I am currently working as a research assistant in a lab. In my previous work and academic experiences (along with consulting a psychologist), I basically learned that I am most productive when I have accountability, deadlines, and consequences for not meeting deadlines. The manager of the lab (the prof) is very very busy (it is characteristic of him to cancel meetings even with other faculty with little notice), and also very trusting and relaxed, so even if he were not busy, I do not see him as a supervising type.

There is another research assistant who is more senior than me and has sort of micromanaged me in the past, though this was for completely different work.

Is there any professional way I could ask him to help micromanage me without coming across as lazy, unproductive, unmotivated, immature, etc.? I think it's actually a good thing to be micromanaged, because it's expensive and a huge investment of the more senior worker (basically like an apprenticeship?). The answer to this question seems to agree with my assessment: Asking for help from senior or anyone is it such a big issue and geting fired because of it

But then if one has to be micromanaged to be productive, does that not make one a liability in a sense?

When I have had accountability, I generally do an efficient job at researching the problem at hand and coming up with a solution within the deadline. I do not think it would be constructive criticism to suggest I change my line of work, unless that is really the issue.

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    "Micromanage" is typically a lot more than assigning tasks and deadlines. That just sounds like actual management. Asking someone to "micromanage" you is probably a very bad idea, because they will take it to mean a lot more than you do. Oct 6 '14 at 23:35
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    Amongst native English speakers term "micromanage" uniformly has a negative implication. There is no such thing as good micromanagement. You absolutely should use a different word to describe your needs.
    – Angelo
    Oct 7 '14 at 1:14
  • As a notable point: typically (but not always) in academia R&D you are far less "managed" than in the private company "universe". The implication is that many of the points the OP made are, in these circumstances, expected to come from the OP itself (and its own sense of pragmatism) and not from a colleague (even if it is the hierarchical superior). As so my advice is for you to build your own plan, put some mandatory meetings and objectives in the middle, and propose it to your supervisor. See how he/she reacts and act accordingly.
    – armatita
    Aug 7 '17 at 15:29
  • Do you enjoy what you're doing? If you feel like you need a micromanager, it probably means you don't derive any meaning or sense of purpose from your work. Maybe you should try and do something more self-actualizing. Aug 7 '17 at 18:32

I think it's actually a good thing to be micromanaged, because it's expensive and a huge investment of the more senior worker (basically like an apprenticeship?).

A good thing for you. A really bad thing for them, since they're making a huge investment to make you do well; time that could be better spent on their success.

But then if one has to be micromanaged to be productive, does that not make one a liability in a sense?

Yes, based on your description, you're a fairly large liability.

All that said, you can certainly work with your professor and their assistants to find some good middle ground. Someone to help set up structure where you have at least some accountability, but they're not spending too much time doing it.

  • In most situations this could be truth. In the OP case however we are talking about academia, so when you read "Research Assistant" you should also read "Student", "Lecturer", and "DIY person". The notion of liability looses meaning when the Supervisor (Professor) has far more responsibility towards his "Student" than your typical company manager towards an employee. This means that although the plans tend to flexible, the pedagogical aspect of the of the relation is also stronger. The OP is not a liability, its just suffering from youngness. Not serious and will solve itself in due time.
    – armatita
    Aug 7 '17 at 15:42
  • In fact, since I just noticed this question has 3 years, its probably solved already. Sorry for waking you up to such an old answer. For some reason this ended up it the first page of the site.
    – armatita
    Aug 7 '17 at 15:53

This question is better suited for Academia, but you should really learn to manage your own time. When there are no persons more senior than you, will you stop working completely?

Make lists, declare deadlines, invent your own consequences. Try to stick to those that you are used to from previous experience, so worst case threaten to fire yourself! (meaning quit and find a more "productive" environment for you)

Usually in the academic sector people are workoholics and driven by something and don't need to be flogged. Have you considered a 9-to-5 job with a pointy-haired boss?


Instead of asking someone to manage, or micromanage you, you can list tasks and have goals to complete them at a certain time.

Prioritize what needs to be done, which tasks depend on what, and create a deadlines. This would be good practice for when you move into a Management/Supervisory position.

And if you need extra help, or want other's perspectives, you can ask to meet with your supervisor ever month or so.

But don't ask someone to manage or micromanage (has a negative connotation).


"Micromanaged" has certain negative connotations[1], so I would not ask for that per se. However, you can certainly request more interaction with your supervisor. Suggest having brief, regularly-scheduled meetings where you

  • Describe what you've done since the last meeting.
  • Ask for help with any blockers.
  • Get feedback on the completed work so far, and
  • Plan the next chunk of work.

This will help keep your work on track, while ensuring that your supervisor is aware of the project's status, so everyone wins! I would stress that you want to make sure that you're working on the right things to achieve the project's and lab's goals. This can also be an opportunity for you to learn about the bigger picture (e.g., how that experiment fits into a larger theory or a specific manuscript).

Even a very busy professor should be able to free up 15 minutes a week, but if not, you might consider having quick stand-up meetings with the others working on your project. You could try doing this by email instead, but I think an interactive format works better (and profs tend to ignore longish emails).

[1] To me, micromanaging goes beyond setting tasks and goals and descends into checking exactly when you arrive/leave, whether you're working or goofing off, and critiquing very minor decisions that have minimal outcome on the end result.


Consider documenting your schedule along with due dates/times for different tasks. Make sure you communicate those due dates with the people responsible/waiting for it to be completed. This could be a simple email. There are no guarantees they will follow-up or even hold you accountable, but I tend to have more expectations for myself when others know about my plans and would be embarrassed to miss these deadlines regardless of their expectations.

Avoid being too specific. No one wants 10 emails regarding the intermediate steps to a larger task. The goal is not to put an additional burden on anyone else. This could be a daily or even a weekly summary of things you need to get done.

Because of the time restrictions and management philosophy of this professor, I don't think any formal process or additional input on his part is going to happen. Your other colleague may resent this request and see it as having to baby-sit. You don't want that, so try something less formal.

Just keep them in the loop.

  • I think this is the answer most adequate to the reality of the OP (R&D in Academia).
    – armatita
    Aug 7 '17 at 15:50

I have been micromanaged and I have found the experience less than pleasant. On the other hand, I don't view being given deadlines and assigned priorities for the tasks assigned to me as micromanagement.

In fact, it is an essential part of the managerial function to allocate tasks and assign deadlines and priorities to them. And shift deadlines and priorities and reallocate tasks as the needs of the organization and the shift in available resources require an adaptive response.

In terms of being micromanaged, be careful what you ask for, when all you want is structure in the form of deadlines and priorities for your tasks - a totally legitimate demand, by the way.


But then if one has to be micromanaged to be productive, does that not make one a liability in a sense?

Bluntly, yes. But, neither of you are at fault.

In the case you describe, you work style and the professor's management style simply do not blend well and this is not at all uncommon.

The long term problem is that it's highly unlikely either of you will change.

When I have had accountability, I generally do an efficient job

Why do you think you're not held accountable? Don't interpret the professor's lack of engagement for a lack of expectation. In fact, hands off managers often have much, much higher expectations than micro-managers.

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