Feeling scared and guilty because your teacher or boss has asked for a meeting without telling you its subject?

Why when someone above me asks for a meeting without telling me why do I feel scared and guilty? I try to think of what I might have done to offend, but nothing comes to mind. It is a little nagging worry until the meeting happens. Why does this worry keep coming up? Is it just me?

It reminds me of a time when I had a possible plagiarizer in my class at Rice. There were slightly complex issues around the case which I cannot go into here. I wanted to give the student a chance to come forward and explain, so I told the class I was worried about plagiarism, so if anyone felt they might have plagiarized on the last assignment that they should come see me. I also explained again what plagiarism is. The result of this was about seven women came to see me. Each felt they might have plagiarized. None of them had, but I had inadvertently made them feel guilty. It was a chance to go over their work and show them why it was not plagiarism when comparing to the cited sources. The culprit did not come forward so it became a case for Rice’s Honor Council.

I don’t think it does any good to make people feel guilty for no reason. I know meetings get called without a topic when someone wants to ask someone a favor, or for many other reasons.  So whenever possible, please give a general idea of the topic of a meeting so people like me don’t stew, even a little. Remember to do this for your students also. Just because someone has nothing to worry about doesn’t mean they won’t worry.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Department politics, Group leadership, Life in a biology department and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Feeling scared and guilty because your teacher or boss has asked for a meeting without telling you its subject?

  1. Meghan Duffy says:

    Thank you for writing this! I hate receiving vague “Can we chat?” emails, because they always make me worry that something is wrong. This is true for emails from folks in my lab and from collaborators, too; for me, it’s not just an issue when it’s from a boss-like figure.

    • Maybe we have a whole vulnerability theme going here. We cry. We get worried when someone wants to meet without telling us why. We worry about what we don’t understand. We feel inadequate. We feel like we waste time when others don’t. Well at least I feel those last few. The thing is, it is possible to turn all those feelings into positive things. They improve our creative side. They improve us as mentors! Too bad we didn’t end up at the same university, but I’m glad you are at my alma mater.

      • Meghan Duffy says:

        Yes to the vulnerability theme! And I agree it would have been fun to be the same place. At some point, I plan on writing a post on interviewing at Rice on very short notice, and what a great experience that ended up being.

  2. Pingback: Friday links: other people hate you (and that’s ok), R should be optional, RABBITS, and more | Dynamic Ecology

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