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i changed my mind–gimme gimme gimme

One of my favorite things about academics is dealing with people who feel entitled to anything they want (in case you couldn’t tell, I’m being sarcastic). Not too long ago I wrote an entry about a research associate who had given up on a project because she couldn’t/wouldn’t take it any further so the PI of the project, who is a friend of mine, asked me to pick it up, since the project was headed down a path related to one of my specialties.

So I’ve been working on moving this project forward over the course of the last few months when I hear from my friend that this research associate has decided that she wants to take over the project again and, in fact, has been calling me useless behind my back to my friend the PI. So we set up a meeting for the three of us, and this research associate told me that she didn’t need me and that I was dead weight.

Let me stop right there. I, in general, don’t feel a great deal of entitlement. I don’t want or need anyone to be nice to me. BUT, I draw the line at total and complete disrespect from someone who has no lab experience and whose mess I’ve had to clean up for the last few months. Especially in front of the PI.

However, the PI in this case is someone whom I consider a close friend and someone I didn’t want to put in a bad situation, so I just sort of parried the accusations with a smile and soon excused myself for a meeting (related to this project, no less). Long story short: I have now dropped this project, four months of time and work further, back into the lap of this research associate, which really pisses me off because this was a sweet little project. But for the sake of not dragging out a protracted battle with someone in my friend’s lab, I gave it up. Just wasn’t worth it.

So what’s the lesson to be learned? I like to extract a learning point out of every shitty experience I have. In retrospect, I think there are several lessons that I’m taking away: (1) A good friend whom you can trust in academia is hard to come by and worth taking one up the ass for. I think with the experiences in academia that I have had and written about as well as your own, it should be pretty clear how important it is to have someone in your corner. If you have a friend in academics that you can trust, then do what you can to help them out when you are in a position to do so. Especially if you are in the sole position to do so. In this situation, what was I going to do—wait for the jerk to back off? Help your friends. Enough said. (2) This might sound bad but I think experiences like this (which are common) motivate self-protective strategies: when in a collaboration, it may be prudent to keep some element of secrecy until the very end when it’s time for everyone to put their cards on the table in order to maintain indispensability. In this case I was working with a friend so as I set things up (work, collaborations, direction), I was completely open about it. But I got bit on the ass by this other person. I suspect that if she didn’t know of the progress and didn’t have all of the information, she wouldn’t be as aggressive about snatching the responsibility for this project away. I don’t endorse this kind of approach with trusted friends and colleagues, with whom I think you have to be open, but the last few negative experiences I’ve had have convinced me of the “general” necessity to protect ones time investment from usurpers. And finally, (3) I’m gonna bank on karma and say that sometimes you just have to let assholes take the lead and shoot themselves in the foot. I’m sort of in a weird situation with this one because I won’t let my friend’s project get screwed over if I can help, so I’ll always be there if needed. But if that isn’t a confounding issue, I think when you are faced with arrogant ignoramuses who spew nonsense, sometimes it’s best to let them go ahead with their “brilliant” ideas. And while I wouldn’t necessarily count on cosmic justice—since I know a lot of morons who have succeeded by cheating others—at least it’s nice to know that it might be a possibility, however many lifetimes from now it may be.

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6 Responses to “i changed my mind–gimme gimme gimme”

  1. 1
    MitoScientist:

    Dang mudphudder, you sure do get burned by academia often! Sorry to hear about the project getting snatched away. As a hopeful future mudphud, it definitely makes me think about how to conduct my current research, and also projects in the future. Here’s to A-holes getting theirs in the long run, if there’s any justice in the world.

  2. 2
    mudphudder:

    Welcome to academics. Sometimes I feel like I get burned a lot too but then I see the same thing happening just as often to many others, so I am now settling into the sad reality that this just may be the baseline getting-screwed rate in academics…

  3. 3
    SixtyHurtz:

    You’re a total pussy and judging by the comments above, that’s the norm in academia.

    There is no justice in the world and there are no other lives where people get their karmic reward. You need to have the courage to tell people where to get off here and now, that’s the only way to beat the a-holes.

  4. 4
    physsci:

    Mudphudder, I have to say, I think you went a little too soft on this one. While I don’t second SixtyHurtz’ tone, I do think this was something you should have fought tooth-and-nail over, especially considering you put four months into the project after it was dropped by the RA. Further, if your PI is really your friend, why do you think he/she wouldn’t get behind you if all the facts were put on the table? I think it’s good to be concerned about avoiding/minimizing conflict in the lab, but not at the sake of one’s work (the work is why you’re there, after all, not the friends). Personally, if I knew I was making good progress on the project, I’d tell the RA that she shouldn’t have dropped it four months ago.

  5. 5
    mudphudder:

    Thanks for your comment, Physsci. There are reasons why I didn’t fight tooth and nail on this one–not just because I didn’t feel like fighting. I actually wrote a recent post on SixtyHurtz’ comment because I think you have to pick and choose your battles rather than adopt a policy of fighting everyone. In this case there were a number of factors that caused me to back off after much thought and weighing cost/benefit. Over the course of the last 8 years, there have been a number of episodes where I have engaged in confrontations–some smart decisions, some not on my part. Over time I think I’ve established a reasonable cost/benefit analysis algorithm I run through in my head when I decide whether or not to get into a confrontation. In this case, I did have a private word with PI after the fact but just didn’t feel like it was necessary to fight with the RA (which I knew would get very petty very fast) in front of the PI.

  6. 6
    physsci:

    Gotcha. Well, you know the situation better than I do and you also have a few years on me in this marathon of an academic program…check back in a 4-5 years and I’ll probably have an outlook that’s more in line with yours.

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