I'm too smart to end up like that

I teach a course in which we discuss both real life and case study examples of mentoring gone wrong. It never fails to amaze me how many students come down on the side of blaming the trainee for putting themselves in a bad position. I would have predicted the opposite. There seems to be mix of hindsight into the situation, lack of empathy and an overwhelming sense that they would recognize a bad situation and have an escape plan. Even when I try to peel that veneer back, these student remain steadfast that the student depicted in the case study "should have known better".


11 responses so far

  • MCA says:

    Blame-the-victim is universal. They suffered because they didn't perform action X or lacked quality Y, therefore because I do X and am Y, I'll be fine. Doesn't matter if it's crime, economic outcomes, or sports, we'll always find a way to rationalize why we are somehow immune to what befalls others.

  • becca says:

    Duh. The chief reason people blame victims is because they are afraid of becoming them. You are just now realizing this?

  • lazybratsche says:

    "I'm too smart to end up like that" is a necessary rationalization for most grad students. How else would anyone choose grad school and still think that tenure-track faculty positions await them on the other side? Clearly, "I'm too smart to end up" without a career, unlike all those other losers.

    (I say this as a 2nd year grad student...)

  • There's a lot of self-blaming at the victim level too, I find. If only I'd noticed X, or done Y, I wouldn't be in this mess. I'm lucky to have a spouse who will remind me "You didn't do Y because at the time, it looked like Z was going to work out, and it's not your fault it didn't". But there are days when I tell myself I should have known better.

    I definitely remember having older students in the group tell me to leave while I still could, and thinking it wouldn't happen to me, because whatever. I blamed the project instead of the mentor. I blamed the fact the project wasn't something the mentor was an expert in (neatly ignoring how little my PI knows about my topic...).

    And like most plans, escape plans often fall apart during the first battle with the enemy/reality.

  • Alyssa says:

    Yup - we never think it's going to happen to us. That we're the ones that will be the exception and will succeed at everything. I didn't take the advice of older students/post-docs/faculty when I was in high school/undergrad, and they sure the hell won't take my advice now. It's the circle of life to learn from our own mistakes, not the mistakes of others.

  • DJMH says:

    Also, though, you are a prof teaching a class. They want your approval. And what easier way to garner it than by assuming you would take the side of the PI?

  • Mac says:

    I found myself doing this today about someone and you're right - hindsight sure is clear but it was a little muddier when for them in the middle of it. Bad things happen to people that make good choices - all the time - and we protect ourselves by assuming that it's still *really* their fault somehow and therefore it can't happen to us.

    On the other hand when someone tells me that EVERYONE they've ever worked for or with is vile/out to get them/etc - I start to wonder what the common denominator is. So I don't know - I'm still trying to figure out if I was being unfair today or seeing something real. Maybe with hindsight in 5 years I'll know...

  • Did you ask them afterwards to raise their hand if they had an effective escape plan from their current lab?

  • zy- says:

    I wonder if grad students take on an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility, so that even if the sun were to burn up, they'd find a way to blame themselves for it.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I would blame the physics grad students for that...

  • Susan says:

    I had a mentorship-gone-wrong devolve last spring. I could, in part, see it coming and had an escape hatch, but that did not lessen my shock and awe that ... yeah, that happened.

    The blame-the-victim thing sure is pervasive. I have lingering feelings of guilt over it -- as though I'd done something wrong or let someone down -- that completely perplex me. I have to repeatedly remind myself that I did nothing wrong there.

    More, the mentor who did me wrong is clearly upset and mad at me over the situation -- and the mentor's actions were the wrong ones! It's relatively clear that mentor feels bad and is projecting or taking it out on me, but I keep needing to remind myself that it was mentor who did the deed, not me. It's almost like we've both agreed to blame me for mentor screwing me. Fascinating.

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