Author Topic: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?  (Read 2602 times)

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LadyL

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How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« on: September 13, 2012, 09:48:47 AM »
I am a teaching assistant for a course with a professor who seems very nice in person (she is enthusiastic about the course and pleasant) but over email, which is mostly how we correspond, she is very disorganized and it's starting to cause unnecessary stress and frustration. I am trying to find a way to proactively deal with this in a polite way.

Here's the deal: I was assigned to work with her before the semester. The class has a 90 minute lab component which is the part I will be teaching. Some professors let the assistants design and teach the labs, she is giving us pre-designed labs - that's fine, less work for me. She mentioned that we (her, me, and the other assistant - there are two labs) should meet on either one of two dates at the end of August to go over the syllabus and I said both dates worked. The morning of the first date I realized I still hadn't heard from her, so I emailed to ask "are we still meeting this week?" and she said she'd gotten bogged down with other things and we'd meet the first week of the semester instead. Not a big deal.

We had our meeting, went over details, one of which was that the first lab was an orientation and we could design the lab however we pleased (in subsequent weeks she would give us labs to do). So I spent some amount of time putting together a lesson plan, finding online materials, etc. Yesterday, a few hours before the lab was to start, she sends an email saying she has changed her mind and is giving us an assignment to do instead. The assignment overlapped significantly in terms of content with what I had planned on doing so I emailed her and told her this and asked if she didn't mind if I went ahead with my planned material. She said she "appreciated my enthusiasm and planning" but felt that my lab was too time consuming and potentially too complicated. I decided not to argue with her and agreed to do her lab, but did mention in my reply that I'd done a similar exercise with my students last semester and found they didn't have an issue getting through it in a similar time period. She said she felt this was a different group with different experience, but that if there was time I could do my exercise at the end of class - she sent this email literally 3 minutes before class was supposed to start so I didn't see it in time, and it would have been a redundant thing to do anyhow.

My other issue, besides her habit of sending critical information last minute, is that whenever she emails information she can't seem to get it right the first time - or the second, or the third - she will email a copy of something like the syllabus, but then will send two more emails titled "CORRECTION" where she has changed something, like the section number was wrong for one of the labs, and then she realized the textbook edition wasn't listed correctly so each email has an updated attachment, and then she'll send a FOURTH email asking us to proofread the third corrected copy for errors! So my inbox is just full of stuff from her but most of it isn't even useful.

The other TA is just as frustrated with the last minute changes as I am and we might try to meet with her in person and gently ask if we could get information in a more timely manner - what is a polite way to get this across?



Enkidu

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2012, 10:10:30 AM »
I would not "gently meet with her." She's your boss, so I don't think chiding her is the way to go.

If the other labs are pre-planned, it sounds like they are probably pretty much ready to go. Send her a cheerful email asking if she can forward those to you, and expect that there will be some revisions so give it a day or two before beginning your prep.

You seem like a self-starter, and I wonder if deep down you wouldn't rather plan your own labs, and thus have more control over the process. I can certainly relate to that desire. Some people are flaky, and it's frustrating in a work environment. But I do think it's best you conform your expectations to what your boss wants, and not the other way around.

dawbs

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2012, 10:17:27 AM »
Can you cut out the middleman?  Get the copy of labs from last year (assuming they're at least similar)?  Or does she have some sort of list in the sylabus?

Does the lab pro-tech have the details in a timely manner and could she/he possibly the point where info comes from?

SleepyKitty

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2012, 12:46:02 PM »
You seem like a self-starter, and I wonder if deep down you wouldn't rather plan your own labs, and thus have more control over the process. I can certainly relate to that desire. Some people are flaky, and it's frustrating in a work environment. But I do think it's best you conform your expectations to what your boss wants, and not the other way around.

Yup. I'm a TA in a totally different field, but I really don't think there's much you can do about this. You were assigned to her, and one thing you have to remember that this is her course.

II decided not to argue with her and agreed to do her lab

If your TA program is anything like mine, you don't really have a right to argue or agree/disagree with what the professor wants. At my uni, TAs have a great deal of freedom over their sections, but - well, in the end, TAs are not professors. In my program, you (general you) get funding because you TA. You don't get to chose who you work with or what you do, since funding is so crucial that you have to take what you can get. So although 99% of the professors are great, if you get that one prof that no one wants to work with, you kind of have to understand that those are the lumps you have to take in order to get that paycheck. It's a shame if the prof won't let you have more latitude, and it's a shame the prof is a PITA to deal with, but I don't think there's any way for you to address this with her. It's her course, and it's not your place to tell her how to run it.

As a final note, I feel your pain.  :-\ It really sucks to have a ton of great ideas and fun things to implement with students and not be able to, and it's a shame to pair an enthusiastic and involved TA with an apathetic professor.

zoidberg

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2012, 12:56:34 PM »
She's your boss. There's really no way to tell her that her communication style sucks. It's not your place to teach her better, no matter how infuriating her methods may be. That's what you are paid to deal with.

And in my experience, you can certainly share your ideas with your boss, but once your ideas are dismissed, arguing is not going to help you.

audrey1962

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2012, 01:27:05 PM »
I've had a few bosses like that. I suspect we all have.

The first time I encountered a boss like this, I did everything I could think of to change her. Then one day I realized, I can't change her - I can only change me. So I started working on how I reacted to her, how I structured my work, not allowing her disorganization to affect me, etc. Instead of becoming angry at her, I changed my thinking to, "this is an example of dealing with a difficult person. I can use this in job interviews in the future."

You can use this, too. Is it what you want to do? No, of course not, no one wants to deal with difficult people. Is it cutting-edge research and scholarship? No, of course not. But if you can successfully deal with a difficult co-worker/boss, it's one of those little things that will define you as a great professional - as opposed to just an average one.

sourwolf

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2012, 01:34:05 PM »
I don't think there is anything you can do to change her and I think it would be foolish and possibly detrimental to attempt it.  Just go with the flow and remind yourself it's only for a semester.

gollymolly2

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2012, 01:37:45 PM »
She's your boss. There's really no way to tell her that her communication style sucks. It's not your place to teach her better, no matter how infuriating her methods may be. That's what you are paid to deal with.

And in my experience, you can certainly share your ideas with your boss, but once your ideas are dismissed, arguing is not going to help you.

Totally agree. There are some effective ways to manage up, but having a meeting with your boss and asking her to be more organized and communicate more effectively is just ... No. No matter how politely you phrase things.

O'Dell

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2012, 01:40:48 PM »
My other issue, besides her habit of sending critical information last minute, is that whenever she emails information she can't seem to get it right the first time - or the second, or the third - she will email a copy of something like the syllabus, but then will send two more emails titled "CORRECTION" where she has changed something, like the section number was wrong for one of the labs, and then she realized the textbook edition wasn't listed correctly so each email has an updated attachment, and then she'll send a FOURTH email asking us to proofread the third corrected copy for errors! So my inbox is just full of stuff from her but most of it isn't even useful.

Do you think you can get away with proofreading the first one and pointing out the errors? That might cut down on some of the emails and the lag time before you get a final copy. (Or it might not cut down on the additional emails because she'll find something else to nitpick, but you'll have tried. ;))
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Walt Whitman

sourwolf

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Re: How to politely request that work materials be delivered on time?
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2012, 07:36:23 PM »
Any update OP? I'm curious as to if you were able to come to a resolution.