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Was I treated fairly?

  1. They were MORE patient than need be

    22 vote(s)
  2. They were LESS patient than need be

    3 vote(s)
  3. They were just as patient as need be

    1 vote(s)
  1. Sep 3, 2009 #1
    I have recently got my ph.d. (last May) in Michigan and right now I am doing postdoc in India. But, even though the situation that I am about to describe is few years in the past, I would still like your take as to whether you think I been treated farly or not. In order to present accurate picture the story is quite long so this forum doesn't allow that size of a post. For that reason I will simply refer you to another forum where I made the same post, and then you can come back here and respond.

    Here it is: http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt106767.html
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 3, 2009 #2
    The mistake you made (which I managed to avoid) was that you took the rules too seriously in the beginning and later you found out that perhaps you should have done things differently.

    A talented person like you who was years ahead in math and physics at an early age should have been far more arrogant when it comes to sticking to stupid rules they have at school/university. You should have studied far more on your own and made your own plans and then bypassed any inconvenient rules at university by contacting the professors personally.

    You should have started to work on research projects (your own private projects or in collaboration with professors) when you were still at undergraduate level or even when you were at high school. Passing exams and doing what all other students do is not important at all. Because that is the curriculum for the average students, and you were way ahead of them.
  4. Sep 3, 2009 #3
    I completely agree.
    Also, I think this is the most brilliant advice I have ever heard, so thank you, Count Iblis :smile:
  5. Sep 3, 2009 #4
    Your mistake (?) was trying to rewrite string theory when you were not "supposed to"! The "powers that be" require you to play the game their way. You cannot go back and reinvent string theory if you are expected to use string theory. Check out Smolin's "The Trouble with Physics", it might give you some ideas of how you can get to a place where you can invent things, rather than just follow the party line.
  6. Sep 3, 2009 #5
    If I may summarize your original post, you refused to listen to anyone who has ever given you advice as you stumbled from school to school alienating people with your childish behavior as you went your own way.

    You are *very* lucky that you met so many *very* patient people on your way.
  7. Sep 3, 2009 #6

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    Were you treated fairly? No...and you should be thankful. If you were treated fairly, you would have gotten many fewer opportunities that you did.

    I think TMFKAN64 hit it on the head: "you refused to listen to anyone who has ever given you advice" - and somehow your refusal to listen was their fault.
  8. Sep 3, 2009 #7
    Utter nonsense, and as others have said, you were lucky that people put up with you for so long. The facts of the matter seems to be that you completely lack any focus, you've enormously overestimated your own abilities, and, unforgivably, you lack the ability to follow simple instructions given to you by the people upon whose good will you depend. This is a recipe for disaster in life, let alone for someone in the vulnerable position of a Ph.D. student.

    By the way, there are several claims in that post which are at best unwise and at worst libellous. You'd be well advised to take the post down.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  9. Sep 3, 2009 #8


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    I read your convoluted story. The thing that stuck out for me was your lack of dedication to your degree shown by the fact that you essentially took a summer off by moving half way across the country. You can't do that an expect to succeed in graduate school!
  10. Sep 4, 2009 #9

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    Hi Cristo,

    While I hear what you are saying, I have seen this work. (In fact, the person I am thinking of who did it ended up being a professor at an Ivy for a decade, before he returned to Canada). The secret is that the student and professor have to be on the same page as to exactly what will and will not get done over the summer.

    Where the OP went awry is that he talked to his advisor once at the beginning of summer about what was expected, then went to California and didn't do it, and now somehow this is the professor's fault. What amazes me is that the OP didn't stay in touch while he was in California: there are things called telephones and e-mail which work remarkably well. Much better than the carrier pigeons and smoke signals we had to use when I was in graduate school. Had he chosen to, he could have been productive. Another opportunity squandered.

    One other comment, that extends to the OP's assessment of his own abilities. Getting a PhD does not mean one is a successful researcher. Many, many PhD's are ultimately unsuccessful at it. A check on the arXiv shows his thesis, one set of conference proceedings, 7 papers sent only to the arXiv, not published in a journal, and 1 paper published with your advisor as co-author. Of them, the only citations are for that paper. The 7 preprints only cite each other. This is hardly indicative of a succesful career.

    Indeed, the paper that has citations, has 12, and of them, 7 are also the OP citing his own work. So essentially, he has one paper, and it falls into the "less known" category. Six months after I graduated, I had 5 papers with (at the time) 16 external citations (since then, there have been about 200 citations of those papers). I think this is far more typical of a successful research program.
  11. Sep 4, 2009 #10


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    I agree, perhaps I should have been more clear. Like you say, it's not so much the fact that he moved away but that he didn't keep in contact. Had he kept in regular contact, it wouldn't really matter where in the world he was (things like Skype exist nowadays, which make long distance collaborations a lot simpler), but the fact that he didn't keep in touch shows that he treated his trip away as a holiday.

    This might be a little harsh. I get the gist of what you're saying, but I also don't think there are too many groups around the world working on causal set theory.
  12. Sep 4, 2009 #11

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    Perhaps, but at a minimum it means that the groups that are working on it are not heavily citing him. There is a "big fish in a small pond" effect, but even if you are in a small pond, you need to be clearly identifiable as a fish. :smile:

    It wasn't really what I was trying to get at, though. The point I was trying to make is that getting a PhD does not automatically make one a successful researcher. Again, looking back at my own career, it was a good 15 years after the PhD before I was starting to really become successful - defined as people starting to care about my opinion.
  13. Sep 4, 2009 #12
    I completely disagree. I'm assuming that the factual statements what he wrote on his website are more or less correct. Then I think, from my own experience and that of some of my friends, that the reason why things didn't work out well for him has far more to do with a lack of experience of having to work/study a lot.

    If you are very far ahead in school from an early age on, you don't go to school to laearn anything. You don't have to do much at all to score perfect A's. You then may evolve into someone who lacks focus, who cannot motivate himself to work study hard. The solution, though, is not really to try to behave as others do, that would simply not work. I think I was lucky when was in high school, because I was working on my own projects and I was studying quite hard at home from university level books.

    Then, when I went to universiy, I was lucky to live in Europe and not in the US. In Europe you can make your own plans on which lectures to follws which problem sessions to attend and in which subjects to do exams. Of course, you have to do exams in a certain number of subjects as a bare minimum per year, but apart from that, it is up to you what else you do.

    Another advantage over the US system is that at the undergraduate level you get more advanced subjects. So, e.g. you have pass quantum field theory as applied to particcle physics or as applied to condensed matter physics to get your university diploma.

    So, someone who is far ahead when he arrives at university will typically have to learn to study hard if he isn't used to that. And he will have some time to learn that. If the more advanced subjects were only given when you start your Ph.D., then that could indeed be disaster for people who from the age of 6 onwards never have learned to study hard.

    Although the system we have in Europe is better for these sort of people, it is not perfect and I have seen some fail. One of my friends who was unquestionablly very talented at math (he had attended the International Math Olympiad), dropped out in the first year at university. He failed to pass a single physics exam. And I have heard about a similar case from my father. A son of his colleague dropped out, also because he failed to pas a single physics exam, even though he passed high school with 100% scores in all subject.

    But this is not really a surprise, given that right when you enter the first year at univerity, you may have to study seriously for the first time of your life.

    Then, some other of my friends who were of above average ability who did well, mostly were students who, like me, were studying from university level books or working on their own projects when at high school.

    So, the fundamental problem is that to be successful, you have to work/study hard, no matter how intelligent you are. But the educational system does not lead people like him to learn how to work/study hard. They basically get spoiled by the system that is tuned to the abilities of the average student.
  14. Sep 4, 2009 #13
    Maybe it's just me, but the OP's story doesn't seem like that of an intellectual giant towering over his peers. It's the story of an average Ph.D. student who *thinks* he is an intellectual giant towering over his peers.

    It's all well and good to try to get ahead of the usual academic pace, but when you find it isn't working, back off. When people try to give you useful advice, listen to them.
  15. Sep 4, 2009 #14
    It seems like you just don't like physics. I started with this but I fundamentally disagree...then I went to this and didn't agree with such and such...and then this but I didn't like this axiom, etc.

    Also, were you physically holding your advisor in his office? After spitting on the floor, threatening Chinese and black students and blaming it on Aspergers, or however you spell it? I would send you to a psych ward to be honest.
  16. Sep 4, 2009 #15
    Well, by the time he was a Ph.D student, he had already messed up. It wasn't that he tried to get ahead of the "academic pace", he didn't try to do that. That was his real mistake.
  17. Sep 4, 2009 #16
    I can also provide FACTS when I don't lack focus:

    1) I never lack focus when it comes to courses. Thats why I said that my earliest mistake was that I thought it was about courses not research.

    2) Back in high school when I did my independent studies of math and physics ahead of time, I didn't lack focus either. The reason I have to go back to high school to look for that example is that ever since college I was taking as many courses as I possibly could so I didn't have time to study anything independently.

    3) Ever since I started working on causal sets (starting from Fall 2006 all the way till now) I didn't lack focus either

    So, because of these, I believe it is the axioms that made me lack focus.

    To convince you, lets forget about causal sets, string theory, or supersymmetry, and talk about NEUTRAL TERITORY topics, i.e. topics I NEVER had to do research on. One such topic is an area of mathematics known as "category theory". I know that *IF* I were working in math department and chose that specific area of math as my thesis topic, I would be staring at the same page for months and months, and give an impression I completely lack focus. At the same time, I also know that if I do anything else in math, I will be super fast and impress everyone on how smart I am.

    Now, you don't have to worry about me when it comes to category theory because I know to avoid it like a plague. But I couldn't perswade myself to similarly avoid string theory because it is "theory of everything" and it is so promissing and blah blah blah. So THAT was my mistake, that I INSISTED on doing it despite KNOWING I won't do it well.

    But you see, my MOTIVATION for overestimating my abilities was a good one: I thought I was being a GOOD student for doing it. Now, I know it shows a bad JUDGEMENT, but that has nothing to do with not taking school seriuosly. If I don't like a subject and don't want to do it (such as some of the breadth requirenment humanity courses I had in college) I would under-estimate my abilities and take upon as easy task as I possibly can. On the other hand, if I really take seriously a given subject (such as physics -- I wanted to be a physicist since I was 9 year old) THEN I will over-estimate my abilities.

    Now here is an especially interesting question. Suppose topic X is easy, and topic Y is hard. Suppose we have two students, A and B, and they have identical skills: both can do X, and both can NOT do Y. Now, while these students have IDENTICAL skills, they have different JUDGEMENTS: student A took upon himself task X, while student B took upon himself task Y. Now, based on the identical skills the two students have as well as difficulties of the tasks as described, you can predict that student A succeeds and student B fails.

    So, because student B failed, he is being told that "he has no future in theoretical physics". But that is wrong: student B can do the task X just as well as student A does. Then student B says "I made a mistake that I took upon myself task Y; here, I changed my mind, give me task X and I will do it just fine". In response, he is being told "It is my judgement that you don't have skills to do physics, whether it be task X or task Y". Now, that statement is wrong, since he had just as much skills to do task X as student A had. Yet, even though we know it is wrong, we can predict that that is EXACTLY what student B will be told!

    Are you referring to simple instructions to do research problem, or simple instructions regarding university policy. I would be very surprised if you mean the former; I mean it is not high school so why WOULD they give me simple instructions to solve a problem?

    First of all I must mention that it took a lot of fight with my mom to be able to go to Michigan for PART of the summer, which I did. THe reason is that my mom thinks of me as a little kid, so she believes that when I am in California I magically do better, and when I am away from her I magically do worse. SHE IS WRONG. So that is another example of people mis-evaluating me.

    Now, back to what you were talking about, I was working just as much as I do when I was in Michigan; the problem was NOT that I took time off but that I worked on a wrong thing. So if I am supposed to run North and instead I run West, I will never win a race, no matter how fast I run.

    Now, regarding the business with callihg my advisor. The reason I didn't call is that I THOUGHT I understood an assignment, and I THOUGHT the assignment simply happened to be difficult. If such is the case I shoudln't be calling him, after all the whole point is to see if I can do it myself.

    *BUT* later it turned out that assignemtn wasn't THAT difficult; I simply misunderstood what it was. BUt I didn't know I misunderstood it until after I came back. Now, if I were in Michigan I would have had regular schedule of seeing him. So, regardless of whether I had anything to ask or not, I would have simply shown up in his office because it is Monday 10 AM, and then as conversation goes he would have seen I misunderstood an assignemnt and would have corrected me.

    But when I was in California we didn't set up phone call schedule, and that is why I felt too awkward to call him to ask for help, since I THOUGHT I needed help. If I knew I misunderstood assignment I would have definitely called.

    1) THe reason other publications are not in a journal is simply that I never bothered submitting them. That is for two reasons:

    a) I don't know the procedures of submitting things to journals. The one that was submitted was submitted by Bombelli, NOT me (even though the work is mine had he was mostly doing editting). That has nothing to do with physics; it is my attitude in general that if I never done something I don't do it. For example, I never learned how to use FAX, or scanner, or a number of other things. It took A LOT of pressure from my girlfriend to make me put video cam on computer so I can chat with her. If she didn't push me for TWO MONTHS to do it, I wuold have never done it because it seems "impossible". Same goes for publications: I never physically submitted anything to journal so it seems "impossible" to do it.

    b) I am originally from Russia (I came to USA when I was 14) so English is my second language. Besides, even if I did have good English, the professional writing style is not the same as ordinary writing style. So I am mostly worried that my style doesn't sound professional which is why I wouldn't WANT to submit it to journal even if I could, unless someoen else does severe editting. THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PHYSICS. As far as the mutual publication with Bombelli, all the calculations and physics content is MINE. But once Bombelli worked on it, MAGICALLY style became much more professional. I don't have anythign specific to point to (if I did, I would be able to do it myself) but I can just tell that. So I was pushing him for a long time to do similar editting work on the other papers, but he procrastinated. THe reason he procrastinated is probably because we agreed that he edits ALL of them in exchange of my letting him put his name on ONE of them. So since he already p8ublished the one on which we agreed he will put his name, he is far less motivated to do the rest.

    2) As far as lack of citations go, I suspect it has to do with my style (see 1b). I mean, think about it: our mutual publication involves scalar field and gravity. My own publicvations involve gauge and fermionic fields. So the topics are similar: introducing the fields and Lagrangians onto causal sets. So if topics are similar, how come one has citations and the others don't? Probably because of style. And that is not surprising since Bombelli put A LOT of work on editting the mutual paper we have but not the rest.

    Anyway, you don't have to trust me. I presume you know physics, so how about you just read all of my papers and tell me what you think on them?

    Personally I feel they HAVE to be important for causal sets since no one before me (with exception of Johnston who did hte propagators -- NOT Lagrangian -- of spin 0 field on causal set) introduced matter into causal sets, so this is a step forward. Bombelli agrees with me on this one -- after my defense Dolgochev told me that I "moved an area of physics forward". Now, Dolgochev is a guy who openly tells me he is not in the field and doesn't have an opinion. So he must have heard it from Bombelli when they were discussing me.

    But again, how about you simply read these papers and tell me what you think.

    3) As far as your observation that the one paper that made it in journal had my advisor name, like I said I was the one who did all the content; Bombelli simply editted English for me, and he wanted me to put his name there as a condition for him doing the editting since editting took a lot of time off of his own work.

    As I said, I can go to neutral territory, which is math, and PREDICT I won't do well in category theory because "I don't like its axioms" and I WILL do well in everything else. THe mistake that I made is that I didn't treat string theory the way I would of treated category theory (which would be avoiding it entirely), because string theory is advertized too well so I felt compelled to do it.

    NO! I neither physically touched him, nor did I insult him either. I simply kept going on and on how he should give me another chance. He was simply scared that when he kept telling me he didn't have time to talk any more I kept talking. Also, my voice is normally loud (which is NOT on purpose -- I am used to hearing myself speak loud so I don't even notice it) and it naturally gets louder when I try to perswade someone of something (even if I talk about physics problem it will likewise be loud) so that is probably what scard him.

    The spitting on the floor + Chineeze + black students incident happened on Dec 16; keeping Wells in the office happened on Jan 23. The reason the two were talked about simultaneously si that I had to come on Jan 26 to talk about Dec 16, and by that time they ALREADY HEARD about Jan 23 as well.
  18. Sep 4, 2009 #17
    You don't have to worry about that. I have a few times received Referee reports full of grammatical and spelling errors that said that my article was well written, that it contained very interesting results and that it should be published. The last time that happened, I was actually worried about some uncorrected language mistakes in my submitted article, I thought these errors could make a bad impression.
  19. Sep 4, 2009 #18


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    This post as well as that on the Wrong Planet are just ones persons view of what actually happened. To fairly judge the situation would require input from the other people involved. So, it's not possible at this time to determine who was right or wrong in the various situation(s).

    On the other hand, if you have Asperger syndrome then it is likely that significant non-verbal communications were simply missed while you displayed a general lack of empathy. This makes it difficult for all levels of friendship to develop along with the varied benefits.

    Going forward, it'd be best to work on nurturing many friends (at home, school and work) as opposed to obsessing on the past.
  20. Sep 4, 2009 #19


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    It sounds like you were by and large lucky. The only thing that seems less than ideal is sometimes you had to do research under tight deadlines, and really imaginative, ground breaking work usually takes time. However, I am not one of those people who say we should fund all self-professed "visionaries". Undoubtedly the funding mechanisms will miss some real visionaries - but for good reason - the funding bodies do have a responsibility to the public, and must justify their expenses on current understanding. If visionary work could be justified on current understanding, it wouldn't be visionary! This is oversimplification, since there really is a gradation of work from mundane to visionary, not a phase transition. Anyway, I'm glad you got your work out on causal sets. I'm a biologist and not qualified to comment on your work, but as a lay person, the approach is philosophically appealing to me, and I wish you all the best in helping us understand how far that approach can go.
  21. Sep 5, 2009 #20

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    First of all, a bigot with Asperger's is just that: a bigot with Asperger's. There is simply no excuse to say deliberately hurtful things to people, particularly about their skin color or ethnic group.

    Second, the idea that you, as an immigrant, get to tell other people that they don't belong in the US is hypocritical.

    Next, it's clear form your recent posts that you don't really want other people's opinions on whether you were treated fairly - instead, you want our validation of your belief that despite getting multiple second chances (I count at least six), you were treated unfairly.

    Next, your excuse that the reason that you haven't submitted you work to journals is that nobody told you the exact procedure is at odds with your claim to be a successful researcher. One point - indeed, the point of graduate school is for you, on your own, to figure out what you need to know, and then to go learn it. You're not in grammar school any more.

    Then, your directive to "just read all of my papers and tell me what you think on them?" shows a profound misunderstanding of the process and a deep disresepct of your readers' time. If you don't think these papers are worth enough of your time and effort for you to get them into a journal, why do think that it's worth my time to read them? Exactly how much less valuable do you think my time is than yours is? Then multiply this by a large number of readers.

    So now you're accusing Luca Bombelli of scientific misconduct?

    That's a very serious charge. Have you brought it to the journal?
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