Mon 16 Feb, 2015 07:04 pm
I am a freelance writer/editor, who specializes in writing/editing technical scientific documents written by professional research scientists targeted to their peers (i.e., other professional research scientists). I work on manuscripts, grant proposals, review articles, conference reports, poster presentations, etc.
In spring 2014, I helped a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. B, prepare an application for funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The application was a joint effort of Dr. B and his supervisor, Dr. Z, for funds to support two years of Dr. B's work. During these two years, Dr. B was supposed to be transformed from a junior researcher (still in the training phase of his career) into a fully-trained independent researcher. The purpose of this kind of grant is to support the active mentorship of Dr. B by Dr. Z.
The application for funding was reviewed and rejected by a Committee of qualified scientists, who came to the collective decision that 1) the mentoring plan described in the application was inadequate, 2) the mentor was not committed to the candidate, and 3) the mentor had not contributed sufficiently and/or appropriately to preparation of the application.
Dr. B initially contacted me about the fate of the application by e-mail, indicating that he wanted to re-submit the application for a second round of review. Then, I was contacted by Dr. Z, who asked me to revise (and improve) the mentoring plan on his behalf, so that the proposal could be re-submitted with some chance of success. I felt uncomfortable doing this, and told Dr. Z that I felt it was inappropriate for me to write a mentoring plan for him. Instead, I told Dr. Z that I would be happy to edit a new draft mentoring plan, if he first identified and corrected the weaknesses of the initial plan, and addressed the negative comments of the review Committee. Dr. Z replied that was not satisfactory, insisting that he wanted me to write the mentoring plan on his behalf.
Based on my assessment of this situation, I feel that it is inappropriate (unethical?) for me to perform the requested work.
I would like to hear if others agree or disagree with my assessment.
B wants to resubmit with or without input from Z. Z continues to abdicate responsibility to contribute to the revised mentoring plan. B is going to seek input from an advisor, technically a 'co-mentor', who has not yet weighed in on the current impasse.
Sounds like they've split. If that's true and Z has notified B to your satisfaction, I can't see any problem.
They may end up hating each other; but it won't be your fault.
B can not obtain the funds he applied for without further and improved mentoring from Z. Z does not care, except that it could negatively impact his image and/or his productivity. B works for Z at present, and is completely dependent on him professionally. My concern is that I feel is would be wrong to 'enable' Z's abdication of his own responsibility. Also, I can not in my role 'mentor' B. I am an outside contractor. It is beyond my role. There is an implicit obligation for Z to mentor B.
B and Z should settle their differences first. IMO
B has absolutely no leverage and defers in all matters to Z. He is not treated as an equal, but as a person with lower rank, less seniority and less power within the hierarchy. B has no intention of asserting himself or making any requests or demands. Science (and academics, in general) is rife with such conventions. If he were to do so, he would likely lessen his chance of recognition/promotion/success.
So why did B approach you?
Z asked B to resubmit the application and to ask me to help correct the deficiencies of the application, especially those in the mentoring plan.