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I am finding myself in a difficult situation with a research colleague. We worked on two projects - one currently with the journal and the other I am working on. She has gone completely silent despite regular follow-ups from my side. She is abroad for further studies, and we have kept in touch with regular communication. I have contacted my co-workers and they say that yes they do hear from her and that she is doing fine. My last interaction with her several weeks ago was pleasant - there were no issues.

The issue is a) The article with the journal is under review and she is the first author, I am the corresponding author. When the article comes back with corrections, she is nowhere to be reached and will not/no longer respond to any messages. I do not want to over-rule/over-ride her role and do the corrections myself b) She agreed to cover article processing charges (APC) - but now since she has disappeared, this has left us in a big quandary c) I am traveling abroad for further studies in 2-3 weeks, for the second paper I need to take informed consent from the patient, get their perspective, and examine their current status. I had messaged thrice over several weeks if she has taken consent from the family but no response whatsoever. I tried calling - again radio silence. We were meant to split our work by half, but with no response from her side I cannot do anything or proceed forward.

I find the situation very frustrating and distressing. It is unprofessional on her behalf. Could she be going through something - I did entertain that thought, but my colleagues say she is doing very well and is responsive to them. I do want to quit and message her that I no longer want to participate in this project, but I have done a lot of work and it is unfair at this stage. I can give her the login and password credentials for the paper with the journal to respond to peer review and settle APC if she wishes to never ever hear from me again. I do not want to go ahead and do everything on my own, which I can, but it would be unfair to proceed without her input.

In life, I wouldn't mind with ghosting or rejection, but in research after many months/years of work, for a person to ghost you is very distressing and traumatising. I fear collaborating with others lest they should decide to disappear and cut contact for no reason after months/years of work.

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  • Have you tried a different mode of communication? How are friends getting ahold of her?
    – Dawn
    Sep 22, 2023 at 17:58
  • Yeah I have tried email, phone calls, WhatsApp messages. She does respond to other colleagues on WhatsApp, radio silence to me though
    – H.H.
    Sep 22, 2023 at 18:09
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    Another possibility is that she's overwhelmed by work, embarrassed at not being able to execute the next required steps, and stuck on how to communicate that. Sep 23, 2023 at 19:37
  • I am happy to entertain all possibilities but we need to complete the work it's stuck at this stage. I'm happy to do everything. If I don't hear back I'll just finish everything cc her and all colleagues with the final draft for feedback, it is upto her how to proceed after that, leaving all channels open from my side
    – H.H.
    Sep 24, 2023 at 19:23

2 Answers 2

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Choose one of the other colleagues who she responds to, preferably the one who is closest to her or best friends with her. And ask that person to find out from her what is going on. You will need to explain everything fully to that person first.

Or perhaps that person already knows what is going on and can tell you directly.

Don't be afraid of collaborating with other people in the future. This kind of thing is rare.

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  • Thank you so much 😊 🙏
    – H.H.
    Sep 25, 2023 at 19:29
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Sorry to hear you're going through this. I understand your colleague likely has a lot going on and deserves empathy, but this is unprofessional and exceptionally rare. She may be saying to colleagues that she is "doing fine", but this could not be entirely true. Still, it's exceptionally unprofessional if she is doing this on purpose.

Could you ask a friend that she is responsive with to deliver a message? Emphasize not coming off as aggressive, and come off more concerned and that you're on her side. Try and gather information from the friend but keep it brief; no one likes to play the telephone for long.

As a last resort, I think it is entirely fine to move forward in the process. I definitely agree with continuing to CC her on everything. Make sure you communicate what you will do in a separate email, probably over two forms of contact.

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  • Thank you so much 😊 🙏
    – H.H.
    Sep 25, 2023 at 19:29

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