Tuesday, April 03, 2012

With Twitter I can unfollow, With Facebook I can UnFriend, How Does One "Uncollaborate"?

So - I have this friend who is in need of help.  Suppose you have a collaborator who, well, it is just not working out with.  At one point you were sympatico.  You were friends with scientific benefits (i.e., you worked together well and were friend too).  (No it is not you dear reader - it is someone else).  What do you do now?  How does one break off a relationship with a collaborator.  You might be Co-PIs on a project.  You might share students.  Or you might study the same system.  You might share space or equipment or jointly run some project.  But now you just can't bear the sight of them.

But the problem is - they still love you.  And they don't know how you feel.  What do you do?  How do you break off the relationships when there is no "unfriend" or "unfollow button"?   I don't know (really, it has never happened to me, I swear and no it is NOT you dear reader).

I have looked for an Ann Landers or Dear Abby for scientists but have no found one.  So perhaps we need a new blog or site for people to "break up" as collaborators.  Something like IBreakUp or one of these other services.  But I think de-collaborating is more complex - more like a divorce than a breakup.  Anyone out there know of services to help scientists de-friend a collaborator?  Anyone know of stories where someone had to do this and it became complicated?  Please post - I have even opened up anonymous commenting in case someone wants to use such a function.


  1. Wait, but if they still love you, and they don't know how you feel, why is it that the collaboration is not working for you? Is your collaborator just not producing the data you hoped for? Is he/she not upholding their part of the collaborative deal? The only advice I have to offer is to sit down with this person and tell him/her why the collaboration is no longer working for you.

  2. Who said it was me? (I know I was pretending in a way it was, but actually this is not about me, for once).

  3. Professor Plum, in the dining room, with the knife. In other words, be professional but honest and out in the open. Do not exact unneeded force. Pray that the wound heals with time.

  4. Given some of the hypotheticals (co-PI with the person; sharing students) I think you have an obligation to make it work to the best of your ability. Certainly you owe it to the students involved. I thnk you also owe it to the people who funded your grant - and the applicants who didn't get the grant that you did.

  5. I think it has to be a gradual de-collaboration. You can't "unfriend" them, but you discuss how you want to move your research program in a different direction, or that you feel the need for more independence. We're actually going through this right now, and it takes time to sever all of those ties.

  6. Usually, there is some good reason. List what the reason(s) are and evaluate your situation with as much objectivity as you can muster.

    Speaking from real life, perhaps:
    - collaborator went to sleep with feet inside the sterile cabinet
    - collaborator left false teeth in your coffee cup and, bleary-eyed, you didn't notice until you got to the bottom of the cup.
    - collaborator took your name off a paper you co-authored and submitted it.
    - collaborator had his special foriegn student bed-bunny file false sexual harrasment charges against you
    - your collaborator hasn't given you diddly squat, and you have provided reams of material for them.
    - your collaborator talked up a post-doc as the most incredible, wonderful person on earth. And now you realize after hiring them at double normal rates, that the post-doc is a not so bright, scheming, temperamental foot-stamper who got into your bed in the first 2 weeks, and now has you by the short and curlies.

    But maybe you can't stand the sight of them because:
    - you cheated on them in a sexual relationship, so now you hate them for making you feel unpleasant each time you see them.
    - you desperately want to steal their ideas so that you can have a great career and every time you see them, it reminds you that you haven't got the moxie to murder them in cold blood, which makes you feel lousy.
    - you realize they are smarter than you are, and just seeing them makes you feel like gum on the pavement.
    - someone came to you and told you that your collaborator talked smack behind your back. And you don't realize that the "someone" is a scheming little varmint who should be defenestrated ASAP. Later, you find out the varmint now has a collaboration with your ex-collaborator, but you still nurse the hurt the varmint put in your head because you are still so easily conned it's pathetic.

    Or perhaps:
    - you are a peevish nerdling with a skin so thin that you can't stand anybody for long and need to grow up.

    1. PS - For all readers, the reference to "haven't got the moxie to murder them in cold blood" is intended as satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift. I am sure it has crossed someone's mind, but please don't worry and get the UCD PD involved with calling on the FBI to ferret me out for questioning and perhaps a restraining order barring me from campus.
      - Yours,
      Mudshark. (Meant tongue in cheek, in the Zappa tradition.)

  7. A la 'The Godfather' ... collaborator wakes from a nap at his/her desk to find hands wet. Pushes back from the desk revealing the mounds of Petri dishes, slashed reagents kits, and thawing -80° freezer boxes heaped under the chair. Rising screams of terror punctuated by the steady drip, drip of (no longer) sterile solutions.
    ~ Joe F


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