I am a undergraduate student who also work as the systems administrator in the school. I also do research work under a professor. Recently, I had to work on this professor's lab to upgrade the older machines to newer machines. I literally got no help from any of the fellow lab mates. Though, I did it as part of my systems administrator work, the professor had instructed his Ph.D students to help me. However, I do not complain of this.

I have a very nagging girl who always wants to get her things done and couldn't even figure out some basic stuff from the Internet. She simply blames the installation and this pretty much annoys me. She is not thankful for what I am doing, and so I do not even feel like helping this girl. I want to report it to my professor in such a way that I do not offend him in any way. I never bothered him much so far. But I want to escalate this issue. How should I go about it?

P.S: I am not sure if this question belongs here or on The Workplace.

  • 3
    This looks like an IT workplace issue to me. Jul 19, 2014 at 12:08
  • 4
    It could be OT here. Professors may not behave like standard bosses.
    – Davidmh
    Jul 19, 2014 at 13:33
  • 4
    Please keep in mind that "basic stuffs" can have a different meaning for a computer enthusiast like you and someone else. Many people have a very limited knowledge of the meaning of http, ftp, ip, proxy... Also, changing from Windows to Linux or MacOS is a challenge for many people. Some people would even have trouble to handle a new version of Windows, or a new software version. So, maybe, from her point of view, the new installation is really the problem.
    – Taladris
    Jul 19, 2014 at 17:56
  • 7
    To clarify: is the girl a graduate student in your professor's lab? Most graduate students who are under the age of 18 are extremely bright and capable... Jul 19, 2014 at 22:38
  • 3
    There's no benefit to you in antagonizing anyone, so I'd avoid referring to her as a "nagging girl". ("Nagging" sounds insulting, it's often used specifically for women so it could come across as sexist even if you meant it in a completely gender-neutral way, and if this person is not a child then she may take offense at being called a girl.) Sep 11, 2014 at 20:37

4 Answers 4


The answer really comes down to whether or not your position as "Systems Administrator" is paid or not. If it is a paid position, then welcome to the professional world, where users will often complain about the resources and facilities that are provided for them. Dealing with their complaints in a professional manner is part of the job that you are being paid for, and it is not appropriate to complain to your manager about that aspect of the job, unless a user is being abusive. You should make it clear to the user concerned that you have installed the software that you were told to install, as you were told to do, and that if the software is inappropriate or does not suit her requirements then she needs to talk to her supervisor, as he/she is the one responsible for ensuring she has the equipment she needs for her research. Do not get angry, be polite and professional; "I would like to help you, but as system administrator I just install the software I am told to install. I have no powers to choose or change what you have been given, so if you need something different you will have to talk to the boss."

If a particular user takes up far more time than than the rest, then you need to ask your manager how to proceed - your employment contract will state how many hours you are to work, and if your manager wants you to cater to the whims of one particular user during those hours, then that is their decision. You should also realise that, since you are the paid "System Administrator", it is not the job of the PhD students to help you carry out this task. They aren't system administrators, they aren't being paid to do the job - you are.

If, on the other hand, your position as "System administrator" is voluntary and unpaid, and the PhD students are part of a "sysadmin" team, then you need to ask them to take a more active role than they are, and to consider whether hours spent on tasks are being allocated in the most efficient fashion.


I would take smaller steps first.

1) If you are doing something that is not part of your job, stop (selectively) doing it. Politely reply that X is not on your responsibility.

Following these two advice alone could change her behaviour. If the problem persists

2) Talk with her first. Say that you are using much of your time to help her, and tell her that you expect a more professional relationship.

If there is still problems, then talk to the professor.

I would also require the lab members to help you if instructed to do so. If you don't, they will see you as someone they can use.

  • 4
    I would not advise following 1), because if a person believes that their work is important, and that you are deliberately obstructing their ability to do their work, then it is highly likely that a multi-day turnaround on simple email queries, which it is your job to respond to, are going to be viewed negatively not only by them, but also by third parties (in particular, the person who is responsible for paying you to reply to her emails).
    – bain
    Jul 19, 2014 at 21:30
  • Your point 1) seems to be advising the OP to engage in stereotypically obnoxious sysadmin behavior, as is lampooned for instance in this SNL skit: dailymotion.com/video/…. Also, your advice to a worker to artificially wait multiple days before doing what he is paid to do could jeopardize his job. Jul 20, 2014 at 20:21
  • @PeteL.Clark is probably right. Don't risk your job. I'll edit 1) out.
    – mmh
    Sep 11, 2014 at 19:11

Be careful about escalation. Remember that Fort Sumter started the civil war even though there was no loss of life on either side during the battle. The graduate students outrank you. They also outnumber you and will fiercely counterattack. Leave them alone as you have to date. If you need help then make friends with one of them.

Apparently you do not work for the girl. That puts you on more equal footing with her, which means that you can speak frankly with her. Tell her how much time you have to work with her, what you can do for her, and what you cannot do for her. Set up a time to meet with her and tell her that you cannot accept walk-up requests. You and she will have to develop some personal relationship of mutual respect.

The professor may not want to hear about your problems. If he has a problem then he will tell you. Your primary responsibility is to him. You fix his problems; he does not fix your problems.

  • 3
    Your answer, although overall good, has an unnecessarily aggressive -- indeed, often explicitly militaristic -- tone. You don't know the situation and cannot predict that anyone will "fiercely counterattack". Moreover: "You fix his problems; he does not fix your problems." Why are you putting such words in this professor's mouth? In my lifelong career in academia, I've never heard anyone express such an obnoxiously asymmetric view of a working relationship. I'd like to think that based on this way of expressing things that you are not in fact a professor in charge of a lab. Am I wrong? Jul 20, 2014 at 2:03

There are a couple of trajectories, depending on how you want to define yourself.

  1. You can get the student to understand that her problems are due to her ignorance of computers. But try to direct her to resources where she can remedy that rather than blame her.
  2. Talk to your supervisor and ask how they suggest you proceed with it. This tactic puts the responsibility for failure (or success, <-note) on their shoulders and keeps you from receiving damage.

Hope that helps.

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