College of Science & Engineering

Conflict Resolution

 

Although interpersonal conflicts within the Biology Department are infrequent, it is important that you know what to do in the event that you find yourself in a conflict situation. In general, the first thing to do is to try to work things out with the person. Before approaching the individual, gather your thoughts and composure, and develop a plan for what you want to say. In your conversation with the individual, focus on the issue over which you have a conflict; you may want to bring specific examples that illustrate the issue. Try to think of ways to present the situation in a way that might help the person understand your perspective. Give the person the chance to explain their perspective about the situation. It may be helpful to think of the conflict as an opportunity for the two of you to develop a better understanding of each other and a better working relationship.

Regardless of the outcome of this meeting, it is a good idea to follow it up with a note (via email is fine) to the person, describing the situation (dates, events) that you discussed, as well as how things stand after your meeting. That way, if there is still a misunderstanding, the conversation can continue. Also, having a paper trail will be helpful, as documentation of your efforts to resolve the present situation or in the event that a similar future situation arises with that same person.

If you find that in spite of your best efforts, the conflict has not been satisfactorily resolved, you should seek help in one of the following ways:

  • Lodge an informal complaint.

  • File a formal grievance.

A formal grievance is serious, involves people from outside the department, and usually results in legal inquiries, depositions of statements, interviews of witnesses, etc. An informal complaint can be equally effective without involving the same degree of investigation and involvement of others.

Informal Complaint

An informal complaint is handled primarily within the Biology Department following the sequences listed below, depending on the situation. Every effort would be made to resolve the conflict internally through this informal procedure. Unless the complaint involves a conflict between you and your thesis advisor, be sure to talk the situation over with your thesis advisor. It will be helpful to hear your advisor’s perspective, and it’s good for them to know about the situation.

In lodging an informal complaint, you should:

  • Clearly explain to the contact person the nature of the complaint, including specific details of the events that transpired, and the dates of those events.

  • Provide a copy of any documentation of your efforts to resolve the situation with the other party, as well as any evidence relevant to your complaint.

  • Indicate what you suggest as a satisfactory resolution.

If you can’t comfortably discuss the situation with the first person in the sequence, contact the next person in the sequence. Depending on the nature of your complaint, it may be necessary to involve additional people. The sequence for involving others is listed below for each type of complaint. If a person in the listed sequence is the person with whom you have a conflict, your complaint will be addressed to an alternate person (listed in parentheses). Each person handling your complaint should notify you in writing. Specifically, each person handling your case should: 1) acknowledge receipt of your complaint, and 2) describe the actions taken. In the event that you are not satisfied by the resolution of your complaint, you may appeal to the next person in the sequence.

Formal Grievance

If the problem isn’t resolved via an informal complaint, or if the problem is of a severe nature, a formal grievance can be filed. Often, the people who would be your primary contacts for an informal complaint can advise you on whether to file a formal grievance, and how to initiate the process under the specific WWU grievance policies. For further information on formal grievances, see the appendix of the WWU catalog for a description of the Academic Grievance and Appeal Policy and Procedures .

Please use the following sequences for conflicts with:

Your thesis advisor:

  • Other committee members.

  • Biology Graduate Program Advisor (alternate: Biology Graduate Committee faculty member).

  • Biology Department Chair (alternate: Biology Executive Committee member).

  • Dean of the Graduate School.

The instructor of a course you are TAing:

  • Other instructors of that course.

  • Biology Graduate Program Advisor (alternate: Biology Graduate Committee faculty member).

  • Biology Department Chair (alternate: Biology Executive Committee member).

  • Dean of the Graduate School.

Another TA:

  • Course instructor.

  • Biology Department Chair.

A thesis committee member:

  • Thesis Advisor.

  • Biology Graduate Program Advisor (alternate: Biology Graduate Committee faculty member).

  • Biology Department Chair (alternate: Biology Executive Committee member).

  • Dean of the Graduate School.

Another Biology graduate student:

  • Biology Graduate Program Advisor.

  • Biology Department Chair.

Biology Department staff (office, stockroom):

  • Thesis Advisor.

  • Biology Department Chair.

Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC) staff:

  • Thesis Advisor.

  • Director of SPMC.

Biology faculty member:

  • Thesis Advisor

  • Biology Graduate Program Advisor (alternate: Biology Graduate Committee faculty member).

  • Biology Department Chair (alternate: Biology Executive Committee member).

  • Dean of the College of Sciences and Technology.

Graduate Program Advisor:

  • Thesis Advisor

  • Biology Graduate Committee faculty member.

  • Biology Department Chair.

  • Dean of the Graduate School.

Biology Department Chair:

  • Thesis Advisor

  • Biology Graduate Program Advisor.

  • Executive Committee member.

  • Dean of Sciences and Technology.

The Graduate School:

  • Thesis Advisor

  • Biology Graduate Program Advisor.

  • Biology Department Chair.

  • Dean of the College of Sciences and Technology

  • Provost


  1. Refer to your initial acceptance letter.↩︎

  2. Particularly those who work with the potential committee member.↩︎

  3. Fifteen credit hours if you have provisional admit status.↩︎

  4. More than 10 credits of C+ or lower removes a student from eligibility to remain in the graduate program.↩︎

  5. You should also schedule a committee meeting to discuss these new directions.↩︎

  6. During this two week period, you should be working on your thesis seminar.↩︎

  7. In consultation with your advisor, you should schedule your pre-defense meeting and seminar/defense as soon as you have a reasonable estimate of time to completion. All involved must recognize, however, that some revisions to the schedule (e.g., rescheduling the defense for a later date) may be necessary depending on the feedback from the committee at the pre-defense meeting.↩︎

  8. You can ask the course instructor for sources of background information.↩︎

  9. The Biology Department’s compensation figures are typically higher than these amounts for both full-time and half-time graduate teaching assistants.↩︎

  10. If you use your personal laptop computer instead of department computers and want to interface your computer with the campus network via ethernet, you should contact networking and computer support for the College of Sciences and Technology (x7234).↩︎

  11. For different types of forms see the Testing Center’s website.↩︎