I am an early career academic and have managed to position myself well in a few NIH-funded grants. The problem I am running into is that there is a lot of “dead weight” on the team, especially among the tenured faculty. I completely understand winding down latter in one’s career and I hope one day to be there myself; however, many team members are not meeting their deadlines, which reflects poorly on the team as a whole in my opinion. Do you have any advice about how to address this? I am still in the “new guy” phase and don’t want to start any problems, but at the same time, I am not going to do everyone’s job for them

Junior Faculty Woes

Dear Junior Faculty Woes,

This is a tricky situation. It certainly sounds frustrating to have senior faculty on your team dragging their feet and missing deadlines or otherwise not pulling their weight; however, it’s probably also true that their presence on the team helped the grants get funded in the first place, given that most funding agencies want to see depth of experience on the team. So you need them, but you also need them to do their part!

I’d recommend discussing this issue with any professional mentors you might have to get their advice. If your mentors happen to be the same people on your team with whom you’re having these difficulties, that makes it tricky, but it might be wise to speak to them about it. You can acknowledge that it is a difficult issue, respectfully share some of your concerns, and genuinely ask for their advice about how to handle this challenging, professional situation. If you have mentors outside the team, going to them for advice about handling this may be a bit easier.

Otherwise, addressing this issue within your team depends a lot on the various personalities involved, your role within the team, and team dynamics. One strategy you could try is to initiate a discussion with the whole team without pointing any fingers at specific people. Note your concern about the team’s ability to meet its various deadlines (emphasizing the team and not singling anyone out). Also, acknowledge that everyone is busy and may have previously committed to more than they are now able to keep up with, and suggest that perhaps all members re-evaluate their realistic commitments. Then, discuss together how you are going to divvy up various tasks and responsibilities to meet future deadlines. Not only will this raise others’ awareness of the issue in a less personal way, but it also puts some of the responsibility back on the whole team for figuring out how to handle the issue.

Additionally, if others are not going to be able to complete the necessary tasks that will ultimately fall to you or other junior faculty, you can then be upfront about this occurrence and discuss how this will affect authorship or other types of recognition for everyone’s contributions. Discussing these issues in advance rather than waiting until after the work is complete (when you might feel even more resentful) will lead to a more fruitful conversation and save everyone a lot of frustration down the line.

Of course, the particular personalities and politics of your team or department may affect the degree to which members are willing and/or able to have reasonable conversations about this topic. However, if you raise the issue in a non-confrontational manner that invites the team to come together to solve this problem as a group, you are more likely to get a good response.

Best of luck!

–Dana Nelson, PhD

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