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Unhelpful and idle labmates - (Nov/06/2009 )

Hello all,

I have a problem with my labmates. Everytime something goes wrong, they do absolutely nothing to try to fix it and expect me to solve the problem.

In our most recent incident, all of our cells mysteriously began detaching. Two and a half months of troubleshooting later, I think I have finally figured out what is wrong, however, within that time, my labmates did NOTHING to try and solve the problem. Not even a single suggestion. The most I got out of them was blank stares, shoulder shrugs and responses like "I dunno" and "have you figured it out yet?"

Now, I don't want to be "that kind" of labmate that hides information, but I'm tempted to play dumb and "accidentally forget" to tell them how to fix the problem. I'm frustrated and very tired of being taken advantage of like this. :D

Does anyone else have this problem? How do you deal with labmates like this?


Hello Rusty,

Well, you could be flattered that they are looking to you as the 'go-to guy'. That's not so bad, just a little frustrating. Have you discussed the problem with the PI?

Where does everyone stand in terms of lab hierarchy? If you're the senior student, then you may just have to deal with it and use it as an opportunity to learn how to mentor and motivate students. If you are the new guy, maybe you should ask around the department and figure out what kind of rep your boss' students have. This may be a red flag...if you want to push these people to be self-sufficient, just go about your business and let them come to you with their problems. They may wash out of their programs, or they may pull their act together. Either way, it's up to them to be successful.


lab rat

-lab rat-

hey rusty.. i know it can be frustrating at times... i don do a phd.. i work in the industry and i too face similar situations many tiems... i take it as a learning platform and make the most out of it.. after all u are gaining.. and tere s nothing more to research than troubleshooting!!!
and ya if u the senior.. tat really is a positive thing.. if u aint.. u can give them their medicine... why don u call for lab meetings every wee to discuss general troubleshooting problems... ask everyone wat they did to benifit the lab as a whole etc etc.. i don know if this is possible in ur scenario.. jsut a sugestion..
Best luck.
Cheer up dude... i think u are doign just great!!!

-Pradeep Iyer-

your labmates may not understand the technical and/or theoretical aspects of the work and therefore feel that they can't contribute to the troubleshooting.

if you feel up to it then you can involve them in the troubleshooting (roundtable discussion, have one or two of them work with you while troubleshooting, etc) and teach them something so that they won't always have to rely on you.


Hi Everyone,

Thank you for your replies!

Yes, I am the most senior member of our lab however I've been doing cell culture for just as long as my lab mates, in fact, we started our cell culture projects together so I feel that we all have the capacity to contribute to troubleshooting. I actually suggested when we started having problems with the cell culture that we all research potential solutions for the problem, meet to discuss and then divvy up the work so that we could get it solved faster, but everytime I tried to plan a meeting to discuss, everyone would shrug and say that they couldn't think of any way to solve the problem! I don't mind helping others, (in fact, I quite like teaching), I just find it frustrating that it took 2 and a half months to fix a problem that could have been solved in 1 week if everyone contributed. Everyone in our lab uses cells, they are a huge part of our lab's research, so I find it ridiculous that the project was down for so long.

Actually, now that you bring it up, I'm debating whether I should be frustrated with my lab mates or my PI. He is definitely part of the problem and reinforces this sort of behavior amongst my labmates. Whenever one of my labmates has an issue, he tells them to ask me. So some weeks I find myself not having enough time to work on my own projects because I'm too busy troubleshooting other people's projects (which are not really related to mine). I've brought this up with my PI, and he pretty much said that its my job as a senior student to mentor the junior students and that I should be flattered that they look up to me. Although I agree with this, there is a fine line between helping someone and doing all the work for them, and I think my PI has asked me to cross that line on too many occasions. He has flat out ordered me to do a portion of a lab mate's project because he "doesn't trust" them with it or because they will take too long to do it. I'm close to graduating and suggested to my PI that he begin trusting them with more things and encourage them to be more self-sufficient so that they'll be able to handle things when I leave. He said he understood and agreed with me, but yet he still asks me to troubleshoot problems for other people's projects.

Argg....why are PIs so blind and stubborn sometimes! ;)


Hi Rusty,

PIs are who they are.

Don't let this continue to bother you. Tactfully withdraw from making the decisions/troubleshooting yourself by directing the questions right back at your labmates. (ie, "Why do you think this isn't working? Why don't you look into that and let me know what you find out?) If they don't get the message, start telling them, "Why don't I get back to you on that?" and then be too busy to figure it out for them.

-lab rat-

I agree with lab rat and mdfenko: you should encourage your labmates to give it a try and solve their problems themselves. You can say "no" at any time, it might be hard but you will feel better and have more time for your research.
I do not want to advice that you should ignore or not help your labmates anymore; just tell them you do not have time at the moment, but they should look up xyz at abc in the meantime. You will have time in the evening to discuss their findings then. They will not figure out the soulution at first place, but if your labmates are willing to learn they will be able to figure out the solutions themselves. I found this a good way to teach people to solve their problems.

Second point: if your PI does not trust the results of some of your co-workers I think it is up to him to talk to them and guide them and not yours to do their research (besides you want to be included as author of the publication). Sometimes there are people you can not even trust to make PBS properly (and they will never ever learn), but these people are rare.


Dude, I feel for you. I experience the exact, if not, almost the identical situation that you face.

I'm not the most senior, but for sure I'm the only male in the lab (include the PIs as well). when there is problem:
Computer crash: I had to be the technician to restore the system
GelDoc not working: I had to inform them "to turn on the switch"
pipettor spoilt: I had to change the O-ring for them
buffer not enough: prepare for them
distilled water not enough: carry a 10 liters water few labs away from the media room
gas run out: I have to carry the gas barrel away for replacement
chemicals not enough: I have to request quotation and do the purchasing

Not forget to mention: those "mates" even hide knowledge without sharing with me, hogging the PCR machine and hoods, and even hide equipments for their own use without sharing!

I do agree with you that there should be a fine line between helping someone and doing all the work, but seriously in some situation we are always asked (forced in reality) to cross the border. We had our own work to do and everyone should be responsible in maintain the lab and definitely not a one "man" job.

So, what do I do: I can't do even a single thing! I had to leave them alone, more consistent do my work and pray hard that I finish my work in time so that I can escape from the HELL ASAP!

Dude, U got my support, so as the support from others in this forum. Cheers and thankgod that you are going to grad and leave the lab but for me, i'm still inside the tormenting hell.

-adrian kohsf-