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.