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My PI Tells More Stories than Mother Goose
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My PI Tells More Stories than Mother Goose

Dear Dora: PI telling storiesDear Dora,

My PI constantly tells potential collaborators that we’ve got results we actually don’t have, despite my frequent attempts at correcting him.  I’m worried it’s going to backfire on us and make me look bad. What do you recommend?

– KA, postdoc

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Dear KA,

Promising results that one cannot deliver can definitely lead to embarrassment, and I recommend talking to your PI about his correspondence with your collaborators. Your PI probably feels the need to tell them “something”, and he is jumping to conclusions ahead of time. It is understandable to feel discouraged if your previous attempts to correct him have failed, but you can try again with something like:

“I wanted to talk to you about our collaboration with …I believe they think I already have results for …, but I only have preliminary data. I feel uncomfortable telling them about results, until we have confirmed them. If I am unable to deliver these results, it would make me look bad, and ruin my reputation as a scientist. I think it would be better if we talked to them about this as a “work in progress”, and only share results we are certain about.”

There is a good chance your PI will understand your concern, but if he does not, then it is best to leave the situation as is. Your PI might already have a reputation of talking about results he does not have, so your collaborators would not think less of you when you cannot show them results. Do not be so concerned about what the other group thinks, and instead focus on doing the best possible research you can so you will be ready for your future job search.

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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!

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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!


1 comment so far. Join The Discussion

  1. whizkid

    wrote on July 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    although tempting, I would resist the urge to tell your collaborator the truth directly if you're not the lead (usually the PI). even if your contact is a postdoc or grad student in the collaborator's lab, you don't want to seem like you're talking behind your boss' back. take the issue up with your PI directly.

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