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Did my trainer sabotage my efforts?

Headline & colors by Franke James; hammer illustration ©istockphoto.com/MirekP

Dear Office-Politics,

I’m currently in a 8-week internship and have 2 weeks left and need to finish strong and gracefully. During my internship, I was assigned to someone who’s supposed to teach me about the experimental methods and data analysis of my project. Nevertheless, he has consistently delayed me and made me wait on several occasions. I understand that he’s busy, but the delay got so great that I confronted him about it and he self-corrected and made an effort to show me some of the experimental methods.

My suspicion is that he’s in self-preservation mode and doesn’t want me to come in, perform well, and potentially take his job; even though he has a PhD with respected publications and I only have a BS. Also, he’s a foreigner and doesn’t have good English skills.

Recently, he told me that one of probe tips that I calibrated is the only one that I could use for obtaining data. However, my boss told me that all of the probe tips were calibrated because that’s what my trainer told him.

How should I proceed? Next week, I want to ask my boss for a reference, but am concerned that my trainer potentially sabotaged my efforts. Furthermore, it seems my boss believes him more than me.



PS: My boss is well aware that I didn’t have that much progress and seemed fine with that. Also, my progress ultimately depended on my trainer because I’m new to the field and the lab didn’t have any standard operating procedures to guide me. Also, I’m Hispanic and my trainer is French. Furthermore, I believed I played my cards right by being professional, positive, and cracking jokes here and there with my trainer, who was very responsive to them.

timothy johnson

Dear Sabotaged,

Definition: Fact
1. Something that actually exists; reality; truth: Your fears have no basis in fact.
2. Something known to exist or to have happened: Space travel is now a fact.
3. A truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true: Scientists gather facts about plant growth.

Definition: Assumption
1. Something taken for granted; a supposition: a correct assumption.
2. The act of taking for granted or supposing.

I just wanted to make sure we were clear on those definitions before we proceed further. Your trainer’s lack of time is fact. Self preservation suspicions are assumption (unless he’s come right out and stated as much).

It could just be that he really is that busy. It could be that there was a communication misunderstanding about the probes. It could be your boss is on your side after all. It could be that cultural backgrounds have no bearing on your relationship.

With that being said, it could also be that your suspicions are correct. With 75% of your internship complete, you will want to end on a high note. Since internships are – by their very nature – temporary, you just need to make it through the next two weeks and get your desired outcome so you can move on with your career.

You’ve made both your trainer and your manager aware of the training delays. It sounds like your trainer has made some effort toward a course correction when you brought it to his attention. It also sounds as though your manager is aware of the delays and, in your own words, is fine with it.

Your goal at the moment should be thinking about the final outcome of your internship; specifically, you want a good recommendation. Because there have been some speed bumps over the past eight weeks, have a frank discussion with your boss.

Your “sale” should go something like this:

“I’d like to talk about my internship. I know some things have run as smoothly due to conflicts in my trainer’s schedule. My goal is still to get a good reference from this internship and to end it strongly. I have a couple of ideas on how to make that happen, but I would really like to hear some of your suggestions so we are in agreement on how to make this experience a win-win for all of the parties.”

By taking this approach, you are being a good scientist and separating fact from assumption. You’re not accusing your trainer of anything. He’s had schedule conflicts (whether self-imposed and malicious or simply unfortunate and out of his control). You didn’t say anything about who was right about the probes. Your goal is to get a good recommendation. You want to make it work for all parties as well. A rational and good-spirited boss will see this for what it is, and work with you to make a good strategy to end your internship well.

Even in the event this internship does not turn out well and you don’t get a good recommendation, you’ve probably received something even more valuable: lessons in human behavior. Office politics happen in ALL environments (laboratories, factories, schools, and churches). You will have an experience to add to your arsenal which can serve you well the rest of your career. The knowledge that people don’t always play nicely in the sandbox is better learned at a young age in a “safe” environment than when you have tenure or a million dollar grant at stake.
I hope this helps.

Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com


Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant

Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.

An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.

  1. One Answer to “Did my trainer sabotage my efforts?”

  2. I think that by confronting was the right thing to do. Sounds like you wouldn’t want to work for an office such as that one if your boss wasn’t supportive of you and your hard work.

    By Nick on Mar 14, 2010

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