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I am having a lot of difficulties mentoring .

First, I am very early in my PhD and not ready to Mentor nor was my dissertation project ready for a student in my opinion. I still had a lot of troubleshooting that I wanted to do to feel confident my data was good. However, my supervisor told me to skip the troubleshooting and just have him start working so that he would be occupied. This meant that none of the data he collected was usable

The second issue is that He sees me as a near peer which might have been fine. However, some of his behavior affects our professional relationship as well and a large mistake I made was not being strict about enforcing boundaries. Now I enforce boundaries incredibly strictly for reasons discussed below and have insisted that our relationship be professional and nothing else. Based on his behavior, I think this upsets him, although I do not really care if it does, I think he should have some respect for what I'm going through and respect a boundary that is important to me

The final issue is most serious. I was hurt in an accident recently. I am exhausted and dealing with a lot of physical and emotional distress from the incident. I still care deeply about my research and about my career and I don't want to feel that either of those things are being taken away from me because of this injury. I do not want my project to move on without me, but I also don't want to Mentor my student anymore. My supervisor directs him to do experiments. I spoke with my mentor about this and my mentor assured me that they would keep me in the loop but also that my student had to be kept occupied. I think if I truly pushed the matter that the project needed to stop while I healed and that he had to find something to do, my mentor would allow this, but I'm very concerned about the professional repercussions that would come from this. I'm unsure what to do because it seems my options are either to continue to supervise the student or to let my own research carry on without me.

The advice I'm looking for is the extent to which I'm shooting myself in the foot professionally if I were really to push the matter about this student and insist that the project halt and he find work on something else. Part of me feels like I should just stick with it and that this is the wisest professional decision. The other half of me though is incredibly hurt and tired.

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    So you have a now experienced student who could help you keep things going and want them gone instead?
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 27 at 19:40
  • Yeah that's fair and I thought about that a lot. He is experienced, but because the project is still in troubleshooting and exploratory phases, either me or my supervisor needs to be heavily involved. She's trying to be to help me with the difficulties of mentoring but I feel cut out of my project. Also, I don't want him gone as in kicked out of the lab. I just want him to work on a different project, of which there are quite a few
    – user187290
    Commented Apr 27 at 20:39
  • Also, given my physical difficulties, it's important to me that one day I won't need anybody to help me keep the project moving. I'll be perfectly capable of doing it on my own. It's very frustrating of me to be so confined by my own body
    – user187290
    Commented Apr 27 at 20:40
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    It's not reasonable to expect someone else to stop their research project because you are injured. Why do you think this is plausibly okay?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 27 at 20:43
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    Welcome to Academia.SE. Your post is very long -- you'll probably get more/better answers if you can cut the length in half. Remember, we just need enough context to understand the question, not all of the super-specific details. A good rule-of-thumb is that the question should be general enough that someone else could plausibly have the same question in the future.
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 27 at 21:06

4 Answers 4

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First of all, sorry that you got injured and now have to go through a painful recovery. Something like that happened to me in grad school and I lost all ability to be productive for about 4 months. In times like these, you need to focus first and foremost on your health and well-being. This is the time to trust your advisor.

I still care deeply about my research and about my career and I don't want to feel that either of those things are being taken away from me because of this injury.

Your research will not be "taken away from you." Don't worry. Just get well and the research will be there when you are able to come back and pick it up again.

I do not want my project to move on without me, but I also don't want to Mentor my student anymore. However, My supervisor still directs him to do experiments that I know nothing about and talks with him about science when I'm not included. I spoke with my mentor about this and my mentor assured me that they would keep me in the loop but also that my student had to be kept occupied.

The supervisor's position is completely rational. The student needs to be kept occupied and this is a "win-win" where progress can continue to be made on the research even while you are recovering. There's no reason for you to stress about this. Research is a naturally collaborative endeavor. Get used to the idea that you don't have to run everything yourself, and can lean on the expertise and work ethic of others in the lab.

He only has 10 more weeks left in the program so part of me feels like I should just stick with it and that this is the wisest professional decision.

Correct. This problem will solve itself. You can focus on your recovery, knowing that by the time you return to the lab this person will be gone.

The other half of me though is incredibly hurt at the sacrifices I've been asked to make for him and even now am being asked to make for him and deeply bother that the project can't halt to give me time to get better, especially since it's only ~3 months that I'm really asking for.

No one is asking you to make a sacrifice right now. Your team is continuing to work on your research even without you. If anything, they are actually making a sacrifice for you right now, so that your research is not set back by the injury.

The advice I'm looking for is the extent to which I'm shooting myself in the foot professionally if I were really to push the matter about this student and insist that the project halt and he find work on something else.

Yes, it's unwise to insist that the project halt while you are gone. Instead, it's better to view your lab as a team. The "first issue" and "second issue" in the post are about your personal feelings about the postbac student. They will be gone in 10 weeks. I would just keep those opinions to yourself for now, as they don't seem relevant. If the student somehow sticks around and wants to be a PhD student with the same advisor, then you can express your reservations to the advisor. But doing it now would just create a problem where there does not have to be one, since you are not currently working alongside this person at all. You have probably earned some good will by agreeing to mentor the postbac student in the first place. Don't blow that good will now by trying to demand the work cease until you are there personally to run all experiments and do everything yourself. Let the team do their work supporting you and freeing you up to focus on your health.

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    To add to an otherwise beautiful answer, when one's emotions (about a person or injury, for example) are getting the best of them, find a professional to help.
    – user121330
    Commented Apr 29 at 6:32
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a seed of resentment feeling my project was being taken away from me for his benefit

I can understand this on an emotional level, but I don't believe this was in any way your supervisor's intent. Basically, this was an opportunity for you to experience what it's like to have a student - and, should the student turn out to be talented, an opportunity to have some of the troubleshooting done for you.

He sees me as a near peer

Yes, you just started as a PhD student yourself! Some students take this attitude with supervisors 20+ years their senior. It just happens.

I do not want my project to move on without me, but I also don't want to Mentor my student anymore

Nothing you said to this point suggests that your supervisor intends to hand your project to anyone else (much less this particular student). And all you have indicated so far about your wanting to give this mentoring up is that you took him on because you felt you could not say no, and you dislike his attitude. That is not enough to warrant your position. Saying it's because things have gotten too much with the accident and all, that would be valid, but then why bring up that other stuff?

My supervisor still directs him to do experiments that I know nothing about and talks with him about science when I'm not included. I spoke with my mentor about this and my mentor assured me that they would keep me in the loop but also that my student had to be kept occupied.

I am sorry, but this seems perfectly above board to me.

If I truly pushed the matter that the project needed to stop while I healed

I am sorry, but you don't own the project to that degree, and there is no need to feel so possessive. There is always plenty to do, so maybe just trust that the supervisor will find questions to work on that are (a) interesting to you and (b) will add up to a PhD thesis in the end?

she put his needs at the expense of my own and never fully understood how high maintenance he was

Down-vote me if you must, but I think you are being the high-maintenance drama queen here. You should think of your student as your charge, and your supervisor as helping you to learn how to manage him. If he is such a handful, then he's all the more a good learning experience (albeit at a bad time).

part of me feels like I should just stick with it and that this is the wisest professional decision.

Yes, that part of you is wise.

The other half of me though is incredibly hurt at the sacrifices I've been asked to make for him

Seriously, I have tons of experience with resolving student/supervisor conflicts (as head of a research school) and I can't for the life of me discern the sacrifices you claim to have made.

Start trusting your supervisor - nothing in your question would suggest that she does not want the best for you and your research.

Start thinking of your student as a junior person for whom you are responsible.

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I am very sorry about your arm! There are some really nice answers here already, but I might add one perspective from a non-traditional PhD student. I am a 3rd year who spent 8 years in managerial positions in industry before coming back to academia. I've mentored close to 15 undergrads on my research projects so far.

One thing that really struck me was your fierce desire to be independent with your work. I have seen this with a few of my peers and I think I empathize with where it's coming from, but it ultimately hurts you. As you progress in your career you will move on to bigger and bigger projects that you simply can't do on your own. While you are entirely correct to set boundaries while you recover - consider situations like this as an opportunity to learn about management and delegation. Consider speaking with a counselor too. Possessiveness of projects like this can stem from overall insecurity about your own abilities, and this could be made worse by feeling a bit useless while you recover. Lastly, it's okay to have undergrads help you work out the project kinks. I can't tell you how many problems I have been able to solve and projects I have made better by answering undergrad questions or digging up things for them to do.

There are a few things that I would want to make sure aren't happening, however.

  • This student should not be wasting supplies on data that aren't useful if its using up any grant money you have.

  • Your advisor should be making sure you aren't spending too many hours training this person or fixing their mistakes. It sounds like they are though.

  • If they're terrible at the job it's your advisor's job to deal with it. It's above your pay grade to try and implement some kind of improvement plan. So, if they suck or they aren't reliable (skipping work ect) you shouldn't be dealing with that. You're a mentor, not a boss.

Good luck, and I hope you feel better soon!

Sorry for typos. Written on my phone.

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Although I largely agree with the other answers, I want to gently push back on one aspect. I agree with the overall sentiment that in the grand scheme of things, this will turn out to be small, and the question asker will likely end up stronger and more resilient for having gone through this challenge. Some of this can't be helped at the moment, and the supervisor certainly needs to take each trainee where the are currently at and make productive long-term decisions for the current unfortunate situation.

And yet, something I have been reckoning with in my own life is the recognition that having to make choices or overcome obstacles that you don't like does not require you to discard your negative feelings about those choices. That way lies repression and the seeds of resentment. In my experience, this response is tacitly expected by administrators and at times, supervisors, because ultimately they believe they know best, and to express dissatisfaction with their decision is to disrespect them (or even to act childish), and it's better to get it over with and Do the Right Thing.

I want to be careful here, because I am not saying that there is no limit to how much a trainee should be allowed to act out when they disagree with a decision or an outcome. There are obviously limits. More, just that when something like this occurs, it is a normal human response for a trainee to worry about their future and want to take an active role in guiding the outcome. It's an emotional time. But, a trainee also usually doesn't have the broader view to understand how it may not be the setback they think it is, and clear communication with the supervisor(s) is critical. "I am worried that I am losing my project, it feels like this postbac is taking it over, and I want to know what will happen next" is a statement that the trainee should be allowed to say, and I think a good supervisor will be able to address that concern calmly and without judgment. The mental leap from "this is OK" to "you shouldn't be upset" is something that actually hinders maturity in my experience, because that step of processing the fear (rather than suppressing it) is an important opportunity for learning and growth.

To make sure that I'm directly addressing OP here: This is an unwelcome challenge and it has led to something I've heard called the "sudden obliteration of expectation." Meaning, you thought you had a plan, and something awful has completely thrown your expectations off course. You can't change what happened, but you can adjust to the new circumstances and prioritize finding a positive way forward. You may ultimately have less personal control over your project, but it's an opportunity to deepen your skills in mentorship and collaboration (which is far harder to come by, in my experience). It's valid to feel uneasy over how the postbac has become involved, but my recommendation is to clock that concern, and do your best to not let it cloud your judgment. You may be right, you may be wrong--the reality is likely somewhere in the middle, and it's too early to tell anyway. More importantly, it's temporary. Overcoming this situation will also position you to be a better colleague and mentor in the future. I am sorry you're going through this, but we're all rooting for you to pull through and do great things.

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