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Lab embarressment

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17 replies to this topic

#16 casandra


    carpe diem by the jugulum

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 09:02 AM

It's not a matter of "rights" - such as, to your perspective, one to "abuse". Neither is it a matter of entitlement to be treated so ones feelings aren't hurt. Neither term has relevance here. Here, I believe it's a matter of maturation - encountering a world that is less concerned with the individual and their feelings and more concerned with the mission/success of the organization.
Folks pursuing employment outside of the academic lab certainly face some level of critical treatment and responses could be to work hard and stand up for themselves or suffer what they see as abuse. Or they could find another opporutunity. The drill sergeant, ad manager, machine shop supevisor, business section head, manuf plant manager etc. will each test their newly hired folks to weed out those who do not appear to be capable of perforing as intended and growing in the organization - even more so in the current economic climate. No doubt the folks suffering critical treatment swear they'll never treat others in that manner - until they understand why.

You may also overinterpret the behaviour and default to a conclusion of abuse. Even if the behaviour hurting the original poster's feelings were excessive (and we have only that person's side of it), the PI's motive might be associated with driving critical thinking or testing the mettle of the individual. He may have been burned with a lifetime grad student.

Hi George,

I don't really think that what the PI is doing to Micro is testing her mettle nor driving her critical thinking...seems more like he's squashing her resistance and showing his power. What she's doing is standing up for her experiments, therefore for herself and not complying to what he's demanding from her which is to scale down her project. And of course, he doesn't like it. After all that negativity and constant criticism and being disparaged in front of her labmates, are we even surprised that she cried- that's her way. Others would respond differently.

And it's always so easy to say just leave...but is it really that simple.....leave, in the middle of a project and then go where? If you were a PI, would you accept a student who just left her lab, it doesn't matter the circumstances, this would raise a lot of questions and you'd think that she might do the same to you. And I seriously doubt the success of this management practice of being constantly critical just to weed out the bad weed. Besides, one can be critical or challenging but not to the point of completely destroying a person's self-esteem....Micro is just what, a first year Ph D student...she passed the qualifying selection for the program which means she has all the potential. Wouldn't another approach work better, something that would inspire her to excel rather than be embittered and discouraged.

But this is a good topic and thanks for your perspective. I think many people are in similar situation as Micro. Perhaps with all your experience and expertise, you can tell us how we can stand up to the person who's got all the control and the power to make one's academic life either extremely satisfying or miserable? Waving in front of our face this magic paper called " letter of recommendation"... :unsure: ...some practical suggestions will be great....and of course, quitting as a last resort...


Edited by casandra, 30 May 2009 - 09:19 AM.

"Oh what a beauteousness!"
- hobglobin, personal comment about my beauteous photo......

#17 GeorgeWolff



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Posted 31 May 2009 - 05:40 AM

Thanks Casandra - very reasonable comment.
If I were to counsel the person orignally posting, I'd offer that they should constructively confront the PI. Ask for same time (after they and perhaps the PI have calmed down) for a 1 on 1 discussion (get a commitment for at least an hour). Ask functional questions - does the PI consider my project to be important and likely to be successfully achieved? is my work and approach technically sound? is the work important to the PI? does the PI think I have the talent and commitment to be successful in their lab in the context of this project? Don't bull shit around - ask the question.
These should surface core issues and "no" or equivocation to the 1st three should make you ask for help in establishing a new line/approach of research. No to the last should provoke you to ask how they came to this conclusion.
If these are answered positively or with BS, call the question - there's clear disatisfaction with something I'm doing or not doing - what is it? Don't let the PI off the hook when they express surprise - describe specifically (the wrods - not your intepretation or feelings) the behaviours - time and date. It is fair to observe that the comments effect your ability to perform

Don't talk about rights, entitlement, abuse, negativity in science/their lab/the department/the world or feelings, or threaten to quit. Worst case - if you must part ways, ask for advice and support in finding a new position.

If you worry that you'll become emotional - try establishing functional distractions. Write the questions down, take notes, listen to the words carefully, ask for clarification. If this doesn't help - you're really not mature enough to function as an independent researcher in the critical world of science.

Edited by GeorgeWolff, 31 May 2009 - 05:50 AM.

#18 Micro



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Posted 31 May 2009 - 07:58 PM

George and Cassandra- your ideas and words have been very thought provoking and helpful. Thank you. George your suggestion about functional distraction during times of high emotion is something I can image myself using in the future.

In the weeks since I had this problem, I have sat down a talked with my supervisor rational about these problems. As was suggested in an earlier post, his ways of working within research and with research students has come through years of experience and this is very true. After talking with him I realise that his way of doing things has come from bitter experience and it is not personal attack on my abilities, but reflects his own cautious and systematic nature. I definately took things too personally and need to learn to communicate better so that he can feel more comfortable about my ideas.

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