Protocol Online logo
Top : Forum Archives: : Venting and Counseling

New Grad Student Asking For Guidance - (Sep/02/2008 )

Hi all

I have registered to the forum for some time now. I used to mainly surf the forum for what people have to say about laboratory techniques in general and find it really interesting to read. However I could not really participate in most of these discussions because I was still at a young age of my education and was not as knowledgeable back then (not that I am much more so now)

Now about 2 years have elapsed and I am about to start grad school in less than a month. I have had over a year of laboratory experience in numerous labs during my undergraduate years, but I am VERY nervous about this new phase of my academic life. I do love research however I have this negative impression of the research environment (everyone is out there to scoop your ideas and publish before you, no one is to be trusted. You must work like a slave if you want to succeed and have no life outside of science). This was mainly imprinted on me by my last lab (I worked 6-7 days a week every week for almost a year there and I didn't quite have the best supervisor). After working there I just think that working everyday for almost a whole year without break is commonplace for research.

All I had been doing for the past month or so is read AND COMPREHEND papers pertaining to my research, averaging 2 papers a night....I do not know how else I can prepare better for my PhD degree at this point.

In short I am just really uncertain about what to expect in this new lab that I will be into. I have met with my future supervisor from the entrance interview and he seems VERY nice and attentive. Am I wrong, after my experience in the last lab, to generalize research like my last lab?

I am so sorry this is so long and "directionless" but I have much mixed feelings about my new life.

Thank you

PS: leaving a place I have lived for the past 15+ years to a new country for grad school is not really helping either. Do not get me wrong I love where I am going to do my research but.... sad.gif


Hi Marcus,

I think you'll find that everyone's experiences in grad school vary enormously. I was in a lab with a real slave-driver for several years and it was hell. Getting time off even at Christmas was so hard I had to argue with him about it, and he wanted to control every aspect of our lives outside of the lab as well. I'm not kidding when I say that he didn't want any of us to partake in any extra-curricular activities, and he preferred single grad students because they wouldn't have 'stupid family obligations.'

What I realise now is that it doesn't have to be like this. No one has the right to tell me what to do in my free time, and I shouldn't have let him take advantage of me the way he did.

My current boss is a gem. He's one of those amazing people who seems to balance life inside and outside of the lab very well. He has a great publication record, but he also has a young family, and he understands very much what it's like to have a life outside of work. Even PhD students take a few weeks' holiday in the summer, and we all take time off at Christmas. However, when we are at work, we work quite hard: no hour-long coffee breaks, or afternoons spent wasted on Facebook or YouTube. We have all learned very efficient time management so that when we are here, we get a lot done, and because we work efficiently, we can take a bit of time off to enjoy life too.

I would say that overall we get at least as much done in my second lab as my first, it's just the work environment that is different. It goes without saying that the single most important factor influencing your happiness and success in grad school is your supervisor. It sounds as though your future boss is a very nice person. The fact that you used the word 'attentive' to describe him is positive: there is nothing worse than having a boss that ignores you. Just be sure you keep the lines of communication open.

And while it is true that quite often people end up working all day every day in the lab for months on end, I've discovered that this is largely the fault of the individual: either they work so inefficiently that it takes them twice as long to get things done, or they aren't confident enough to say that they want (and deserve) some time off. In my old lab, where there was a phenomenal amount of peer pressure to work evenings and weekends, we were blown away by a new postdoc who worked from 8-6 Monday to Friday, and only on weekends if there was a dire emergency. She got way more done than any of the other postdocs, and because she was so productive, she was completely justified in working the hours she did.

I wish you all the best in your studies, Marcus. May you be confident, productive, and happy. Grad school is a lot of hard work, but it is fun and rewarding as well. Be confident in your abilities, don't be afraid to ask questions (that's very important advice!), and don't be afraid to stand up for yourself if you feel you're being treated unfairly.



-Ginger Spice-


I just started grad school a month ago and well the best advice I can give you is to take things as they come and realize what you are worth. Things havent been easy for me, I also moved to a new place, I have no friends here and the lab environment is very different from my old lab.
I seem to have no supervisor at all and ive made a couple of mistakes. Nevertheless i believe in myself and im not going to let anyone get me down.
On the plus side, people dont seem to work THAT much here and they all have christmas off. You can also take a holiday in the summer which is great.
Let me know how you do, im really interested in other peoples experiences. I am really greatful for this forum, this exchange of thoughts and problems is what is helping me overcome my lack of supervision. If im not sure about something I google, I read, I ask her, I try out different things. I think im on my way to being an independent worker yay!
Even thought I dont have a lot of experiments to do I come at 8 and leave at 8. But thats just me, Im ok with this because I have the weekends off! smile.gif

Sometimes its just about luck ya know? So dont worry, youre not the only one feeling lost

-nanu nana-

Thanks Ginger and nanu for the advices. I will start in a few days and I am quite nervous haha.....hope things will go well huh.gif


So after a month I am in the midst of a project and I am enjoying it a lot. One thing though is that:

I feel as if I am not working hard enough.

It is not that my supervisors are pressuring me to work harder. As a matter of fact I feel as if they are too lenient and have been praising me of my work. I expect that I am not perfect and hope that my supervisors can provide me with constructive criticisms.

Mainly, I think I should be doing more reading. I hope I did not jump into my project too quick and missed out on the opportunity to do literature research.

Will it be awkward if I go ask my supervisors and ask them how I can improve? Will I sound too cocky or keen?

There are also times when I think I am rushing things...I love being in the lab but I seem other people in the lab are taking things really easy and I am the only one with this mentality of getting results ASAP and work efficiently. It is also hard though because I am the only person in the whole department working on my bug. I cannot really tell people about my work because it is not really relevant to them.

Anyways I shall stop talking now mellow.gif

PS: I think I have become such a geek now...I am avoiding sleep because I was so captivated by reading papers and I actually intend to go to the lab early tomorrow and get more work done.....I feel like I am obsessed and possessed by the devil of post-graduate research.