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“My Colleague Stabbed Me in the Back!”

Businessman with a knife behind his back.

I’m a graduate student in the sciences who was asked to present my work at a conference last month. The nature of my research and that of my co-student, let’s call him “Twerp,” is somewhat similar, so the organizers asked us to combine abstracts to present together. Twerp is also a few months senior, and because only one “presenting author” is allowed, I let him take the title out of generosity even though I am an equal contributor to the work. We presented our work at a session where the presenting author answers the questions of scientists passing through for a few hours. The night before our session, knowing the world to operate in an inherently sexist way, I told my co-student that we should either split the time or trade questions. I wanted to let my desire for equal face time be known – some of these attendees are important in the field and this is a great networking opportunity.

On the day of the session, Twerp is continually approached and makes no effort to deflect any of the visitors my way. He might have easily said “This is my equal co-author, she can tell you all about this…”, but he didn’t. After he had taken five visitors questions, I started to fume and told him he needed to leave, to which he agreed. We spent two more awkward days together, and he NEVER offered an apology and I feel utterly backstabbed because we were friendly until this incident, grabbing coffee in the mornings, etc. Is this finally a taste of the cut-throat academia? Maybe the congenial atmosphere of my lab was just an exception up until this point?

Today, it has been exactly two weeks since the conference. I confronted him, and he offered no apology or admittance of wrongdoing whatsoever and was snarky and sarcastic to me throughout the conversation. I told him I would have to tell our advisor what has happened and ensure that at the next conference I get to have all presentation time. Do you think this is the right call? I don’t want to be childish. How do I get through these next 3-4 years when he sits five feet away from me and the very sight of him makes my blood boil!!? — Grad School Woes

What you experienced was not a taste of cut-throat academia; it was a taste of the way the work world works. Whether you work in the Academy or sell insurance for a living, you are constantly in competition with your colleagues. You’re in competition for promotions, clients, bonuses, better schedules, better offices, raises, etc., etc. That doesn’t mean that the competition has to rule your work relationships or that you can’t be congenial with your colleagues, but it does mean that you have to watch your back, stand up for yourself, and always, ALWAYS look out for Numero Uno because no one else will as well as you can.

This experience was also an important lesson — or reminder — that as a woman in a world and, especially, a field, that is run predominantly by men, you HAVE to be assertive. You can’t just hand over a title or a position or an opportunity that you have just as much right to “to be generous.” Men don’t do that. And you shouldn’t either. What you do is fight for it. Or flip for it. Or figure out some negotiating tactics so that if you do hand over an opportunity that is equally yours, you get something in return. Maybe: “I’ll let you present at the conference, but I want to be listed as first author.” Or something like that. Don’t ever, ever, ever give up a career opportunity that brings you nothing in return “to be generous.” That’s just stupid. And don’t ever make an assumption that your generosity will be remembered and will help you some time down the line. If you’re giving something away in hopes of creating an alliance that will prove beneficial to you in the future, then think about what you hope that person may be able to offer you or do for you, and make that hope known. (There’s still no guarantee that you’ll get what you hope for, so be smart about using this particular negotiating tactic). And read: “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers” for more career advice.

As for how you’ll get through the next 3-4 years sitting five feet away from this guy who failed to pass a few session questions your way during one of your first conferences, think of this as a lesson in how the real world works. Most people sit a few feet away from a co-worker they don’t like. And the way they deal with it is by being cordial at the office and then blowing off steam at happy hour or at the gym or on the weekends with their friends.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


Comments on this entry are closed.

avatar kerrycontrary April 2, 2013, 9:05 am

WWS! Couldn’t say it any better or add anything more. I have known professors to steal their graduate students work, publish it as their own, and no one confronts them. This is real life.

avatar MissDre April 2, 2013, 9:33 am

I think that happened to a friend of mine while she was working on her Phd. Her supervising professor, who really had no involvement in her research, insisted that his name be listed as the author of the paper she published.

Skyblossom Skyblossom April 2, 2013, 9:47 am

Your supervising professor is involved in your work by supervising it. Their reputation is on the line and it is their responsibility to make sure your work is of good enough quality to publish. In the hard sciences they also fund your work by pulling in grant money so their name goes on your work along with your own name and the name of anyone else who helped.

avatar MissDre April 2, 2013, 9:52 am

I’m just going by what she told me. I don’t know all the details. I just remember how upset she was.

avatar kerrycontrary April 2, 2013, 10:04 am

In my Grad school one professor took some students paper, took their names off of it and used his, and then he won and award for it and didn’t mention them (wasn’t their supervising professor). This is commonplace. You have to be really careful who you share your work with.

avatar Christy April 2, 2013, 11:28 am

What?! Tell me on facebook! Inquiring minds want to know.

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 10:15 am

I depends on your program and field a lot. My fiance is in the process of completing his Phd in a history and his advisors and very little involvement in his research and writing. Like the only time he interacts with his advisors is when my fiance calls/e-mails them.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 9:09 am

I agree with WWS and would add one thing: Don’t tell your advisor. This is something between the two of you. You’ve learned your lesson. Deal with it. Tattling with NOT help your reputation whatsoever nor will it hurt his.

avatar ktfran April 2, 2013, 9:13 am

Right? Wendy’s response was perfect.

My group was asked to come up with ideas about better way to win work. We did, my boss sent the e-mail to her boss, and he forwarded to the higher ups, taking full credit. This totally happens and Wendy’s right, the best way to blow off steam is venting with friends over happy hour. It helps. A lot.

Also, I WOULD NOT tell on him. It will make you look childish. Especially since it’s several weeks after the fact. You could have maybe said something within a couple days, but your window of opportunity has passesd. Chalk it up to lesson learned and follow Wendy’s awesome advice in the future.

avatar ktfran April 2, 2013, 9:14 am

That was supposed to be under kerrycontrary’s. So the “Right?” should make sense.

Fabelle Fabelle April 2, 2013, 9:21 am

WWS. Also—ughhhh. This letter kind of made me roll my eyes, a lot? I mean, is this why everyone hates my generation? LW, I’m sorry, but you need to be aware that the unfortunate way your presentation turned out? was *not* really the fault of your co-student. ~You~ are the one who passed along the title of presenter to him (out of “generosity”) & despite your vocalizations of desire for “equal time”, he was under no obligation to direct questions to you.

Would it have been nice? Sure. Maybe he intended to, even, but in the flow of things, it slipped his mind. Clearly, it hadn’t slipped yours, though—so why didn’t you speak up? I have trouble believing that there was no smooth way to cut in like, “Actually, I’d like to answer that, if you don’t mind…” But you didn’t do this—you waited angrily for him to hand the reins over to you & then told him he had to leave (?? what??). So, those are all things YOU did/didn’t do. All on you.

I know I’m being harsh, but I think you need to see that you’re NOT a victim of “cutthroat academia” or whatever else. And you have the power to control the way things go next time. Don’t give someone else a title that YOU really want. Don’t wait around for permission to speak. STOP waiting around for a damn apology from this guy. And really? Maybe some will disagree, but I’ll also tell you ~not~ to tell your advisor about this. You don’t want to be childish, you said? Yeah, doing that would be childish, I think. It’s basically admitting that you can’t stand up for yourself.

As for your last bit, all you have to do is stop fuming & you’ll be able to sit near this guy no problem. And the way you stop fuming is to take responsibility for your mistakes in all this.

avatar Anna April 2, 2013, 9:30 am

WFS. The business world is tough, and you can expect almost every time that your kindness will be mistaken for weakness. I agree that she should have been more assertive in offering to answer questions and taking responsibility for making her own worth known. Your colleagues might call you a bitch but does that really matter when you become the boss?

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 9:21 am

Ha, sorry but what a dumb naive move. Chalk this up to a HUGE lesson learned and you can get back at this guy by producing even better work than him.

LK7889 LK7889 April 2, 2013, 9:28 am

LW, this is the sort of mistake that most young people (but especially women) make when starting out their professional careers. It’s no one’s mistake but your own. However, you’re still young and new in the field so you’ll have plenty of time to make up for it if you don’t dwell on this and/or do anything childish (like “tattle” on your co-student).

avatar Anna April 2, 2013, 9:35 am

I just have one more thing to add to my above comment. In your future presentations, maybe you can keep a few of your best ideas/concepts private from your fellow students and surprise the heck out of everyone at the presentation. That way, no one can take credit for your best work and you give the impression of being the lone genius coming in out of left field with some brilliant shit. It’s a stupid game for sure, but you want to win right?

avatar MISS MJ April 2, 2013, 9:46 am

WW (and everyone else) S! Also, LW, find a really good mentor – female if you can, if you are in a male-dominated field, but a good male mentor can work, too – in your field and observe how they present, how they handle delicate situations and how they network. Take inspiration from how they handle themselves in real-world situations and adapt them for your own. This is the kind of stuff that they do not and cannot teach you in school, and it is crucial for success. And for the love of god, like everyone else has said, don’t go crying to your advisor because something that happened in the real world wasn’t fair to you. The best thing that can come from that is that your advisor will think you’re an immature child who cannot handle real life situations. Certainly, no one is going to chastise “Twerp” or mandate you get more time next time or do anything at all for you to make your life fair. Instead, accept responsibility for your mistake and learn from it.

katie katie April 2, 2013, 9:49 am

” no one is going to chastise “Twerp” or mandate you get more time next time or do anything at all for you to make your life fair.”

truth! this aint kindergarden, LW. “fair” is an abstract and situational theory, a judgement call that will be made by many people you encounter in many different ways…

FireStar Firestar April 2, 2013, 12:33 pm

I’ve found female mentors the WORST…which was so surprising to me since I typically have no issue getting along with women. Perhaps it was the particular firm culture I was at but I was so disappointed that a good 90% of them were competitive with their female mentees. That was definitely something I wasn’t expecting particularly since there weren’t a lot of women at the firm to begin with. So don’t judge your mentor by gender – judge by how they treat their mentees and what kind of working relationship you can have with them. Best mentor I ever had was a guy who came to my wedding and still gets invited to my pool parties and BBQs every year even though we haven’t worked together in almost 10 years. And still calls me up once or twice a year to take me out on a fully expensed “mentor lunch”.

avatar Matcha April 2, 2013, 12:48 pm

I’m not too surprised by the fact that female mentors in an area with very few women are competitive. Sometimes people naturally are defensive, trying to hold their spot as ‘the woman’ in their organization and will deflect newcomers threatening their niche rather than trying to be inclusive. Yeah, I usually just go with a mentor who is awesome regardless of their gender.

avatar Sara April 2, 2013, 7:59 pm

Here’s an idea: get a female mentor, but not one from your specific area. She’ll be familiar with the ins and outs of academia, but you won’t be competing for resources (money, article space) or ideas. I have a mentor in my department who works on something totally different than I do, and she’s been awesome.

avatar jj April 3, 2013, 12:38 am

Having a female mentor does not necessarily mean things would be better for her. Some of the harshest mentors out there are women–they feel like they have to toughen you up. I’ve had female and male mentors. The female ones were sometimes much worse. Also, studies where they give male and female professors fake resumes with the same information but different gendered names on them show both male and female scientists rate the female resumes as worse. Besides, once you join a lab, you’re there. Switching labs is a big deal

Miel Miel April 3, 2013, 8:18 pm

A mentor doesn’t need to be your advisor, so nobody needs to switch lab here. I am a female in a male dominated scientific field, and I’ve done enough research in different lab/universities/countries to see that male and female mentors can both be great, and do not need to be your advisor.

I did some summer work with a female professor once. She was young and sweet, we spent a lot of time one-on-one chatting about work, science and personal life. She knows a lot about academia and our field. There is no competition between her and I, since I worked for her as an invited undergraduate student and she’s a professor. She will stay my mentor even when I’ll be working in someone else’s lab. Mentor and advisor do not have the same definition.

avatar Sara April 10, 2013, 6:00 pm

A little late to reply, but I just came up for a breath of air from work and thought I’d check to see if I generated any discussion. First, I agree: a mentor can be male or female. That said, I recently had to weigh the pros and cons of making a choice between a good career move that would be really bad for my personal life and a so-so career move that would be really good for my personal life. I was very happy that I had a woman to talk to about this decision: males have a different experience with life/work balance than most women. And I agree with Miel– your advisor and your mentor are not always one and the same. My mentor is in a different field, but she does know what it means to be a woman in academia, which is what I was looking for.

katie katie April 2, 2013, 9:46 am

yea, WWS. also, like fabelle pointed out- this is why people hate the entitled 80’s babies. i mean, ill admit that everything i know about “cut-throat academia” i learned from the big bang theory, but from what you said i just imagine you standing there, in silence, fuming at how your colleague was answering all these questions that you two were supposed to split. i mean, really? why didnt you start going up to people, saying “im the co-author, what is you question?” or, “isnt X part of this interesting? when i figured that out, i ran into this roadblock, and this is how i moved past it.. oh, yes, im actually the co-author..”. or SOMETHING. i mean, anything, really. why didnt you say anything? i dont understand that, at all, but i think its a great illustration of the stereotype of the 80’s babies- we just sit there, waiting for something to happen TO US, instead of going out and making things happen FOR US.

so, yes, LW, lesson learned. you need to be more assertive. you need to speak up. you need to take more credit. now, this is definitely not to say that you need to become some bitchy shrew of a co-worker. not at all! you can definitely be assertive and look out for yourself while being fair and kind to others. please, please, please do not swing all the way over to the opposite extreme of the spectrum.

and i dont know why you see your co-worker as some terrible person who you wont be able to stand for the next 3-4 years. think about this from his point of view- his co-worker let him be named on a paper, his co-worker let him speak at some convention, and the format is that he would then take the questions, which he did. thats awesome! if that happened to you, i guarantee you would be happy about it and jump at the networking and career advancing opportunity. you cant really hold anything against this guy. you handed him this whole thing on a silver platter wrapped with a pretty bow. who wouldnt accept that?

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 9:49 am

Yeah, if she can’t assert herself productively, she’s not going to do well.

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 9:57 am

I don’t understand why the LW’s inability to assert herself means she is an entitled 80’s baby. I don’t get that arguement. She just didn’t stand up for herself.

Also, it annoys the bejesus out of me that people give “80’s babies” shit all the time but the generation goes from 1982 to 2001- so all those 90’s children apparently have the same traits/characterstics. It’s the millenials or Gen Y or what ever, but it’s not JUST people born from 1980 to 1989 who apparently have all these negative charactoristics.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 10:00 am

She’s being entitled because she’s outraged he didn’t step aside and let her shine when she made no indication to him that she thought she should get the opportunity to do so. She felt her generosity entitled her to that, when in reality, it was just her kind of being a doormat. Plus because she didn’t get her way, she wanted to tattle on him, which is just an ABSURD reaction that if you’re at this point in your life…you should really know better.

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 10:18 am

“The night before our session, knowing the world to operate in an inherently sexist way, I told my co-student that we should either split the time or trade questions. I wanted to let my desire for equal face time be known…”

Clearly stated to him that she wanted an equal share of face time. I completely agree she should have asserted herself better the day of the conference while fielding questions but it reads to me that she made her expectations pretty damn clear in advance.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 10:20 am

And yet day of she fumed until she told him to get out. She could have stepped in any time. I would assume if she didn’t step up to answer questions alongside me she didn’t know the answers/was shy/didn’t want to. It’s not his job to ensure she got face time…it’s hers! People talk big, but put in the situation, don’t always back that up. I would assume that was the situation unless proved otherwise.

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 10:28 am

I mean we basically agree. It’s on the LW (or anyone for that matter) to assert themselves. I just don’t see how she is “an entitled 80’s baby” because she thought her acedemic partner would uphold a discussion they had one night before (I’m assuming he acknowledged her desire to be an equal participant).

Also, it’s hard to just interrupt and jump into answering a question when a dialog is going on. It could have been perceived as rude. I mean if two people where talking and she just started interjecting answers- talk about awkward. But had the guy upheld his part he could have easily said “hey LW, why don’t you tackle this question” or just made a physical gesture over to her to cue her and everyone else that she was handling the question.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 10:30 am

It’s not his job to toss her a question if he’s asked it and can answer it. It’s on her. It’s her part.

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 10:38 am

It’s on her to interrupt if a question is specifically addressed to him? Now that just doesn’t make any sense.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 10:40 am

To step up and say this was my area on the paper, I’ll take this one? YES! He was presented as the author so naturally people are going to focus their questions to him and if she wanted to answer some, SHE needed to step it up.

Fabelle Fabelle April 2, 2013, 10:47 am

Yeah, I’m with you. Regardless of what she told him about splitting things, when the time comes—sometimes the flow doesn’t allow for that. Why should it be his job to discern what questions he should answer, & what questions should be directed to her? What if, okay, he DID turn over a question to her—& she didn’t know the answer? Awkward for all. If there was something she was able to answer, smoothly jumping in was the best option for everyone.

Also, about the 80s baby entitlement thing…it’s not the fact that she wasn’t assertive or anything, really— it’s more the way she’s wallowing in impotent anger & how her next step is to…go to the advisor? Instead of taking this as a lesson of What Not To Do in the future.?

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 11:04 am

I mean but who wouldn’t be pissed, for at least some period of time an hour/day/month, when someone doesn’t follow through on a conversation that was had? The ownus is on her since she should have taken what she wanted, but wouldn’t everyone be a little pissed? I don’t see how that is being “entitled”.

And the advisor thing could just be a question- I mean it’s hard to know if it’s the right time to bring an issue up to your boss. Especially when you’re in a new progam/job.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 11:07 am

Well she made no move to show that she wanted to answer questions and take care of her half until she told him to leave. For all he knew, she backed out and didn’t want to take her half since she made no move to do so! And tattling on something like that…SERIOUSLY?! I don’t understand how that would even be a question.

avatar kerrycontrary April 2, 2013, 10:07 am

I can’t even comment on the 80s babies bullshit. Already had this discussion. This LW made a common mistake that many women, or basically anyone in their 20s with a job, makes. She’ll learn her lesson. No big deal.

avatar Aksumite April 2, 2013, 8:14 pm

I completely agree with you and I think the “80’s lecture” is rude. It’s rude to make generalizations about a group of people every time an individual from that group decides to come forward for advice. (Read: She’s coming forward to all of you because she wants advice and perspective. Let’s keep this a safe space for people regardless of age). Criticizing someone because they were a part of a 20 year age group [80’s,90’s,2000’s] facilitates an anti-Gen Y environment here and is completely unproductive.

The LW will learning NOTHING being criticized for triggered angry feelings about a demographic. If you want to help, just talk about tips and suggestions on being successful. Wendy was a great example of this and really went out of her away to inform the LW. This is positive. This is supportive. This is the kind of community we need to establish here. This is especially if we want women like Wendy to continue having success, since frankly anti-Gen Y sentiment only scares away potential readers who are curious about growing with Wendy too.

It’s extremely offensive for me to hear these criticisms, because I am a part of the Gen Y, and I work my ass off. I am a Resident Assistant at Rutgers University, putting hours into my community as well as collaborating with Residence Life and Housing. I am interning as a premiere women’s advocacy group because I am passionate about public service and I understand that professional experience is required for long term career development. I was recently accepted into a prestigious post-baccalaureate program specifically designed to help me get a phD, and I have yet to attain my undergraduate degree. I also volunteer as a Grantwriter for a local NYC non-profit.

I want you all to know this because you need to know that we are working hard. Gen Y is like any generation, we don’t know and we’re navigating the same way you did or are. So please, a little consideration.

katie katie April 2, 2013, 10:46 am

Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. The entitled 80’s babies stuff has been well written about and well documented, even if you don’t “believe in it”. Anyone in her field with 10-20 years experience on her would make the 80s comment too.

It’s honestly just sad to see someone else fulfilling the stereotype. As my boss likes to say, “this is good for the 80s babies”.

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 10:58 am

It wasn’t 100% directed at you katie. It just annoys me in general. IMO children born in the 90’s and 00’s (or what ever we call that) have an even bigger sense of entitlement etc. We don’t have to reopen this whole conversation, I just don’t find her year of birth relevant here. Honestly we have no idea how old she is- I know plenty of graduate students who were born before 1980.

What I’m trying to say is that she made a rookie mistake. Everyone does it. Even people born in 1940 or 1970 or 2000- everyone makes rookie mistakes. She should have asserted herself more and fielded an equal share of questions- we all agree on that. Even if it meant intterupting, fine she should have stepped up and gotten her share/recognition. BUT it’s a really common mistake (to assume people will hold your hand/uphold agreements when they have no benefit to them) when starting out in any field and has happened FOREVER. Lesson learned, now move on and don’t let yourself get into that situation again.

avatar kerrycontrary April 2, 2013, 11:15 am

Agree with you GG. It most likely is an individual problem and an individual lesson to be learned, has nothing to do with her age or generation.

avatar kerrycontrary April 2, 2013, 11:19 am

“fulfilling the stereotype” So if I see a black person doing something “stereotypical” I can just so “oh, just another black lady fulfilling the stereotype”? No. It’s not OK (in my mind) to classify people on their age, race, or gender. Which is what you just did. You put her into a little category because of her assumed age. When, like GG said, she made a common mistake. Which is probably more caused by her inexperience and personal background than her generational influence.

And as someone who just spent hours doing real research on millenials (business librarian here), a lot of what is “written about” in places such as the Huffington Post or NYT on millennials has no real research behind it. Read some scholarly articles and you will find that millenials are more similar to those who came of age during the great depression (so their grandparents) than any other generation.

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 11:20 am

love this.

avatar LuckySeven April 2, 2013, 6:45 pm

Love this as well. Before people were taught better, back in the day (and unfortunately sometimes now), there would be articles/ “ethnographic studies” with no substance and fulfilling the stereotype. I’m idealistic, but I would much rather live in a world where we don’t stereotype people/ generalize such a huge demographic on one person.

The girl made a rookie mistake, quickly asserted herself after five questions, and wrote in for advice to see if she made a mistake. Doesn’t seem too entitled to me.

Lindsay Lindsay April 2, 2013, 11:29 am

To me, entitlement is more about expecting to get things without doing any work, like thinking you deserve a raise while doing subpar work or that you should get a promotion simply by showing up. The LW clearly did the work and attempted to stake her claim on the presentation. Doing research and putting together a presentation and then expecting to get credit for it isn’t entitlement. It’s naivete and a lack of assertiveness. That’s a problem for women that goes way back, and one I’d say has probably decreased some in the current generation.

katie katie April 2, 2013, 12:16 pm

just so everyone understands, im not advocating for this stereotype to be *true*, im just advocating that this stereotype *exists*. if she goes to her advisor and complains about this, as others have pointed out is a terrible idea, this stereotype is going to be the first thing that pops into the advisor’s head. it just is. and you know what? if she isnt the correct age, instead of the 80’s baby stereotype, she is going to get the “weak woman in the workforce” stereotype. it doesnt mean any of them are correct. but when people act like this, it just furthers whatever stereotype fits. yes, when black people act in a stereotypical way, the people who believe in those stereotypes just believe them harder. thats just the way the world is.

its unfair. sure. but isnt that the entire point of this? the world isnt fair. if you do x, you might get labeled y. if this lady complains and tattles, i would almost guarantee her adviser would just chalk it up to the entitlement of younger generations. its a bad idea. its not a good behavior. so she should stop it/not do it. and she should definitely understand the consequences if she proceeds. she should definitely also understand how she comes off, as there were multiple people on here, me included, who automatically thought of the 80’s babies, and how she fits in so well. if she doesnt like that fact, she can change her behavior.

avatar anonymous April 2, 2013, 9:48 am

Not to be mean after your “generosity” but … wow. This letter just reeks of immaturity. I get it — you’re only in your 20s, right? You’ll learn the way to balance assertiveness while not being unkind. Right now? He’s probably thinking you’re a complete b**** and is wondering what in the world your problem is.

No — you do NOT go to your advisor. You reflect on YOUR mistakes not on HIS perceived perfidy, and you decide how to make sure that your work gets equal time.

And I know that some places have instituted the one-author rule, but as a side note — that’s crazy. There are times it might be worth asking the committee at the outset what the goal of the rule is, and to find a way to circumvent. He could present, you could field questions. Or vice-versa.

Side note: it’s better to be listed as the primary (or sole) author than to field questions. Every time. Because apart from the face time, your name is in print AND you can claim it on your resume for the next 50 years.

avatar Taylor April 2, 2013, 10:00 am

LW , never wait to be invited to answer questions. Grad school isn’t grade school, you can’t just divide things by two.
It was a poster session, right? You should be right there next to your coworker, making eye contact, introducing yourself to people, being a part of a conversation. Scientific discussions can contain more than two people! Plus, he left after speaking with 5 people? How many people came by after that? In a normal poster session, over a couple hours, I would expect several dozen, at least. Were you the face of the presentation the rest of the night? Did you give your colleague the verbal credit he deserved for his part of the work? Sounds like you split the time after all.
FYI you didn’t “give” your colleague anything – you charged him for it, with the cost being all this drama. There is a lot of sexism in science, but this isn’t it, and you aren’t going to do yourself any favors by freaking out over this any further.

Fabelle Fabelle April 2, 2013, 10:13 am

“Grad school isn’t grade school, you can’t just divide things by two.”

“…you didn’t “give” your colleague anything – you charged him for it, with the cost being all this drama.”

Yup, yup.

avatar sarolabelle April 2, 2013, 10:08 am

I’ve had this happen so many times (I am in IT – I think 10% of the IT force is female). I seriously just stopped thinking about things. Everything is out for themselves. You too. Would you have “been nice
and given your colleague a chance to spear if you had a chance to shine?

avatar BreezyAM April 2, 2013, 10:13 am

After you read all this and brush off your bumps and bruises on your ego, get a glass of red wine and go read this all night:


And then remember, you gotta speak up and be assertive. We’re socialized to be gracious and let the boys go first. Don’t make that mistake in your career again.

avatar EngineeringLadyPhDStudent April 2, 2013, 10:15 am

This really speaks to your need to talk to your advisor, NOT about your officemate’s behavior at the conference, but about your group’s collaboration and authorship policy. If you author another paper with this student, will you get first author this time? What happens if your paper is accepted to the conference, but it’s an oral presentation?

While your officemate should have deflected questions to you, you should have clarified what you wanted- was the agreement to split time or questions? From your actions and conversation with the officemate, it’s not clear which is the case. Rather than say “we should split time or questions,” say “I’m comfortable with you being first author because you’re the senior student. Since we put equal time into this work, we should split the poster time in half. Do you want to take first or second shift?” Make your expectations completely known, rather than a vague “We should do X or Y.” It will lead to less confusion and hurt feelings in the future.

Ella Ella April 2, 2013, 10:21 am

I’m also a grad student and have a hard time being assertive, so I understand where the LW is coming from. I hate potentially causing conflict – I can see why the LW stood aside fuming at the conference (although I do agree that she should have said something). A year or so ago this letter could have come from me.
I’ve had to work to build up the self confidence academically to realize that I also deserve the kind of recognition that the LW gave away. I’ve also had to learn (and am still learning) to never give up that kind of spot. I was recently at a conference where I was the co-author of a paper. After networking with a few people at the conference I realized that I was underselling myself. If anyone asked me if I had a paper at the conference I would say, “Yes, but I’m just a co-author.” I recognized what I was doing and started answering that question with just “yes”.
LW, in the future, if the speaker’s spot or anything like that is offered to you, take it with no apologies. Your colleague would have (and he did).

avatar Eagle Eye April 2, 2013, 10:28 am

So, my boyfriend is a science grad student, and, honestly, just about as feminist as they come (without actually really thinking about it) but he would never have handed off questions to another student. In fact, he probably would have figured that if you really wanted to make it in science you would have joined in the conversation, added something that you thought was relevant that the he had somehow managed to miss. By not doing that actually, your fellow grad student probably thinks less of you as a result, probably thinks that you don’t actually understand the science of your paper, which is why he treated you so dismissively.

Don’t tell you PI about it, you’re PI is probably super busy and doesn’t really give a shit

Also, this is not the end of the world, like Wendy said, this is a good learning experience. Academia, as a field, is pretty cut throat and nasty (I’m in in the Humanities) you need to learn how to effectively advocate for yourself if you would like to become a prof some day yourself.

avatar Eagle Eye April 2, 2013, 10:28 am

oh crap, your not you’re – man, so much for grammar for me today…

avatar Eagle Eye April 2, 2013, 10:35 am

Also, I should add, that spending time with my boyfriend’s assertiveness and ego when it comes to his professional life has been a really great experience for me. I’ve become tougher and more assertive in my own academics and I’ve learned to go for things based on just my own baseless confidence which has actually led to me getting opportunities that I wouldn’t have received otherwise. I’m not a bitch, I just spend all of my time thinking that I’m the best and most qualified person for the job/ teaching fellowship/ conference, whatever…

lemongrass Lemongrass April 2, 2013, 10:32 am

I wonder if the lw is an only child. My siblings definitely prepared me to deal with coworkers!

avatar mmmCheesy April 2, 2013, 10:33 am

Sorry, but your colleague didn’t do anything wrong here. Its not up to him to deflect questions to you. And if he is the “presenting author” at your poster session or whatever, I can’t blame the other attendees for asking the questions of him. While it would be nice if he went out of his way to include you in discussions, I don’t think he is in the wrong for not doing it. He probably got caught up in the moment, and you would probably do the same if you were in the same position.

Take this as a lesson learned and next time, do your best to not co-author with anyone. Present your own research, have your own poster. If you have to co-author, stay right by the other’s side and don’t hesitate to jump in to answer questions, even if you think it seems pushy.

In the real world, no one is going to hand you anything. You’ve got to fight and work and claw your way to what you want on your own. Everyone else, including your colleague, is doing it, so if you want to keep up, you are going to have to do it too. Its not easy for folks that are a little more reserved, but its necessary to get anywhere you want to go. Everyone else it watching out for themselves, its time you started doing it too.

avatar WAPS April 2, 2013, 10:41 am

I am a female graduate student in a hard science, and I cannot warn you enough to NOT tell your PI about this. No PI I’ve ever met will be interested in hearing about this petty bullshit. It’s lose-lose: you’re not going to get what you want, and your PI’s estimation of you will go down. You can’t tattle and think it won’t affect the way others think of you – and make no mistake, tattling is EXACTLY what you’re considering doing. The only times it is acceptable to tattle is when someone is misrepresenting their research, falsifying data, mistreating animals, or misusing funds. And why are you so hung up on an apology? You made your feelings known to your co-worker, now get over it. If he’s truly as awful as you say, nothing you or anyone else can say will make him realize why what he’s done was wrong to you (I’m not conceding that it was objectively wrong, just that you are obviously hurt by it).

I don’t think you’re an entitled 80s baby though. I have no idea where people got that from, and it’s condescending and mean to you. You’ll learn from this and give the appropriate amount of generosity in the future.

avatar Eagle Eye April 2, 2013, 10:44 am

This. Yes. Like 1000x

HuggaWugga HuggaWugga April 2, 2013, 10:59 am

As someone who was in a lab with a “problem labmate”, I definitely sympathize with wanting to tell the PI. But I agree, that the only times that should be done are the above situations, or when productivity in the lab is being severely affected. My advisor didn’t realize that our lab had become a negative place until two of my coworkers had a screaming match because one person wasn’t pulling his weight on a project (I was the diplomat of the bunch and tried to keep a level head).

LW, if you’re really feeling bothered by this, have you checked with your university for some short-term employment-based counseling? I did it for a few months when the situation in the lab just became too much. It really helped, and it gave me some great strategies for dealing with conflict with my coworkers. And if it helps, this is something I probably would have done in my first few years of grad school, too. I expected everyone to be as helpful and generous as I was–as nice as that is, it doesn’t always work out that way. It’s up to you to sell yourself and your work, so don’t give away opportunities if you don’t have to!

avatar Grilledcheesecalliope April 2, 2013, 11:03 am

This is good advice, and I agree calling the LW an entitled 80s baby is stupid. It’s not entitlement to want people to be decent.

CatsMeow CatsMeow April 2, 2013, 11:12 am

Right? I feel like it’s naive, but not necessarily entitled.

avatar GatorGirl April 2, 2013, 11:15 am

OKay…I’m glad other people agree. I was very confused by those saying it was.

CatsMeow CatsMeow April 2, 2013, 11:19 am

Haha, but I’m an 80s baby, so what do I know? ;)

avatar WAPS April 2, 2013, 11:22 am

Yeah, if anything, she GAVE someone else presenting author status for equal work, thinking that it’d be a title only. That does not scream entitlement at all. Entitlement would if she had contributed very little and still expected to co-author or be presenting author. “80s baby” has become such a stupid, meaningless phrase to throw around just to put people in their place. It’s a pet peeve of mine when people say “80s baby” because it has this ring of superiority to it.

FireStar Firestar April 2, 2013, 12:19 pm

Maybe entitlement because she thought things would magically fall into place around her? I tend to agree though – short-sighted or naive would be better suited for her actions.

avatar Ammie April 2, 2013, 2:03 pm

I don’t think she magically thought things would fall into place. She just didn’t horse-trade successfully because her senior colleague is a dick. It happens, and soon she’ll realize she also has to be a dick if she wants to make it in science, but she’s still at the stage where all the warm-fuzzy bullshit the profs are spouting about collaboration still sounds nice and realistic to her.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 2:06 pm

I don’t see how he was a dick…she offered to let him take the first name…he didn’t brow beat her for it. She didn’t step up and assert herself…it’s not his responsibility to make sure she’s comfortable and able to answer questions and introduced to everyone…that’s not how it works!

avatar LW here April 2, 2013, 2:15 pm

What? Him having his name before mine on the abstract did not in ANY way suggest I was conceding presenting my own work. They would not ALLOW two first authors – it was denoted on the poster that we are equal authors, but obviously we could not put our names on top of eachother.

I expected nothing from him, we had an agreement which was broken. My only mistake was trusting him and not EXPECTING my friend to be a dick.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 2:19 pm

You offered to let him present…I apologize on the mix-up there, but he didn’t force you to. You CHOSE to let that happen without figuring out any other way of deciding who go to present. You relinquished that. That’s on you.

avatar LW here April 2, 2013, 2:34 pm

oh lord. Presenting author does not mean he is the only one that presents the poster. Its a stupid formality for the catalog of abstracts… I was to stand by OUR poster and talk about OUR work in a manner completely equal to him. We agreed to share the time and he broke his word.

avatar rachel April 2, 2013, 3:18 pm

Sorry, but “presenting author” means “presenting author”. If people walk up to the poster, they are more likely to approach the person whose name is first/has the asterisk. Should he have punted some questions your way in order to include your further in the discussion? Probably. But the fact of the matter is that when people see a name listed first, they will assume that person is the one they should be talking to.

avatar rachel April 2, 2013, 3:24 pm

And please don’t think I’m trying to be rude about this, I just think you’re sounding a bit naive. There’s a reason why long discussions/arguments happen when it comes to the order of authors in publications.

avatar Ammie April 2, 2013, 2:24 pm

She did let him take presenting author listing, due to his seniority. She also brokered an agreement with him whereby, although he would be looked upon as the presenting author due to the constrictions of the listings, they would make it clear that they were co-authors to any questioners. She did give him some leeway by which he could shunt her to the background, trusting that he would be as fair as she had been, and that was a mistake. But it doesn’t mean he wasn’t a dick.

LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed April 2, 2013, 2:25 pm

I’m still confused if any specifics were said in the “agreement”…and overall, she didn’t assert herself and that’s on her. Doesn’t mean he was a dick. I’m not convinced that that’s true.

avatar Ammie April 2, 2013, 2:29 pm

That’s OK. I agree that she should’ve asserted herself, but I don’t think we need to agree on every aspect of this; some things, we’re just going to infer and there’s no way to know the nuances unless we were there.

avatar rachel April 2, 2013, 10:51 am

Yeah, pretty much agreeing with what everyone else said. Don’t talk to your advisor about him. The time to talk to your advisor would have been *before* this all started, to discuss how to negotiate authorship. You don’t just hand over first author and expect the other person to be nice to you because of it. And OF COURSE everyone was directing their questions towards him at the poster session – he’s the first author! If you wanted to be included in the discussion, you had to insert yourself. Sorry, LW, I know it’s hard to be assertive, I know this from experience, but it’s part of the deal.