co-professors were already seated. I noticed that he tried to keep himself from laughing on the way downstairs. Porter was standing at the farthest corner. My professor said, “How could you write something like this to your fellow graduate student?” I stated “there were all the facts, and I asked how could he treat me like he did.” My professor again on his side, asked me to apologize for what I said in the letter to Porter. The others said nothing. I was not happy; I apologized to him about the letter, and said he should not have pushed me into a corner and left me with no choices.
     I complained that I was not fairly treated there. My professor said he already had given me special treatment. I said that I knew, so special that I could not take it anymore. He said that I made a big deal out of little things and it was so hard to cooperate with me. I said to my professor that I only wanted fair and equal treatment as one of his graduate students.
     I did not say anything earlier since Mark did not care. Let’s be fair. “Why was Porter’s name first anyway, Mark wrote it and he was going to the meeting? I think that Mark’s name should be first on the abstract since he wrote the abstract. Then, whoever contributed after Mark more, should follow in that order.” Mark seemed to wake up; he said, “Yeah, you are right, Ying, my name should be first.” And he did move his name to first place.
     From then on, Porter was very nice to me. He asked for my opinion every time we went somewhere and said hi whenever he saw me. But for me, I was exhausted. I really didn’t have much enthusiasm like when I first started to work with him and my professor. I thought that in China it was very difficult to fight professionally with men. Sometimes, I wondered why he even accepted women graduate students, unless that was the way he trained us to face the real world.
     During all this time, Anthony gave me strong support. Without him, I don’t think that I would have kept fighting to the end—to the completion of my degree. We were good friends. He took me out for hiking, every time I was on the top of the mountain looking down and far away, it really helped me rise up from all my problems. He and his father always used to go hiking on weekends. He also introduced religion in my life since I did not have any before. I actually prayed very hard for God’s help to get through.