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I am a third year student at a R2 university that puts an emphasis on undergraduate research. This university requires all students to participate in an off-campus research project during junior year (after taking a qualitative research methods course and writing a project proposal the preceding semester). I completed this class with my research group a few weeks ago and am doing the project over the summer.

For my semester abroad research project, I was placed in a group with a student I am going to call Parker. Parker has fairly severe ADHD. Over the course of the preparatory class, they wrote a total of 6 sentences--four of which were plagiarized. For reference, the final proposal turned out to be approximately 40 pages. In our daily team meetings, they are constantly watching videos on their laptop. The group has spoken to the instructor of the preparatory course (not PI) about these issues and he seems fairly dismissive. According to him, Parker brings a unique perspective to the project which makes up for their lack of substantive contribution (to me, this reeks of BS). I could understand this position if Parker was consistently interacting with us, but they are not. Even during weekly group meetings with the PI they are playing games or watching videos. The PI doesn't seem to care either.

We've tried talking to Parker about these issues and it always ends poorly. In their eyes, we are "singling them out" and "not letting go of the past". I think this leads to everyone treating them with kid gloves. The first instance of plagiarism should have warranted at minimum a stern warning from the PI and department head. By the third they should have easily been booted from the class, in my opinion. Neither instance was even noted when I caught it and brought it up with the instructor. This makes me fairly anxious and angry, as I am aiming for a career in academia and do not want my record marred by coauthoring a plagiarized paper.

I'm at a bit of a loss regarding what to do about Parker's behavior when we are abroad. Our research involves direct interaction with the public, and frankly Parker has not shown me that they are capable of doing that in an appropriate manner (they insulted one of my classmates with a stutter during his presentation FCS). Given the pattern of our professor blaming the entire group for Parker's behavior, I'm extremely worried about what will happen if they get in a spat with a visitor or otherwise misbehave. I feel like I'm being treated as a babysitter.

The rest of my group (sans Parker) shares my position in all of this, so we have decided to draft a team contract to review with the PI before we go abroad. Herein lies my question. As a undergraduate students, how reasonable is it for my group to request to remove a student (with significant accommodations) from our research team should certain conditions be met? We will, of course, give a singular warning, but none of us want to work with Parker if they aren't going to act appropriately or contribute to the project. I signed onto this project to do research, not look after someone who can't be trusted to do the same.

If anyone has any insight into any part of my situation, I would love to hear it.

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First, know that this is very common. Whenever you put a bunch of inexperienced young people to work together in a group, you will get the normal issues arising from people learning how to work as a team. You get people who want to be the "ideas person" and do no work (ie a designer, not a digger of ditches), you get the lazy ones, you get the control freaks, etc. Part of the job of being an advisor to a group of young people is teaching them how manage these issues, e.g. there will be no "ideas person" in this group, everybody has to work, how deadlines will be implemented, etc. It's concerning that the people in charge of training you have been dismissive.

Not only can you report Parker, but you should. There are many possible outcomes, all of them good: They can

  1. Shape up and start working
  2. Promise to change, not change, and get dismissed from the group.
  3. Realize there's work to be done and quit right away.

In my experience dealing with dozens of undergraduate groups, I bet you a beer that they will choose #3. But you have nothing to lose and all to gain.

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  • While I agree that you should report this to the PI, I don't these outcomes are by any means comprehensive. Another possibility is the PI doesn't do anything and you have to deal with Parker the whole summer. May 24, 2023 at 15:12
  • The question was "can I request...", not "what are all of the possible scenarios?"
    – Cheery
    May 24, 2023 at 15:21

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