Thursday, September 11, 2008

academic gossip

Herb loves to gossip about other scientists. Never in a malicious way, but he tells stories about other scientists all the time, almost always with personal anecdotes. He especially likes to tell stories about other scientists in his classes to demystify scientists for undergrads who might not really know what it's like to be a scientist. Herb also loves to emphasize and talk about scientists with unconventional backgrounds because he thinks they have disproportionate effects on the field. He's been around long enough that he's spent lots of time chumming around with some big names in big places, too.

Herb tells stories about his grad students, many of whom are very well-established in their careers since Herb is getting up there in age. Like I said, it's not malicious at all, and it's obvious that he admires his students' eccentricities that he shares with others.

What's been bothering me recently is how much he's told me about his other current students. For example, in conversation about how his summer's field season went, he told me that he was worried that one of the grad students wasn't 'self correcting' on her research project when things weren't working. I just don't think I should know that.

One grad student who started with me last year is currently on a leave of absence for personal reasons. We didn't become close, partly because of the intralab conflict I've mentioned- though not explained- before, but also because she's an intensely private person in my experience (to the point that she didn't mention she got married last year even though I'd met her fiance and knew she was engaged). Well, yesterday Herb told me several things that are going on in her personal life that I'm almost positive she wouldn't want everyone to know. Herb is totally, completely supportive of her and is looking forward to her returning to the lab, but I still don't think he should've told me those things.

So I've got to find a way to tactfully tell Herb that I don't want to know what's going on the personal lives of the other grad students unless they tell me directly or it somehow becomes relevant to my role in the lab group. Have you ever dealt with a situation like this?

Huh. I wonder what he says about me.


EcoGeoFemme said...

OMG! My advisor does this all the time and I hate it. Often it's stuff about how the other students are performing, which is even more uncomfortable. I think he thinks it's somehow motivational, but it's not.

sarcozona said...

While it can be uncomfortable, I've generally found those bits of information help me interact better with other students in the lab. Maybe they aren't willing to tell me what's going on, but if I know, I'm a lot more forgiving of crankiness,etc.

Albatross said...

My advisor does this but the worst is when he tries to get personal information about labmates from me. I started asking what the stories he was telling have to do with me. After suggesting he ask the personal questions to people themselves- he has stopped asking me.

Paulina said...

My PI is quite the opposite. He specifically forbids us all from gossiping. He says anyone who gossips about others will gossip about you. That doesn't stop him from talking about some specific competitors, but on a purely work-related topics, never personal.

Silver Fox said...

It sounds like he is quite a talker, and most of the other stories aren't harmful, even interesting to inspiring. Possibly, though, Herb doesn't know the difference when he starts telling you about the current events of people who are more your peers than anything else.

I wonder if he does that with everyone, or if he's telling you these things because he is starting to see you more as a colleague than a grad student? Whereas some of these tidbits might help you to interact with other grad students better, sometimes stories like that can gradually bias you against a person.

I'm not sure what would be the best way to tell him you don't want to hear about current students or ones who might come back. Maybe you can somehow shift the conversation, or tell him you need to get back to work. Maybe you could jokingly ask him what he tells other people about you?