How I should have handled the thing

The other day I wrote about how the following thing happened. As many people have pointed out: a. it is hard to distinguish exactly who the idea-owner was, and if so, this is not that important, and b. I should have said something earlier. Looking back, I clearly see what I should have done differently:

First, while we were brainstorming about what I could write my fellowship about, I should have asked if our stuff would be different enough. Perhaps I should have even asked if they were okay with me proposing this, as they may have felt it was close to their research-niche. I guess being open about this, rather than assuming someone would speak up about this could have avoided this situation.

Next, when they told me after I had just joined the lab that they were performing these experiments, I should have said something other than "Oh. Okay", which is what I said because I was so surprised. I should have expressed my surprise and have a conversation about how to move forward. Instead, I never said anything because I was afraid I would get upset and cry about it. And the longer I waited with saying something, the more upset I got about it.

So the biggest lesson here was that it is important to immediately have a conversation about things like this, instead of just whine about it on the internet.

4 responses so far

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    Communication is important, yes, but presumably you were intimidated as well as disappointed/surprised that the lab started working on expts you thought you were responsible for doing. I'm guessing this experience played a role in your looking for the private sector job. It clearly reduced your affinity for academia (building on your experience in U.S. When lab head left your research group at very short notice?).

    What's done is done. But this goes on all the time (authorship disputes for many reasons are very common, as are issues of ownership). Abuse of privilege/power is so pervasive it's taken for granted. Of course, it occurs all the time outside academia too.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Well yeah, there were a billion reasons that eventually made me decide to go for my current job instead of stay in academia, and I guess this was just one of those billion reasons. Being in my current job where being open is very much emphasized makes me realize how much nicer it is to work together this way. And that you can create a culture in which people are more likely to speak up about things.

  • Torbjörn says:

    Clearly a case of too little communication both ways, yes.

    But I can't help but feel that the most important bit of missing communication here is the one where the lab didn't contact you to say: "These experiments are a great idea, we are getting impatient to go ahead here now. How do we proceed?"

    You would then have been told "If you can't contribute further, we have to drop you. Sorry." It is unpleasant to send that message (I know from first-hand experience), not much fun to get it either, I guess. But not getting it must be way nastier.

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