Aug 4, 2015
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Has anyone else had bad research experience where lab politics completely screws you over? I worked with some of the rudest people in my lab (postdocs and grad students) and they kept belittling me over nothing. The blame was always directed toward me even when I had nothing to do with their experiments. Is this a common occurrence?
 
Mar 25, 2015
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No, it seems really odd they would blame you when you had nothing to do with their experiments. When you are in research you need to have a thick skin, but this sounds pathological. Next time it happens ask them what you can do differently to correct the problem. Either you will find out what exactly you are doing wrong or you will find out this place is toxic and know to leave.
 
May 4, 2015
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well in the first summer I worked in my first lab, there was one snappy person who was really aiming to complete their PhD. Even if I so much as touched a lab storage space, they'd assume the worst and possibly blame me for any problems with their experiment. Thankfully my profs and/or manager noticed this and helped me avoid such encounters again. I can't say the same about other undergraduates working in the same lab though but it seemed that most everyone was genuinely looking for the lab's best interest. I didn't work with the person and my project was completely different but it shows how some people can be paranoid for no occasional reason and no proof either.

Though in academia overall people tend to be nice. It is when you go into clinical locales that politics really shows its true colors (especially when people talk behind your back about you or your friends). Grow a thick skin and know that this situation only gets you ready for the real stuff.
 
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efle

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The complaints I hear are usually about being given the incredibly boring, repetitive work as the low man on the totem pole, rather than backstabbing between lab members or some such. Something's weird with either you or that lab!
 
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Holmwood

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I love my current PI and lab mates. They're my pals. : O

I've heard some stories in the past... the usual making up excuses and dumping responsibilities onto others, or harassing lab members and such. But it seems my PI screens for troublesome personalities since then.
 

sovereign0

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Research can be pretty cutthroat, but some labs are worse than others. It isn't uncommon to receive (and give!) tough criticism, but it can often get to the point where it is no longer constructive. Working in a hospital can also draw some similarities in that aspect.

But if it seems like you are being "persecuted" or singled out, and you aren't doing anything wrong, your lab could be worse than the average. I agree with what the other poster said, you should look for ways to make the criticism constructive. It can't hurt to remind your superiors that you are an undergrad. Show them your capacity to learn and improve by asking what you can do better next time. If you just bear the criticism with no positive spin on it, then you're taking unnecessary punishment.

Now, undergrads in a lab are going to be taken advantage of to some extent (you're basically free labor). But you get to draw the line on where it becomes unacceptable. If they refuse to give you criticism and just like to yell at you, or if they are asking for too much, then it might be time to find a new lab.
 

takeurmeds02

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Yea, that's very unfortunate. I flooded a lab trying to refill the small DI water tank one summer. They laughed at me and that was it...I can only imagine the backlash I would have gotten otherwise..

Well actually the investigator in the next lab over wasn't too happy with me as it flooded her office and a portion of her lab too...>_>
 

Noomm

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elgauchotejano

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PI initially made me a technician to test me and assigned me a project halfway through my 1st semester with them. My mentor however never really taught me/ introduced me to the science and practically made me his lab technician during my project in order to run experiments for his paper. ALthough I understand the basics of the research I never learned the significance of my data because he never taught me the concepts. Additionally, he never helped me with lab presentations and would always tell me he would be ready to help next week despite my pleading. In addition to being completely useless to my project and asking that I perform experiments for his paper, he would always complain to me about how scared he was that he won't get a job in industry or academia because doctorates are overqualified for companies, and Academia is too saturated; and that he should not ahve dropped out of PA school for a molecular biology Ph.D. Ultimately, my PI became pissed at me because I had a bad presentation without his help and questioned if I took the lab seriously... I am now on leave for the following fall semester.... hopefully I will quit after getting an interview and acceptance...

Honestly I didn't hate anyone else because they were chill and respectful to me - except the graduate mentor and the PI, for whom I feel a tinge of bitterness and frustration
 
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Aug 17, 2015
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To Brad Pitt, labs are like homes. Some are good homes, some are bad - depending on who lives there. From personal experience, Brad Pitt would advise others to be in a lab that is comfortable and friendly as opposed to one that has a toxic environment. The PI is a source for your letter of rec after all, make sure you have good relations with them.
 

gannicus89

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I worked with one undergrad who sort of consistently undermined me. But then he basically made the autoclave go boom and got fired. It was an insane showdown lol. He was on the verge of tears by the end of it. I think it's safe to say that he had a bad lab experience.
 

panda16

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My lab experience taught me a lot about patience and overcoming obstacles in the research process. I had a 100 percent independent project and my mentor would give me guidance about once every two weeks. The issue was that the direction was constantly changing so I have a ton of data now that is essentially useless.
 
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cantankerous

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My lab PI was a well published black woman. Her life as an academic understandably was very hard, so she was really frustrated all the time. Being the only majority academic type in the lab (asian male), I ended up taking a lot of crap from her lol.

I'm not trying to demean her in any way. I would be the same probably in her shoes, but it wasn't so nice to be on the receiving end.
 

Noomm

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My lab PI was a well published black woman. Her life as an academic understandably was very hard, so she was really frustrated all the time. Being the only majority academic type in the lab (asian male), I ended up taking a lot of crap from her lol.

I'm not trying to demean her in any way. I would be the same probably in her shoes, but it wasn't so nice to be on the receiving end.
So she was racist.
 

oOKawaiiOo

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My lab PI was a well published black woman. Her life as an academic understandably was very hard, so she was really frustrated all the time. Being the only majority academic type in the lab (asian male), I ended up taking a lot of crap from her lol.

I'm not trying to demean her in any way. I would be the same probably in her shoes, but it wasn't so nice to be on the receiving end.
You should have told her you grew up with many black folks and understood the struggle.


Yeah, but now I left that lab for one filled with fobs who can't speak English. Home with the famiry!
Im Asian too, but I can't stand fobby Asians. Lol.
 
Aug 18, 2015
18
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I work in an orgo chem lab and I love it. I feel like everyone in the lab looks out for me, guides me, and gives me advice as I go along with my project. I expected the gig to be tougher than it has been, however it's been fun and I've learned so much in the short time that I've been there. Although, my prof has told me just how brutal and cut-throat research labs can be outside of undergrad. Although prof has mentioned problematic volunteers/etc in the past, nobody deals with that nonsense anymore.
 

Goro

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It's more common than you think, and the only solutions are to either leave and find a better lab, or talk to the PI. Do not stay in any environment that is toxic.


Has anyone else had bad research experience where lab politics completely screws you over? I worked with some of the rudest people in my lab (postdocs and grad students) and they kept belittling me over nothing. The blame was always directed toward me even when I had nothing to do with their experiments. Is this a common occurrence?
 
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altblue

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My experience with the postdoc I worked with was so poor that I'm making a formal complaint, so yes. I could go on and on about the ways I was treated poorly, and it sucks that I have to be professional about this, while I was not treated in such a way.

Vast majority of people in research are reasonable and friendly, but some are irrational about lab issues, poor communicators or just flat out jerks. I'm sorry to hear about that OP. Hopefully you can find a new lab where you'll be treated well

Phone post
 
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Shirafune

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My first lab experience involved a post-doc mentor who kind of skimmed protocol explanations and techniques, perhaps overestimating what I knew. It was the summer after my freshman year so I didn't have all the background information I needed to excel in the lab, so when the post-doc was irritated on some days, I tried my best to work independently without asking questions and troubleshoot mid-protocol if I was having trouble. Needless to say, for a person that took 4 hours to understand only 10% of his first journal club paper, some experiments were not super clean. The PI gave all the undergrads a hard time and severely criticized our lab meeting presentations. Basically, I had to pick up a lot of things by myself at home and spent countless hours perfecting things for a PI who had unrealistic standards for everybody in his lab. I learned a lot from my year there, which made all my subsequent molecular biology classes a breeze.

Currently a little under a year in my second lab as a rising senior. I had about 5 weeks of minimal training and then got thrown an independent project which my PI nor anybody else in the lab was an expert on. Nobody in the lab was working on related topics either. Churned out a lot of negative data and had issues optimizing and troubleshooting new protocols for the lab all while trying to come up with a reasonable hypothesis for a highly undefined topic. I don't believe anything will come out of the project and my PI has admitted that she is tired of these results and wants to scrap the project. My PI asked me to write up a proposal before I get back on a topic more related to the lab's focus. But of course I have to read a ton of papers again because my initial project was just too out there.

tl;dr
learned a lot of stuff by being in tough, independent labs. bittersweet because both the lab environment and research progress can be so frustrating at times.
 
Aug 17, 2015
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Although I have had bad experiences with a PI (labmates were always cool), it is not so much the politics that bothered me. Usually, it is the projects that gave me a bad time, and learning to deal with repeated negative results was a challenge, despite every honest attempt at being clever. Sometimes, I also didn't have any money/budget for the projects or any previous expertise from the group/PI to rely on.

Research is a difficult job and can often be isolating (especially in the physical sciences). I always struggled to make a routine, because every aspect of the project was a little different. Was always struggling and trying to learn new things to add to the project. I think success also depends on your skills in the machine shop and with plumbing - at least when you do hands-on work. Regardless, I was not very good at this, and unsuccessful mostly.

Looking back, I think you have to accept your fate (including your failures) and come to terms with whatever happens. Not everyone makes a good research scientist.

Oh, I should also add that there are poorly managed lab groups, and well managed ones. Some of the productive labs offer excellent training opportunities for trainees, whereas in others, you are kind of thrown into a pool of sharks and told to learn how to swim.

If you end up in a lab group where you don't fit, I suggest you go find another, or consider trying a different line of work. There is a lot of hit or miss in research, and since the financial rewards are not really there, I wouldn't recommend working for several years in a miserable work environment. If you aren't learning and if you aren't working on something meaningful, then why are you working in research? (Because you're a premed? OK)
 
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