Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lost in Translation

What would you do if faced with the following situation?

You are part of a research team that is involved in a large project. One of the team members, a post-doc, is very enthusiastic and outgoing. Jim exudes confidence in his abilities and contributions to the project. Unfortunately, Jim is a total disaster in the lab, and his writing is abysmal.  Worse, he is blissfully unaware of his incompetence, despite repeatedly being shown his mistakes.  As project leader, it falls upon you to clean up Jim's mistakes, reassign work (that has been compromised) to other team members, and revise his reports.  Jim's manuscripts have to be completely rewritten from scratch, but he still expects to be listed as first author and behaves as if the revised version is his work.  The other team members have become resentful of Jim and complain to you often. 

You cannot replace Jim because you do not have the authority; only the lab director can dismiss someone.  The lab director is totally enamored with Jim, whose overconfident behavior has convinced the director that he is one of the most valuable members of the research team. The director is also a person who lacks the metacognitive skills (or time) to accurately assess Jim's real competency.  You have tried to convince the director that Jim's performance is substandard and is hurting the group's progress, but he remains adamant in his confidence that Jim is competent.  The director believes Jim has just made a couple of mistakes, which could happen to anyone.

What would you do?  See the next post for how I would respond. In the meantime, take a look at the video below for a nice explanation of the Dunning-Kruger effect...and see if it suggests any solutions.


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