I had a very bad experience with a colleague and just do not like/trust him. (Eavesdropping, lying, ...) I am working on a project with my mentor, and know they shared information with the colleague I do not trust. How can I politely point that out to them?

  • 3
    Are you a grad student? Is the colleague a fellow grad student, a professor at a different institution, or....?
    – cag51
    Nov 17, 2019 at 3:42
  • Once the situation is "X should not know", that means there is no good and evil side, there is equal reason for everyone to mistrust everyone. Nov 17, 2019 at 23:03

4 Answers 4


If you can trust your mentor, just tell them. Say it as it is. But not in an email. This requires personal communication.

But, if you cannot trust your mentor then you have a bigger problem than you state and need to find better guidance.

  • 8
    I like the "personal communication" part. However, I do not think that OP distrusts the professor - the problem is that the professor may think the OP is oversensitive ("nothing bad will happen, don't worry") and does not take OP seriously. This is not a matter of trust, but of misaligned expectations. Also, the person in question may be well known or a student of the prof, and OP may not want to be explicit about it for diplomatic reasons. More care is advised, but not in terms of prof distrust. Nov 17, 2019 at 11:29

As a meta comment, sharing your research is on average the best way to progress in my opinion. Sure, there are some bad apples out there, but overall I feel it’s wise to err on the side of collaboration and communication.

I suggest that my students prepare human readable manuscripts that they can share with others. No one stole their work yet (though it did happen to me once). Again, on average this is better I think.

To your question: I think directly and politely asking is the best way. “Hi, I feel like the work is not quite ready to be discussed as it’s too preliminary, would it be ok if we develop it more before we present it? I feel it would have more impact this way”

Don’t mention distrust or plagiarism. If your professor is not completely dense they’d understand that this is part of it.

Good luck!

  • 1
    You are in a safer position than the student who is more vulnerable. OP sees a concrete rather than vague threat and I think one should take such an immediate threat serious. Your idea of requesting to not mention preliminary work is ok, but what if the prof does not take it seriously? OP needs some way of conveying their message without looking paranoid. (Not sure I have a good suggestion, it would depend on the prof). Nov 17, 2019 at 11:26
  • This is exactly what I’m suggesting: a diplomatic solution. Most reasonable professors would agree, but if not: probably a short clarification discussion would work.
    – Spark
    Nov 17, 2019 at 13:33
  • Also, I suggest my students share their work, as did I as a student. How is this different?
    – Spark
    Nov 17, 2019 at 13:33
  • I also suggest my students share their work (you say for "others", not "other students of the same group"; so I had to assume you are happy to share more widely). But were I to discover that someone in my group claims work of others for themselves, they would find themselves having to answer disciplinary action. I am aware that stealing work/ideas does not happen often, but if it happens it is very painful for the victim and can affect the culture for a long time after. I have witnessed a blatant attempt to do so (it was nipped in the bud, but it left lasting impression on everybody involved). Nov 17, 2019 at 14:18

This situation will require you to go see your mentor in person, be friendly and straight forward. Just let him know how you feel.


Much depends on HOW you say something like this.

Of course this must be expressed in person, but if you tell your mentor directly, as in "sir, can I ask you to do one thing, ... etc." then there is a likelihood that it won't be taken too seriously. Why? Because, indirectly, you are telling your mentor that you understand things better than him/her -- that you understand this other person is untrustworthy, something the mentor didn't realize by himself. Human nature is that nobody likes to be corrected.

So, in my opinion, a better approach would be in the form of asking the mentor for advice.

Instead of just telling him what to do -- "please don't talk about this in front of others", ask him advice on how to handle the situation. "Sir, can I ask you one thing?" (sure...) "Maybe you will feel I am a bit silly..." (no, don't worry, what is it?) "Thanks... well, the fact is that I noticed that after our collective discussions, person X is doing A and B and C and this is a problem for me because D and E, etc." (um, I see...) "So how should I handle a situation like this?" -- at this point, if you made your case convincingly, your mentor may "spontaneously" come to the right conclusion: (well, you know what, maybe next time you should talk to me when they are not around).

(By the way, do not badmouth this other person unnecessarily. Be fair and balanced while making your case)

Bottom line: if you can make the mentor feel that he made the decision, and at the same time let him save face (for not noticing the problem themselves) then there are good chances that things will go the way you want, and not just temporarily but permanently, especially if the way you want is also a good way which in the end benefits everyone.


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