Dealing with a micromanaging boss, grad student edition.
February 27, 2014 10:53 AM Subscribe
OK, I know this question has been asked in various permutations many times before, but of course my situation is different and special. I have a boss who is a serious micromanager and very indecisive on top of that. It's driving me crazy and I need advice on how to cope. I'm a graduate student in the biological sciences.
posted by Grey_Area to Work & Money (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is about my PI, so I'm posting under a sock puppet account. I've been in this program for about a year and a half now, working under her since the beginning. My PI is a lovely person and a good scientist, and I know that things could be worse but this is starting to really bother me and I'm not sure what to do.
My PI is indecisive, disorganized, absentminded, and a severe micromanager. This is a problem that seems to have been growing worse over time. I'm not sure if it's just that my patience has worn thin or if her behavior has actually gotten more extreme with time, though I think a bit of both. The combination of traits makes being near her rather stressful, as she seems to be constantly in Panic Mode and is liable to pull you out of whatever you're doing at any time to tell you about whatever minor task or idea she has on her mind at the time – even if she's already told you about it several times, or indeed even if she has just emailed about it.
Recently she came literally running over to me to spend 20 minutes breathlessly telling me about something that needed to be done "sometime next week" and about which she had emailed me so recently that it hadn't even hit my phone yet (the notification bonged about two minutes into her speech). Her verbal instructions contained no information that wasn't in the email and in fact mostly consisted of her repeating several things (mostly irrelevant-to-me things about her own schedule) that she had already mentioned to me many times over the last week and which were, again, included in the email.
That was a typical event of a sort that happens multiple times a day. It stresses me out because her unnecessary panic rubs off on me, and it's also just annoying and disruptive to be pulled out of my work in order to listen to her tell me yet again about something that I already know. It's also particularly difficult because oftentimes she has great difficulty making decisions and will burn up hours and hours in email discussions and meetings about things that I feel would be better handled if she could just make a decision and then tell us what she wants us to do or when she wants us to do it. I'm not talking about big, complicated things like study design or manuscripts where obviously a lot of back-and-forth is important, but rather trivial things where it doesn't really matter how or when it's done as long as everybody is on the same page – things where what we need is not a consensus, but just a decision. Any decision, so long as we can all agree to stick to it (something else that she has a lot of trouble with).
I don't seem to be the only one in the lab affected by this – in fact when I started working there everybody would be pretty much in the lab all the time (my PI's office is basically attached to her lab) but now the place is a ghost town where nobody goes unless they have actual benchwork to do. Everybody has migrated to some other room or building or indeed will work from home as much as possible, because it's difficult to work productively when she's around since there's a constant worry (frequently reinforced) that at any moment she might come up from behind and suddenly dump a huge load of her stress on you. It's hard to read a paper, or interpret an analysis, or write when you feel like that might happen at any moment.
Needless to say it's even worse in the field (a lot of our work is fieldwork) but I won't go into any more detail because this is already getting long. Basically I'm trying to figure out what my options are for dealing with this, other than avoiding her as much as is practical (not really an optimal solution), making sure that I stay on top of everything she wants me to do (which helps but not as much as you might think because her micromanaging seems to be only slightly influenced by whether or not something has been discussed in the past and her decisions seem to fluctuate by the hour), and communicating with her via email as much of the time and in as much detail as possible.
I feel like the base of the problem is that she's currently just crazy stressed out and overworked and that for whatever reason she's not able to find ways of dealing with that which don't involve spreading it around to her students. She'll freely admit that she's overworked, but she's also very proud and stubborn and will never admit that she's having trouble handling it. I wish I could take some of the load off of her but I am neither her administrative assistant nor her therapist, and while I want to maintain a friendly professional relationship on a student/mentor level I do not want to be friends with her on a personal level. If there are ways you can think of to help her relax that don't involve blurring that line then I'd be happy to hear them.
Keep in mind that this is a grad student/PI situation here, which is rather different from a normal employee/employer situation. There's no HR to complain to (talking to the department chair would be ill-advised) and if my relationship with her sours then it could easily doom my entire career. Understand as well that despite the stress I think she's a good PI overall; she hasn't always been like this, and in other ways she does an excellent job. She's a good researcher, she gives constructive advice, she seems to understand her students' needs (other than the need to be left alone sometimes to get on with our work), etc. I like my PI. I just wish she could calm the heck down and let me (and the rest of her lab) get on with our work. How do I handle this?