(You might want to read the original post first: HERE ).
When I wrote the "Notes from a 'C' Student" blog post on Monday, I didn't realize how many people would reach out to me with "me too" comments. I have to admit that, even now, it made me feel better to know that I wasn't the only "C student" and that many of the successful engineers I know were also part of this club.
I intentionally left something out of that post, thinking at the time it wasn't critical. Last night I read articles about sexual harassment of graduate students, by a professor, at the school that I was a "C graduate student," and realized that I couldn't leave my story incomplete. [For the record: I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I had two wonderfully supportive graduate advisors, and realize what an amazing situation that was.]
What my post Monday should have been was "Notes from a Female C Student." You see, of the three people I mentioned in that elevator conversation, I was the only woman. I've written before about my experiences as a woman in male dominated tech fields. Getting through graduate school, particularly when things are graded on a curve, means that study groups become crucial. If the study group is all male, and you're new to the school or you don't know them well, that means you are meeting up in an empty building or someone's apartment. At 1 am when you are in an empty building working on problem sets with people you barely know, it's hard not to notice being the only woman. I'm fortunate, I had a great group of study partners (almost all male, since most of my classes were all male.)
I also had reason to be nervous at times in graduate school. In the first month of graduate school, had a male student overhear that I didn't have plans that evening. He then showed up at my apartment door (I'd never told him where I lived) and insisted we go on a date since I didn't have plans. I went because I didn't know what else to do. I insisted we walk to a crowded restaurant, on a busy street and didn't let him into my apartment. This all sounds naive now but... keep in mind that I was in a tiny graduate program. We were supposed to form study groups, I knew no one, and was worried that if I slammed the door on him I'd be accused of over reacting. I was uncomfortable that entire dinner, and if I'm honest "scared" is probably the correct word. I spent a year avoiding this person in our building's hallways.
To get my experiments done, I worked (usually alone) in labs and offices. Sometimes at night. My parents warned me against this, as did some of my friends (and my boyfriend-then-husband), but honestly... if you can only graduate if you get your dissertation done and the only time you can get equipment is in the middle of the night or on weekends, or by working in basements, well that's what you do. Grad school rarely lasts less than five years and I sure as heck wasn't going to drag it out for extra years. I was also convinced that I was less skilled than the other students and had to work extra hard to catch up.
I once had an older graduate student, who often served as a teaching assistant for classes profess his extreme interest in me in person and in emails. Again, this is someone who knew where my office was and that I worked late. I managed to avoid taking a class where he was the grader. I'd be lying if I said that as I was sitting there for what I thought was a friendly coffee to talk about engineering, and realizing it was instead a chance to be told how much I was liked, that I didn't try to figure out if turning him down would have an immediate effect on my grades. In grad school... grades matter. I avoided having him as a grader.
As I wrote Monday "C students don't belong in graduate school" is something that I am still hearing, and I wasn't just a C student. I was someone who was working 17+ hour days to be a C student. You don't know anyone's entire story. Ever.
So if I'm honest about why I spoke up in that elevator... it was because as these male professors were so casually ruling out students based on their grades, I found myself wondering about the backstories. Clearly the university was allowing the students to get C's and stay, so why did these profs take it upon themselves to declare the students unworthy for PhDs? There's always more to that story... If you're going to say that a "C is an F" then give them an F, but don't make them jump over an artificial bar.