update: my coworker feels entitled to my time, expertise, car, and house

Remember last week’s letter from the PhD student whose colleague invited herself to move in, tried to take credit for her work, and was complaining to their department head that the letter-writer wasn’t collaborating enough with her? Here’s the update.

Here’s the update. Since the semester has just started and the students are back, things moved fast!

I chickened out and refused to get involved in reporting any of this stuff to the department head, because you never know how he’s going to react to what he might see as a petty squabble.

Instead, I simply went and enrolled in a very interesting course — in another department, to promote the whole interdisciplinary collaboration thing — that’s on at the same time as her proposed class. I actually do need the credits, and it’s in a different department, to give opportunities for that all-important cross-discipline collaboration they need. I was never actually directly asked by the department head to teach this class — it was more of a passive-aggressive set of department-wide emails with people going “it would be nice if one of the grad students with the right qualifications would step up to help teach this!” — “sure would, how about [me]” — “great idea!” and so on. So I finally sent an email back saying “thanks for thinking of me, but I have a conflict. I’d actually already told Jane that I couldn’t co-teach this time when she first approached me. I’m sorry you weren’t aware that wasn’t an option.”

Meanwhile, I still go out for coffee with her once in a while and let her vent. She’s not as all-bad as the comments were making her out to be, just utterly self-centred sometimes. When people complain to me, I tend to give them attempts at solutions, not a “yeah, that sucks” — so I must have inadvertently trained her to go to me for solutions. (I don’t see the value in just venting myself, and would prefer concrete suggestions on how to solve the problem, but it seems to work for some people!)

However, the advice from your commenters made me realize a few things about the wider dynamics at play here. Our department is a mess, and my advisor is absent. So I have very little guidance on my long-term goal of actually writing a dissertation. Additionally, I’m fairly sure I have ADHD (based on a number of self tests, etc.) and while a formal diagnosis isn’t a possibility right now, I’ve been reading up on how that might impact my work. I’m good at public speaking and enjoy it, and I thrive on high-adrenaline, short-deadline emergencies, so of *course* I’ve been saying yes to a lot of things across the department because they give me more or less instant gratification. And that has lead to a lot of people assuming I’m up for anything and putting me on the schedule for events without asking, because I do well with them and tend to find a way to make it happen. I had already talked to the department head about simply cutting my PhD work to 80% and hiring me at 20% for outreach and dissemination, but they said that wasn’t on the cards right now and “everybody has to do their share.”

I totted up the number of hours I’ve been spending on things that aren’t my own research to show I’m already doing a lot more than my fair share, then sat down and had a serious conversation with the main offenders — the department head, his assistant, our PR person, and a few others — about how this was impacting my potential to actually graduate on time, and how it also means that my co-PhDs aren’t getting an equal share of opportunities to be in the limelight and build their own networks. They hadn’t realized how all the little favors were adding up and have promised to only ask me to jump in for true VIPs, and to acknowledge how the things I’m doing in my own established network, including publishing papers, organizing conferences, and joining the steering committee of a professional organization in my specific field, are probably doing more to promote the department than writing blog posts about our open lab day.

I can’t say it’s a success yet, but it’s definitely looking more positive and I dodged the co-teaching bullet!

Thanks to you and your readers for the advice!

{ 147 comments… read them below }

  1. Lady Jay*

    What a great update!

    Since you mentioned you like concrete recommendations, I’m going to toss a book rec at you, from one PhD student to another: Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day . I read it this summer, though I’m a year or two off from the diss stage, and appreciate its practical, hands-on advice about getting the diss done on time. I especially recommend it to you because there’s good advice in there about dealing with absent advisors. I’ll put a link in the reply to my comment.

      1. PB*

        Yes, I have this on my shelf right now! It’s very useful. I especially enjoy his tips for scheduling writing/research time (You’ll never “find time;” you have to make it) and list of potential procrastination strategies to avoid (“I just can’t write until I get a better chair!!!”).

    1. Eukomos*

      I also want to add Peg Single’s “Demystifying Dissertation Writing,” it pretty much single-handedly saved my dissertation and I wish I’d read it much earlier.

    2. ranger danger*

      I’ll add a great ADHD resource that helped when I got a diagnosis in grad school: ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (Nadeau is one of the authors). So helpful!

    3. niffin*

      Seconding these book recommendations — and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” Although intended for fiction writing, it helped me so much in breaking down a huge project into small manageable chunks.

    4. DoomCarrot*

      Thanks for the suggestions! I’m already working with one of Paul Silva’s, but hadn’t heard of the others.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        One other recommendation. My spouse and a few others who have been successful at PhDs in the humanities and social sciences got advice to treat the dissertation as a series of articles rather than a book. The chapters all hang together somewhat, but don’t pressure yourself to have a clear narrative down. Expect to turn a couple chapters into articles and keep another couple as new content for your book later – but the book proposal and writing come after the dissertation for a reason. You know how to write an article – do that a few times and get the sign off on the dissertation (all of this is with the huge caveat that your committee will be OK with this approach).

  2. Kathryn T.*

    This: “how it also means that my co-PhDs aren’t getting an equal share of opportunities to be in the limelight and build their own networks” is an incredibly insightful, valuable, and effective way of making this point. Well done.

    1. Ginger*

      MIC DROP moment right there because they, of course, couldn’t argue with that or say no, the other students shouldn’t have the same opportunities. Genius.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This was also my favorite part of the update, it was a really smart way to help the department head realize that always going straight to OP means that others aren’t getting the experiences that they need to be successful.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yes! And what they were doing leading up to it is one of my big peeves, which is people sitting there saying “We’ll have Kelly do xyz,” “yes, let’s have her do it” right in front of me. Like I’m a kitchen appliance or something. I’m right here, ask me! Even if it’s not really a choice and you’re just telling me, don’t do it in the third person!

      2. Ama*

        As someone who has been working with academics for more than a decade now (and often have to politely decline or reject their suggestions) this is high-level academic diplomacy at its finest. OP, you will go very far with those kinds of skills.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Seriously a ninja move for academic diplomacy. I’m fully planning to steal it and use it.

    3. Boba Feta*

      That’s about when I did my very dignified Muppet Flail of Joy whilst reading this update, although I was already in Muppet Mode (TM) from the headline.


    4. DoomCarrot*

      Oooh, a muppet flail, I am honoured!

      Thank you, I was particularly proud of that one. I’ve mentioned I’m a “fixer” – I recently helped an artist friend turn down a project for a mutual friend who wanted him to do it “for the exposure” and to help the community. I suggested he recommend a his student, who was actually keen to give it a try, saying that he was already quite well-known but he’d love to let this young guy have the exposure, and they’d be helping someone from the community in return. They couldn’t very well say “no, we actually want the famous person, we just don’t want to pay for it”.

      Then I thought….what if I try that approach on myself? They can’t keep talking up the benefits and then pretend it’s a chore they couldn’t impose on anyone else.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        Oh ,wow. Seriously. You should do a blog or write a book or something on these examples… There’s lots of people there who can sense the injustice in such statements but struggle to put it into words, but you manage to twist them into perfect diplomatic suggestions.

        I’m sure lots of the readers here would love to learn from your skills.

      2. Paulina*

        Yes, this was a brilliant move, as was the scheduling conflict. I’m a little regretful that I didn’t suggest the latter myself, I’ve used it for events but didn’t consider it for an entire course! Both types of issues (the passive-aggressive approaches and going to the same person too much while others do so much less) are endemic to academia, so you’ve got some great problem-solving and coping skills there, as well as excellent lateral thinking. Boo to them for trotting out “everyone has to do their share” as a lever on someone who was already doing so much, cheers to you for how well you handled it.

        Awesome update!

  3. Emilitron*

    Wow! I am really impressed at how you laid it all out for the department how much you were doing to help them out. Seeing how employee-mindset can be applied in the weird academic student+reseracher+assistant+employee context so effectively, that makes me wish I had been reading blogs like this when I was in grad school.

  4. Gladiolus*

    Wow! What a great update. Yes, being helpful and filling in at the last minute are both intrinsically rewarding. Even for people without ADHD. And a great way to procrastinate on one’s own goals while feeling accomplished (not saying you were procrastinating, but I see it in myself).

  5. Mama Bear*

    That’s a great update. I especially like how you took stock of what you are actually doing and laid it out for the people who were making demands of your time in a way that both highlighted your work and nudged them toward spreading the wealth. Hopefully that is a win all around.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      This. Many times women don’t get credit for their work because “of course” it is expected of them.
      Laying down the actual number of hours worked on each project shows the actual contribution so you get credit for it. It also exposes the lack of work in others.
      Good job.

      1. Laurelma01*

        Really like the way you handled this. Many times in academia you’ll have someone that does so much, that others get lazy and do not put forth the effort. But it does limit their networking, and ability to connect with others. My former department chair was forced to step down a few months back. Thank goodness. But she was an information hoarder, and didn’t like how anyone did anything, our faculty got to the point of not doing as much as they should. Now there is this big hole in academic advising and program support that wasn’t asked of them in the past that they are having to fill now. It’s causing a bit of resentment, some are at a loss of how to get started in a few areas; and as a whole the department looks bad because of the lack of service our department has supplied. But she controlled what information was shared, the financial resources for recruitment, which she refused to coordinate with recruitment efforts. They were not going travel for recruitment if the department chair wasn’t going pay for the lodging. She wanted to spend the funds on her own travel. It’ll take awhile for them to adjust to the mindset of we can do this, and it’s supported, I can stick my head out without it being chopped off.

  6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Oh yeah, I can imagine (from experience) once you got down to the issue that affects the department, specifically, delaying your graduation/finishing your degree ears perked up. Grad students are given teaching opportunities, stipends and dissuaded if not out rightly forbidden from taking outside jobs so they can focus on the program, get in and get out. Every semester you stay limits resources for bringing in new students. So yes, once you set the cold hard data in front of them they realized that it was not cost-effective for the program to have one student doing so much admin/adjunct professor work.

    1. nonymous*

      I’ve seen it go the other way, where there was no funding for a staff position, so the PTB encouraged a lingering PhD student to do that work.

      In my grad school, students on assistantships were coded with full time status as long as they were signed up for 1 credit. So the cost of having an ABD is often cheaper than hiring a postdoc, because the salary doesn’t include any employer taxes or benefits.

      1. Else*

        I know someone who took SEVERAL years past when she should have been done largely because of this. There was a lot of turnover in her dept, and two people on her committee left, but they also were getting a whole lot of work out of her.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          I know several people who have done this and they are always, always caught off-guard when upper admin sends them the icily polite, “you need to finish NOW” letter. The joys of an overly large institution with department chairs who are lax about time to completion/enforcing policy…

  7. AdAgencyChick*

    Good job documenting, OP! I’m not in academia, but it’s tried-and-true in industry that sometimes the only way to get people to quit asking you for favors is a well-executed set of statistics showing exactly how much those one-offs add up to.

  8. Elbe*

    “I can’t say it’s a success yet…”

    I think you can! Getting the department head to recognize the work you’ve been doing and agree to scale back is HUGE. And it’s great that you were able to do it while also helping your co-PhDs who may not be getting as much attention.

    Excellent update! I’m glad things are working out so well.

    1. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      +1! You came up with a few creative, effective solutions. Thanks for updating us LW!

  9. Three Flowers*

    Awesome work! As a fellow PhD sufferer—I mean student—I just want to give you a shoutout because it is so.hard. to draw boundaries in a pathological work/life environment like academia. To sit down with multiple people, including your chair (!), and advocate for yourself is pretty heroic.

    And keep drawing those lines with your fellow student…I didn’t respond to that story because it gave me such rage. We have a couple of those in my program and if you give ‘me an inch, they take an ell.

  10. OrigCassandra*

    OP, you utterly rocked this. I hope the course you signed up for is great, and I wish you all the best completing your program.

  11. RainbowBrite*

    We’re polar opposites about the venting thing lol. Venting is so helpful to me in my work life. It’s not always about something that requires problem solving or something anything can be done about, but I feel better after getting my frustrations/anxieties out and can tackle it with a clearer head once I get my feelings out. It actually stresses me out when people try to problem solve a thing I’m not requesting any help on. “Yeah, that sucks” is exactly what I need to hear sometimes.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m the exact same. I think it’s because I tend to be non-confrontational, and I don’t like to show anger/frustration around people (save for family, and even then it’s select!) so I need a sounding board just to let it all out in a healthy manner. I don’t need a solution, I just need someone to listen.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I often think that venting is useful up to a certain point – so a friend of mine and I used to have a rule that we could vent about anything, but if we started hearing the other person vent about the same issue 3-5 times it was time to start brainstorming solutions. That’s when we decided it moved from just a one-off frustration to an actual problem, and we don’t need more problems in our lives.

        1. New Normal*

          That’s a good rule! I come from a family of chronic complainers who can nurse any issue into months of grumbling so I tend to be the opposite and wind up keeping too much in. Your way seems to be a great middle ground.

    2. Gymmie*

      I just wrote about this below. I completely agree. I felt dismissed when people start offering me advice. I’m not looking for solutions, I want someone to understand what I’m going through.

    3. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, sometimes I do want a real solution, but most of the time I just want to get it out, get a little sympathy, and let it go. OP, don’t be surprised if your concrete suggestions aren’t always followed up on.

    4. Robbenmel*

      I am so much like OP in this way. I am THE FIXER! When somebody tells me about a problem, I want to fix it (first choice) or tell them what they need to do to fix it themselves (second choice.) I recognize that this is 1) not attainable for the most part, 2) not healthy even if it were doable, and 3) crazy-making for all parties concerned. I am working on it, but them’s me feelings.

      1. Nessun*

        I’m a Fixer too, and it’s a really hard thing to un-learn. I’ve gotten better at not offering solutions unless they’re asked for, but I do tend to leave chats going “..but why not do…?!” a lot of the time. I tell myself as long as I respect people and don’t act/say that, (other than later to myself in private) I’m satisfying my urge to fix and not crossing boundaries.

      2. Picard*

        Ditto on the FIXER thing. I’m horrible at jumping in with possible solutions when all the person talking to me wants is a listening ear. Its’ a personal problem – I’m working on it!

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        It can be tricky telling whether the person is asking for help or just venting. I was totally the fix-it guy when I was younger. It took me a long time, and a couple of dope-slaps from friends, for me to figure this out. Now I tend to swing too far the other way: “I’m so sorry your car battery is dead. Let me refill your coffee…”

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Same here: If I want advice, I’ll ask for it. I actually have one friend with whom I don’t share problems any more because her immediate response is to brainstorm all the ways I could fix it, and it makes me feel like she’s not really listening; that it’s more important for her to show that she can take charge and handle this when I couldn’t (even if I can, but I just haven’t worked through it yet).

      1. olive juice*

        I can be that friend sometimes, honestly — not to show off, but because my brain starts problem solving, and I want to help! For me, all it takes to redirect is to be made aware that someone just wants me to listen, and then I do that. It seems unfair to give up on your friends being able to give you something if you haven’t even asked for it directly.

        1. Becky*

          Yup–this is a conversation a friend had with me! When I immediately go into fixing mode it was making her feel like her frustrations weren’t valid because there’s this solution right there. She’s had to tell me a few times “you’re doing it again”

      2. emmelemm*

        That’s a very good point – for some people (you and me), someone giving me a bunch of advice sometimes makes me feel like they’re pointing out what an idiot I am for not solving this, it’s so simple!

      3. Lynn Whitehat*

        My church has small groups that meet regularly. One of the rules of the group is “no giving advice unless asked”. When I heard that, I knew I had found my home.

    6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I am married to a fixer, so I totally understand the mentality. What helped the two of us was me telling him (and this was something he knew, but the conversation helped him internalize even more) that I am a verbal problem solver. It may sound like I am doing nothing more than venting but I am actually working through logic trees out loud. Sometimes his jumping in made it impossible for me to solve the problem on my own, what I really needed was for him to let me use him as a sounding board. In the end we worked out a signal, so he knows when I need help and when he can help be best by acting as a sounding board.

      1. Boba Feta*

        This sounds like my other and me. I need to “talk out loud” to work through my own thoughts; he does all his mental “math” silently in his head at lightening speed, and only speaks the final conclusion/ result/ answer. It can be maddening when we speak past each other because I just need to work out the kinks and he’s trying to quick-cut to the end and solve a problem I don’t even have yet, as well as when he just wants to share a conclusion of his own but I need him to tediously spell out all his process steps that lead him there so I can comprehend the significance of his point.

        We haven’t established a signal yet as you did – I’m going to raise that idea tonight and see where it leads us! Thanks.

    7. Miss Bee*

      Yeah when I need to vent it’s probably because I know the solution but it’s unpleasant.

      When I’m stress-amped my brain can take someone suggesting what I already know is the solution, and twist it to “this person thinks I’m too stupid to see the obvious solution.” I don’t hold it against other people because I know they mean it kindly, but it does mean I just don’t vent to certain people.

    8. Anon Librarian*

      I’m somewhere in the middle. I like to vent for its own sake, and I like for the other person to give their own take on it or tell me about their own experiences – but without going so far as to advise me in a telling-you-what-to-do sense. Like a productive kind of commiseration. The kind where you can think of solutions together, encourage each other, and laugh about it.

    9. Jaydee*

      I’m the same, and for me it’s probably an anxiety thing. Sometimes it just helps to say the thoughts out loud and have someone else either validate my frustrations or not be completely horrified by whatever I’m thinking about. Like, I realize that many people actually come to me for advice and I often have good, well-reasoned advice to give. But I don’t *feel* that way in my own life. I feel like I’m very poorly calibrated to what is a reasonable response to a situation, so I need other people to help me gauge that.

    10. MsSolo*

      I’m a fixer, and I have friends who are venters, and I try and be respectful of that. I understand that fixing can cross a line into dismissing the emotional issues, or assuming they haven’t thought of the obvious solutions, and it is import to wait to be asked for advice. I try and avoid venting personally, because I know I can get stuck in negative thought cycles if I don’t remain solution orientated, and because I have my own issues (related to the behaviour of specific people around me) with being offered sympathy – after a certain point it gets a bit “thoughts and prayers” and the recipient has made themself feel better without giving me any tools to actually change the situation I’m in, so they get to move forward and I don’t.

      I do get frustrated with the dynamic where more emphasis is placed on respecting the venter’s communication style over the fixer’s, because the assumption is the fixer’s style is more damaging to the venter than the venter’s is to the fixer, which I’m not sure is true. The emotional and mental impact of having to absorb a long venting session without being able to do anything to move it forwards or reduce the impact of it can be lasting, especially if it’s a recurring issue. It’s very easy to get stuck in negative thought patterns, and it’s especially frustrating if the venter actually is taking actions to change things, but isn’t sharing that (and I know the reasoning behind that is usually because once you offer one solution to a fixer, you’ve given the green flag for them to come in with their own, and if that’s not the conversation you want to have it’s safer to dodge altogether) because as the receiver who’s actively going against their communication style there’s nothing you can do to make yourself feel better about the situation after the vent is over.

      I’ve just been looking at NotAlwaysRight, and I think some of my frustration with this comes from customer service, where someone will lay in to you about something outside your control (or their own fault), and tell you “I know you can’t do anything about it, I’m just venting”, and then keep raising your stress level until they feel better and leave, and you have to get on with your job while mentally screaming “if you don’t live locally you don’t get the locals’ price”. If you have a problem that can be fixed, ask me to fix it. If you have a problem you know can’t be fixed, save your vent for someone who has the power to tell you you’re being an idiot.

      1. aebhel*

        Oh, god, yeah, that customer service thing. I’ve noticed that the longer I spend in a customer-facing job (I’m a librarian, but I still need to deal with the public) the less patience I have for ‘I just want to rant at you, I don’t want your input.’ I’m willing to nod and make sympathetic noises up to a point, but only up to a point.

        Basically, rubber duck debugging is great, but it’s just as obnoxious to treat someone as a rubber duck without asking as it is to continually try to jump in and solve someone’s problems without asking.

    11. Sandan Librarian*

      One of the things I’ve found works well for me when I need to vent is to preface my venting with “I’m not looking for a solution right now, I’m just venting. I really just want to hear ‘[it’ll be okay/wow, that sucks/you are still a good person].'” Giving the other person a heads-up about what you expect from them really seems to cut down on their frustration when I instinctively nix proposed solutions because I’m still in the talking through (venting) phase of problem solving.

  12. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    Manufacturing a fun preexisting scheduling conflict is not chicken! It’s Machiavellian, and I highly approve.

    1. Boba Feta*

      Indeed. I caught myself subconsciously rubbing my fingertips together like Mr. Burns at that bit.

      Eeeeexcellent move, OP. seriously.

    2. Quill*

      “I’m so sorry, I can’t go to great uncle Longwinded’s birthday party, I already scheduled a volunteering event!”

    3. KWu*

      I also thought that that was an especially brilliant solution, particularly with the chosen course addressing the “feedback” about collaboration with other departments. Nice job, OP!

  13. What day is today?*

    Years ago I taught middle school and had my fair share of kids with ADHD. I also have a fair share of that running in my family. Parents would tear their hair out over their kid who jumped up in class to make pronouncements, couldn’t pay attention due to interesting smell outside the classroom/interesting exposed skin of opposite sex classmate/funny thought incited by something we were reading/need to go grubbing around the floor in search of lost penny, etc. I generally told the parents, “Yes, it’s a pain now, but in the long run there are advantages to ADHD. This is the kid who will be enthusiastically organizing everyone else, the one who will keep on working like the Energizer Bunny because they just don’t get tired as soon as everyone else, the one who will be able and willing to do the unexpected job right now.” You, PhD Student, are that kid in grown up form. It has it’s advantages. True, there are some downsides, but also upsides. Embrace it.

    1. SomebodyElse*


      It’s a bit off topic, but relevant all at the same time. I’m honestly a little tired of the ADHD OMG I’m broken talk that is common.

      Embrace it and find a way for it to work for you. Hell, I built my career off of my mad crazy ADHD skills. Every organization needs a person or two that can be thrown into the fires and thrive in it. The key is to find an environment where this will work for you instead of against you. I will never work in government or highly bureaucratic/regulated environments nor will I ever work in a position that requires rote tasks, quite frankly I suck at them. Give me chaos and cowboys any day and I’m effective and happy as a clam. Most people would be miserable in my jobs because there is no planning and there is very little downtime and that’s ok too.

      I missed the first letter, but I think the OP handled this beautifully .

      1. Alanna of Trebond*

        Same, same, same. I don’t want to sugarcoat it — my ADHD, especially when it was undiagnosed, made my life so much more difficult. But being diagnosed was actually a revelation to me; it meant that I was NOT more broken, flawed, unreliable, irresponsible, etc., than anyone else. My ADHD is also tied into so many things I like about myself — my generosity, my creativity, my ability to totally get lost in something I’m interested in, the fact that I’m great in fast-paced, deadline-driven situations.

        The OP didn’t say why a diagnosis wasn’t a possibility for them right now. OP, if it is at all possible, I really encourage you to seek a diagnosis — through your student health center, through a primary care doctor, a sliding scale therapist, whatever you can do. I was in the “pretty sure I have it but not diagnosed” gray zone for years; I was worried about being dismissed as a drug-seeker, or told that I didn’t have it after all; I thought I didn’t want to be medicated, so why would I go to all the trouble of getting diagnosed, since it wouldn’t change anything? I was diagnosed only after going to therapy for unrelated reasons (my therapist figured it out, no kidding, in two sessions, without me ever bringing it up). It turns out that the external validation of a diagnosis was incredibly valuable in and of itself. And medication — which I thought I was not interested in but ended up starting a few months later — changed my life, no kidding.

        1. DoomCarrot*

          Hi, OP here – I’m not in the US, so the cost isn’t an issue (hooray socialised health care!) but there’s a much higher stigma around it here – the university pyschologist actually recommended that I *don’t* pursue it because the label would be a problem!

          1. MsSolo*

            I don’t know where you are, but to chime in because I looked into it in the UK, and locally it’s a two year waiting list to start diagnosis, and you need to be able to provide evidence that you’ve had it since childhood in the form of school reports, someone who knew you as a child, and so on. If you managed to find work arounds in childhood it’s very hard to get a diagnosis as an adult.

    2. Lindsay*

      Just want to say, as someone with ADD, this is absolutely not true of everyone. There are several subtypes to ADD & ADHD, and these “advantages” you’re promising these parents are not universal. None of that would describe me even slightly.

      1. techRando*

        “This is the kid who will be enthusiastically organizing everyone else” made me LOL.

        I have ADHD combined type– I promise, my executive functioning issues make me SIGNIFICANTLY LESS productive than I would be without ADHD. And my “hyperactivity” has literally never been helpful. It doesn’t translate to doing useful things- it only translates to running around the house or climbing stuff or just feeling restless and awful because I couldn’t go do those things.

        My hyperfocus has been useful sometimes (thankfully I can trigger it while doing some useful things), and my thinking patterns seem to serve me well as a software engineer, but the same isn’t true of everyone with ADHD. And, even with meds, I suffer consequences of my ADHD.

        I think it’s really not good to talk about ADHD as always being a future strength. It’s often not. Some people feel the pros/cons of their ADHD add up to a net gain and some feel it adds up to a net loss. Personally, I know far more people who think theirs comes to a net loss for them.

        1. Lindsay*

          Yeah, my behavior in childhood matched what the parent comment listed, but as an adult, I struggle to concentrate, am extremely disorganized, and literally cannot read if someone is talking somewhere near me because my brain prioritizes audio over visual. Medication has helped, but this is not some latent superpower, and I would say I am actually less energetic than non-ADD people, because common stimulants don’t work on my brain in the same way.

        2. Marissa*

          > Some people feel the pros/cons of their ADHD add up to a net gain and some feel it adds up to a net loss.

          Just to add another data point, I don’t really see my ADHD as a gain OR a loss. It’s just…a thing about me. Like, ok, it’s hard to start tasks and once I start working on something I tend to keep going until it’s finished and have extreme difficulty interrupting myself to eat food and drink water and take bathroom breaks. That might sound miserable to neurotypical people, but it’s how my brain works, and it just means I have to use different strategies to keep myself productive than the ones you’d use if “keep working” is the hard part for you. Finding it difficult to get into a state of flow when I work sounds just as miserable to me as the way I function does to you. It’s not good or bad, it’s just different.

      2. Veronica Mars*

        Yeah, I was coming here to say the same thing. While I do find there are things about my ADHD that are good – I am an incredible researcher because I can hyperfocus on the problem of finding that piece of info, and my brain’s inability to filter information means I have all sorts of stuff up there that is surprisingly useful, and because my brain is always pinging off in different directions I tend to approach things differently than my peers and I find really creative solutions to problems (that’s part coping mechanism because ADHD also gets you into jams you need to figure out how to get out of) – but I absolutely am not one for organizing people, I do not have more energy than anyone else (in fact, trying to function as an adult with ADHD is effing exhausting so I might have less!), though the last one can be me sometimes.
        I think What Day Is Today is right to point out that as frustrating as ADHD can be, it’s not all bad. There are things about it that are positive, but the key to success as an ADHD person is to lean into it, and not to fight it. You need to develop excellent coping skills, but you also need to understand what your limitations and strengths are. Because your brain doesn’t work like other people’s and trying to act like it does is a recipe for failure. And it’s going to vary by each person. So I would not promise that their kid is going to turn out just fine, because not all of us do, and certainly not in the same ways.

        1. Lindsay*

          I don’t disagree that some people find positives in their personal experience of ADD/ADHD. But, yes, I wanted to point out the variety of experiences possible since mine did not match what was described. ADD/ADHD can also change presentation as you age (it did for me), and is greatly affected by hormones and co-morbid disorders and mental illness. Most early ADD/ADHD research was done on cisgender boys and men, and a lot of assumptions/stereotypes are based on how the disorder presents in them, over cisgender women or trans men and women.

        2. LJay*

          100% on the leaning into what you’re good at.

          In my current job, my ADHD is a strength mostly, because there is a lot of putting out fires and tackling new, novel problems, and figuring things out in a way that is fun to me and works with engaging my ability to hyper-focus and get a task done. It’s also a lot of big picture stuff, rather than small detailed work.

          In my previous job, my ADHD was so much of a weakness that if I had remained unmedicated I am pretty sure I would have been fired if someone had found out how behind I was. It was all data entry, sitting at a desk, the same boring stuff every day, and nothing to engage my mind. And so I procrastinated and surfed the internet most of the day, got done what I needed to get done to the deadline, and let the rest sit.

          (Even slow times at my current job I have the tendency to do that instead of tackling long-term projects.)

      3. Zillah*

        As someone who also has ADHD (combined type), I agree with you. It’s not that there aren’t advantages – there absolutely can be! – but too much focus on “look on the bright side” can minimize the ways ADHD can negatively impact daily functioning… and it can also obfuscate how much guidance, trial-and-error, or both are required to learn how to optimize those positives. They don’t generally just arise naturally, and it’s really important to acknowledge that it can take a lot of work to figure it out.

        1. Lindsay*

          Yes, thank you. I tend to hyper-fixate and research a topic for a week or two solid, and I’ll retain a bunch of random facts/details/trivia which other people find entertaining… but those two weeks I was supposed to be working on something else more important. My life has certainly gotten easier with medication, but I still struggle (and deal with surprise/disbelief from others because I don’t “act” like their expectations of a person with ADD).

          1. Marissa*

            It’s like having curly hair. High potential for amazingness, but also finicky, takes a lot of effort to figure out, often unpredictable, and absolute garbage results if you try to manage it with “normal” strategies.

        2. LJay*

          This. And especially because people tend to minimize ADHD (especially ADHD in women) so much to begin with.

          The number of times my parents or teachers told me that I was smart and needed to figure it out and do better, when being smart had nothing to do with it, showed me that a lot of people think that you can just think your way out of being disordered.

          And I get by pretty damn well unmedicated. But it’s not done by overcoming the ADHD by sheer force of will. It’s done by pretty much hacking my brain and making it so I can’t fail in that way. (If I always put my keys on the same hook when I get home, I can never lose them by putting them in the refrigerator.
          If I have my notes synched across all my electronic devices I can’t leave my notes at home.) And it took a lot of trial and error like you said. And it’s exhausting.

          And I also kind of hate the phrasing that it’s an advantage and makes me a super hero of some kind. Because that’s cheesy. And because it’s not true.

          For as much as it makes me a better worker in some situations, it makes me mentally exhausted half the time because it takes so much mental effort not to go out and impulsively spend my whole paycheck because I’m fixated on the small crack in the screen or to hold onto and organize my receipts for reimbursement. If I didn’t have to spend that mental energy on those things I’d probably have a lot more for doing other things.

      4. Pomona Sprout*

        “This is the kid who will be enthusiastically organizing everyone else, the one who will keep on working like the Energizer Bunny because they just don’t get tired as soon as everyone else, the one who will be able and willing to do the unexpected job right now.”

        Yeah, when I read the above, I had to fight the urge to post something snarky! My adult daughter has ADHD, as do I, and I can truthfully say it’s never been any kind of an advantage for either of us, and being told it is just… rubs me the wrong way. I know you’re reying to be helpful telling parents that stuff, but none of it is universally true, and most of it is only true for certain select individuals.

        A+ for intentions, C- for accuracy.

  14. Gymmie*

    Not sure if this is helpful, but you are the complete opposite of me about venting and solutions! I really don’t want people to solve my problems, and it comes across as not empathetic to me. I love it when people can just say “im so sorry, that sucks and I understand why you are upset, can we hang out until you feel better”. If I ASK for advice, it is fine. I’ve actually trained myself to respond this way after a long time in therapy. So, I will keep what you said in mind that not everyone would respond in this way.

    1. Anonym*

      Seconding. This book was a revelation for me. It was the path to untangling the emotional impact of growing up with ADHD, and the introduction to a whole new, better toolset for living and working more effectively and happily. And, like the OP, I’m a habitual volunteer, which I didn’t have to give up! Though I check the impulse to say yes immediately more often nowadays. :)

      18 months out from receiving that book rec from therapist, and I literally 10 mins ago told my boss that I’m almost at inbox zero (?!?!??!!?!!). What even…

  15. Dust Bunny*

    That sounds like a massive step in the right direction, though. Wow. I hope things take a turn for the better for you!

  16. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    “Everybody has to do their share”, spoken with the assumption that you haven’t.

    Perhaps the department head is self-centered as well…

  17. Samwise*

    Re venting: You can just say something like, “you know me, I’m all about solutions! Do you want me to help problem-solve, or do you need me to listen?” I say exactly this to friends/coworkers/family.

    And sometimes I need to vent and don’t want anyone to help me fix the problem. I’ve learned to say to coworkers/friends/spouse, “This thing is driving me crazy and I just need you to listen to me throw a tantrum and then make soothing noises.”

  18. MCMonkeyBean*

    This sounds really well handled! I love the email you sent about your conflict and how you had already told her you wouldn’t be available for it.

  19. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    I have ADHD and your comment about saying yes to things for the immediate gratification certainly resonates. It also comes from a need for lots of variety, and unfortunately, poor impulse control (saying yes instead of I’ll think about it and get back to you) as well as a lot of optimism about how long things really take. In my case anyway. I had to work hard to train myself out of that behaviour.

    1. olive juice*

      Big same. I was also struck by the comment that the OP thrives on that sort of thing– I thought I did too, but it turned out I got burned out and depleted by it, and it was just the only way I could get things done, not the best one. (Though OP sounds way more together than I ever was before getting a diagnosis…)

      1. Allypopx*

        “I thought I did too, but it turned out I got burned out and depleted by it, and it was just the only way I could get things done, not the best one.”

        Hard same. Still working on that.

      2. emmelemm*

        Yeah, with me it’s also dwindling down to “the only way I can get things done”. But if you require a huge shot of adrenaline just to get down to business, adrenaline will burn you out fast.

    2. Rock Prof*

      I also really resonated with, “I thrive on high-adrenaline, short-deadline emergencies.” That’s definitely one of the reasons my PhD took 7 years to get (others include being straight out of undergrad, changing fields, and not having an advisor my first 1 year in grad school). What helped me to train myself out of some of those behaviors you mention was when a lot of aspects of my life fell apart, and others came close to falling apart, during my post-doc. It was a huge learning experience, though not one I recommend. Now I’m so much better at saying I’ll think about it when I actually do need to think about adding something to my plate.

    3. Alanna of Trebond*

      ADHD here too, and same. You’ve really teased out the factors that contribute to this for me.

      Some things that worked for me:

      1) Never say “yes” in the moment. Say “Let me think about this / check my calendar / play Tetris with my to-do list / check with my partner,” whatever makes sense in the moment as a way to delay. Tell them you will get back to them in no less than 24 hours.

      2) Then actually think about it. Visualize, as specifically as you can, what your work/life would be like when you’re doing the thing. How would you fit that task or meeting into the day you are having right now? If it’s a weekend plan, imagine how you will feel getting home from work on Friday?

      3) Bounce it off someone else. My boss is excellent at telling me to say no to stuff. So is my partner. Sometimes I get huffy — they just don’t UNDERSTAND, I CAN do it all, I WANT to do it all, I’m actually BETTER if I do more things. Spoiler: they are usually right.

      4) Ask yourself “If I had to do this tomorrow, would I still say yes?” (Good for commitments weeks in advance and the idea that at some nebulous future point you will be different/better than you are now.)

      5) Think about how long you think it will take, how annoying it will be, etc. Multiply that by two. Do you still want to do it?

      And, honestly, (6) Medication. My doctor described ADHD meds as buying you a split-second pause between thinking and acting that other people already have. I have found this to be true — I still default to my habit of saying yes, but it makes it easier for me to remember to do these things in the moment, rather than beating myself up after the fact.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          Yup. If I forget to take my meds before work, I’ll realise around 11am that I haven’t done any real work. And that I’ve eaten everything in my lunch box.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      > as well as a lot of optimism about how long things really take

      This. In my case, I’m reasonably accurate in how long things will take (although I default to assuming the short end of the range), but I forget that I can only do ONE thing during that time. Best example was when I had an unexpected free afternoon and evening (completely empty house until tomorrow!) and I came up with a list of interesting things to do. I could have done any of them, and maybe any two, but certainly not the whole list of 5 or 6. That was sort of an eye-opener.

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        Yup. Same here.
        I may look calm on the surface, but I’m paddling super-duper fast underneath.

  20. Mother of Cats*

    The original letter seemed to be more focused on the OP’s classmate. It’s so nice to see that the solutions the OP found went beyond the initially identified problem and will actually increase the quality of their experience in their program (and potentially their classmates’ experiences too) and the likelihood that the PhD will be completed on time. Congratulations on finding effective solutions to the larger issues!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      When I read the original post I thought that there was a connecting theme, but it was just hiding behind all the noise that the co-worker was throwing up. It sounds like maybe putting it all down in writing helped the OP figure out the best way to start fixing things so she could focus more on her PhD.

  21. Arts Akimbo*

    Wow LW, you are a rockstar, and you handled this in a true rockstar fashion!! I wish you all the successes going forward!

  22. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Excellent work! I’m glad to see a happy update.

    Re: making sure your work gets visibility, have you considered joining Twitter with a professional account? My husband’s coworkers encouraged him to do it when he started as a first year professor. He was skeptical, but he loves it because it’s a great way to hear what publications/events other people in the field are doing, and it’s a great way to advertise what he and his students/postdocs are doing so they have visibility when they’re applying to grad programs/postdocs/professor positions themselves.

  23. Allypopx*

    My ADHD definitely manifests as taking on way too many projects and eventually realizing “whoaa this is quite a situation I’ve set myself up for” (hellooo full time work and full time grad school) so I FEEL YOU. Great self-reflection and it sounds like you’re handling everything very gracefully.

  24. RUKiddingMe*

    “I’d actually already told Jane that I couldn’t co-teach this time when she first approached me. I’m sorry you weren’t aware that wasn’t an option.”

    This…I love!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        It could also have been that Jane thought that OP’s “no” could be bent under pressure from above. If OP had changed in the past because of something the Dept Head did, maybe she was just repeating something that had produced results in the past. Either way that email returned “awkward to sender” which is where it belonged.

  25. CupcakeCounter*

    I adore malicious compliance! Absolutely brilliant move in signing up for a class that meets your educational needs, creates a conflict with Jane’s proposed class, AND proves your commitment to cross-discipline collaboration. Win for you!

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      for the record malicious compliance in this context is more along the reddit definition not with intent to harm

  26. Amethystmoon*

    Venting can be great for stress relief. However, I’m generally careful to vent either anonymously or on paper instead of online.

    It sounds like you found a great solution with your class. Hopefully, you can keep taking similar classes in the future, at least while it’s an issue.

  27. Lime Lehmer*

    Kudos for guarding your time. Taking the class and creating a time conflict was brilliant. Guarding your time is something that you will have to continue to do in your professional life, and personal life as well, so great start.

    Years ago I had a therapist who told me that: “No is a complete sentence.” When people ask us why they are not accepting our answer and trying to get a handle on making us change our mind.

    Can you do X?
    No I am unavailable.
    What are you doing?
    At this point absolutely avoid giving an answer because the favor seeker is seeking to change your answer! Just
    broken record ” I am unavailable, I can’t do it, or I have a conflict….”
    This is useful from the spectrum of can you bring cupcakes, to will you give a presentation, or will you pet sit.

    1. Beth*

      This is true in a lot of areas of life, but as a grad student, it isn’t necessarily practical. If I told my department head or my advisor that I wasn’t able to do something they were asking me to do and then refused to explain it, it would likely harm my relationships with them. And I really need those relationships! Not only are they basically in charge of whether I get my degree, they and their connections and the recommendation letters I’ll need to ask them for have a huge impact in whether I’ll be able to get a job in my field.

      In an ideal world none of us would ever have to justify ourselves (and OP can certainly use this kind of strategy with their peers). But in the real world, there are power dynamics that make the ideal kind of impossible, and being a grad student means living under a *lot* of power dynamics. OP handled it perfectly.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Beth, I so agree this one is a “know your situation/work culture” dependent answer. I have had jobs in the past where, “I’m unavailable right now” works just fine without giving an explanation, but my current job isn’t one of those. Where I am now it works way better to tell Lead 2 that “I can’t do A right now because I am already doing XYZ for Lead 1.” This way if what the other lead needs is more time sensitive they can adjust my workflow, but without the extra info they may not know and pull me off something time sensitive for something that can wait a few days.
        But like I said, this is a “know your office” dependent thing.

      2. A Non E. Mouse*

        I’ve had a rough year.

        I found a lot of success in just telling people I couldn’t take on anymore because I was at my limit, physically and emotionally. Just a “sorry, I’m at capacity, I have no head space for X.”

        People seem to respond to just naked honesty. So if the answer is “I’m under a lot of stress and trying to get myself down to a core set of responsibilities, I can’t take on any more right now.” it’s worth a shot saying that too sometimes.

        Depending on company culture of course, but it worked really, really well for me.

  28. Not usual handle for sake of S.O.*

    I know you said you’re not in a good situation to get tested for ADHD now- but ADHD meds were a game changer for me. A lot of Universities in the US have mental health services offered to students free of charge- before dismissing getting tested out of hand, maybe see if this kind of resource is available to you?

    For what it’s worth- the testing that I got wasn’t particularly onerous, and the treatment made life a LOT easier for me.

    1. DoomCarrot*

      It might make it easier, yes. But I’m not in the US, and our university psychologist has basically warned me not to pursue a formal diagnosis because the stigma around mental health will make many things harder in my particular setting…

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Do other people need to know? I keep my diagnosis private. I have a few friends who know and I have never shared it in any of my workplaces. I’m good at my job, and respected by my colleagues, but when I do slip up it’s classic ADHD stuff. And I don’t want people to view me through that lens, and feel that my personal information is up for discussion.

        1. DoomCarrot*

          It’s a “preexisting mental health condition” that would automatically get me rejected from things like permanent disability insurance, which is very important to have here because that’s how the system works.

  29. They Don’t Make Sunday*

    Bravo! I’m curious how that class will go, with Jane so clearly out of her depth. Would love another update!

  30. Carlie*

    I have been thinking about this almost every day – thanks so much for the update! And what a satisfying one. All of your actions were high expert-level solutions. I couldn’t be happier for you. :)

  31. DoomCarrot*

    Meanwhile, if I tell someone about a problem and they go “yeah, that sucks”, I’m internally screaming “yes, it does, now are you going to say anything constructive, or why did I bother telling you about my problem”?

    If you just want to tell me about yours, and sit there and do nothing….better find someone else, because my mind will be racing.

    1. KWu*

      I’m with you–my orientation is very, “if I didn’t want to fix this problem, why am I bothering to waste any more energy on it by just talking about it?”

    2. Pam*

      Me too- if I talk about a problem, it’s because I want help solving it. To me, venting is a way to 1) dwell in sadness and 2) bore people. (or at least me, whether I’m the venter or the ventee)

  32. Atlantis*

    Great job OP! As a new PhD student myself, I have seen this happen to classmates while doing my Master’s. I’m exceptionally fortunate to have an advisor who is hands-on and absolutely willing to go to bat for me for something like this, but you handled the situation like a champ! Well done!

    I love how you recorded everything, and pointed out how it affects your co-PhDs when you end up doing everything. It’s such a constructive way to point out your boundaries. Now the hard part is not letting them creep back over those lines! Stay strong, stay focused, and you’ll do fantastic!

    I’m glad that your new boundaries are helping you with Clingy Jane a bit too. I got the impression you were at the stage of being driven absolutely crazy by her (understandably!) and hopefully now she’ll be more tolerable now that you have some additional space and boundaries.

  33. DoomCarrot*

    Thanks, all! I even managed to get out of the emergency “how do we run this class” meeting today, by being away at a conference – at the invitation of someone from my own pre-PhD network, to give a talk on (more or less) the subject of the class. Sometimes, the stars align. I’m sitting in a hotel enjoying your comments.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      Good! I’m chiming in with the “well done”. Being myself a recent PhD graduate, I can say that this is also an excellent example how to “manage up” in an academic setting. The letter about not co-teaching the class was excellent, and likewise the idea to have a the meeting to lay out clearly what your contributions to the shared duties already are. Academia has its foibles of course, no one’s pretending otherwise, but data is usually accepted as something to build a good argument on. Good luck! (And I can second the writing advice upthread.)

  34. Koala dreams*

    Congratulations on the successful discussion with the department head and other people! I’m impressed with how you used the colloboration framing to push back against their unreasonable demands.

    You wrote at the end that you don’t know yet if it’s a success. There are always going to be good thing and bad things, the key is to celebrate the successes and learn from the failures. Good luck in the future!

  35. Thankful for AAM*

    Malcolm Gladwells book, David and Goliath is about the ways the “disadvantages” of things like ADHD can really be advantages.

    I recommend it for all.

  36. Kisses*

    I just hope you’re not letting her ride your horse for free or well, at all. Like she’s entitled to it. Well you are entitled to having time alone with your companion animal.

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