Jump to content
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt

Have I been rude/impolite to my advisors?


Hope.for.the.best
 Share

Recommended Posts

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who has offered emotional support here. My PhD defend went very well, and I passed with very minor revisions. I have also got the postdoctoral position that I have always hoped for, from one of my advisors, *Ben. However, getting this job comes at a price.

As some of you may aware, my main advisor, *Andy, and my co-advisor, *Cecilia, do not get on well with *Ben. Without going into a lot of details, *Andy and *Cecilia have always wanted me to do an experiment, and they pushed me hard for that. When *Ben learnt that I was under a lot of stress, he stepped in and supported that I got my dissertation out of my way first. *Andy and *Cecilia agreed reluctantly. This got *Andy yelling at me and deliberately not allowing me to submit my dissertation. *Cecilia resolved the situation by asking me to complete that experiment for *Andy after I submitted my dissertation. At first, they said they would pay me at a rate comparable to the student stipend, but then they asked me to work as a volunteer. I know they are running out of funding, but they hurt me a lot by breaking their promise. At the same time, I learnt that *Ben has got funding for a project that I am interested in. Without a second thought, I applied to *Ben's position, and got accepted. 

While I was waiting for the contract from *Ben, *Andy and *Cecilia kept pushing me to finish that experiment. It really happened that a lot of things came up in my personal life, so I got away with not working for them. I admit that I intentionally declined to work for them because of the money issue. Anyway, after I signed the contract, I told *Ben that *Andy and *Cecilia wanted me to do that experiment very badly; he said he would be happy to accommodate if it helped my upcoming publication. I then announced the news that I would be working for *Ben to *Andy and *Cecilia, and that *Ben would be happy for me to do that experiment, if needed. I expected that they would be a little bit upset at most, and then would congratulate on my job, because they have been asking me to contact prospective labs to do a postdoc. However, they took the news very badly. In particular, *Cecilia bombarded me with emails of anger and disappointment, cc'd in to *Ben. She is unhappy that I did not finish that experiment before starting my job. Thankfully, *Ben believed my made-up story why I could not complete that experiment in a timely manner. He was as supportive as usual; he negotiated with *Andy and *Cecilia about that experiment. The whole situation was well-solved; *Ben agreed that I spared some time to work on the experiment, and he would adjust my work schedule accordingly. 

The outcome is good in the end. My family and friends are all proud of me for handling such a difficult situation well. They ask me to move on and embrace my job. For some reason, however, I feel guilty about hiding from *Andy and *Cecilia, and lying to all my advisors. I know it is bad of course, but I did not have a choice. Given that *Andy and *Cecilia reacted so badly towards my employment with *Ben, they must find ways to stop me from going to his lab, if they knew earlier. Do you think I have been rude/impolite to *Andy and *Cecilia? I have a feeling that I have burned the bridge with them. To date, they have never congratulated on my employment!

Thank you for your comments. 

* denotes pseudonym 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, it's not okay to lie to your advisors, and yes, you are likely burning a bridge with A and C. This bridge was already burning for a long time, and you are not doing anything to put it out. I understand that you didn't want to do the experiment while you were working on your dissertation because you were busy and stressed out. But as I recall, you did agree to do it later, and it's in all of your interests to do it to get a publication that from your description sounded like it would be high-impact. Since A and C are out of funding, I'm not all that surprised that they need this paper, and frankly you made a promise, used them (and from their perspective, perhaps manipulated them and B to graduate), and then are reneging on your promise, so I can see why they would be upset. (Not saying this is what happened, but I can see how they would see it this way.) I can also see your side and the money part, but on your own admission, that's not why you're dragging your feet. I think in all fairness to your PhD advisors who still depend on you, you need to finish this project. They are worried that with this new job you'll just move on and never finish the experiment, and that could have a detrimental effect on their careers, so it's not surprising that they're not all that happy for you or congratulating you. Can you understand where they're coming from? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you @fuzzylogician for your insight. I understand A and C are concerned that I will abandon the project, but I did reassure them that I would carry on the project when I told them about the job with B. B was also my PhD advisor, and he belongs to this project as well, so I don't see why it will be discontinued. In fact, at the time of hire, both B and his department head were aware that I may need to attend to this project at some stage. They are both happy with that. In fact, they see it as a training, because they expect me to work on multiple projects. So, I really don't understand why A and C would still think that I will not do the experiment. 

What I care about is money. It is simply unacceptable that they pushed me to do a big experiment as a volunteer, when they had agreed to pay me before. Although I am a student, I need to be respected too. They should have apologised to me that they could not pay me, and be accepting if I was unwilling. It is really a double standard here; if they expect me to keep my promise, they need to keep theirs in the first place! 

Anyway, B has agreed that I complete that experiment as part of my job, so I will get paid to do it! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

31 minutes ago, Hope.for.the.best said:

What I care about is money. It is simply unacceptable that they pushed me to do a big experiment as a volunteer, when they had agreed to pay me before. Although I am a student, I need to be respected too. They should have apologised to me that they could not pay me, and be accepting if I was unwilling. It is really a double standard here; if they expect me to keep my promise, they need to keep theirs in the first place! 

Completely agree with you. Like fuzzy said, it seems like this bridge was burned a long time ago to me too. That said, even though I still believe you were justified in your actions, lying to your advisors is still a bad thing to do and it comes with consequences that you are now experiencing. I also agree that the double standard exists and it will continue to exist as long as there is a power imbalance between advisor and student.

Unfortunately in your case, it seemed like you were forced into a dilemma where you had two tough choices. You chose what you did and ended up avoiding having to work for free at the cost of upsetting your advisors. However, if you chose the other option, you might not have made your advisors that much happier and the cost might have been no postdoc at all, continue working on an experiment at student's pay and being miserable. 

I think you made the right choice and this is a case where making the right choice / doing the right thing still harms you or costs you in some way. It might be tempting to think about what "should" have happened, or what A & C "should" have done. It sounds a little bit like you might have wanted a solution where you get what you want and keep a perfect relationship with A & C. But I don't think this was ever possible and it does you no good dwell on that. Sometimes there is just no way to please everyone.

I'm not saying that you were faultless but I'm not here to assign blame! In hopes of helping you, I think you should take fuzzy's advice to try to think about where A & C are coming from. Not because they are right, but thinking about how you affect others can help you reflect on the decisions you made. Think about what you might have learned from this situation and how it can help you in the future, but don't dwell on what-ifs and should-haves. Also, thinking about it from A & C's point of view can help you maintain as good a relationship as you can with them while you finish up this experiment and get your publication. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm glad to hear that this generally worked out, OP.

Generally speaking, I think it's better to be upfront, and I think this is where you could've improved your approach to to Andy and Cecilia's request. You knew from the get-go that you didn't want to do this experiment - it seems like money was a big factor, but it also seems like you just didn't want to work with Andy because he's kind of toxic. That's okay, but it would've been good to find a way to gracefully say no to this project.

Given the context, it makes sense that Andy and Cecilia would be upset that you agreed to do the experiment and then turned around and backed out. The mistake you made was not not wanting to work with them, but that you strung them along when they could've been finding someone else to do the work. It does make sense that they wouldn't be happy for you, because it's very natural for postdocs to get tied up in the primary work they are doing for a PI and not have time left over for an additional experiment that's not in that primary area. It does not make sense that they would bombard you with emails of anger and disappointment, because that's not an adult reaction, but...understandable, I suppose.

One area I do disagree with is that I don't think you used Andy and Cecilia to graduate. If this experiment was not part of your dissertation and they simply needed it done because they wanted a publication out of it, it's not really appropriate for them to consider you completing it as a requirement of your PhD. (It'd be a different story if they wanted it as part of your PhD proposal or thought it was necessary to your development or program or research.) You promising to do the experiment under pressure - when you thought you'd be paid for it - is not, in my eyes, manipulating them or Ben. If anything, I think they were manipulating you by threatening to hold your dissertation hostage unless you completed this project for them for free.

But your family and friends are right. This is water under the bridge. Andy and Cecilia, from your first post, seemed like difficult (and, in Andy's case, unreasonable) personalities to work with anyway.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks @TakeruK and @juilletmercredi for your replies. As Andy and Cecilia run out of funding, I am the only one in the group who can do that experiment. There aren't any other PhD students, postdocs etc. Andy and Cecilia are indeed toxic people to work with. Unfortunately, I only found out towards the end of my PhD. They were not like that before they brought up that experiment. Anyway, if I told them upfront that I did not want to do that experiment unless I got paid, I would only get both of them yelling at me. It would make the situation even worse. So I could only come up with some justifiable excuses when they made me do that experiment, like "something was up in my family". That's what I meant by lying. In fact, something was indeed going on in my family, so there were some truths in my "lies".  

I do not intent to break my promise. I just don't want to work as a volunteer for months, as it does not look good on my CV. Obviously, Ben is unable to wait for months before I start my postdoc. Seeing that Ben and his department head are renowned researchers in my field, this is an opportunity that I can't afford to miss. Since some aspects of my postdoc project overlap with my PhD one, Ben is more than happy for me to do that experiment along with my new project. So I still keep my promise to do that experiment after I submitted my dissertation! 

I can see where Andy and Cecilia are coming from. Apart from their "concern" about me not working on the project anymore, they are unhappy that Ben will take over my PhD project from now on. Long story short, the project was initiated by Andy and Cecilia, but they are not experts of the field, so they included Ben, who is from a different department, as my advisor. At first, things worked out very well, but obviously became problematic when my work had the potential to go to a good journal. Andy could not threaten to not let me submit my dissertation, but he had played nasty by deliberately reviewing my dissertation drafts slowly. Now, expertise and money issues aside, I am employed by Ben. That means Ben is going to dominate how the project will go. Andy and Cecilia now need to get Ben's "permission" before they can order me to do any experiments they want. 

Andy and Cecilia are my great sources of anxiety. I only realised how much stress they gave me until I started working for Ben. Instead of waking up in a lot of stress, I embrace every day with my job now! Although not desirable, it is inevitable that I need to burn a bridge with someone at some stages. Let's hope that by completing that experiment, things would clear up a bit. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To be clear, I do believe you took the best path possible between some pretty bad options and you don't have to justify yourself to me, of course! The "lying" part that I was referring to was not about your family but that from Andy and Cecilia's perspective, you had agreed to complete the experiment after your defense, but now you have a job that will require A & C to get Ben's permission for you to work on their project, instead of having you all to themselves!

I think A & C are definitely wrong to ask you to do this work as a volunteer, especially after offering a real salary, but it does not sound like you ever said "no" even after they changed the terms. Instead, you just found ways to push off the start date until you got the contract with Ben. Again, I am not saying A & C are acting ethically either, but this is probably why they are upset (i.e. they see it as you agreeing to their terms, then asking for a delay for family which they granted and now you reveal that you didn't want their terms at all). And again, I am not sure if you really had any other options, especially if one of them was holding your degree hostage. I probably would have done the same thing in your situation, to be honest. Sometimes there is just no way out of a tough situation that doesn't involve some damage to yourself, sadly :( (as you have also said).

7 hours ago, Hope.for.the.best said:

Andy and Cecilia are my great sources of anxiety. I only realised how much stress they gave me until I started working for Ben. Instead of waking up in a lot of stress, I embrace every day with my job now! Although not desirable, it is inevitable that I need to burn a bridge with someone at some stages. Let's hope that by completing that experiment, things would clear up a bit. 

I am so happy for you that you are free from this anxiety. I also hope that the planned path forward will help clear things between you and A/C for the future. Good luck :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.