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KittyCat_PhD

Professor wants me to lie?

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I am a postdoc, working with the same advisor I had for my PhD. I've had a mostly good relationship with my advisor, despite some personality differences--for example, he's more inclined to disregard rules. So far it's been mostly little things. But now something has come up where I feel I need to draw a line.

There's this conference he suggested I attend. It's more of a networking conference than an academic conference, but entrance is free for students who apply to present a scientific poster. He wants me to lie and say I'm a student, so that I can get free entry. But even if they believe it well enough to let me into the conference, I would be networking, which inevitably means telling people that I'm a postdoc. And then one of the organizers might find out about the lie, and guess who would take the blame: me. Not a good start for someone trying to network to find my next job.

Has anyone else experienced something like this? How can I talk to him about it? Knowing him, he's likely to dismiss my concerns as "nothing to worry about" and tell me I'm too uptight.

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Personally, I break the rules all the time at these conferences, although a bit differently. I.e. I was told only those who are presenting and their PI's/faculty are allowed to come, but I ended up bringing my whole family (I have done this at multiple conferences). Hell my last one, I had my gf (who is not even enrolled in my University), help present with me. I have put names on my posters because my PI wanted the other person to come, even though they had done nothing in regards to contribute to the project (always funny to see them present when this happens). From my experience, conferences and their organizers don't really care, and I've never been called out once (hell I even told the people I was presenting it was my gf and she had no idea what was on the poster). Now, I'm not gonna say you're overreacting or that you should lie, but just telling you how things went for me when I broke the rules at these conferences

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If I was in that situation I'd take the free registration, introduce myself confidently as a postdoc and then feign TOTAL IGNORANCE if called out. "Oh, my boss Prof X handled my registration."  (Honestly, given how cheap most academics are they'll probably be impressed with your ability to get something for free)

If it only costs $20 to register as a non-student or something like that then just tell your PI you'll pay for the registration yourself. If it costs something like $200 and the PI would otherwise be paying for your registration...then either swallow the lie or don't go. 

 

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39 minutes ago, KittyCat_PhD said:

I am a postdoc, working with the same advisor I had for my PhD. I've had a mostly good relationship with my advisor, despite some personality differences--for example, he's more inclined to disregard rules. So far it's been mostly little things. But now something has come up where I feel I need to draw a line.

@KittyCat_PhD, going forward, you will benefit from establishing boundaries early on. You will need to develop tactics that allow you to walk the delicate balance between what you're being asked to do and what you think is the right thing to do.

IRT your current situation, I recommend that you ask yourself "what's at stake?" On the one hand, your advisor wants you to do something that saves (someone) money and (maybe) advances his personal agenda of tweaking his nose at authority from time to time. On the other hand, you are concerned about managing your risk--what happens if you get found out. Potential diagnostic questions include, how would you feel about his request if there were no risk of the ruse being discovered? (Do you not want to do it because you might get caught, or do you not want to do it because it's wrong or do you not want to do it because there's an expanding pattern of rule bending and you want to get off that train?)  Depending on how you answer the question you could put a dollar amount on the price of compromising. 

"Nothing to worry about." You're being too uptight. To me, those are warning flags that this guy doesn't really give a fuck about you. At all. YMMV.

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Conferences vary in whether they consider postdocs as students for the purposes of registration fees (at least in my field). If that might be true in your case, I would feign ignorance and try for the free registration, as your advisor suggests. If this stresses you out, though, you might as well just pay the fee and get it over with. Depending on the context, I don't really know if this amounts to "my advisor is asking me to lie", though. 

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I have a similar mentor. Its kind of his schtick. This doesn't sound like a terribly big ethical breach (if at all: maybe administrative breach?) but I think valuing your own internal boundaries is more important at this point than anything else. Politely standing your ground now or disengaging from it, may make a harder ethical ask down the road a lot less emotionally involved. If networking at this event is important to you then pay the entrance fee and attend. 

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Here are some reasons why I would not register as a student when I am a postdoc:

1. If it's found out and there are consequences, it will all come down on you. So do only what you're comfortable with.

2. Events like this are meant to support students, and they still cost money. The reason that students are free are either because there is outside sponsorship to cover students, or the paying attendees subsidize the cost for students. I feel that it's only right that we stop benefiting from free student things once we have gainful employment and are no longer students. Especially if there is a limit on the number of free student spots at this conference, I'd feel wrong about taking it from an actual student.

3. Usually at these things, your name badges clearly say what you've registered as. If you are here to network, having it say "student" (or the wrong thing) isn't going to help you.

So, honestly, I feel like misrepresenting yourself doesn't really do yourself any good and could cause harm to you. It sounds like you do want to talk to your advisor about this so if you are looking for advice/encouragement, I would say you could consider something like point #2 and #3 above instead of just saying "we shouldn't break the rules" since you know this angle doesn't work with him.

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5 hours ago, TakeruK said:

3. Usually at these things, your name badges clearly say what you've registered as. If you are here to network, having it say "student" (or the wrong thing) isn't going to help you.

This is probably discipline specific. I've never been to a conference in any of my fields that lists someone's status (faculty vs. student) on the name badge. In my fields, all that's listed are your name and your institutional affiliation (if you have one).

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56 minutes ago, rising_star said:

This is probably discipline specific. I've never been to a conference in any of my fields that lists someone's status (faculty vs. student) on the name badge. In my fields, all that's listed are your name and your institutional affiliation (if you have one).

Yep, same. I've also been to quite a few conferences where if you ask the organizers nicely (and especially if you don't have your own funding), they will let you register at the reduced student rate even if you've already graduated. Name tags never indicate status or how much you paid in registration fees, that's entirely unimportant. Worth asking the organizers, OP, even if just as clarification "Dear organizers, I was wondering if postdocs should register as students or faculty" (except, of course, if there is a special "postdoc" category. In my field there almost never is). You never know, they might solve your problem for you.  

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Ah, interesting. All of the society-run conferences (i.e. the major networking ones) in my field will list your membership type (Jr, Full, Emeritus, Associate, Sponsor, Non-Member, etc.) on your badge. And at specific networking events, these badges are very helpful to identify where a person is during their career (i.e. a Non-Member is likely an undergrad, most Jr. Members are grad students, and postdocs/faculty are full members). It also helps prospective grad students: we're told to look out for Jr. Member badges to distinguish between grad students and postdoc/faculty if you are seeking someone from a school you are applying to.

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Depending on the conference, they are generally pretty laid back. I attended a conference as a "student" a few months ago, which was 9 months after my defense and 6 months after my graduation. I had no affiliation with the university at this time, and the analysis I did for my poster was a corrected failed approach I tried to use for my thesis. I also managed to sneak in a professional membership as a "student" by registering a month before my graduation, assuming I would continue as a PhD (contingent upon funding that never came through). I'd say don't sweat it too much, nobody will be really hard-core about verifying that your name badge "student" status is legit. Take advantage of student status when you can! :D

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