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There are several types of tasks in academia. Some may be simple and some may be complex in nature. Although some tasks are very simple for many, they can be quite complex for me. If those tasks are institution-specific, then I need to get clarified from the concerned authority or from the other students only without any other option such as asking on public platforms. This question is about such tasks (very simple to others and highly complex to me).

Is it ok to ask for help from others in dealing with such tasks? Or is it better to avoid communication and wait for a long time to get a solution since the task is very simple for others and hence people may take it odd and form negative opinions on me?

Although, in the ideal situation, it seems to be good to get a clarification/solution as early as possible. But since I am an experienced person about the work dynamics in long run, I am asking this question.

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    It's not clear to me what sort of "tasks" you are talking about. Can you give a representative example?
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 26, 2021 at 3:29
  • @BryanKrause Institution-specific tasks are related to questions like "where can I find resource X in our college?", "How much span our course work is?", "what are all the rules for submitting the project to the prof. X" etc.,
    – hanugm
    Sep 26, 2021 at 5:47
  • Many of the questions I mentioned are not available in public. Sometimes it is due to my absence in the announcement time and sometimes it is a due to less expertise in understanding the ongoing discussions @BryanKrause
    – hanugm
    Sep 26, 2021 at 5:49
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    Ah, I think I am understanding now. Probably most important is that many of these things may have no true official procedure or answer which of course makes it a lot more difficult to comply...
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 26, 2021 at 6:49
  • This question would be substantially improved if these examples were edited into the question in case the comments are subsequently deleted.
    – Ian
    Sep 26, 2021 at 20:55

2 Answers 2

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In a positive work environment, such tasks that are institution-specific will have some starting notes to tackle them, e.g. where to find a given resource, how to reset the VPN etc. If not, asking for help is the best way to go about it. I would guess that in most cases the questions I am facing are also queried by several others (even future employees) and would suggest making a common FAQ page/PDF about it and sharing it with the HR/library to whom people can refer to for department/Faculty-specific tasks.

Sharing resources and collaborating on such situations is highly encouraging to junior and new colleagues and should be encouraged.

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I'd say there are four distinct scenarios of you employing some outside help:

Short term:

  • Something not expected of a person in your position to be capable of. Say, after a programming course it is desired that you know your way around it but no one reasonable really holds a general expectation of you being a pro at that from day 1. Totally ask for help.
  • Something expected of you to be capable of which you can't do because you say have been sick while the relevant information was distributed. Again, asking for help is actually expected here.

Long term:

  • Something that you are expected to do as a part of your responsibilities but what is genuinely hard for you. It happens all the time, actually - there is always that otherwise brilliant colleague who can't for the life of theirs figure out how to center a figure in Word or remember which server to use for testing. Be acutely aware of these weaknesses - it is okay to employ help on a permanent basis long as you acknowledge calling in favors, provide some value back and, ideally, plan for requesting help in advance. "I will be turning in some report later today, could you help me with formatting a bit? Will be around 4 pm today and probably would take some half an hour" is unlikely to make you hated, "The supervisor requests it done by tomorrow so I need 3 hours of your time today to fill in all the gaps", however, isn't particularly nice. Try not to be a burden and repay those favors.
  • Something you are capable of learning and not consider particularly hard but just don't feel like doing it. If it only happens once or twice, whatever, but absolutely do not do so on a permanent basis.

Also, this is not that specific to academic culture - any workplace with juniors in it (that is, nearly any thriving workplace out there) has this "issue".

Long as you genuinely try and improve, asking for help is actually highly encouraged: it is lot easier to methodically cover gaps in one's knowledge than give them a task and wait for a week for them to acknowledge they lack some more understanding of the topic, over and over again.

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