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Recently, I began my work on an independent research project. A few months ago, while I was writing the research proposal for submission, I talked with a peer of mine who hadn't done independent research. As a good gesture, I told her that we could work together on it, since it would help her resume. In the meantime, I planned, wrote, and submitted the entire proposal myself.

When I offered her this "opportunity", I hadn't really thought things through. Now, I've realized that there really isn't much that she can contribute to the project besides stick around and do manual data entry - all of which I can do (she studies physics, while this is chemistry research).

I've already began the project and she hasn't done anything yet (because she doesn't really have the skills or experience, and it'd be too difficult and time-consuming for me to teach her). While I could definitely keep her around since she wouldn't bother me, I feel like it'd be unfair because I would be doing everything, but she would also receive the credit for it (and my "contribution" would therefore be viewed as less).

I'm not sure how to tell her that I don't want to work with her anymore in a way that she wouldn't be offended, but also in a way that doesn't make me look too bad for "going against my word". Any suggestions?

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    Pretty hard to do that without seeming to be, or even being, a jerk. – Buffy Apr 8 at 21:13
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    Don't go against your word. – paul garrett Apr 8 at 21:44
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    It's your failure to plan. You knew that other person had no independent research, so it was your job to provide a route for her to become useful. But then, you seem inexperienced yourself, so take this as an opportunity to learn. She studied physics. That's an immensely useful topic to understand, is there no way to find a route for her to develop the relevant contributions? Propping up resumes is a dangerous reason to involve something for if there is nothing else, but it's done. – Captain Emacs Apr 9 at 10:16
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How do you respectfully remove someone from your research group?

To answer the question literally, although there is no nice way to do this, you can be respectful by sending a brief, straightforward email (and do it ASAP): "I am sorry but due to changing circumstances I don't think we can collaborate more on project X. I wish you the best in your future endeavors and I'm very sorry for the unexpected change."

However, your real problem is (as others pointed out) that you seem to be an awful mentor: although you have given no indication that there is actually any barrier to the student helping on the project, you (1) told them they could help, and then (2) mentally retracted that offer, apparently without them doing anything to make a bad impression. So retracting the offer here is highly unprofessional and unkind.

Now, I've realized that there really isn't much that she can contribute to the project besides stick around and do manual data entry

Can you really not think of anything she can contribute? You offered originally, so you should see this through and help her get up to speed. It will be a learning experience for her and an opportunity for you to become a better mentor.

I feel like it'd be unfair because I would be doing everything

You seem to just assume that you will do all the work; you do not seem to treat the student like a collaborator, i.e. with respect and thoughtfulness.

but she would also receive the credit for it (and my "contribution" would therefore be viewed as less).

Your focus on only your reputation here is telling. If she really doesn't help with the work, she should not be on any papers you submit at all, but instead you are worried about saving face and you would consider putting her name on a paper without her helping at all?

I'm not sure how to tell her that I don't want to work with her anymore in a way that she wouldn't be offended, but also in a way that doesn't make me look too bad for "going against my word". Any suggestions?

There is no way. She may be offended and you are going against your word. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a respectful way to do it, which I have suggested at the top of my answer.

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If she can't contribute anything to the project it's because you're a bad mentor. You can drop her, but that is a failure on your part and I'd personally be more worried about not being good at your job instead of looking like a jerk.

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    How about "respectfully"? it is hard to see how the OP can salvage much of anything of their reputation here if they drop this person. – Buffy Apr 8 at 22:32
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    Respectfully screwing people is still screwing people – user120011 Apr 8 at 22:33
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Well... the trick in collaborating is in leveraging what others can do so you can contribute in ways they cannot. Thus, if this person can enter data, this frees you from doing that task and - even if you could do that task - you can now do something else productively. I can do all the work my students do, but if I spent my time doing their work I would have less time doing what I’m best at, which they cannot do.

So yes it’s frustrating but I would recommend you bite the bullet.

If you really must then simply tell this person in a private meeting that you do not think her contribution is sufficient to continue working on the project, and allow this person a chance to disprove or challenge your opinion, i.e. if the person insists she can contribute then agree on a useful milestone with a (fairly) strict timeframe. If really this person is not up to the task, she may realize under time constraints that this is really not for her.

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