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I am just beginning a research project with a fellow student. She is always 10-20 minutes late to scheduled meetings and has a very hard time making any sort of deadline. She freely admits that she is a procrastinator, and acknowledges that chronically being late is a problem which she has never effectively dealt with.

We are going to be working together for several months, perhaps longer, and I know that her chronic lateness will eventually become irritating. (I am always at least 10 minutes early, and consistently complete tasks before the deadline.) I enjoy working with her in a more casual setting, but I am concerned that her procrastination may become an issue in an academic collaboration. How should I approach her about this? Are there any ways to work around it? The collaboration was her initiative, so I am hesitant to confront if there are more diplomatic options.

How should I deal with her procrastination and lateness?

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    Perhaps you should schedule a meeting or two for half an hour earlier than you intend to arrive? Sounds a little vindictive, but it might help her to understand how genuinely frustrating it is to have your time wasted! – Moriarty Sep 21 '13 at 6:51
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    Does she contribute something of value into the project? If so, I would say nothing and try to put up with her in the simplest possible way: you know that she'll be 10 minutes late, so come 9 minutes late yourself. If not, just opt out of collaboration. Dealing with an irritating but smart and valuable collaborator is a normal part of life if you want to collaborate at all, but there is no need to tolerate someone totally useless to the project. – fedja Sep 21 '13 at 10:30
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    My answer would heavily depend on your standing (e.g., are you her supervisor, a PI, a postdoc or a fellow student) and whether you can you back out of the collaboration. – StrongBad Sep 21 '13 at 12:51
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    @DanielE.Shub The post starts with "fellow student", which strongly suggests they are both students, unless I'm missing something. – Faheem Mitha Sep 21 '13 at 22:54
  • @DanielE.Shub, We are both students, although I feel (perhaps mistakenly) that she has slightly senior standing because the collaboration was her idea, with my enthusiastic agreement. I don't want to back out of the collaboration; I just need to be able to deal with the procrastination and lateness. – J. Zimmerman Sep 22 '13 at 1:04
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As you are both students and she approached you, then the answer is simple: Walk away nicely. Explain to her that your working styles do not mesh and therefore the collaboration is becoming too burdensome. Then you need to work with her to setup an exit strategy where you clearly agree on what it is you will do. You also will probably want to (re-)discuss authorship of any possible publications.

As a fellow student it is not your place to try and change her behaviour or working style. As you were not asked to collaborate with her by your supervisor, you are only letting her down and realistically it is her who let you down.

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There are a couple of options that you could consider:

  • You may have to put your foot down (in a nice way), and gently remind her that it was her idea to collaborate and that such collaboration is difficult unless you both adhere to the deadlines set. If it still persists, tell her that the procrastination, particularly with the tasks are making the collaboration untenable.

  • If this is not a critical aspect of your work, take a more relaxed attitude yourself to it - in terms of punctuality and task-completion. The rationale for this is that if she does not place the collaboration as a high priority, then why should you? This second one you would need to be careful about, the approach would be to put your other work before it.

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First an optimistic scenario, maybe it turns out to be a non-issue in the end. You can find something else to do while waiting for her to turn up. Who knows, maybe not everybody has to be organized. It is up to you to decide. But it seems that pessimistic scenario is much more likely to happen. There is nothing more disturbing in your work than a collaborator you cannot rely upon. In short. The quicker you seriously talk about your worries the better. And certainly being late yourself when the other person is late is not a solution.

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