Question from Reader: Junior Female Faculty as Supervisor of Similar-Age Male Trainees

A long-time reader (LTR), who just finished her second year on the tenure track in a STEM field at a major research institution, wrote to me, asking:

I would love to see a post on mentoring male postdocs, or more generally male trainees who aren’t much younger than you, as a starting professor. 

How do you convince them you have the same authority as their male PhD advisors? That you mean what you say, and that your requests aren’t suggestions? I notice the male faculty have no problem giving their new postdocs verbal advice or tasks and having it followed, but I’ve had two disasters already where postdocs refused to do any work and covered it up.”

“How do you determine if male postdocs will be respectful ahead of time and maintain productivity? Is there away to get around natural authority issues? I’ve lost quite a lot of start-up money already and there aren’t any tenured women in my department to ask.”

She has a postdoc who is a little over a year out of a PhD with her same-age, longtime male collaborator. The postdoc has not been making any progress on any of the postdoc projects and has been requesting a lot of vacation time. To compensate for poor progress on postdoc projects, he has been promising drafts of collaborative work done during PhD, but, when pushed and given specific deadlines, revealed that these drafts were nowhere near submission and in fact not based on publication-quality data. It also turns out he has been bypassing LTR completely and instead communicating with his PhD advisor alone about these drafts (while on LTR’s dime, of course).

My initial reaction was to cut losses and let him go as soon as possible, at which point LTR revealed that she worried about how it would look, since she had very bad luck with her first postdoc, whom she had to fire only a couple of months in, after he had committed expense-account fraud. She now worries that she will be viewed as a poor postdoc advisor, hard to please, or otherwise unreasonable. I completely understand how she feels, and I wish I could guarantee that she won’t be judged by her department colleagues the way she fears she will. I also know that a male junior professor in her shoes would not have the same fear, because men are not constantly in danger of being perceived as unreasonable, especially not when they display assertiveness or even anger. On the upside, once it’s tenure time, what will count most is papers and grants, and if her record is strong, nobody will care very much about early advising issues. But she has to do as much as she can with the startup he has left, which means she cannot afford to waste it on people who are not productive.

First, I think LTR got royally screwed by her longtime male collaborator, who was the postdoc’s PhD advisor. While it may be possible that sexism on the postdoc’s part plays a role, my reading is that this individual was always problematic — deceitful and lazy; there is no way this postdoc was an excellent graduate student. I asked LTR and she revealed that the PhD advisor was cagey when pressed on the issue by phone, and it turned out that the postdoc wouldn’t write his own papers even as a grad student. Dumping what you know is going to be a problematic postdoc (because he was a problematic grad student) on your longtime collaborator is extremely uncollegial; it is a completely douche move. You don’t do that to any colleague, and especially not to a collaborator, and worse yet a junior faculty member whose career can be completely derailed by poor initial hires. The first action item would be to put LTR’s male collaborator on the “selfish and untrustworthy” list. Sadly, I have met a number of rising stars or rising-star wannabes who are extremely self-serving; this fellow appears to be one of them. Maybe it’s not optimal to sever the collaboration right now, but I would definitely not consider him among the people who have my back. And would likely never again hire anyone else from his group.

Second, what to do with the postdoc who has nearly a year left on his contract?

The short answer is: a) Read the contract in great detail, as it will specify what you are able to do, and b) document all future interactions. Namely, when your subordinate, whom you are supposed to mentor and whose career you are supposed to help and nurture, behaves as a douche towards you, doesn’t do the work, and treats the position with you as an entitlement, the subordinate loses the benefits of advising and gets reduced to an employee, whose duties (and repercussions for shirking them) are spelled out in the contract.

Option 1) Sever ties as soon as possible. Many male colleagues would do just that. Look into the contract, see what it says you can do, what the cause is with which you can terminate. Usually these have some clauses for inadequate performance and some lead time before severance. Generally, you would have to have a written trail, which means dates by which something has to be done, then if not done a deadline for improvement with termination following if not improved, finally followed by termination.

Option 2) Ride out the contract, while attempting to get as much work out of this person as possible, with as little emotional involvement on your part. Considering that LTR is worried that firing a postdoc would look bad, I would advise this option, while getting all business with this individual. First, set very firm boundaries and deadlines for him, with repercussions in writing (email is fine) in terms of gradual salary reduction if possible for not meeting them, or losing vacation time, or even severance. No more “mister nice LTR.”

Both options require a paper trail, firm deadlines with specific tasks, and documented repercussions. They differ in whether you want to terminate or you want to hurt first (reduce earnings) to get some work out rather than terminate right away.

I know this sounds very cruel, but as I say, “This is not a game, we are not playing science. We are doing science professionally.” There is actual money and time involved.

I wish I could say that I no longer have issues with disrespectful trainees. They don’t happen as much as they did when I was younger, but they do happen. People see that you are nice and friendly, and mistake it for weakness and perhaps stupidity. Then when you get all Robocop on them, they are taken by surprise. But, as a wise woman once said, “Better a bitch than a doormat.” Of course, “bitch” here means just being assertive, i.e., a behavior that would not raise any eyebrows if exhibited by a man.

What is different once you are senior, and what LTR will get better at with experience, is: a) identifying group members who are a good fit, b) being able to swiftly act to remedy a problematic situation because you have encountered a similar situation before (good news — trouble comes in a finite number of flavors), c) being a better mentor and being able to get useful work from people who are less than ideally motivated, d) not being pressed for time like on the tenure track and thus having more breathing room.

Is there any way to predict who’s going to work out as postdoc? Ideally you know the person while they are a grad student, have heard them give talks, and they come from a trusted colleague. But unless I am confident the postdoc would be a good one, I find it’s better to rely on graduate students, because after 2-3 years a grad student I have trained is better at the work we do than a random postdoc. While having a great postdoc is a blessing for the group, hiring a postdoc is risky in general — if the match is bad, the postdoc’s career can be ruined for good, and they are not cheap. I know biomedical fields rely on postdocs, but in many physical sciences it is not necessary to have a postdoc in the group once you have an established pipeline with some senior grad students. I have always been much more comfortable with this approach.

How do you ensure someone is respectful? That’s tough. You can’t make someone be respectful — they either are or they aren’t. I have had many respectful male group members; I don’t write about them on the blog often, because they don’t give me headaches. Perhaps surprisingly, some of the most respectful and easy-to-work-with students have come from the countries that are very patriarchal. For instance, I have had several students who are more or less moderate Muslims from the Middle East; they have had excellent technical skills and have been nice to work with. I have also worked quite well with folks from different parts of Asia (some religious, some not). In my experience, the most difficult young men that I have worked with have been from the US and some parts of Western Europe. These guys have exceedingly high opinions of themselves, their knowledge and abilities. Often, they are indeed excellent and some of the conceit is warranted, but I am not going to kiss their a$$; they may be capable, but they are not omniscient and they are sometimes (often?) wrong; also, I am the boss and that point seems to need emphasizing quite bluntly for some of them. Often, it is enough to say something along the lines of, “It seems you think you don’t have anything to learn from me and my group, and don’t seem to respect me as your advisor. You are free to leave and join a group where you feel you can learn something, I am not stopping you. Take a few days to think if you want to leave the group. If you decide that want to stay, things will have to be considerably different. We will talk again on [a specific day].” That’s generally been enough to shake people up.

Ideally, we all like each other and do science together. The trainees don’t have to like me, but should ideally not hate me, because if you hate your advisor, you should really find another one. What’s not negotiable is that we should all act professionally, do our jobs, and respect each other. Me being nice and accommodating is a privilege, not an entitlement. After all, I control the money, and there is a reason why I am in this position; those who think I don’t have anything to teach them or who think I am not worthy of their respect are certainly not entitled to my time or funds. There are other people who can do their job. There are plenty of smart people in the world.

Robocop out.

LTR, best of luck!

Blogosphere, please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I’m sorry LTR finds herself in this position. But as for this:

    “There are other people who can do their job. There are plenty of smart people in the world.”

    If this were the case, LTR would have a line of qualified people at her door wanting to be her postdoc. I suspect she does not. Many of those smart people are off doing other things that compensate them a hell of a lot better than being a postdoc.

    Also, I don’t know what kinds of “contracts” are common where you are, but the ones I’ve seen have always been extremely vague. As in, I don’t know how feasible it is to do any of the things you advise (cutting salary, etc.), and I’m pretty sure that the postdoc would become less productive and more antagonistic in response.

    If you have a postdoc who is only an employee, you’re missing out on the best and most important reasons for having a postdoc in your group in the first place. So my advice to LTR would be:

    1) Try to work things out with the postdoc. Is he burned out? Is there a better project or way he could contribute to the lab? Forget about your pride or ego, and try to understand what this person’s problem really is and if there’s anything that can be done to make things work. (Of course, professional behavior is non-negotiable, but so many people in Academia seem to have no clue what that is. When tenured professors act like teenagers, it’s hard to hold postdocs to a higher standard.)

    Or, failing the above,

    2) Cut your losses ASAP.

    Keeping someone in your lab that you dislike and mistrust is not the answer, IMHO.

  2. Forget about your pride or ego

    No. Absolutely not. She’s on the tenure track. If this were burnout, which it’s not, she has no time or money to accommodate someone nursing a burnout. Would you recommend to a dude on the TT to forget his pride and ego and investigate what makes the postdoc tick, or is this another “women are supposed to be understanding and accommodating no matter what, and helping everyone with their problems all the time”? The postdoc has been there long enough (1+ years); he was brought on to do a project and he’s not doing it. On top of that, he’s been giving her a runaround/lying about the drafts/data, and going behind her back. IMO, he is no longer entitled to the TLC of advising and he is a far cry from bringing about the benefits of having a postdoc in one’s group. My recommendation would be unequivocally to kick him out if it weren’t for her worrying that early termination would look bad.

  3. “Would you recommend to a dude on the TT to forget his pride and ego and investigate what makes the postdoc tick….”

    Absolutely! You seem to know more than you’re posting … which is fine, except that then it should come as no surprise when others have a different POV.

    My advice boils down to: either make it work the way it should, or forget it. In between is not a good answer, for her or the postdoc.

    And not that it should matter, but I’m a woman, and that’s what I would do in that situation.

  4. I found myself in a similar position in my first year of TT. In my case, it was a postdoc hired jointly with a more senior faculty member (SFM). SFM was going to have a baby that year, so we offered the postdoc a joint two year position — the plan was that the first year he would work with me while SFM was on leave.

    Anyways. It turns out the postdoc was not very good and he was really interested in working with SFM and not me. After trying out many projects which the postdoc had neither the inclination nor the skills to complete, I ended up putting him on a fairly routine project. He did complete it at last, although not without a lot of prodding, and we did get a paper out of it (mostly written by me). But I did give up on him — I stopped advising and I stopped putting in any emotional investment into his career.

    Since then I haven’t hired a postdoc, although I have worked with one or two “center postdocs”. I second your suggestion of working with PhD students — after a couple of years of training they are as good as postdocs and I can trust them more.

  5. I have a lazy postdoc. Incredibly frustrating trying to get him to pick up the pace. Nothing works so far except the usual (getting interesting results).

    But I agree with some of the commentators here. In industry if we had an underperformer we put them on probation and tried our best to give them clear guidelines and the resources (eg advice) to be successful. Then after a few months we let them go if progress did not pick up.

    I haven’t figured out how to find the right analog for academic postdoc mostly because there are not infinite backup options like I enjoyed in industry. But I think it is worth trying. I’m not comfortable treating a postdoc like a janitor just because “how it might look” if I fired them.

  6. It’s tough to know without more details, but I was in a similar situation with the postdoc I hired my first year on the tenure track. After a year, no papers, and no real measurable progress on those papers. I didn’t have the blatant disrespect issues, but I suspected he was not always listening to my instructions, since we had the same similar age (I’m about a year older) male-female dynamic.

    I think xyk’s advice to document and be explicit is spot-on. I basically started treating my postdoc like a grad student: I’d give him specific instructions for what I wanted to see the next week, followed up by an email after each meeting. Another thing I do with grad students that I did with this postdoc that was very effective is to have regular (at least once per semester) meetings where we talked about his long-term goals and broke down step-by-step what he’d need to do to achieve them. He wants a faculty job after leaving his postdoc with me. Well, fine — to do that, he’ll need first-author publications, and he’ll need to demonstrate mastery of the new field that he changed to when joining my group. So I had HIM write down the timeline of when such-and-such analysis would be finished, when he’d have a draft of the paper ready for me to look at it, when we’d submit, and so on for all of the various projects he was working on. It worked well, and after two more years in the group (remember, no measurable progress the first year) he has two first-author publications, one more in draft form that will be submitted this month, and a handful of second- and third-author publications first-authored by me, students in my research group, and/or my close collaborators. A solid record, especially given that we are in a non-PhD department.

    Trying to find ways for him to motivate himself, and treating him like a grad student with weekly goals, seemed to be the keys for me. It was much less effective than me getting mad at him for the lackadaisical lack of progress his first year, and fortunately it worked. I don’t know what I’d have done if that hadn’t worked — I have a lot of sympathy for the question-asked, and have been in that scary place of worrying that your time and money early on the tenure track are being royally wasted. I think ultimately my postdoc was just floundering in a new research field and not communicating well about it, plus he needed a bit of a kick in the pants. People are complicated, and it’s hard to know what’s really going on with your postdoc — whether it’s mostly disrespect, or disrespect masking fear, incompetence, and cluelessness.

  7. From outside the situation, it is hard to know for sure if LTR was intentionally screwed by the collaborator that sent her this postdoc, or if it is more a situation of mismatched expectations. Many new faculty members come from high flying, famous training labs filled with competitive people and think they will have a lab filled with the kinds of students and postdocs that they were and were surrounded by (smart, hardworking, motivated). In some cases, maybe relating to geography, field, name of the (in some cases) lower tier institution that recruited you, you may find that these smart driven postdocs are difficult or impossible to come by. You may eventually find that to survive, you need to find a way to get productivity out of the human resources you have to work with. You may adapt by various mechanisms that in your former life as a high flying postdoc, would look to you like micromanaging trainees and their projects and even essentially writing all the papers. A student or postdoc might be productive in this highly structured environment, you have found a good way of working with them, and you might recommend them as a postdoctoral candidate to a colleague that needs someone with their specific set of technical skills. It may not occur to you that the colleague has not yet “settled” and come to terms with the idea that she is very unlikely to find some superstar postdoc wanting to come work with her. Just playing devil’s advocate here …

    That said, lack of respect from the postdoc is a real fatal flaw. If LTR wants or needs to give the postdoc another chance, there needs to be very clear, written expectations and deadlines to be met. Perhaps there is a formal institutional process for putting a postdoc on probation pending improvement over 3 or 6 months? I once had to employ a mechanism like this.

    I also agree with previous comment that to be treated as a trainee and actively mentored is a privelege that is earned by working hard and showing that you are trying to learn and improve skills. I will spend my time going back and forth on drafts of a ms for a motivated trainee that wants to improve their writing. For a lazy postdoc that shows by their lack of effort that they would rather just be an employee, it is much faster for me just to write the damn paper myself and the end product is better. Yes I explain this to them first; I am depriving no one of deserved mentoring, it is a choice they make. I know I am not the only PI in my institution and geographical location to settle for employee-technician-postdocs and find that this labor force is something that can be worked with productively.

  8. “Forget about your pride or ego, and try to understand”

    This is disappointing, gendered advice. And it’s pretty unlikely to work: the pd has already demonstrated that he will take advantage of her “understanding”, and that he does not recognize her pride or ego as the leader of her lab. All this will accomplish is reinforcement of self-doubt in the LTR.

    My advice is to have a “come to Jesus” talk, where you ask him what his progress in your lab has been, and whether he sees that as sufficient or acceptable. Once you establish that it is not up to par, assign him (not you; you are not Mom) to create his own set of daily, weekly, and monthly expectations that meet your approval, and that he must update you on it. Set goalposts that he must reach within X time, and if not, then you agree that it is time for him to go, because he’s not holding up his end of your agreement.

    As for the original “how do you tell” question — I’m not great at this myself, but I look for a candidate’s level of interest in my work and my opinions. There’s a subtle difference between wanting to be a scientist near me, and wanting to be a scientist with me.

  9. “This is disappointing, gendered advice.”

    It is absolutely *not* gendered advice, as I made clear in my reply. You may agree or disagree with it, but it is not gendered, as I would give the same advice to a man. Of course, if the truth matters little to you and you just want to continue to call it “gendered advice” for your own purposes, then that’s on you.

  10. TOS, I believe you didn’t mean the comment in a gendered way. But don’t be surprised that people perceive the comment as gendered, because similar comments are overwhelmingly given to women and not to men. Women are told ad nauseam to be nice, to smile, to not take things seriously, to lighten up, to be endlessly more understanding and accommodating when people wrong them, and generally to not react at all and definitely not with anger or aggression to people disrespecting them, breaching their boundaries, or pissing them off.

  11. Has she spoken with her collaborator about this at all? I always really appreciate it when the people I send my PhD students to postdoc with give me feedback. This has taken the form of high praise (which is super nice and more rare, since people don’t usually report back if there are no problems) and long conversations with the other PI when a student who was stellar in my group had a hard time adjusting to a new group. The collaborator might have some insights, or at least be willing to back LTR up when the postdoc brings results to him instead of her.

    Second step would be to sit the postdoc down and have a serious conversation. LTR should explain her expectations explicitly, setting deadlines for the next steps in the work. If appropriate the postdoc can have some input here so he feels that the expectations and deadlines are reasonable. Then follow up with an email so she has it in writing.

    If the postdoc meets the expectations and deadlines, then I’d hope that things are moving in the right direction. If the postdoc does not meet the deadlines, get rid of him. Like many others, I’ve had mixed results with postdocs and generally prefer to work with students.

  12. @xykademiqz:

    “But don’t be surprised that people perceive the comment as gendered….”

    Yes, I could understand people wondering about that and even taking it that way … were it not for the fact that I replied to you on this very point. It’s right there beneath my original comment — kind of hard to miss, no?

    And no need to tell me about what kinds of comments women routinely get, as I happen to be a woman, and in a male-dominated field of science, to boot. But fear of being misunderstood shouldn’t keep me from offering the advice I feel is right.

  13. But fear of being misunderstood shouldn’t keep me from offering the advice I feel is right.

    You shared your advice. But, there is never a guarantee, in any communication and especially on the web, that whatever you say or write will be taken exactly as you meant it and not through the lens of the reader’s personal experiences and expectations. Sometimes (often?) you will clarify what you meant, and people might still miss it, or disregard it, or not believe it (it certainly happens in proposal review all the time).

    And no need to tell me about what kinds of comments women routinely get,

    I recommend against trying to pick a fight or derail the thread.

  14. I agree with Susan–you need to have a come to Jesus talk with disappointing postdoc, and get him to set up a timeline. If it works great, you have salvaged your remaining year. If not, you need to get rid of him. You also need to stop trusting your collaborator. Xykademiqz is absolutely right that it is unacceptable to drop a bad student onto a colleague as a postdoc, and worse to do to new faculty who have no safety net or extra money laying around. Worse, your collaborator is now enabling your postdoc’s bad behavior, and is not cutting the tie between them, stunting his development as well.

    This is why I didn’t hire postdocs when starting out. Almost everyone I spoke with praised their first couple of students, but almost no one praised their first postdoc.

    Just because you are a woman doesn’t make you unaffected by stereotypes and/or assigned gender roles. I really can’t imagine a male colleague being told to act as a postdoc’s psychologist or therapist. A postdoc is a work colleague, not a dependent.

  15. Does LTR have graduate students or other PDs in the group? I realize this is sort of a tangent, but I think this could either be helpful or worrisome to LTR, depending on the situation. 1) Graduate students/other PDs can sometimes spot when postdocs are slacking vs struggling, or know more the PI about what someone’s real issues are. But! 2) If the rest of the group is not strongly pro firing the PD, it might make recruiting new grads/PDs a lot harder. PIs can get a reputation (fair or unfair) for having unreasonable demands. If I were a GS/PD in a group and saw two PDs dismissed pre-term, I would definitely disclose this to incoming GS/PD candidates unless I knew the dismissed people were egregiously bad.

    I think this tends to weight the case toward “try to get what you can out of them” and also “be open about the situation.” [Disclosure – I’m a postdoc, not a PI, so speaking more about group dynamics than real advice!]

  16. Ugh. This is a really unfortunate thing to happen. I am not in academia, so take my advice with the caveat that there are differences between a postdoc and an employee. Also, generally the issues I’ve had to address are less severe than what LTR describes. But… I have had really good luck with the “have an incredibly blunt conversation” approach. This is absolutely not natural for me. As a woman, I have an entire lifetime of socialization to avoid having an incredibly blunt conversation, but I have learned that I can do it and that for some men, it is the only approach that works. Generally, I promise myself a reward for getting through it (e.g., a nice lunch with a margarita or something like that).

    I go into one of these conversations with all my ducks in a row: I write out my concerns and the specific evidence supporting how I view those concerns. That way, if I get flustered, I can refer to my list. Then I call the person in, lay it out, and ask them whether they agree there is a problem. If not, why not? Then I explain why I still think there is a problem and that since I am the boss, my perception of a problem is the one that really matters. Generally, though, the other person knows there is a problem, too. So then I ask: how do you think we can solve this? I usually have ideas about how to solve the problem, but if I let the other person suggest some ideas, we can usually come to agreement faster. I listen carefully to the responses and take notes to process later, when I’m more able to judge what they say impartially. Sometimes, there is real, useful feedback for me as a manager in what the other person says. I don’t argue with their criticisms in the moment, I counter with something like “I’ll think about your feedback. However, we still need to get X, Y, and Z done…” and redirect to the main issue. I don’t leave the meeting without agreement on a plan of action to get at least one of X, Y, or Z done, and preferably all of them. (If the other person is really defensive, I’ll stop with one and hope we can build on that success.)

    Then I expect improvement. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever had to deal with the case where improvement didn’t come, so I don’t know what I’d do in that case. Probably escalate up the reporting chain and start preparing to fire the person.

    Good luck, LTR. Dealing with underperforming employees is one of the hardest things in management, I think.

  17. One more thing… you are doing this postdoc a huge favor by addressing the issue head on. I cannot think of any scientific career path (or any career path, really) in which this sort of behavior would be acceptable, and if the postdoc doesn’t learn better work habits, he will soon be essentially unemployable.

  18. I completely understand what LTR is going through, as I’ve had very similar experiences back in the day. She feels like her reputation is being held hostage by a male postdoc who is taking advantage of her insecurity (whether this is perceived or not) both as a newly-minted supervisor and a professional colleague within her department.
    Here’s what I believe: your department colleagues want you to succeed, and they are a bunch of professors who probably had a toxic hire or two, so they likely understand more than you think. Second, a useless postdoc is worse than having no postdoc, so getting rid of him should be your top priority. After he’s gone, you will be surprised to realize how much time and energy you wasted agonizing over his behavior and worrying about your situation instead of thinking of projects and experiments. Third, you need to set an appropriate tone for your lab that will attract the right kind of people, and that can’t happen when you have a bad apple. I have heard from many many people that junior women have a harder time with trainees (both students as well as postdocs) in terms of establishing authority, so LTR’s situation is, unfortunately, more common than it should be. Technicians can be wonderful, because the employer-employee relationship is clear and can help you establish a lab environment that is collegial to you. There is always talk about how we must create a collegial work environment for our people, but just as importantly, they need to maintain that collegial work environment for us too. Even if they are productive at the bench, if they make you mad all the time, it ruins your productivity and that’s bad too. In LTR’s case, sounds like he’s got the wrong attitude and is unproductive. There is no reason at all to keep him – and using the scare funds that you secured by working your butt off? No way.
    Finally, there are many students who gravitate towards junior labs because they will get more hands-on attention. And most PhD programs have program advisors that direct students to certain labs. Talk to those program advisors and get them advocate for you. A single pleasant rotation experience can do wonders for your reputation among the students, if that is a major worry for you. Bottom line, don’t cower and don’t give up! I’m rooting for you.

  19. Wow, it’s an epidemic!

    I also poorly performing postdoc currently. I have had several postdocs in the past who worked out fairly well, but my current guy is driving me crazy.

    He’s borderline disrepectful and refuses or argues against doing many things I explicitly ask him to do (while also being super jokey so it’s semi-disguised), he often doesn’t show up at work for days, he is vague about what he’s doing and when, and the worst–he is a poor scientist, doesn’t design experiments with appropriate controls, lacks attention to detail (lots of mistakes), and he is amazingly unable to write a paper or a grant application (every sentence is ungrammatical, there’s no logical flow in his writing, etc). My first year graduate students are better than him at doing these things! Naturally, his career goal is to obtain a tenure track faculty position at an R1 university. (!?!)

    I spent some time trying to mentor him and “fix” his issues. But after a year of this I’m giving myself permission to just let it go because all my advice and efforts to teach him seem to just roll right off, For example, when I tell him what he needs to do in order to improve he makes excuses and deflects my advice. I will say “you need to be able to write grants in order to get a faculty position” and he’ll say “I know another person who got a job, and he/she didn’t have to know how to do those things”. Or I’ll say “this is a great result, but to include it in the paper you will need to perform at last 4 replicates and you’ll need this control also” but he’ll respond with “I saw a paper once somewhere and they didn’t include that control” or “at my old lab, we only needed to do experiments twice”. Weirdly, these conversations are not about things that are unusual or overly-picky, but are about things I consider basics and that all scientists should know….also of course it turns out that he’s just making it up when he claims other people do it his way (yes, I checked up on his claims a few times). I end up feeling like I’m parenting a teenager! He does not seem to be improving and he’s been in the lab over a year now – so I’m giving up. I will not be extending his current contract which will run out in a few months.

    My advice is to remember that you are the head of the lab – you control the budget and who is being paid, and/or you control the projects and who you are working with — so use that power. If a postdoc does not acknowledge that you are the boss, then they are just wrong. You do not need their permission to be the boss. You can directly bring up certain behaviors to the person and request that they change; and if there is no improvement then you can should stop working with them.

  20. LTR should consider checking with the university omsbud office to get help interpreting the contract and what her options are with respect to early termination.

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