About halfway through last semester, my professor asked me to do research under her with a group of people I had been friends with since freshman year. Dream come true! These are all people I already like working with, it's research in a field we are all interested in, we already spend a lot of time together, etc. The best part is, we all benefit professionally from this! Perfect!

My only concern now is that one of my friends just doesn't do anything for the project except show up to the meetings. It causes me a lot of heartache because I am close friends with this person, and I want to see him succeed. I've talked to him about it before, he hasn't given me any reason. I've told him ways he could contribute, he just never does.

On another level, it makes me upset because this is an opportunity I imagine many people would love to have. It's not fair to other people interested in research that this person may end up piggy-backing his way to a publication! If I weren't on this project, I know I would be upset.

Any suggestions for how to handle this unfortunate situation?

(Also, if there's any way to make this anonymous, that would be nice, too... I'm not interested in one of my colleagues seeing this)


It sounds like this question is about undergraduate research.

If an undergraduate student does not want to participate in research, that's fine. They're welcome to have other priorities. Other students have no responsibility to deal with a student who is not participating.

If a student is trying to get credit for participating in research but does not actually do anything, that is a matter for your professor to deal with. They're responsible for setting standards.

If the students are not getting paid, there is no reason for the professor to push out a student who is not doing anything.


One way is to try to ask him to help on the part you are normally doing alone. I'm not sure which way such request would work best (you may just tell him that you need some help and all other participants are busy with their own stuff, or it may happen that you both want to go to a movie and you just tell him that you cannot until you get something done, but together you can complete it twice faster, or something else; you'll have to use your imagination and common sense to play it right). It can easily happen that he is not motivated enough to work on the project alone and doesn't feel like he is worth much in the large group where, perhaps, there are several people who can do things better and faster, but wouldn't mind working with a single close friend on some small things here and there. It is just a wild guess, of course, but if you haven't tried this already, it probably won't make much harm. Just be sure to share with him some work that he certainly can do and that doesn't take too much time or effort in the beginning.

One thing that, most likely, won't work is to blame him for anything like "piggy-back riding". If he doesn't really care about the project, comes to the meetings just because he wants to hang around his friends pretty much regardless of what they are doing, and signed up for the research project following the same logic, that may achieve only that he'll finally opt out and you both will have some hard feelings in the end.

Just my two cents. I suspect you'll get plenty of good advices from other people, so I'll stop here.

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