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Your relationship with your PI

Positive and productive working relationships are important throughout your working life. This section focuses on how you can manage your relationship with your PI effectively; the ideas and tools could also be used in any working relationship.

Your PI and your department are your employer. You are paid to carry out the responsibilities you have been employed to do. These are set out in your job description / employment contract; if you are not clear what your responsibilities are, talk to your PI or your department's HR team and ask for them to be set our clearly in writing.

Your PI is your line manager. While many manage their teams skilfully, they have become a PI because they are excellent at research and people management may be a secondary skill for them. There is much you can do to manage the relationship positively so that you can both benefit - perhaps along with other colleagues as well.

What does your PI / Research group need?

Start by thinking about what you PI needs from you. If possible discuss this with colleagues and friends. Put simply, they need you to carry out the responsibilities and duties set out in your job description. If these are not set out clearly for you, try setting them out for yourself, based on what you know of your PI’s and research group’s objectives and priorities. Then check out with your PI what you have come up with.

However, success means more than just carrying out your stated duties. What else does your PI / research group need? What kind of attitude would you like to convey? What kind of challenges does your PI face? How can you help with these challenges? How can you progress the work of your group? Where can you make a positive contribution?

What do you need from your PI / Research group?

Now think about and make notes on what you need from your PI / research group. Again, discuss this and share ideas with colleagues and friends if appropriate.

Do you know what your stated duties are? If not how can you find out / articulate them?  What kind of help do you need and where can you get it? If your PI is unable to help, where else can you get it? Do you know what you are entitled to? For example holiday allowances, your stated working hours, equipment…..?

When you have made a note of the things you need, think about which you can reasonably and realistically expect from your PI, and which you might find elsewhere (for example your department's HR team, or the MPLS Division). Remember too that there are formal processes that apply to your employment, and you are entitled to ask for these to be carried out if they are not forthcoming:

A Probationary Review

A Development Review

Tools and Strategies for Managing Relationships

Get to know your PI

Developing and practising interpersonal skills will help you manage all your working relationships well including that with your PI, and this will help you to achieve what you want and need as well.

Start by finding out about and understanding their perspective. What are their goals and challenges? How many responsibilities are they juggling? Where and how are they looking for funding? Some skills you can use to do this are: (material provided by Alison Trinder)

Active listening and good quality questions - download as a PDF

Active listening and good quality questions - view as a webpage

Preferred ways of working - download as a PDF

Preferred ways of working - view as a webpage

Considering their point of view will help you build rapport with your PI. Work for open communication – know when and how to communicate; help and take the initiative where you can; ask for help and advice, and feedback.

Getting what you need and want

Finding out about your PI's perspective is an excellent start to building a productive relationship, and will also help to get you what you want and need. Although this might seem obvious, when you want or need something you should:

  • Be clear in your own mind what it is
  • Be sure that what you want is possible, and that the person you are asking is able to provide it
  • State it clearly and explicitly

You can also explore these skills and tools:

Assertiveness (material provided by Alison Trinder)

Styles of influencing (material provided by People and Organisational Development)

Finding help elsewhere

See the section on Self Care and Sources of Help





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