I've been involved in a collaboration project for the past year or so (the collaborator was the one who approached me and they were leading the project), the problem is that the progress from the collaborator side was slow and sometimes clumsy (they would often call for meetings without all things figured out, they would be late in meetings, talk on the phone during meetings and would act as if I had to do part of the project for them [this specific part is already published, so I offered to train the collaborator instead of repeating my whole project, but they refused to learn and said that I should be the one running the experiments since it was my expertise]).

Since I'm at the end of my studies and am managing 2 completely different projects at the same time, my supervisor thought it was best to call off this collaboration. I wasn't too keen on doing so because I knew it would look bad on me, but my supervisor thought it was for the best and also said that they would sort things out with the collaborator.

Turns out that my supervisor corresponded to the collaborator saying that I did not want to continue on the project because I was too busy at the moment (which is true, but not a great way of parting ways). Needless to say, I was embarrassed beyond words, and am feeling like this is going to taint my reputation with the other group that I was working with.

How bad is this situation gonna look for me, professionally? Is it normal in academia to pull out contributions from projects that one feels that is most likely going nowhere? Was my judgement in regards to the attitudes of the collaborator unfair?

  • 3
    If you don't like to work with them, why are you worried, they wont work with you again? Concentrate on your positive activities, the rest just hinders you. And as i see it, no, that wont be a problem in the long run for you. Calling off collaborations in the scenario you stated, should be seen as a good call, not a bad one. If something does not work, it is GOOD to do the right stuff and call it off.
    – Sango
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 12:29

3 Answers 3


I think that how it plays out in the future depends on you and on your relationship with your advisor, so protect that relationship carefully.

You seem to be frustrated and speaking from that frustration only. This isn't, generally, a path to success.

It also reads as if your advisor "blamed" you for ending the collaboration just as a way to save face. This is a sign of weakness, of course, but not necessarily ill intent.

Find your own path, but make sure that your advisor supports what you do and is happy to support your next steps with recommendations, etc.

After you finish the degree it is unlikely that anyone will remember what is happening here for very long, unless you act in a way that makes it memorable. I recommend against that.


Your relationship with your supervisor would be more important than with an erratic, underperforming, uninsightful collaborating team (I agree with Buffy).

I think your supervisor seems to have summarised the situation well and spoke on your behalf in what sounds like a reasonable way. You are at the end of your studies, you would be likely to move on. You were not keen to keep going after your finish your studies by the sounds of it. It sounds like there is not enough staff to finish the collaboration after you leave. It sounds like you have expertise that your supervisor is not keen to replace once you leave. He would probably be keen to use you leaving and finishing your studies as an excuse to move on than flogging a difficult collaboration that would unlikely be fruitful or produce publications. He would have had more experience cancelling and moving on from collaborations than you have.

Recognize that your efforts are underappreciated and unlikely to be replicated in the future. You sounded far more patient and far more thoughtful than collaborators would have done in your situation. Most other grad students would have "lost it" by now. Most students would not have appreciated being rebuffed and for expected work to be returned back to them.

I think your emotional difficulty seems to revolve around your inability to accept that this collaboration was likely manipulative and also possibly verging on abusive? It is hard to accept that some people or groups are keen to take advantage and abuse agreements using guilt and aggression. It sounds like the collaborating team was really leaning on your emotions and disrespected your time while not producing the work that both of you agreed upon?

There is no need to "report" or confess to failed collaborations in your cv or in any future applications. So from that point of view, there is minimal or little impact on your employment or reputation. The only impact is the "wasted" time and investment in the collaboration. However, if you use your experience and demonstrate your insight from this experience, it might be helpful for future applications.


I agree that your supervisor has not acted appropriately in putting the sole responsibility of discontinuing working with the collaborators on your shoulders only. He should have said that "we decided not to continue the collaborations".

On the other hand I do not think that the collaborator will be hostile to you personally. It is a bit inconvenient but not as dramatic as you may think. You can still have time to rectify your relationship with the collaborator in the future.

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