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At my place of work, among my other responsibilities I am responsible for following up with and scheduling participants in our longitudinal study. This study has been going on since the late 80's, and many of these subjects have been coming in since they were children. For context this is my first job since completing undergrad.

At first productivity was high. I was scheduling more subjects per month than my PI had seen in several years. As time went on, it became apparent that this glut of subjects I scheduled in the first few months was a result of a build-up during a transitional period shortly before I was hired. Not many subjects were scheduled for a span of about four months before I was hired, and these neglected subjects were the cause of my high numbers.

Since then productivity has steadily lowered.

I then began blaming myself. Spending hours on the phone each day attempting to contact subjects, while not difficult, is draining. I do sometimes procrastinate when I should be working. However after months of serious attempts to bring my numbers up, I feel comfortable stating that my work is not the issue.

It seems apparent that the study, or at least it's current phase, may be winding down. Due to the nature of our research, many of our subjects have a troubled home life, severe substance abuse issues, and are estranged from their families.

Often our contact information for our subjects is out of date. Many of our subjects use pre-paid phones and change their number often. Our study is also based in NYC, and many of our subjects have moved several times over the years. I currently use White Pages Premium, White Pages Pro, Facebook, and just googling people's names when the info we have in our records does not suffice.

On top of this, many of our subjects are now at an age where it is simply not worth it for them to come in. They either make more than what we offer in compensation at their jobs, are too busy with their careers, or have family to take care of.

My PI has been concerned with productivity as we will be applying to renew a grant soon. I'm trying very hard to bring in more of our subjects, but it feels like there is only so much I can do.

As this is my first job, I'm worried that this could seriously affect my career/hopes for grad school if my PI feels that I am to blame. How should I navigate this situation? Are there additional resources for tracking down these subjects I should suggest to my PI?

  • Could you go out and meet the subjects? Do they really need to come to you? – Emilie Mar 13 '18 at 17:39
  • @Emilie Yes, the study involves ERP so the subjects would have to come in. There is an interview portion that can be completed over the phone if the subject is unavailable to come in. This is generally what we do for subjects who have moved out of state. – Schrodinger'sStat Mar 13 '18 at 17:47
  • Have you asked your PI? He may be concerned about progress of his study, but not be concerned about your productivity. Since the study is going on for 30 years, he/she should have experienced similar issues before. – Mark Mar 13 '18 at 19:02
  • @Mark I've discussed this with my PI, unfortunately nothing very productive came from the conversation, other than an emphasis for me to keep trying to reach the subjects. Our lab coordinator has mentioned productivity being low several times however, and it's concerning. – Schrodinger'sStat Mar 13 '18 at 19:15
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Document. As scientists, your PI and supervisor should hopefully be receptive to data. Use a time-tracking app (maybe one of these push-button mobile apps?) to track and make statistics on how long it takes you to track down addresses per person, how many people you contacted, the call answer rate, the success rate in bringing them in, etc. Then, if anyone is concerned about how you use your time, you have hard facts to show them exactly why the productivity is what it is.

If you have another meeting with your PI after that, emphasize what else you could be doing with that time that is not getting done. Something like "You've asked me to prioritize subject scheduling. I'm currently using X% of time on tracking them down. This means I only have Y% remaining for these other tasks. (If you also have some metrics on how efficient you are at those, you could emphasize your productivity: ...but despite the limited time, I managed to get Z items done.) Should we keep going this way, or should we make any adjustments in how we use my work time?"

Or, if you really want to stop doing so much of this, not just worry about your higher-ups understanding why productivity is what it is, you can also instead say "It's really burning me out spending X hours on the phone or tracking down addresses each day. Can we get someone else to share that work so that I can spend more time on project B instead?" You'll know your context, but maybe there's a way to bring a student in for some part-time work calling people.

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