Prital Patel is a PhD Candidate in Medical BioPhysics at the University of Toronto. She is funded by the Canadian Liver Foundation, and works on understanding the molecular mechanisms that regulate liver development and cancer. Outside of the laboratory, she enjoys reading, exploring the outdoors, learning languages and camping. She also enjoys engaging and educating the lay audience about liver research and health on her Facebook page, The Science Behind Your LIVEr.
On dealing with a devil-in-disguise boss
We’ve all played that scenario in our head where we storm into our supervisor’s office and give them a piece of our mind. Don’t do it. Preserving the credibility of your work experience, and obtaining stellar references without holes in your CV will be important to advance your chosen career path, whether inside or outside of academia. Impulsive reactions can sabotage this and so try to take a more strategic and professional approach.
A bad supervisor can impact your professional development, morale and motivation. Learning how to deal with one can help you to actively work towards addressing some of the issues and hopefully improve your work environment.
Start a conversation
In a world of diverse personalities, conflicts between people are inevitable. Keep this in mind and gather some colleagues and friends and get together once a month to talk things over and learn from each other about working in your lab or company, and how you have had to handle different people. Each month, let a different person discuss their concerns and how they could be addressed. This forms a support system, builds a team and opportunities for cross-collaboration.
These meetings may help pinpoint if a situation is getting out of hand earlier than you might have realised. In such cases, you can reach out and speak to a human resources advisor.
Misunderstandings and false accusations can be detrimental relationships and progress within an academic institution or in industry. Covering your bases by leaving a paper or electronic trail can be a useful tool in preventing false allegations as well as increasing work efficiency.
Start a system of communication where tasks are assigned by emails, using written deadlines over verbal ones. If tasks are assigned through verbal communication, follow up with an email stating exactly what you were asked to do.
There are several different scenarios where this could come in useful. Your supervisor/boss might have assigned you tasks Y and Z, whilst they complete task X. If these things aren’t written down, it can be easy to forget who is supposed to be doing what. By keeping an accurate record of your assignments, you can make sure that you won’t get into trouble further down the line if your boss accuses you of not completing task X.
A simple email with, “Thanks for agreeing to complete task X, I will make sure to get tasks Y and Z done,” will provide immunity.
Keep working hard
Bad work relationships can sabotage morale and motivation. Avoid getting caught in a downward spiral by clearing out negative thoughts, and writing your short and long term goals. This will help you progress and keep you focused. Then once you reach those goals, reward yourself for your achievements. Moreover, better productivity or new ideas that may spring from this, and can be a game-changer in many mentor-mentee or boss-worker relationships.
Broaden your internal network
Higher management or department heads often see the company and its employees in a broader perspective. They may be able to assist you by pinpointing where in the company your skills fit in. Furthermore, it would be important to consider building alternative sources to serve as references for your work. Set up a meeting with higher management and ask whether you can allocate a certain percentage of your work-time or spare-time to learning and shadowing people in other departments. This allows for mobility within the company, should an opening come up. It also shows initiative at your end to your superiors and can serve as a networking tool within your company.
While you can try and address the problems without pointing fingers and being strategic, in the interest of productivity and professional development, continue to network and apply for other positions that may interest you.
Stay on good terms
In a highly interconnected work environment, it is important to avoid burning bridges. So even if your current supervisor isn’t working out for you, try not to leave on a bad note.
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