I'm becoming frustrated with an international collaborator that has been involved in the project since early this year. He has been responsible for translating the survey into another language and we aim to use his connections (via his University) to launch the project in their area.

He has been valuable and is important to the project. I admire his insights and suggestions. However, he takes FOREVER to get anything done, often suggesting more and more unnecessary changes to our survey and delaying delivery dates indefinitely.

As final deadlines are closely approaching, I have started setting deadlines for him to meet, asking him to identify why such delays, and encouraging energy into his end to get it launched. However, the same pattern emerges - more delays, extremely long turn arounds on work, and ambiguous excuses. I'm frustrated, but I believe he will deliver eventually.

I want him to launch the survey in his area. So, the question is - How do you motivate someone who is prone to delays when there are no financial incentives involved?

I believe I need to talk frankly to him and address these concerns over the phone (we work through Skype). How do you create a conversation that is frank, but fair? When is it time to let him go?

  • Is this collaborator a PI? If yes, do they have a PhD student/postdoc working on their part of the project for them? In case it's yes again, I'd suggest asking the PI if it would be ok to communicate directly with the PhD student/postdoc for practical issues, it's likely to help everybody.
    – Erwan
    Sep 17, 2019 at 23:22
  • I am the PI. He is collaborating with the project. It is expected that for using his University network for data collection he will receive co-authorship on the paper.
    – user114175
    Sep 17, 2019 at 23:23

2 Answers 2


Perhaps you are asking for more than can be delivered. The other person, I assume, has his own projects and deadlines and, perhaps, needs to put those first.

Incentives can be other than financial, of course, but perhaps the incentives important to the other person are all directed toward making progress on work more important to them than to you.

Trying to beat up on someone who has been valuable to you is a mistake, I think. Setting deadlines for someone who is neither your advisee nor your employee is likely to be fruitless.

What incentive can you offer. The carrot, not the stick.

  • Thanks for the feedback. Just to clarify: 1. I am only asking on what he has ensured he can deliver which is well within his scope. 2. Setting deadlines has been a means to help him reach set goals. Otherwise, the pattern of taking months to respond to simple emails will continue. 3. I don't want to 'beat up on him', I only want him to understand that whilst this may be a side project to him, it's my life and will lose funding if we don't deliver soon. After all, it's been 8 months with little progress. I need a commitment from him. I can only offer co-authorship.
    – user114175
    Sep 17, 2019 at 23:14

I'm sorry for you but if he's only getting co-authorship on a paper it's not very surprising that he's not very responsive.

Do you have any way to make it more interesting for him? Maybe a collaboration on a future project where he would get some of the funding? travel expenses paid for him to go to a conference? Or maybe you can help him on something else so that he can use the time saved this way on your project?

You should try to find out what this collaborator needs to be motivated, clearly the co-authorship is not enough.

  • Good ideas. He is aware that this can open up into a wider project, but unfortunately I am simply a phd student and do not have many resources to offer him. Though I will try to think of ways to facilitate this.
    – user114175
    Sep 17, 2019 at 23:45

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