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Boss not allowing technician to learn new techniques - will someone please help me figure this out? (Sep/14/2009 )

This is going to be like peeling an onion, so please bear with me.

I am really confused by my boss--I had a conversation with him today regarding why I have never been asked to assist graduate students with their projects, or learn the core techniques used in the lab so that I may train them. (I'm not joking. I don't know.)

Some of the core techniques used in our lab include IHC, cytospins, and flow cytometry. The graduate students receive training from the boss (and then promptly complain about how badly he explains things) while I am told that I don't need to know how to do these things. When I asked him about this, he told me that he didn't want me to do the students' projects for them. He wants me to stick to my area of expertise, which is biochemistry and genetics. He hired me for these skills, and these skills only. I am left with PCR, westerns, cleaning, and ordering, since the majority of our lab's work uses flow and IHC. I am so frustrated, and the students are, too.

I know that he has no problem with techs helping his students, because the other technicians regularly helped students while I sat at my desk and read papers. Now those two are gone, and it's just me. At first, I thought it was because I was the lab manager and had other things to I'm not sure what's going on.

Maybe this is in retaliation? When he recruited me from my previous lab three years ago, my boss promised that I would learn new techniques, be included in papers, and participate in grant and manuscript writing. These things are very important to me, and I clearly stated that I would accept this position because I would get what I wanted. It became obvious after a year that he had no intention of holding his promises, and he started pushing me to quit my job and become his graduate student.

I declined, because he had broken his promises. I sought other professors to be my grad advisors, am working on an R03 to fund my master's project with these people, and am getting much-needed moral and professional support from them (they really are great). My boss has kept pushing me about quitting, telling me that I am getting too old for graduate school, etc., and making comments about how useful he would be to my project. I am keeping him at arm's length.

The issues I'm trying to piece together, and just aren't fitting together in my mind:

-He hired me to be his tech even though I lacked the skill set to do the main assays in his lab
-He won't let me help anyone in the lab
-He wouldn't invest in my skill set to make me useful in the lab, or provide incentive to stay
-He's pushing me really hard to go to grad school, but then tells me that I'm not good enough
-He wants to be part of my master's project and involved with my program

Maybe someone outside this situation can see more clearly what is going on?

lab rat

-lab rat-

Hey Lab Rat:)

I know exactly how you feel. I have a very similiar situation in my lab. I feel like my boss treats me very differently from how he treats the rest of my colleagues. I think he just needed a lab manager but isnt really interested in my project. He never listens to my suggestions. I wanna start grad school but not with him. I wish I was able to help you but I myself have no solutions as of yet :P But just know you are not alone.


You said you had a conversation with your boss. Did you specifcally discuss the concerns you identified? If not or your not satisfied with the anwers - sit down again and with the list you provided us and get answers.

THose being:
-Hh hired me to be his tech even though I lacked the skill set to do the main assays in his lab
-He won't let me help anyone in the lab
-He wouldn't invest in my skill set to make me useful in the lab, or provide incentive to stay
-He's pushing me really hard to go to grad school, but then tells me that I'm not good enough
-He wants to be part of my master's project and involved with my program


Hi lab rat,

When I read your thread topic, I thought.. would be another exciting week in this forum :(... cheer up, ok? It’s either your boss is really mean and spiteful or probably just a poor communicator sending mixed signals and expects you to be a mind reader or that you’re so fed up and emotionally affected that you can’t think rationally about this whole situation.

I suggest that you take a break, drink a chilled pink and listen to Black Eyed Peas (or some Barry Manilow, but, even I would be more depressed after listening to him :( ) and then give it another go and talk to him again. You have issues so you have to try to resolve them one way or another. And for better navigation through this stressful “talk”, George has some good practical advice you might wanna check out here (still apllicable to your case). I have to add tho that going to grad school is probably the best option for you (even your PI “sometimes” thinks so) seeing how motivated you are but if there’s a lot of baggage being lugged around, I agree that perhaps it’s also better to find another masteral thesis advisor. So why are you still in that lab?



You are leaving yourself powerless in this. Decide what you want - and if it's a masters, he apparently is not useful to your end. Don't burn your bridges or be petulant - just tell the guy you want a masters degree - that is your objective. Ask him if he'll commit to help you and what he'll specifically do to that end. If you're not satisfied, seek another opportunity. The moral support from other prof's is not much, about as useful as this discussion - talk is cheap. Ask those folks directly if they'll make the opportunity available for you.
Be aware that many PI's see folks pursuing only a masters as not worth the time. With the age comment and this limited objective, success here will not be easy.

Bottom line (and I know it will upset some), stop thinking like a technician waiting to be told what to do and complaining to others. Decide what you want and make pivotal decisions with that as objective. Your boss thinks you're getting a bit long in the tooth for grad program - pretty telling that he sees you as no more than a technician. Act now or accept that you'll be a technician existing (tenuously) on small and soft money the rest of your life.


Said differently, make up your mind and do it without asking for permission. Technicians understandably operate by following directions.
The good or even great ideas they offer usually await permission from the PI. See your relationship in current context as "what can this guy do for me and will he do it?"


I have read all the advice here, and have thought carefully about everything said. I do appreciate the advice from Eber and George. Yes, I am complaining a little, but not because I am acting like a "technician" waiting for someone to "tell me what to do." (Clearly, you have never met me.) I know what I want, have worked very hard for 6 years to reach my goals, and now find myself facing a very strangely-behaving obstacle that I don't know how to maneuver around. Our recent "heart-to-heart" talks have devolved into him complaining about me not respecting him. I simply do not have the energy to devote to these talks anymore, and am worried that this drain on my emotional resources will ruin my remaining graduate school experience. (I have 1/3 of my coursework completed already. I cannot go on without an advisor and project.)

Cassandra is right--my boss is sending me mixed messages. Before I started working for him, he and I had a conversation in which he advised me not to take a graduate position with my previous boss. He said that my boss would never stop thinking of me as a technician, and I wouldn't get the experience that I wanted out of my graduate program. Now that I am taking his advice, he's miffed.

When I started working for him, I told him my intentions, and asked if he would consider treating me like a grad student while I worked myself into a financial situation where I could comfortably afford school. He agreed, but then later told me he changed his mind and was going to treat me like a technician. I changed my mind about choosing him as an advisor because of this. I have no reason to believe that he will stop treating me like a "technician" when the habit is already three years old.

While some may consider a master's a waste of time, I'm not at an institution known for its stellar research programs. I also do not have a bachelor's in a hard-science field, so the master's will serve as a turntable for my education. There is a dedicated master's program in microbiology here, a pretty good one, and I intended to work full-time while getting my degree. Many other staff members have done this; none to my knowledge has been the graduate student of their faculty supervisor. Discussions with faculty and staff alike indicate that putting that faculty member in charge of both career and graduate program of their supervisee is viewed as a conflict of interest on the part of the supervisor.

To summarize: I do not feel that my boss has the right to feel injured over my decision to choose someone else to fill the role that he declined first, or for following his advice. While he verbally supported me in my decision to take courses--one of the benefits of my position, but I still had to pay fees out-of-pocket--he has not actually invested in my professional development or behaved as an interested advisor, so he really isn't being taken advantage of. If he had, I probably would have chosen him.

-lab rat-

Good luck, lab rat.


Hi lab rat,

I didn’t realise how complicated your situation is and what’s more surprising is that it has gone this long. I understand now why you’re reluctant to have more of these talks with him but as you said, you’re running out of time now i.e. you need a project and a main supervisor to complete your grad program. And of course he’s miffed, after all your “show of disrespect” :angry: altho he started it by reneging on your agreement, but otoh, it’s also not a crime to change one’s mind. He sees your value, wants to keep you as his tech and therefore, he’d act according to his best interest. If we can see a bit of his POV then you wouldn’t be so frustrated with him and end up emotionally-drained.

It’s easy to guess why he hasn’t asked you to leave yet but a more obvious question is why are you still there? You say that he’s not interested so do you think he’d allow you to still work fulltime in his lab if you already have to start your own masteral thesis project? Couldn’t you just give up working altogether so you can concentrate on your master’s and finish it faster and then move on (hopefully to better things)? Whatever you decide to do, good luck…


btw, lab rat….for your entertainment and distraction, check out Pink’s Please Don’t Leave Me video….a spoof on Stephen King’s Misery…it’s got everything (and hope you can get the warped connection)….a bit dark, weird, off-beat, psycho, dog-in-the-manger, poetic justice blablabla….and she’s not that bad a singer too…:P


Thanks George and Casandra.

Yes I've seen the video. I like Pink, and have been meaning to get the album.

I spoke to the dept head today, and he says he'll support me as long as I get my work done to my boss' satisfaction. He also said that I may have to give my boss the heave-ho if I want to accelerate my progress, since I've been chipping away for so long. I also have to look out for my interests. If my boss doesn't see reason, then farewell, I guess. I'm not going anywhere until at least April, though. I don't anticipate getting an advisor before next fall.

-lab rat-