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PhD/PsyD Colleague is not working on shared project in a timely manner - worried about the consequences

advice_seeker

New Member
May 20, 2020
2
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  1. Psychologist
Apologies in advance for the long post. I’m using a throw-away account to protect my and my colleague's identities.

tl;dr: Fellow postdoc and I are working on a time-sensitive project. We have consistently submitted our work way past the deadlines due to my colleague not completing things on time. I am concerned that it will impact my future career. I try to be understanding of their struggles due my colleague’s ADHD, but this situation is getting to me. When I tried to discuss this with them, they were dismissive of my concerns and defensive.

Long version
I am at a postdoc position where I split my time between research and clinical work. I work with another postdoc, who I also became friends shortly after we started. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, we have worked together on a project directly related to this pandemic, so given the nature of the topic, efficiency and expediency are important. We have a mentor who oversees us on this project, and who has been a great source of support. Throughout the development and implementation of this project we have never submitted anything on time due to my colleague consistently agreeing to unreasonable deadlines -- well, actually, they volunteers them, but then is unable to complete their part, whereas I end up working long hours or weekends to get everything by the date they promised/agreed to. On multiple occasions, we have submitted things up to a week late.

My colleague has ADHD, and unfortunately it impacts their ability to complete anything in a timely manner. I know this is not their fault, and I can only imagine how challenging this is. In case it is relevant, they are on medication. I do not have a lot of information, so some of it is conjecture, but from what I can tell,their ADHD has been causing problems with other people/employers in the past. Moreover, although we're both at the same job, their direct boss has totally overworked them. Luckily, I am in a better position. I have a reasonable amount of work responsibilities, and I have offered to do the lion share of this project's grunt work, even though it was my colleague’s brain child.

However, it has gotten to the point at which I am picking up on our mentor's frustration with us being late every single time, and not just by a couple of hours, or a day. I am admittedly not 100% certain, so I fully acknowledge that I may be overreacting. The matter of the fact remains that currently we are late on a deadline that passed 12 days ago. This deadline is not just one that we verbally agreed to with our mentor but that we gave in writing in an internal grant proposal that received funding.

I do not want to risk my mentor believing that I am even partially responsible for us being late. She is going to be my main letter writer when I go on the academic job market in a few months.

I attempted to have a conversation with my colleague/friend a few days ago, in which I tried to explain that I feel very anxious about the situation, as I worry that this entire project has made us look unreliable and quite frankly incompetent. Although I expected them to be taken aback, they were dismissive of concerns, and defensive. I was told that I am overreacting given that my mentor has not directly said anything to us, and wanting “to throw them under the bus.” It is true that our mentor has not made any mention directly, but as I said I am picking up on her frustration, and I’d rather not push that, and if I was in my mentor's position I would not say anything either. It's not her job to babysit us, or to make sure that two adults with a doctorate follow through on their commitments. My colleague’s statement about wanting to throw them under the bus was in reference to a response I had sent to our mentor’s above-mentioned email in which I indicated that my colleague would be sending everything in shortly. This was the day after my colleague had explicitly told me that they would have everything done by the end of the day.

In addition to me already being willing to do the majority of the work, and creating rough outlines for their responsibilities so that it would be easy for them to get started, they informed me that I had done a terrible job on everything including those outlines (I didn’t intend for them to be fully done) and everything else. This conveyed to me that they expected me to be essentially doing all the work, which I had not agreed to. In addition, they also claimed that they had to re-write sections of what I have done. Looking at the changes that they made, this is objectively just not true. They proofread my documents, and changed things around in a few paragraphs. Supposedly, this took 14 hours.

Since our conversation four days, I have reached out, both to mend the friendship, and move the project forward. I have not heard back from them, and despite their statement that they would be submitting everything to our mentor by the end of this past Saturday, this does not seem to be the case. I am at a complete impasse. At this point I’m realizing that the friendship may not be salvageable, but we still need to work together on this project, where I will be responsible for the majority of the grunt work. I don't want this person to be in a position where this could have lasting, negative consequences for them, nor do I want to be a tattletale. At the same time, it's not fair to be doing more than half the work, only to be told I want to screw them over, AND to be possibly viewed as unreliable and incompetent by my mentor.

Thanks to everyone who has read everything. Although I have a sense of what most people will probably say, I would love to get some recommendations. I would especially love to hear from somebody struggling with ADHD who maybe can provide some insight on how they would like a colleague to approach them about this.
 

str63

Psychologist
5+ Year Member
Dec 16, 2014
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I don't think your supervisor needs to call you out on being late with something for it to be a problem. Tardiness, especially repeated tardiness, is unprofessional, regardless of whether someone points it out to you, so I don't think you're overreacting. There are a few options I can think of:
1) Talk to your mentor. This is likely reflecting poorly on both of you and without your mentor knowing what's going on, he/she will likely attribute this to both of you. I don't know if your mentor knows about the ADHD, but if not, I would not mention this piece. You can go about this in different ways. You can make them aware of the colleague's tardiness and say you don't want it to reflect upon your performance. I'd let your mentor know that you tried to address it directly with your colleague. Your mentor could also help you troubleshoot how to approach this situation (knowing both you and your colleague), which could also help you problem solve for future similar problems.
2) If possible, you could split the work in a way where you don't rely on each other to meet deadlines. So, you can turn in your portion to your mentor by the deadline.
3) You could talk to your colleague again and let them know that even if your mentor has not directly said anything, it is not "your style" to not meet deadlines and again express your anxiety regarding this. You could try to problem solve further now that he/she may have thought about this further - perhaps they were quick to get defensive initially but have had more time to process this since then. If this person does not respect your wishes to meet deadlines, or try to problem solve to make this work better, then you could let them know that you feel that you need to say something to your mentor to help alleviate your anxiety. If this is "throwing them under the bus", then they are recognizing that this IS a problem.

I'm sure there are other options, but I wouldn't recommend continuing on with this pattern. I would bet your mentor is frustrated - I would definitely be if trainees were failing to meet deadlines. I do think you should talk to your mentor regardless of what else you choose to do. As a mentor, I know I would want this information. Good luck - I know this isn't an easy situation, especially because you see this person as a friend.
 
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MamaPhD

Psychologist, Academic Medical Center
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Aug 2, 2010
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You did the right thing, and your colleague is being a jerk. Don't go down with them. Have a frank discussion with your mentor about the issues you're having. Try to strategize ways that you can make your deadlines more independent from those of your colleague, or perhaps work on other projects. If I were mentoring someone in your situation, I might not fault them about the deadlines, but I would be concerned if they did not deal with chronic problems with a colleague's work in an effective way. It sounds like at this point all you can do is escalate the issue to your mentor and explain the ways you've already tried to remedy the situation. But more importantly, this is an opportunity for you to get mentoring on how to deal with such people, since you will encounter them throughout your career.

Your colleague's ADHD is irrelevant here unless there is some written accommodation on file with your institution's disability office, which I doubt. A huge number of professionals work and carry on with the responsibilities of life while living with ADHD. It is your colleague's responsibility to get the appropriate intervention and not use this as a crutch. Not overcommitting and not blurting out unrealistic deadlines are very realistic goals of behavioral modification for ADHD, so their defensiveness is simply an excuse to not change. If they want to talk to your mentor about it, fine, but it isn't your problem and should not be part of your one-on-one conversation with your mentor.
 
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AcronymAllergy

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Jan 7, 2010
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I agree with everything that's been said above. At this point, given the degree and frequency of the missed deadlines and other problems, and the fact that you've already tried to address the issue with your peer without success, having a frank discussion with your mentor is the next step. Like str63 mentioned, I wouldn't be the one to bring up ADHD; just focus on the specific problems themselves (e.g., that deadlines are created and recurrently missed, the seeming uneven distribution of work, etc.), not what you think might be causing to them.

It sounds like having a formal, written plan (developed in conjunction with your mentor) for the remainder of the project may be the best bet. And I agree that if there's a way to divide the work so your responsibilities and deadlines do not depend on work from your peer, you should go that route.
 
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singasongofjoy

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Dec 4, 2014
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You've gotten excellent advice above - I'll underscore 1) DEFINITELY talk to your mentor about this and to the extent you can separate what is your responsibility versus your colleague's so that you can submit your portion independent of them. It's nice that you are trying to be empathetic to your colleague and all but you're the only one who can really look out for your own professional reputation. I agree that a formal, written plan would prob be the way to go and your mentor could prob bring this up with you both in a way that doesn't in any way indicate that you spoke with them directly, if you really don't want your colleague to know.

I am one of those professionals with ADHD who (now) manages to perform pretty well by objective standards. However, that's with substantial work on my part with behavioral and environmental modification as well as trialing meds. It is your COLLEAGUE'S responsibility to recognize, own up to, and take charge of their areas of relative difficulty - we all have our own areas that are a little more difficult for us than others and we all have to figure them out. Maybe they've never really tried some targeted behavior modification, maybe they should try a different med, but whatever- that's not YOUR problem (or yours to bring up with your supervisor). I'd try to avoid working with them in the future (and I say all this recognizing that in the past I prob was that person at times, to a lesser extent).

But since you're in a real pickle right now... alerting the supervisor to the challenges this colleague presents so that the supervisor DOES actually address it directly (e.g., a written plan) may be exactly what your colleague needs. If they are the kind of person who works best on writing projects under external pressure (guilty over here, ,I'm sorry to say) then this may be exactly the fire under their ass that they need to just sit down and do a chunk of it. One thing that consistently works for me is to plan writing dates with friends where we are just in the same room writing- doesn't even have to be the same project- it holds me accountable to actually get started which is usually the hardest part (even better if it's in a location removed from other things I might feel like I need to also do). So you could try that out with your colleague- a little harder to do in the era of social distancing perhaps though.

on a mildly related tangent- I have found a couple of books that I particularly like re: identifying strategies that are most likely to work for me. One of them is "Smart but Scattered" (which was recommended by my supervisor) and the other is "ADD-friendly ways to organize your life." Just in case anyone else is interested to check them out / if it somehow ever happens to come up in conversation where your colleague seems amenable to considering turning some of their attention and effort into leveling up their ability to actually get their work done.

Good luck!!
 
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advice_seeker

New Member
May 20, 2020
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  1. Psychologist
Thank you everyone for your responses. My colleague finally sent all of their sections (so 12 days late), and then also reached out to me after not responding to me for several days. We had a productive conversation, in which they acknowledged that they were quick to become defensive, and that they should not have volunteered unreasonable deadlines, and should not have avoided responding to my attempts to reach out.

They agreed to consult with me before setting deadlines, and also agreed to communicate with me (and our mentor if needed) well in advance if they did not think they would be able to meet the deadline. Ultimately, this will likely mean that more responsibilities will fall on me as I have more flexibility when it comes to structuring my days and complete their task such that we can submit things on time. If I was unable to get things done by the deadline due to my own responsibilities, they agreed to let our mentor know. This is not necessarily the most ideal scenario, as it is almost inevitable that I will do the majority of the work. However, I can’t really jump ship (nor do I want to), and if I have to choose between doing a large share of the work and my mentor being annoyed (even if my colleague were to take the responsibility for the delay) because we’re not meeting deadlines, at this point I’d rather just do the work.

As everybody recommended I will need to discuss this with my mentor because even if from here on out things go well, and my colleague communicates with everyone in a timely manner , the advice I have been given is that it would important to inform my mentor about my role in the excessive delays in the past few months. I actually contacted my graduate school advisor to get additional input, and his advice was consistent with what everyone here is saying. Although I would like to say with confidence that everything will be smooth sailing from here on out, realistically, there will be bumps along the road. At this time, I will not go as far as requesting a formal, written plan, but will leave it up to my mentor if and/or what steps she wants to take. I do plan to inform our mentor of the responsibilities we each take on, and if needed submit them independently. Luckily, if it came down to it (hopefully it won't), I have an email trail to document the completion of my tasks in a timely manner.

I appreciate everyone’s feedback, especially with regard to the ADHD. I think this situation would be more clear-cut if I was not also friends with that person. I have a lot of compassion for their situation, both due to their ADHD and just general stress at work (which, to no fault of their own, is a complete s**t show on a daily basis, and that’s putting it mildly). To the best of my knowledge, there are no written accommodations with our disability’s office (although I do believe that they attempted to get them). I also believe that it is not my place to share their diagnosis with our mentor, and that my colleague should disclose this if they wish. I mentioned the ADHD to provide context, but also agree that a grown adult with a PhD - in clinical psychology no less – needs to better manage their diagnosis.
 
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