I doing a PhD in a research group where there are 4-5 PhD student and 1-2 Postdocs. Given the nature of the research projects, more than one person ends up working on one project and sometimes people work on multiple projects simultaneously.

I am assigned to work on a project where a postdoc is supposed to help me. Recently, a deadline arose and we had to submit a project in two weeks which was extremely tight. I am the principle person working on the design, but given the tight deadline, my advisor asked the postdoc to help complete the design. The design consisted of two parts which were simulations and drawing. I was working on the simulations which were time-consuming. I asked the postdoc to learn how to use the tool needed to draw the design and then teach it to me quickly at before the time of submission so that I do not have to go through the user guide as time was tight. He refused just after the meeting where my advisor asked him to help me saying that he will not draw anything. In the meeting, he seemed fine with helping me.

Given that I was very eager for this project to succeed, I pushed myself and completed everything on my own with no help. I submitted the design successfully.

Now I am considering telling my advisor what happened. This person is blatantly avoiding work and try to dump everything on me. This pattern of behavior has occurred more than once before. We are understaffed in this project and I cannot carry it on my own. At least three students are needed and now it seems that I am on my own.

My question is: What would be the best way to tell my advisor about this postdoc? I do not want him to get the impression that I am whiny, but I believe this is an issue needs to be addressed and that a more professional behavior is expected from the postdoc. What things should I avoid in explaining this problem? Is telling him about the issue going to help with anything?

  • 3
    Did you agree on the subject of the help of the post-doc during the meeting with the advisor? If not, reading a tutorial and teaching the tool could seem a little degradative of the qualification of a post-doc. And his refusal could be him protecting his status.
    – avenir
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 20:19
  • 1
    Yes, it was agreed that the postdoc would help with the drawing. In fact, given his position as a postdoc and the importance of this tool to our research, he is supposed to be proficient in using it.
    – user18244
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 20:24
  • I asked the postdoc to learn how to use the tool needed to draw the design and then teach it to me quickly at before the time of submission so that I do not have to go through the user guide as time was tight. Did you tell him to, or politely asked if he could help? You can tell a research assistant what to do, but not so much a postdoc, as PhD student.
    – Mark
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 21:17
  • I did ask politely right after the meeting where the professor tasked him to help me. My words were along the line of "Could you help do this task?". His answer was "I am going to talk to the professor about this task. I am not going to draw anything"
    – user18244
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 21:22

3 Answers 3


Try this: "Professor Smith, I'm glad we met the deadline, but I think I should tell you that I ended up doing all the work myself. I had asked Bill to get up to speed on the drawing tool so that he could jump-start me when the time came, but he didn't. Perhaps next time, you could ask us to develop a plan for partitioning work, which you would then approve."

You've let him know what happened. More importantly, you've suggested a way to prevent such problems in the future. It's a solution that doesn't require much of the professor's time, either. (And, if the "approved plan" doesn't work, at that future time you could suggest progress reports from each team member.)


The way you describe this situation sounds fairly strange and unusual to me. I have seen plenty of professor - postdoc - PhD student collaborations, but never in the way that the PhD student was supposed to be the intellectual leader assigning tasks (such as learning to draw something) to the postdoc.

I think it is at least possible that you are misunderstanding the situation - when I was a postdoc and professors told me to help a student, the intended meaning always was that I should supervise and guide them, not carry out manual labor for them. Is it possible that you misinterpreted the assigned roles? Before you raise a stink about this, you better make very sure that your advisor really intended the postdoc to help in the way you wanted to use her/him, otherwise you complaining can easily do more harm to you than to her/him.

  • In our lab, postdocs are not much different than PhD students. I am in fact the student taking the lead on this project and was working on it way before this postdoc joined the group. In this specific case, the postdoc was specifically instructed to help with the layout of the design which he did not do. He did not offer any form of support, not even an informative discussion.
    – user18244
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 20:20

You should tell your advisor.

This postdoc's behavior is having an impact on you, and you have every right to raise it with your boss. In addition, this probably won't just affect you but the whole lab (if not now, then eventually).

Working really hard to compensate (and not saying anything) just covers up the problem. It probably won't be sustainable if this continues.

The key to raise this in a productive way is not to do it in a spirit of complaining or attacking the other person but simply to state factually the issue and its impact. Impact on you personally is a fair point to raise, but the impact on the whole lab's productivity and success is the most winning argument.

For example, you might say something like this:

I found it really hard to complete this task, because my colleague wasn't willing to help out with the drawings. I ended up doing the whole thing myself, and I'm worried that we won't be able to complete the project if things keep going this way.

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