So here's a bit of boring background that I was too pissed to write about then. I have been a T.A (teaching assistant) through most of my time in grad-school - 9 out of 12 semesters. It was something I knew I was getting into when I picked my current lab to work in an area that was quite outside of my advisor's realm of interest. For the past few years, my teaching evaluations have been stellar, and a prof I taught for suggested that I should be nominated for a T.A award last year. Each department gets to put forth only one nomination for this University-wide award. The department screwed up my nomination and it didn't go out in time. With more teaching experience than anyone else, and such good evaluations, I was pretty bummed when I realised the goof-up and saw someone else get the award. Anyways, I got lots of apologies from those concerned with a promise that they would make sure my nomination went in this year. When the time came this year, I found out I was no longer eligible for the award, because of some new stupid rule that the University had implemented and that's when I kicked the walls and ranted here.
So much for background, there were other important things to do and I let it go, but not before bitching about it to my advisor during a particularly bad day. She really had no business in this, but took it upon herself to see that my application got a fair chance. She approached whichever committees where involved and explained to them how the new rule was unreasonable, how I missed the boat earlier for no fault of mine, and successfully got my nomination in. Getting nominated itself was an honour and I was really grateful to see my advisor take up my cause, when she need not really have. A couple months later, today, I got a letter in the mail saying I had been awarded the "Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award"! Yeah! am very happy to see recognition for my effort and for all those pains my advisor took.
All of this got me thinking about my advisor. It is quite rare that a mentor-student relationship is the most hunky-dory, especially over 5 - 6 years of graduate school. My closest friends during my early grad school years got to hear the most of my rants about my advisor. At first I was too young and junior to openly revolt, so I stressed out, bitched, cried, and all that. Later on I got more upfront, verbalised my disagreements with her, (which went surprisingly well), but for the most part, I'd still have to be wary and pick my battles, and eventually just developed a thick skin and didn't let things get me down any more. In spite of her being a very demanding person, a perfectionist to an overbearing extent and ostensibly unreasonable on several occasions, I discovered over time that I didn't really have it that bad. For one, I have done really well for myself in graduate school. Her picky nature and absolute ruthlessness was what made me an excellent and confident speaker, and I had some great exposure in presenting my work at several meetings, winning awards each time. She pushed me to my limits, and it worked out to my advantage. While I may not entirely agree with her teaching philosophy, I was beginning to see a method to her madness as I went along. And when downtimes hit, she has always been amazingly encouraging, reminding me to critically evaluate the data for what it was, not what I wanted it to be.
Life in grad-school cannot be dissociated from personal life, and however much I kept the two separate, the one time things spilled over into my work-life, I found remarkable support and direction from her, that enabled me to pull things together which I probably would've never been able to do by myself. Those times she really surprised me, because we never shared much beyond a professional relationship and it was heartening to see her understand and help out in her own ways.
I am not done with school yet, and we still don't see eye to eye on several issues. She is not my most favourite person or my best friend. But she deserves a lot of credit for mentoring me, and doing a good job of it. It's quite unfair, in some ways, that while I will be getting her to write me recommendation letters for the next several years, I don't really get a chance to thank her and express my respect for her in more visible ways, besides the customary blurb in acknowledgments for my thesis etc.
If only every rant had an equal and opposite anti-rant like this. :-)