Contemplations on being someone’s boss

I went through many years as a student, graduate student, and then working in universities under department heads. Never really had someone work for me, or directly under me, until I hired two research assistants (RAs) for my research grants. I’ve learned a lot about being someone’s “boss” in the close to 2 years since I had my RAs.

I’ve learned that I am accountable for their errors. I had to apologize to a school principal for one of those errors.

I’ve learned that I have to correct them when they make errors. Sometimes this involves having difficult conversations with them. One time a young RA brought up an issue in front of a group of teachers, who were our research participants, but that issue should only be discussed among the research team and not with the teachers. So it was awkward to have to answer her question in front of the teachers. I was annoyed, so was my colleague, by this awkward situation. I was thinking of letting this indiscretion go, but my colleague insisted that I must address this matter. I’m a non-confrontational type of person and dreaded having this talk with the RA. But I did it, had the talk, pointed out her error, and she was surprisingly receptive to the mild reprimand/constructive feedback.

I’ve learned that I need to put people first, and not my research grant first. At the end of 2016 when my first RA’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, my RA was devastated and had to support her mom and family during that time. She missed several weeks of work. It wasn’t an intense time yet for the research project but I was quite worried that she would not be able to do the work, and whether I would need to let her go and find another RA. Research projects have tight deadlines and there isn’t much room for delay. But when I met with her and listened to her stories I empathized with her. So I pushed back all my grant worries, removed the “principal investigator” hat, put on my “friend” hat, and tried my best to support her then. Eventually things stabilized and she was able to get back to work.

I’ve learned to trust them and not micro-manage. Let them do their work, not check on their progress so often, and be ok if they are not in their office all the time. Both of them are dependable and do good work, so this is easy.

I will miss working with them when the research grants end this year.

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