Behind his back, our advisor’s nickname was Dr. Hugsy. He was a little too hands-on with all of us – male or female, good-looking or not. His standard greeting was to put an arm around your shoulder, usually leaving it there for a few seconds too long. You’d wait it out uncomfortably, and eventually he’d step back to check his Blackberry.
No one ever reported him doing anything more than that, and I don’t even think it was a sexual thing for him. It seemed more like an assertion of power cloaked with a veneer of friendliness. He would breeze into the room, give you this hug, and ask what exactly you were meeting about again. At least, that’s what he’d do if you, like me, were in his second tier of advisees. He was one of those professors who clearly had a set of favorites and a set of also-rans. The favorites got the publication opportunities (second author – even though he did none of the work), while the rest of us made copies and graded freshman papers. Then, since they had “proven themselves,” they got more opportunities, and we made more copies.
If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I stayed with Dr. Hugsy because I was doing a side project with another faculty member, and so I wasn’t dependent on his patronage. Rumor had it that he didn’t like it when students changed advisors, and he’d go out of his way to make things difficult. To be fair, I never saw any substantiation of this rumor. The only student I knew who switched from Dr. Hugsy was forced to do so after he screwed up some data big time. This was only one in a long line of screw-ups, yet he held tenaciously on, managing to squeak through every scrape, much to our chair’s annoyance. I think he’s still there, a perpetual ABD.
I fell into the side project by sheer chance; Dr. Fierce (not his real name, of course), had a reputation for being tough and distant. But he liked the paper I wrote for his class, and at that time his advisees were either buried deep in their dissertations or still struggling through their first semester. He needed a student to do a little analysis for him, and there I was. From there it grew into a series of papers, and I know those papers had a lot to do with my success on the job market.
Dr. Fierce was distant, although not unkind. He never once hugged me, not even at graduation. There’s a picture of us in our robes out on the lawn, and he’s standing next to me with none of the camaraderie (real or false) all my other graduation photos display. He once grazed my arm by mistake in a narrow hallway, and his apology was profuse. I’d never say I “ran into” him a conference, because that would imply physical contact.
Dr. Hugsy, though, I see him twice a year at the big conference and at the regional. Now that I got a job – and a better one than all his favorite students – he’s friendlier than ever. The hugs keep coming, but I’ve been elevated, postmortem, to that top tier. He tells whoever we are making small talk with that he always knew I had so much promise, I was one of his top advisees, etc. etc. And yes, he still puts his arm around me.
Some day I’m going to tell him I’m not really a touchy-feely person. But that’s not going to be until after I get tenure.
The author is coming up for tenure soon at a private research university you’ve probably heard of. She has limited her touching of students to shaking their hands, an occasional pat on the back, and, once, performing the Heimlich maneuver.