Monday, December 14, 2009

Change in Perspective..

Before this job, I worked in the same department for a different researcher.  

He was not an easy man to work for.  He is incredibly intelligent, and equally demanding.  I was thrown into the deep end, immediately doing some fairly difficult animal work (when I'd never even gone near a mouse before) alongside my coworker, who'd been doing it for 3 years, oh, and was one of my best friends.  Demoralising, to say the least.

Within three months, our friendship was fractured (it's since recovered, for the most part) and I would start each morning with a round of violent dry retching. He was never abusive.  He was just so mercurial, changing his mind at the last second (case in point, when we trialled a new technique he made me ensure that both the head of the animal ethics committee and himself could be there to watch me. Three days later, when I was still trying to finagle the schedules of two very busy people, he asked me why I was expecting him to attend. Uh, because you ordered it?) .

And he was intense. The man was so intense you'd feel him coming before you saw him. I'd be buried knuckles deep in a mouse, calmly doing my thing, when all the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up. Then he'd be standing behind me, demonstrating a complete lack of the concept of personal space, and bang! my fingers would turn into thumbs.

He scared the hell out of me, and I was convinced he thought I was a useless skidmark in the lab. He deliberately kept a huge distance between himself and his employees/students, something he openly believed was the right way to run a lab. To be fair, this technique worked - the lab was certainly collegial.  The 'underlings' banded together in mutual fear/hatred of him.  This was what he wanted. 

Despite all that, I do respect and admire him.  And, if I'm honest, he made me a better scientist.  But it's taken me a very long time to stop feeling like a failure.  I still haven't got all my confidence back.

Today I learnt that, the year I was there, he had a, well, let's call it a mild nervous breakdown.  Nobody knew this, not even my coworker/best friend, who was about as close to him as it was possible to be.  I knew he and his wife had divorced and his attempt at venture capitalism was failing (well, I certainly knew it by the end of the year, when I lost my job), but, with no previous experience of the man, I had no idea if his behaviour was out of character.   Turns out, it was, and the year I was there was when he was at his worst.

I've been thinking about it ever since I found out.  It's a little shameful to realise I took his behaviour personally, when, actually, it had nothing to do with me at all.  Okay, he went to enormous effort to hide his problems, and it's hard NOT to take it personally when someone's looking at you like you just took a steaming dump on their desk.   But still, I'm a bit ashamed of myself.  

And, selfishly, relieved.  Maybe that year wasn't the disaster I thought it was. 

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