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I was recently asked to train a new undergrad research assistant in the lab I work in. I was then told this new lab member is my assistant. He has no experience working in the lab before this, but I had been there for about a year before he came in. We have been working together for a few months now, but I am stuck.

I did have the chance to talk with him more, and he told me that he is only doing research to get a paper published. After all, if you complete research and do not get published, what is the point? I was a little bit taken back when I heard this, though not surprised. Of course almost every researcher dreams of being published, but me personally, I truly want to learn. I am not boasting and trying to make myself look better, but I personally believe my experience as a researcher will serve me well in my future career. If I do get published, all the better! I do strive to have enough data for publication, but I put my learning first.

After hearing this, my opinion of John changed, though I try very hard not to make it personal. I try very hard to focus on the research, and put all of my energy towards making my project successful. He always mentions to me how his schedule is very full, that he is always busy, but at the same time, I also struggle in giving him work to do. I do not want for him to take credit for something I did (in the long run), but I am afraid that because I may appear weak to him, this will most likely happen.

We had a meeting with our PI a few weeks back, and though John had mentioned to me he would be available for work that morning... once our meeting concluded, and several alarms later (that the professor subtly hinted his annoyance with the constant going off of his alarms), he mentioned to me that he has to get going. He gave me one idea that we could do to improve our project, but then as he walked away, said that his schedule is starting to become busy. I am busy too, I am overwhelmed sometimes, but I simply cannot stand the complaining anymore. I would like to tell him in a nice way, that if we are to work on this project together, he must put in the same amount of work that I do. However, the professor has mentioned he is to be my assistant, so I am not sure if he does have to put in as much work as I do?

I am really stuck on how to stand my ground and not appear weak, but at the same time, I do not want to be mean/a jerk. I am also wondering whether I am just putting John in a negative light because I see him as competition? Any thoughts?

1 Answer 1

Disclaimer lable: 100% organic locally grown opinion

I think there are a few aspects you need to reflect on.

First, it's fine for different people to create a joint effort with different motives. As long as the motives move the main goal forward. In addition, just because he wanted to publish a paper does not imply that he does not value learning. If his saying made you assume that he is just on for a free ride, I think that can be too premature a conclusion.

Second, learn how to manage people. Don't expect them just to fit in perfectly with your schedule and work style. Set up ground rules, lay out tasks, and negotiate on the ways of reporting. A very good feature about this case is you know his Achilles' tendon (or hanging carrot if you're a glass half-full kind of person): Name on the publication. Lay out all the works or tasks or learning for him and demand him to complete them on an agreed time or his name will not be listed as an author, but in the acknowledgement. Be civil about it and listen to what he says.

Third, sort out your own conflict. First:

How do I tell him to help out more without being rude?

And then:

but at the same time, I also struggle in giving him work to do. I do not want for him to take credit for something I did

Actually do you need an assistant or not? If yes, then make sure the terms are clear and he followed through. If he did, and ended up in the paper, he will eventually take some credits of yours AND you will also take some credits of his. This is what collaboration entails, at the end we have a general idea who did what, but it's inevitable to have some shared credit. If you're completely possessive about your work, and you think that he is taking advantage of you, then you should consider if you need an assistant or if you should decline this responsibility assigned by your supervisor.

Lastly, strengthen yourself up. Listen to this:

I am afraid that because I may appear weak to him, this will most likely happen.

What about you that is weak? Why do you just label yourself weak from the get go? Personality? Physique? French? The only thing you need to be stronger than him in this case is your knowledge in this project. All others are side matters and you should not place yourself in the victim seat. An effective manager does not have to have strong personality, he/she just need to be fair, just, and remain clear and open in communication.

Lastly lastly, you should also talk to your supervisor for advice and tips. Work on it to create a happier collaboration experience.