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My advisor is channeling a Magic 8-ball


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#1 lab rat

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 07:01 PM

So don't take everything in this post so seriously. I'm just blowing off steam.

Today the issues in this lab have come to a head. Over the past year I have seen the other grad students in the lab return from the boss' office in tears...I think today was to have been my turn. (After a decade of working for a series of jerks, I have no tears, or patience, left.)

Since last September I have:

changed fields from microbiology to plant molecular biology
relearned Mendelian inheritance in a diploid species
genotyped an historically mis-managed advanced population while searching for the correct parents of the initial hybridization
constructed a linkage map for 20 chromosomes using a few hundred individuals, including screening for polymorphic markers, since January
and now am in the middle of tidying up missing data on a single growing season, field work for the next season, and writing a thesis that is now due next month instead of in December

endured hour-long lectures about how I am inefficient and waste my time working inefficiently
been told that I am not going to be kept, now a PhD student, no, just a master's, maybe not kept...(shuffle and repeat)
been told that I do not understand my project (question: how do you want me to design the field layout?)
now I have to write my thesis on the basis of data I do not have
...which will be my evaluation to determine if I am good enough to be a PhD student
...but I got an undergrad helper since I am the sole investigator on my project now
the other people in the lab don't like me and don't want to talk to me because I am not nice
...but I am too nice, and should say what is bothering me once in a while
he is interested in seeing my "real personality"
I should be able to get all my work done during 8-5 pm, even though there are 10 of us in the lab and 5 thermalcyclers

and today, at the end of another hour-long lecture on how I am inefficient with my time (interrupting the work that I was doing at the time): He doesn't think I have the ability to do data analysis (on data I don't have), so he must reconsider whether I am good enough to be a PhD student since I was "unsuccessful" in my previous field (as a technician) for the past 10 years.

That last unprofessional remark is what made me snap. The other people in the lab (yes, he said this in front of everyone else in the lab) said the look on my face was "unmistakable" and they were surprised that I managed to smile and say "thank you for the advice". The lab manager said she was surprised, since the other grad students would have been in tears by then and I recovered well enough to say thank you. I took the undergrad's advice and went to the bar.

I am not sure what to do next; I sent him an email telling him that I was concerned about his misinterpretation of my choice in career direction and that I was deeply hurt by his remark. I'm still pretty steamed about it, but I'm afraid I will have to take another walk on my own--a long-legged angry person + mini schnauzer = forced march for the dog. When I picked up the leash tonight, he whined and limped away as fast as he could! :( I am really tempted to ask a magic 8-ball for advice, but figured I should see what real people have to say first.

Any thoughts? I'm holding it together at work, but if this keeps up my poor dog will lose a lot of weight. Thanks.

edited 'cause I'm so mad I can't spell right...

Edited by lab rat, 25 May 2011 - 07:17 PM.

42..."An immutable fixed-precision number of unlimited magnitude." <a href="http://en.wikipedia....amming_language)" target="_blank">http://en.wikipedia....amming_language)</a>, accessed 25June2009.

#2 casandra

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 08:00 PM

so here's to resetting your funny bone.....my gosh, LaRa...you're such a jerk magnet!!! :P And take pity on the poor mini-schnauzy and sashay instead sporting a dog carrier (like a regular Paris Hilton).

If, as you said, all the grad students in your lab get the same pep talk from your boss, then I suppose that it's his MO...so it's not you. Perhaps, he cracks the whip so you'd all work 8 days a week, 30 hours a day...or he gets off "motivating" people, whatever his reasons are...don't let it distract you or esp stop you from achieving your goal- and that's to get the masters degree. And if he's using the PhD degree as a carrot...ppfftt....would you really seriously consider staying in his lab for this? So take it easy girl..one step at a time... and drink some beer...we shld really get together :)...and try to finish that thesis as fast as you can....
"Oh what a beauteousness!"
- hobglobin, personal comment about my beauteous photo......

#3 Adrian K

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 09:34 PM

Hi LaRa,
I heard you, I don't know how to make you feel better. I am not in good mood either because of my boss, which was happened to me, just yesterday.

I sent her 2 paper drafts. She scolded me for:
1) Lacking of numbers and some date (which she had it removed earlier)
2) Ask me to speed up and give more priority on the paper (what about my lab work?)

She scolded me in front of undergraduates, and insisted that LB is called "Luria-Bertani" and not "Lysogeny Broth", and told she never observed people use the term "Lysogeny Broth" in any publications. ?????

After I shown her the postscript section in http://jb.asm.org/cg...g&pmid=14729683
she says I must cite the paper above if I use the term "lysogeny broth" because nobody knows/heard about it. And she even mention to me "that is only for historical record..." I was like WTH?????

She even insist that there is no "blastp" only "blastn" when I was talking of protein blast.

I was like being shot by 8 cannon-balls. I hope you feel slightly relieve as we are on the same boat, same fate.

For me, 5 thermalcyclers for 10 person is not that bad. Just imagine in my place: 15 person 1 thermalcycler.... a broken biorad mycycler... and only 1 electrophoresis tank with maximum 17 wells.

I wish I have a dog with me to walk with. I cant afford to visit bar because my stipend had stopped since april. Yup, I'm just doing my masters... I think of quit my master and getr a job now, really.

edit: bad spellings as well...

Edited by adrian kohsf, 25 May 2011 - 09:34 PM.

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

#4 pito

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 11:47 PM

LB broth: its even on wiki that it means lysogeny broth.. and its the creator himself who tells it.. I mean: how idiotic is your supervisor that she doesnt accept her mistake... Damn, people like that are just idiots. Who would want to work with such a idiot that always wants to be right and always try to explain why she is not wrong.
(altough, I agree, you could mention that paper, because everyone does know it as Luria-Bertani)


And how you mean: there is no blastp ? Is she retarded?

@lab rat : I dont think we can judge the situation for 100% sure, we dont know how the people are and how in the end it goes.. Is it possible that the bos is just a jerk? But still a jerk that lets you finish your masters and PhD? Because they are out there: jerks that are still "happy" to have students to become PhD's or...? Some people are just born like that.. but they can still be "fair" in the end.

But its possible this is not the case and then....

On the other hand: I dont know the situation very well, but why not become more assertive? I would not let someone do that crap to me... I have a tongue and my mouth isnt glued closed .. so I'll talk back to him.. esp if he makes a fool out of me in front of others.. And critizising 10 years of experience in the lab... hell, he could stick it up his ass!
Of course, it depends on how bad you need that master in that lab and how much influence your boss has....

You need to check all the bases....
I am very methodic on this: Your boss checks your CV, but damnit: you check your boss too! Find out what he has to say, who he works with, are there others that dont like him? Get spitting that dirt out.. Esp in such a situation, you need to know what you can do.

Or are you just going to take his crap just because you know you can still graduate?
I could do that , if I knew for sure that at the end of it you are getting that PhD... but if you arent even sure to get a masters degree ...

And if someone would tell me I am not good in data analysis, I would answer them: oh, ok I see, so what university you want me to go to to follow some extra courses during my working time then?
If he thinks you miss some skills/knowledge, its his responsibility to send you off to school or courses to learn it or he should teach you it.. his pick...


Oh well, just my ideas.... maybe they are bad, maybe not, I dont know, but in the end, the only thing we can do is tell you how we see things and its up to you to decide which advise is good and which is bad etc...

Oh yeah, one question: 10 years of a technician, in what lab was that? The one you are now working on your massters?

Edited by pito, 25 May 2011 - 11:48 PM.

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


#5 casandra

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 08:57 AM

It's from a different lab with a different boss of course, that's why she stated that she changed her career direction....but I don't know who scored better in the jerk-o-meter :)...and I don't think that she had plans to continue on to a PhD....

anyways, regarding your comment about being assertive and talking back (you know, to tell the boss to stick it up his bum...you really have a way with words, pito...:lol:)....we shld probably have a poll if it's the right course of action for a masters student even if they have a point or they know they are right. Would it make things better or worse? After all, they're the boss and they can pretty much do whatever they want eg, they can assign you impossible/'searching for a needle in the haystack' projects, sit on your manuscript for a year, make you give a progress report every lab meeting, pass you up for conferences and workshops, etc...there are very subtle ways that they can make your life very difficult, and how many students do we really know complain or go to the grievance committee to denounce the PI? In the end, you’d need their recommendation for jobs or if you wanna continue on to a higher degree...and they know this......so most students would avoid any form of confrontation.... would just suck it up and try to finish as fast as they can and then move on…
"Oh what a beauteousness!"
- hobglobin, personal comment about my beauteous photo......

#6 pito

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 10:15 AM

It's from a different lab with a different boss of course, that's why she stated that she changed her career direction....but I don't know who scored better in the jerk-o-meter :)...and I don't think that she had plans to continue on to a PhD....


She changed field yes, thats what I read.. but that doesnt mean she is in another lab?
(she writes: "After a decade of working for a series of jerks, I have no tears, or patience, left", so its likely she worked at different labs, but maybe she also worked in her current lab as a technician before?)


And I dont know if she wants to do a PhD or not.. Maybe now because of the situation she is thinking not doing it..but you never know she finds another, better boss or....


anyways, regarding your comment about being assertive and talking back (you know, to tell the boss to stick it up his bum...you really have a way with words, pito...:lol:)....we shld probably have a poll if it's the right course of action for a masters student even if they have a point or they know they are right. Would it make things better or worse? After all, they're the boss and they can pretty much do whatever they want eg, they can assign you impossible/'searching for a needle in the haystack' projects, sit on your manuscript for a year, make you give a progress report every lab meeting, pass you up for conferences and workshops, etc...there are very subtle ways that they can make your life very difficult, and how many students do we really know complain or go to the grievance committee to denounce the PI? In the end, you’d need their recommendation for jobs or if you wanna continue on to a higher degree...and they know this......so most students would avoid any form of confrontation.... would just suck it up and try to finish as fast as they can and then move on…


Yes, you are right, but thats why I also wrote: You need to check all the bases.... , Of course, it depends on how bad you need that master in that lab and how much influence your boss has.... etc....

It all depends on the situation.

And it suprises me more and more how it works in other countries (regarding the masterthesis). In belgium you are far more protected as a student and they cant abuse you by letting you do lots and lots of work etc...
(to be honest: I dont even understand why she doesnt come to belgium to do her masters lol :P :lol: )

Edited by pito, 26 May 2011 - 10:56 AM.

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


#7 UBClabbie

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 11:12 AM

I think if you're having such a terrible time and being mistreated on such a regular basis that it's best for you to find another lab to pursue your PhD. Research takes a lot of time and dedication and you have to keep trudging on when things go badly, but if you're in a toxic work environment it'll be difficult for you to concentrate or enjoy anything you are accomplishing. I've worked in enough toxic environments to know that your emotional and mental sanity is the most important aspect of work.

If there isn't mutual respect, things just fall apart. I've also been humiliated and seen other people humiliated by superiors. Even if your lab mates don't like you, I'm sure even they realize how unprofessional and mean your PI was being.

Good luck on figuring things out.

#8 Adrian K

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 01:14 PM

Yes, you are right, but thats why I also wrote: You need to check all the bases.... , Of course, it depends on how bad you need that master in that lab and how much influence your boss has.... etc....

It all depends on the situation.

And it suprises me more and more how it works in other countries (regarding the masterthesis). In belgium you are far more protected as a student and they cant abuse you by letting you do lots and lots of work etc...
(to be honest: I dont even understand why she doesnt come to belgium to do her masters lol :P :lol: )


Pito, you work for the ministry of Education in Belgium to promote Belgium's education? :lol: :D

If yes, I would like to abandon my current work and go Belgium directly to do my studies, immediately, with a letter of recommendation, offer letter of full scholarship from you. :rolleyes: :) :P

@LaRa: I pray for you and wish you all the best.
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

#9 lab rat

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 05:53 PM

Hi everyone. It's amazing how much can be fixed by a mai tai. :P jk, I prefer beer.

@ casey and biogirl: Actually, I was thinking of going on for a PhD, but at a bigger uni than this one. He is the one who asked me to do a PhD with him, but can't seem to keep it straight whether I am MS or PhD. He recently told me that my project received a windfall this year and I can buy whatever I want. (!) The atmosphere isn't toxic--everyone in the lab gets along really well. If someone fights, there's yelling and leaving the room, then everything is OK and there are no grudges. That's why the comment about no one else in the lab liking me was really weird.

I actually like my advisor on a personal level, but he has bad days. I think most of his dumping on me is due to issues with other people and I'm the nearest punching bag, otherwise he is rather grandfatherly so I try to let the outrageous comments go. The tone isn't mean, but the comments are typically like the socially inept relative who is trying to give unsolicited advice about things they have misheard. A greater portion of the issue may be cultural barriers. For example, he is forever telling me to get one of the boys to help me with heavy things, even though I am a stout lass who could pick up said boy and throw him. (The other girl in the lab is very tiny and girly. She has cut her hand handling Petri dishes.)

@ pito: I had never even heard of him before last summer, but I did some research and talked to the other techs in the department before joining the lab. He has a decent reputation and is very particular about producing good data. I agree with nearly all of his philosophies regarding research and academia, and his perspectives on experience vs education. Sometimes (I'm guessing) that the kids fresh out of their undergrad and working now on their PhDs have an entitled attitude and are stupid enough to test it on him, and I get lumped in with them frequently. It is my habit to couch my criticisms as requests, and this approach seems to sit with him much more easily than the younger peoples' confrontational approach. He usually leaves me alone to do my own thing while he is forever riding everyone else.

I asked one of my lab mates what happened yesterday, and the answer was that the other girl mutinied some time ago. Since her field work and a few other things needed to be done just before my field work and same other things, I am catching the fallout of her rebellion. Hence, the 8-ball pronouncements.

Edited by lab rat, 26 May 2011 - 06:02 PM.

42..."An immutable fixed-precision number of unlimited magnitude." <a href="http://en.wikipedia....amming_language)" target="_blank">http://en.wikipedia....amming_language)</a>, accessed 25June2009.

#10 UBClabbie

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 10:02 AM

Oh well if the atmosphere is generally healthy then I guess you can always choose to trudge through it.
However, I think its pretty messed up that your PI isn't clarifying whether you are MS or PhD. I don't know how it works elsewhere, but at my old uni you had to apply through the school (even if you were formally offered a PhD candidate position by a PI) before you are officially a grad student. It's in this school registration process that your designation as a MS or PhD student is determined. Although I think everyone enters as MS and then as their term progresses they can choose to apply for PhD candidacy or are asked by the uni itself if they want to continue as PhD.

Anyways I think its great that you are holding your composure during his unprofessional comments. Hopefully your email to him explaining how you felt will change the way he blows off steam.




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