Ombudsmen: The Best Conversation that Never Happened
By Dora Farkas
I have an issue with something going on in the lab and it could have serious consequences for my PI. Someone recommended I speak with the ombudsman for advice, but I’m worried it will get back to my PI somehow. Are ombudsmen really safe to talk to?
-Anonymous, Grad student
Dear Graduate Student,
It sounds like you are very concerned about this issue and you want to do the right thing for your PI. It is always best to try resolve problems “locally” first, by talking to your PI and anyone else who is involved. There are, of course, more touchy issues in which case your Ombudsman could serve as a great resource. The ombudsman at your university was probably trained professionally (you might want to check his/her credentials beforehand, anyway) in which case there is a code of ethics they have to stick to. The purpose of Ombudsmen is to serve as a trusted intermediary within an organization and to resolve conflicts through mediation and recommendation. In other words, your conversation with the ombudsman will be kept confidential, and will give you the opportunity to brainstorm about your options.
Ombudsmen code of ethics
As defined by the International Ombudsman Association:
The Ombudsman is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible within the organization.
2) NEUTRALITY AND IMPARTIALITY
The Ombudsman, as a designated neutral, remains unaligned and impartial. Ombudsmen do not engage in any situation which could create a conflict of interest.
The Ombudsman holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence, and does not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so. The only exception to this privilege of confidentiality is where there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm.
Ombudsmen, as an informal resource, do not participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure related to concerns brought to his/her attention.
If the problem needs to be resolved it will of course get back to your PI. In the event that he/she finds out who talked to the ombudsman, they will probably appreciate that the problem has been resolved and will be grateful that you showed initiative in solving this problem.
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to DearDora@benchfly.com and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!
Stay tuned for the next Dear Dora in two weeks! In the meantime, check a few of Dora’s recent posts:
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Submit your questions to Dora at DearDora@benchfly.com, or use the comment box below!