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I'm a postdoctoral researcher in a small research group in Europe. My PI is advancing in age, and taken a step back from running the group personally. We have an admin assistant who deals with day-to-day things like signing purchase orders and booking rooms/coffee, and the lab itself is run by me and another post-doc.

The PI who I work for recently "asked" if I'd be willing to supervise a final year undergraduate student for the upcoming academic year (I'm fine with this, its a good opportunity to get an extra pair of hands to try some interesting experiments). This is common in the department I work for. What is less common is that she (the PI) refuses to meet/interview these students herself, and instead insists that I do this myself.

In some ways, this makes sense– she doesn't have much to do with the lab on a day-to-day basis, and almost certainly won't take an interest in the undergraduates process. This does leave two issues, however:

  1. All of the other PI's meet students personally. This means when I do meet these undergraduates, they already feel like they've been passed off to 'some random post-doc', but also raises concerns for them that she isn't really going to be very supportive during their projects.

  2. In previous years, after this process of a post-doc meeting all of these students, she has basically ignored their recommendations as to whom to hire, and just chosen based upon how they perform on paper (i.e. taking the one who's had some experience in a lab of someone she's a fan of, or taking the one who aced her course in the previous year etc.)

Since last week, she has been forwarding about 5 emails a day from interested students, requesting that I meet them, go over their CV's/research experience, and quiz them on some general physics to make sure that we're not taking anyone incompetent.

Whilst I obviously should meet the students, I feel like its a complete waste of my time. Interviewing 5 students is taking at least 3 hours since they also have questions, and my PI insists that we meet every student that applies, despite already having personal dealings with some of them/knowing they're truly not cut out for lab work. The time isn't a huge issue, but generally due to the small size of our lab and my teaching commitments, it is meaning that I;m basically not at my bench for most of the week.

Questions

  • What would be the best course of action?
  • Agree to do all of this, on the condition that she doesn't then overrule my opinion when it comes to actually choosing?
  • Or insist that since she's going to make the final decision anyway she should just suck it up and meet these students herself?
  • I tried to make title accurately reflect your general question, feel free to edit further. – Jeromy Anglim May 15 '17 at 2:10
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There are two basic problems here.

  1. The interviewing process is too time-consuming.

  2. You are being given a responsibility without the corresponding authority, i.e. the grunt work is being delegated to you, without the decision-making authority being delegated to you along with that.

If you "ran the zoo" (I'm quoting the children's author Dr Seuss), in other words, if this were your project entirely, I think you would organize the application process in a more streamlined way, that would take up much less time. For example, you might develop a list of questions each applicant should answer, and you might send the questions to the applicants via a google form, so you can easily compare the responses in a spreadsheet.

It could seem to you like a waste of your time to find out interesting things about the applicants in the in-person interviews, for the PI to just ignore all that anyway when making the selection.

You might want to assert yourself politely with your PI:

Explain to the PI that you want to support her decision to step back from the day to day running of the lab. Let her know that you find this assignment intriguing and helpful for you in your own career growth. Explain that if you take this assignment on, you would like to have her blessing to handle the whole assignment autonomously, from beginning to end. Ask if she would like you to submit a final report on the decision(s) you came to.

Project confidence. (No complaining about how much time it will take you.)

It will look good on your CV.

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