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Is this normal in academia?? Am I missing something?

(96 Posts)
Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 12:53:58

Hi, just looking to pick some academic brains about something, I’m just a student so hope I’m not intruding here!

Basically, I’m a masters student doing a study for my dissertation that was meant to be partly questionnaire data, partly an experimental section. The experimental part uses a particular piece of equipment that Im not confident using.I emailed my supervisor today to say that I don’t feel confident using it or analysing it and would rather not include it in my study. I’m going to collect more questionnaire data and adapt the experiment so it doesn’t include this equipment.
She said this was totally fine for my study and would work well but asked me to still collect data using the equipment on a large number of participants (more than I have so far), because she needs it for a grant for a separate study. Am I missing something here about why I should do that?

SweetUU Mon 21-May-18 14:25:23

That's cheeky and unprofessional of your supervisor to get you to collect data for her own personal/professional development. Why can't she do that herself especially when you've made clear you don't feel confident in using it?

Personally if its not much effort on your part to collect it for her as a favour, I would. Otherwise, I would tell her to in a polite manner to bugger off.

Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 15:23:09

argggh how do I tell her that politely? It’s quite a big undertaking as I would have to help her collect more participants than I actually need, and also I don’t feel confident using the equipment, so have decided not to use it rather than spend hours I don’t have going through more training etc.

Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 15:23:56

Sorry posted too soon, so this would mean spending ages training on the equipments use, but getting no benefit from it as I wouldn’t use the data!

kscience Mon 21-May-18 16:37:26

Is there any way you can negotiate a way to get something useful for you out this process?

Is there no way to use the data? Can you not ensure that you get recognition on a future paper written?

I finished my MSc last year and drove 150 miles each way for training on specialist equipment, it was a HUGE learning curve and in hindsight after the training I would have done better to have changed the methodology (supervisor no knowledge of equipment just had access to it). Training obviously before data collection would have been the ideal !!
My data has been added to another study and will be put forward for publication with my name somewhere on the list - which long term will be a bonus for my career. I am free to present my own data at conferences in the mean time.
It also turns out that this piece of technology is becoming well utilised in my field of interest and I now have skills which mean that I can carry out further studies and use this effectively. I have been approached by the manufacturers to provide a case study for their website, which will also raise my profile.
Unknown to me the teaching post I applied for acquired the same technology and made me a preferential candidate.

In short yes its a cheeky ask but can you turn it into a positive? What was a pain at the time (and I considered alternatives at the time) has turned out to be a bonus.

SheepyFun Mon 21-May-18 17:33:22

It's worth checking what's normal within your field - I did a PhD which involved a lot of fieldwork; I took part in fieldwork for the data I used, but also helped with fieldwork for other experiments - this was the norm for my department. I actually enjoyed the fieldwork for one of the other experiments rather more than my own, but the data would have been a nightmare!

BlueJava Mon 21-May-18 17:44:43

I don't believe it's unusual tbh. For my final year project for my BSc Hons (Comp Science) I had to collect a ton of data, but actually post of it was used not by me in my dissertation but by my supervisor's PhD student! Could you negotiate the date for collection for data until later (as you're not using it in your study)? Alternatively could you ask if she has a student that could assist you - someone that is expert in the equipment or whatever would help you.

chavtasticfirebanger Mon 21-May-18 17:45:48

Could this data be used towards getting phd funding or a studenstship for yourself?
Are you a research assistant doing a masters or just full time student? Are you funded-does this have conditions

chavtasticfirebanger Mon 21-May-18 17:56:09

Also and i know its anonymous but never ever question an academics practice to anyone in academia in a way which questions their motives or practice-word spreads like wildfire and reputation is everything.
As an MA/PhD you are still v much a nobody. To a point you are expected to suck it up and do the donkeywork-because at one point they had to.

Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 18:11:19

I guess from my point of view Im just doing a masters, I’m a standard, taught student and don’t have any desire to go into academia in the future. I honestly don’t see any specific benefits for me, but I see pitfalls in turning her down, as presumably she will have an input into the marking of this project, I want her support, references etc etc. I really don’t get the point that I should have to do it as a kind of right of passage donkey work type thing because others had to do it when I don’t want to go into academia, but good to know it’s not unheard of behaviour I guess.
chavtastic Im not sure what you mean, are you implying that someone would be able to recognise my supervisor by my description and this could impact her reputation? That seems a stretch tbh, I haven’t given that much info, though suppose they could recognise themselves

Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 18:13:53

Sorry, I know I sound really negative and ungrateful for responses! I’m not, but I just don’t really understand this situation , surely it’s different for a PhD student who may have funding attached and is working on the PhD as their full time job?

SoFake Mon 21-May-18 18:17:00

How about arranging a meeting and explaining that it would be too much extra work for you and that you want to concentrate on your dissertation. Perhaps you could sweeten the discussion with a promise to reconsider if you find you finish your dissertation early.

chavtasticfirebanger Mon 21-May-18 18:35:21

No OP you haven't outed yourself here. I mean in the real world. The academic community is scarily small.
Bear in mind that you could still benefit from a strong reference in years to come. This is always beneficial even not instantly.
I understand about the donkeywork but it is part of the culture, and to a certain extent expected. And if you do it, you will-I'm sure of it-benefit marks wise.
Postgraduate study is totally different to undergrad in the expectations. You are expected to contribute to the academic community. This would be a contribution. Not only that, but you are stretching yourself beyond the remit of a qualification.
I did extra work for my MA because of my supervisor expecting it. At the time my stomach sunk but I have walked into every position I applied for since because of her references. Reputation is built by going above and beyond. Do it, do it well, you will benefit well into the future. Are you funding yourself? I was funded by a national body so it was even more expected. If I were you I'd still do it.

chavtasticfirebanger Mon 21-May-18 18:40:15

And although you're uncomfortable what was the reason for the two methods of data collection? Your study is built on the foundation of what you know, what you need to know and how you are going to get there. What are you going to lose out on by not using that equipment? Surely, to get the knowledge you desire, you need to overcome that in the name of creating knowledge through research-that is how researchers develop their careers. You don't just cut out something because it's difficult. Does cutting it out affect the ethics of the study? It is a big turnaround for an empirical study and could affect your findings, and subsequently the impact of your findings.
You need to talk to her about why you need to develop that side, focusing on how the first part of data collection can meet your aims. Sounds a bit like you're trying to do half a job and still get the same outcome-before you consider the grant data. Sometimes supervisors only agree to take on projects in their subject area because of that-it's a two way relationship. She is giving you her knowledge to develop your thinking, but you don't want to give anything back.

Lweji Mon 21-May-18 18:55:05

Being kind of blunt, your supervisor is already investing time on you. It will count very little to their CV, though. It's publications and grants that count, so, yes, if you're not prepared to contribute to their research outputs it would actually be unfair. They will have designed your project with those outputs in mind.
Instead of asking not to do the part with the equipment, why not ask for help with that part?

chavtasticfirebanger Mon 21-May-18 18:56:08

Usually masters programmes run modules on methods. Or external training.

Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 18:59:33

How does it appear that I’m doing half a job chav. I’ve given minimal information here, but what a nicely patronising message. To be honest while I’m generally happy to help, I don’t necessarily see it as my role to give something back? It’s a taught programme not research, and I’m paying tuition fees, and have a student loan. As I’ve said I don’t want to work in academia, I was just wondering if there was a reason why I should do this that I was missing.

Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 19:03:23

It’s a very specific piece of equipment and Im not even sure that it will work in this study, hence why i didn’t feel leaving it out was too much of a concern. Look forget I asked, I don’t really understand the mentality that I should be eternally grateful for someone deigning to supervise me, I’m trying my best here.

Lweji Mon 21-May-18 19:07:39

To be honest while I’m generally happy to help, I don’t necessarily see it as my role to give something back? It’s a taught programme not research, and I’m paying tuition fees, and have a student loan.

You're clearly missing something there.
Why do you think your project matters?
You said yourself it won't matter to your career. So, it's a topic that matters to your supervisor and you were offered it because it did. She didn't make it up for your benefit.
Why do you think you got your supervisor? I doubt your fees can cover the time she'll spend with you.

If you need a recommendation letter she'll miss out significant parts that can make you stand out from other candidates.
You don't seem keen to face new challenges, learn new skills or work as a team.
Think about it.

Ellboo Mon 21-May-18 19:08:14

Going against the grain here - if your supervisor says it isn’t necessary for your dissertation and you don’t want to do it: don’t do it. Students (especially masters students) are not a pool of unpaid labour for us. Sometimes I think I’ve been veeeery lucky in academia.
Suggestion upstream of saying politely that you’ll reassess if you finish dissertation work early is a good one. I’d also suggest having things in writing (ie an email) so expectations are clear.

chavtasticfirebanger Mon 21-May-18 19:08:16

You clearly don't understand the academic culture. I'm not going to sit and try to explain when you say I'm patronising. That kind of attitude is what I'm on about. Tell her you can't be arsed then.
I'm pure research. Probably the expectations are higher but I still expect highly from students.
Think about it like a junior doctor telling a consultant they're not going to do weekends or nights because they just want to do the day shifts. How would that go down? How do you think the future reference would reflect them?
It isn't patronising, it's the way it is. On here a PhD student got onto a study day and then was expected to disseminate that learning to the rest of the students. She said she didn't have time. Lead balloon and really rattled feathers.
You are seeing no benefit because it's not instant. Reputation is everything and will benefit you. Not doing a designed aspect of your study which has been co-designed by you and the supervisor is a big thing and threatens yours and her integrity as academics. She still has hers to think about once you've left.

chavtasticfirebanger Mon 21-May-18 19:13:02

It's not unpaid labour ellboo it's a joint project which should offer joint benefits.
If you do as ellboo says and say you might have time after the dissertation (which clearly says you're not doing it) I would be conscious of the fact this person is marking your work, particularly if you want a distinction.
That's not a threat-I've been at the receiving end of that one as a student.
It is clear you won't do it from your OP, all I have done is try and explain it from within the system. It's a very hierarchical and egocentric place to survive.

Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 19:19:24

Im not for one second suggesting that my tuition fees pay anyone’s wages Lweji, I brought them up because the fact that I have to pay them as opposed to being funded surely is a different scenario?
I “got” my supervisor because she had to take a student (as part of her job), not because my research is life changing, I never said I thought there was anything special about the research. Of course it matters to her, but I just genuinely don’t understand why that means I have to be the one to collect this specific data?

Slightlyperturbedowlagain Mon 21-May-18 19:23:10

It’s really not unusual, eg undergraduate projects can be a good source of generating big data sets by lots of different operators all repeating the same experiments. It could be to your longer-term advantage to do this as it could well give you some extra research experience to include on your CV, especially if it’s part of a big research grant-based project. We have students volunteering to work as research assistants on a small bursary on such things during the summer every year for those reasons. Very very Occasionally it might even lead to an opportunity to apply for a funded PhD under the right circumstances.
I would be inclined to say you are happy to help and politely enquire whether there might be any opportunities to be more involved in their research (ie ‘what’s in it for me?’)

Fishoutofbowl Mon 21-May-18 19:27:27

chavtastic but I don’t want to survive in academia, it’s not about not being arsed at all, I’ve decided not to use this particular bit of equipment, I don’t know why that’s being taken as if I have personally attacked this woman’s career, she initially suggested that this aspect might have to be dropped as various parts of the study make it difficult to work, and when I dropped it, she said it was fine for my study, but that I needed to collect it for her separate study. That’s something different to me deciding to drop a piece of a joint study.
It’s not the same as a junior doctor or a PhD student because this course is not my job, surely?

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