The Art of Collaboration and Asking for Help

Jen Xu
5 min readDec 16, 2022
A brief guide to research collaboration for the young scholar”:

Recently I’ve been wrestling with asking for help when I need it and learning to rely on others because of everything that’s been going on at work. It’s been a really great semester and I want to reflect on it, even though it hasn’t fully been completed yet and I still have about 3–4 projects to complete.

I’ve spent the last 5 weeks and 2 days working on a grant I found out about on 11/8/22. That marks the day that my life essentially imploded & also got much, much better. I also initially thought it was due 11/30/22, and it luckily got extended to 12/31…and I think it’s the universe’s way of telling me that things are going to work out, even if I don’t get the grant. It has been a whirlwind, but it’s required me to ask people to help me with a lot of things. Which has been really, really, hard, as someone who hates to ask people for help.

It also required me to ask really important people at the university a lot of things. I mean, my advisor & the faculty members here are very productive & busy, and sometimes it almost feels wrong for “little old me” to poke them for help. It’s still surreal that I get to be here doing research in a really cool lab with some amazing faculty members & fellow graduate students. But there is definitely a bit of guilt, almost, in me asking for help — my parents raised us to be very hard-working, efficient, and clever in problem-solving, and to be independent in general.

I love that about my family and myself, but it has also led me to be really hard on myself. I always thought, if I work hard enough, I can do anything. Which is mostly true. But I would hit roadblocks because I wasn’t doing the right thing that would lead me to success. Sometimes hard work just isn’t enough if you’re not working on the right thing. And then I would get frustrated and embarrassed and discouraged. And I would love to get out of that mindset.

Over the past few weeks I’ve also had a lot of other things due — final projects, quizzes/exams, homework, finishing up data collection for my first-year project, completing my slides for a presentation, and trying to pull together data for another abstract, and a lot of these things hinged on asking people for help. It did not help that I got bonked on the head a little over a week ago (I’m fine now, minus the muscle…

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.