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Lab Member sabotaging other postdocs experiments


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#1 AussieUSA

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Posted 01 October 2009 - 10:12 AM

After spending 4.5 years with a fellow (M.D., Ph.D.) who did everything possible to prevent other post-docs in the lab from getting good data and then having the boss (an M.D.) say "he wouldn't do that, he has an M.D.", I was actually wondering how common it was that one member of a lab would sabotage other members experiments.

Some examples of what he has done include:
  • hiding common reagents and labware then denying he knew anything about it
  • adding detergent to other peoples PBS used in cell culture thus leading to cell lysis
  • breaking equipment and not telling anyone
  • taking and using reagents you were using for a particular experiment and not replacing them
  • informing students assigned to him not to talk to other staff members (his two students quit before their time)
  • forging data for a paper (his only one)

I have noticed that some graduate schools in the US are initiating a policy where these things are termed Academic Sabotage. If you are proven to have done these things, you are out.

Have you experienced this? Did you talk to boss and/or superiors? What was the outcome? Does your lab/institute/university have a policy for this type of behavior?

Please share your thoughts because I would like to try an initiate a policy in my workplace to prevent this from happening. The distrust and low motivation this lead to in the lab turned what once was a fun lab into an awful lab to work in. The fact that the boss ignored us and the fact that going to superiors was considered an incredibly insult to the boss just made it worse (hence the low morale).

Thanks,

AussieUSA.

Edited by AussieUSA, 01 October 2009 - 10:13 AM.


#2 gebirgsziege

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Posted 01 October 2009 - 10:17 PM

Sorry to hear about this. I know a similar sitation where a Prof tried to sabotage my working group and know how you must feel.

All the points you mention here are serious and do by no means conform with good scientific practice. Is this Postdoc on a permanent position or not? If not: can you still stand the time he is in your lab??? I know it is no good advice, but when these people are gone, the lab turns funny again quickly.
Nevertheless you should try again to talk to your boss. Tell him again about the problems you are facing in the lab; he for sure wants his lab to be productive?

Here in Austria we have "guidelines on mobbing/bullying/harassement at work (whatever the correct English word is)". The worst problem is that you are not able to proove your accusation (or are you???). Taken alone every event (besides the fraud) is not worth thinking of it (Like your Postdoc is a very sloppy lab worker, borrowing your reagents and just forgetting to give them back; or he just forgot to mention that he broke something; mixed up bottles and added detergent by accident; putting reagents somewhere in a hurry and forgot about it.....). BUT when these things happen every day :lol:
We were adviced to write these things down when they happen (with date, time, and why you think it was purpose). You soon get a list longer than you even had imagined. With this list you have some facts to confront the person and your boss (probably together with your lab mates).

Good luck!

PS: I was having horrible two years before I decided to change something...then had even more horrible three month when doing something against the Prof.....but now I am working (in the same lab) happily for nearly two years in a great TEAM. The Prof still would like to kill me and my supervisor if she got a chance, but the situation changed completly.
A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. (Oscar Wilde)

#3 HomeBrew

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Posted 02 October 2009 - 04:50 AM

One proven instance of #2 or #6 should be grounds for immediate firing and perhaps other legal actions to protect the institution and the grantee.

The rest of them are just the guy being a PITA. He should be counseled by the PI to discontinue these practices and, if he doesn't, then he should be fired.

#4 miRNA man

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Posted 02 October 2009 - 06:20 AM

There was a thread here, before the Great Crash, about somebody who was contaminating the cell culture of other people in the lab by adding bacteria to the plates when nobody else was around. I can't find that old thread though. However, I think the victim eventually got a hidden camera installed in the culture room and then action was taken on the person who was contaminating her cultures.

In your situation, IMO, the MD PhD should be fired (based upon #2 and 6 as HomeBrew said) and put on the NIH "fraud watch" list after an institutional review that finds him guilty, and the PI should consider himself very fortunate if the same didn't happen to him/her too. Institutions should be taking fraud very seriously.

#5 Adrian K

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 12:35 AM

.....

  • hiding common reagents and labware then denying he knew anything about it
  • adding detergent to other peoples PBS used in cell culture thus leading to cell lysis
  • breaking equipment and not telling anyone
  • taking and using reagents you were using for a particular experiment and not replacing them
  • informing students assigned to him not to talk to other staff members (his two students quit before their time)
  • forging data for a paper (his only one)
.......
AussieUSA.



I also face the similiar problem in your list 1, 3, 4, 5. I also got no idea how to deal with her.
"SOMEONE" had purchased some labwares with our group's research fund, hide it and even denies it, centrifuge when there is a broken tubes contain possible airborne bacteria. "SOMETWO" don't know how to use equipments but use it without asking. "somethree and four" hogging the PCR machine... "Somefive and six" hogging the laminar hood... "someseven" even start a so called "ISO" system and begin recording whatever people do....

When there is more and more people in a lab, there are more politics and problems came out.

I really wonder why THAT supervisor wanted to take in so many ppl when there is limited facility...now seems like everybody have to queue for their turn. Imagine, today I run my pcr in the morning but I have to wait till tomorrow then only I got chance to cast and visualise my gel, not forget to mention there is not enough gel tray to do my agarose gel, PCR machine have to be pre-book 3 days before...
:wacko: :huh: :P :(
Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the lion not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.

..."best of our knowledge, as far as we know this had never been reported before, though I can't possible read all the published journals on earth, but by perform thorough search in google, the keywords did not match any documents"...

"what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"---Goddess Casandra reminds me to be strong

"It's all just DNA. Do it."---phage434

#6 pito

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 05:36 AM

If I read it, I would be afraid to even start working at certain labs.

I can not understand that some people out there are doing this.

And I wonder: how do you even know he or she is doing this?

If you don't know it, then ask it! Better to ask and look foolish to some than not ask and stay stupid.


#7 AussieUSA

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 07:18 AM

If I read it, I would be afraid to even start working at certain labs.

I can not understand that some people out there are doing this.

And I wonder: how do you even know he or she is doing this?

How do you even know he is doing this?

The first incident = In September each year (end of financial year in US), our lab has an ordering freeze for 2-4 weeks while the accountants do their thing. In mid-August 2005, my first year here (and the perpetrators first year here), I took a stock take of our cell culture transfection reagents and media etc. and found we had sufficient reagents for everyone in the lab for 2-3 months so the decision was made by all lab members that we would not need to order these reagents. The first day the ordering freeze took affect, my trainee went into the cell culture lab to start a transfection and the transfection reagent was gone. Everyone denied knowing what happened and we were all stumped. 2 weeks later, after I had reorganised our work plan, we decided to clean out the cell culture fridge (4˚C) and found some tube storage boxes "built" into a cubby hole. Inside this hole, we not only found the general vial of transfection reagent but a new pack of 5 vials marked as received in early August by the perpetrator. Prior to this, the reagent was always kept on the door of the fridge, nowhere near the storage boxes. We showed the lab manager and she approached the guy. This is how it went ... Q1: have you been able to do your transfection experiments over the last 2 weeks? A1: yes. Q2: Which reagent have you been using? A2: Mine. Do you know why the general reagent was hidden behind some storage boxes? A3: No. Q4: But it was hidden next to your reagents. You do not remember seeing it? A4. No. Q5: Did you hide it from the other members? A5: No.

An second example = He recently left the lab (we were very joyous :) ) and he was forced to clean out all his reagents etc. While he was throwing stuff into the trash, we found all the reagents that had gone missing over the years including all the stuff he had denied knowing anything about. Some he had obviously been using and some he had just been hiding. After he left, we did a lab clean up and then found all the labware that had disappeared, in his drawers and cupboards.

So basically, he was "caught red-handed" yet always denied it and the rest of us were told ... it must have been a misunderstanding.

Edited by AussieUSA, 05 October 2009 - 07:24 AM.


#8 AussieUSA

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 07:23 AM

I also face the similiar problem in your list 1, 3, 4, 5. I also got no idea how to deal with her.
"SOMEONE" had purchased some labwares with our group's research fund, hide it and even denies it, centrifuge when there is a broken tubes contain possible airborne bacteria. "SOMETWO" don't know how to use equipments but use it without asking. "somethree and four" hogging the PCR machine... "Somefive and six" hogging the laminar hood... "someseven" even start a so called "ISO" system and begin recording whatever people do....

When there is more and more people in a lab, there are more politics and problems came out.

I really wonder why THAT supervisor wanted to take in so many ppl when there is limited facility...now seems like everybody have to queue for their turn. Imagine, today I run my pcr in the morning but I have to wait till tomorrow then only I got chance to cast and visualise my gel, not forget to mention there is not enough gel tray to do my agarose gel, PCR machine have to be pre-book 3 days before...
:) :huh: :angry: :(


I am sorry to hear this Adrian.

I too have worked in crowded busy labs like this ... one answer is to work shifts, if that is a easy option for you. When real-time PCR first came out, our lab had one of the first optical machines and it went 24h a day ... that meant us, the users, where in setting plates up every 2-3h. Some people liked to work nights and others preferred early mornings. I am not suggestion you work at midnight, but maybe choose a time when the other lab members are not around as much.

AussieUSA.

#9 AussieUSA

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 10:04 AM

One proven instance of #2 or #6 should be grounds for immediate firing and perhaps other legal actions to protect the institution and the grantee.
The rest of them are just the guy being a PITA. He should be counseled by the PI to discontinue these practices and, if he doesn't, then he should be fired.



We were never able to fully prove #2 but the postdoc was routinely seen handling our PBS bottles (they were stored in a different part of the lab to his stuff). And two staff members independently spoke to the boss regarding #6 over a 2 year period prior to submission of the paper. One staff member was the postdocs' trainee and when he mentioned his concerns to the boss, the boss was furious and made it very hard for the trainee in the lab thereafter. He eventually left the lab. I was the other staff member, and every time I raised a concern, I was told to keep quiet and as time went on, certain priviledges were denied to me. One suggestion I had was to have an ombudsman review the issue so the boss did bring in an "independent reviewer" but as they were never told what the concerns were, they never knew what to ask or look for. I was informed the independent reviewer found no issue.

The fact that the boss was so <can't use that word here>, is what is spurring me on to have a policy in place at my work so this doesn't happen again (although it seems to happen alot). Rant rant rant ... sorry :-(

#10 pito

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Posted 07 October 2009 - 01:24 AM

If I read it, I would be afraid to even start working at certain labs.

I can not understand that some people out there are doing this.

And I wonder: how do you even know he or she is doing this?

How do you even know he is doing this?

The first incident = In September each year (end of financial year in US), our lab has an ordering freeze for 2-4 weeks while the accountants do their thing. In mid-August 2005, my first year here (and the perpetrators first year here), I took a stock take of our cell culture transfection reagents and media etc. and found we had sufficient reagents for everyone in the lab for 2-3 months so the decision was made by all lab members that we would not need to order these reagents. The first day the ordering freeze took affect, my trainee went into the cell culture lab to start a transfection and the transfection reagent was gone. Everyone denied knowing what happened and we were all stumped. 2 weeks later, after I had reorganised our work plan, we decided to clean out the cell culture fridge (4˚C) and found some tube storage boxes "built" into a cubby hole. Inside this hole, we not only found the general vial of transfection reagent but a new pack of 5 vials marked as received in early August by the perpetrator. Prior to this, the reagent was always kept on the door of the fridge, nowhere near the storage boxes. We showed the lab manager and she approached the guy. This is how it went ... Q1: have you been able to do your transfection experiments over the last 2 weeks? A1: yes. Q2: Which reagent have you been using? A2: Mine. Do you know why the general reagent was hidden behind some storage boxes? A3: No. Q4: But it was hidden next to your reagents. You do not remember seeing it? A4. No. Q5: Did you hide it from the other members? A5: No.

An second example = He recently left the lab (we were very joyous <_< ) and he was forced to clean out all his reagents etc. While he was throwing stuff into the trash, we found all the reagents that had gone missing over the years including all the stuff he had denied knowing anything about. Some he had obviously been using and some he had just been hiding. After he left, we did a lab clean up and then found all the labware that had disappeared, in his drawers and cupboards.

So basically, he was "caught red-handed" yet always denied it and the rest of us were told ... it must have been a misunderstanding.


Ah I see.

In this case it was easy to find who did it.
But most of the times I can imagine that if someone wants to sabotage other people he or she would be smart enough not the hide the "stolen" stuff near his own stuff.
He was not only someone who sabotaged others, he was also very stupid.

I do wonder how people like that graduate and get a job.

I hope your boss wrote a "nice" letter of recommendation for this idiot, but I doubt this since he seemed to back up the idiot.

Its always difficult because of the times the idiots that sabotage or dont work are also those that have mastered the art of sucking up to their boss.

Edited by pito, 07 October 2009 - 01:26 AM.

If you don't know it, then ask it! Better to ask and look foolish to some than not ask and stay stupid.


#11 Adrian K

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Posted 07 October 2009 - 08:10 AM

I am sorry to hear this Adrian.

I too have worked in crowded busy labs like this ... one answer is to work shifts, if that is a easy option for you. When real-time PCR first came out, our lab had one of the first optical machines and it went 24h a day ... that meant us, the users, where in setting plates up every 2-3h. Some people liked to work nights and others preferred early mornings. I am not suggestion you work at midnight, but maybe choose a time when the other lab members are not around as much.

AussieUSA.


Hi AussieUSA,
Now we are implementing the "booking" strategy which we have to book machines (pcr) before we use. The latest problem is some user only write down and book the time they want to use, but didn't mention the time usage duration. When I ask them, they just answer me a lame answer:" I haven't run it so I don't know how long it takes..." <_<

Yeah, I had to work night shift almost daily....
I hope by sharing some of my problems you might be able to figure out some policies. Pls share it here once you done so we all can be benefit.

All the best,
Adrian
Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the lion not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.

..."best of our knowledge, as far as we know this had never been reported before, though I can't possible read all the published journals on earth, but by perform thorough search in google, the keywords did not match any documents"...

"what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"---Goddess Casandra reminds me to be strong

"It's all just DNA. Do it."---phage434

#12 GeorgeWolff

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Posted 07 October 2009 - 02:47 PM

Numbers 2 and 6 are or should be enough to get the jerk kicked out. The rest are petty. As you said, you prob can't prove the former - the latter is one that, if you can prove it, should bring to your PI's attention then to the journal itself. If neither can be proven - forget it.

#13 eberthella

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Posted 08 October 2009 - 01:12 AM

If you are sure he faked the data - it's your obligation to surface the transgression. But you obviously don't like the guy, so are you sure?. If you don't have the proof, i suggest you shut up - this is a very serious charge for any scientist (even for MD's - who we all know are typically poor scientists).

The rest of the stuff, except for the first, is all within the the realm of the petty conflicts one find at one time or another in any lab For the 1st and if I were sure I'd sure confront. Ny inclination would be to kick his ass - but at minimum drag him in front of the PI and raise enough hell the guy wouldn't try it again.

#14 miRNA man

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Posted 08 October 2009 - 07:14 AM

Ny inclination would be to kick his ass - but at minimum drag him in front of the PI and raise enough hell the guy wouldn't try it again.

But if the PI is sticking up for him then that won't help much. It could even damage the relationship between yourself and the PI.

#15 GeorgeWolff

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Posted 08 October 2009 - 01:55 PM

I have to admit that eberthella makes a good point. If the PI does nothing when you have proof, you might consder your next opportunity - and "kick his ass" on your way out the door.




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