Jan 22, 2013
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I don't want to complain but there is a post-doc from overseas who has been working in the lab. I'm a medical student and joined a few months after him. We both have different projects (understandably he has many more projects than me, I only have a single project). Anyways, I asked him if I can help him on his project and told him he can contribute to my project as well--this way both of us could be included on the abstracts and publications.

In the beginning, at times the post-doc would make comments that the PI likes me over him, and I would laugh it off as a joke. Then one day, the PI asked me to review and analyze old data related to his project from a previous research fellow and the post-doc got really mad at me and told me that he wanted to review the data (he's been so busy with his other projects that the old data was just sitting there). I told him sure he can review the data but asked him if I could still help him but he told me I should focus on the more "menial" work and leave any data analysis up to him. I thought I handled the situation well and it was resolved but I think it really hurt his ego because he still proceeded to make it in a big deal and very strategically told another senior post-doc who is close to the PI that he wanted to review the data and then that senior post-doc told the PI about the situation. The PI then assigned him the data to review instead, even though I had already told the post-doc he could review it. Anyways since then the post-doc has been acting weird with me--don't know why, he even ended up getting an abstract out it by analyzing someone else's previous data (and of course I wasn't included as an author because I didn't get a chance to contribute).

He already has so many projects, and it turns out that he is applying for a post-doc research fellowship and he is now proposing the project that I've been working on alone for nearly a year (I'm the only one who has been working on this project). It's the same project, and even used the data that I collected and figures that I've presented on Powerpoint. The PI is okay with this. They haven't asked for my input or even informed me, I saw the printed application/grant on the printer.

I obviously understand that the PI owns the project/data so he can do whatever he wants with it and obviously previous data is used when applying for grants, so I'm not surprised at all about that---I'm just worried that this post-doc is going to start taking over my project as well now that he thinks he has the green-light from the PI. I actually wouldn't have cared if he helped, it's just that he seems to be out to compete with me for some reason and he has a very hierarchical point of view and thinks that he knows more than me because I'm a student which isn't necessarily the case because he doesn't know English well and his background in this field is lacking (although he is the only one in the lab who knows the technical procedure that we need to perform for the experiments). Anyways, I can't say anything because it'll make me look bad and it's a lose-lose situation for me either way.

Do I have right to be worried or upset?
 
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solitude

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Anyways, I can't say anything because it'll make me look bad and it's a lose-lose situation for me either way.

Do I have right to be worried or upset?

Yes, you have the right to be upset. What they did is legal, but in poor form.

You can say something to the post-doc, the PI, or both. It won't make you look bad to stand up for yourself, if you do it with tact. Or, you can adopt the just-wrap-things-up-and-get-the-h***-out strategy.
 

Neuronix

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He already has so many projects, and it turns out that he is applying for a post-doc research fellowship and he is now proposing the project that I've been working on alone for nearly a year (I'm the only one who has been working on this project). It's the same project, and even used the data that I collected and figures that I've presented on Powerpoint. The PI is okay with this. They haven't asked for my input or even informed me, I saw the printed application/grant on the printer.
They're thinking about the long term. He may not even get this grant. But I'm sure they're assuming that you're not planning on staying in the lab,. As a medical student they may be assuming that you will likely have a mostly clinical career, while the post-doc is trying to build a career based entirely on research.

I'm not saying what they're doing is right by any stretch. I'm just saying this sort of thing does happen all the time, and it is usually justified by saying that the person getting screwed will not be staying in the lab in the future. Another common scenario is when someone finishes something someone else was doing and takes total credit for it after that person leaves the lab. To them it's just easier to publish something quickly when they feel it's time rather than involving the person who originally did the work (especially if they are going to fight for first authorship). Frankly the PIs often don't care who is on the paper, don't want to fight these battles, and hence just want it published as easily and quickly as possible.

I'm just worried that this post-doc is going to start taking over my project as well now that he thinks he has the green-light from the PI.
Well what is your plan? Typically medical students are transient in labs.

Do I have right to be worried or upset?
It depends. If your data is presentable or publishable, you should work on doing that ASAP in case someone is planning to steal it. Once you leave the lab, you clearly are going to lose anything you were working on. The question in my mind is, how much longer are you planning on staying, and what do you have to work with as it is.
 
OP
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Jan 22, 2013
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They're thinking about the long term. He may not even get this grant. But I'm sure they're assuming that you're not planning on staying in the lab,. As a medical student they may be assuming that you will likely have a mostly clinical career, while the post-doc is trying to build a career based entirely on research.

I'm not saying what they're doing is right by any stretch. I'm just saying this sort of thing does happen all the time, and it is usually justified by saying that the person getting screwed will not be staying in the lab in the future. Another common scenario is when someone finishes something someone else was doing and takes total credit for it after that person leaves the lab. To them it's just easier to publish something quickly when they feel it's time rather than involving the person who originally did the work (especially if they are going to fight for first authorship). Frankly the PIs often don't care who is on the paper, don't want to fight these battles, and hence just want it published as easily and quickly as possible.



Well what is your plan? Typically medical students are transient in labs.



It depends. If your data is presentable or publishable, you should work on doing that ASAP in case someone is planning to steal it. Once you leave the lab, you clearly are going to lose anything you were working on. The question in my mind is, how much longer are you planning on staying, and what do you have to work with as it is.
yeah that's a good point, he'll only be here for a few years but yeah it'll be longer than me.

Anyways, today he said that I should focus doing in vitro stuff (which wont be publishable alone, and I don't see that being enough data for my thesis) and he told me to let him focus on in vivo stuff (which will be publishable) even though I was the one who proposed the in vivo studies.

I'm doing a Master's so have to write a thesis on this project (at least 2 year commitment in lab) and my committee (PI included) wants both in vivo and in vitro data. And I had already proposed both aspects of the project since last year.

The post-doc told me that I don't know the procedure and he doesn't trust me because of my lack of experience (yes he's that blunt but I don't take it personally because his English isn't good so I give him the benefit of the doubt although he doesn't talk like that with the undergrad in the lab). I asked him to let me learn but he still wants to do all procedures. He also mentioned that the "in vivo" projects are his study because he's proposing them for the grant---yup this is exactly what I thought would happen.

I'm trying to be very accommodating and not showing that I'm frustrated or anything but he's making it difficult. He is being territorial and somewhat aggressive in taking over the project. Like I said I don't mind at all if he helps me and would love to have him contribute to the project. The senior post-doc is on his side since they work together. I'm worried that if he's being so territorial about the procedures he wont even let me review or analyze the data which I kind of will have to at some point to use for my weekly update meetings with the PI and also my thesis committee meetings.

Should I talk to my PI? I'm trying to figure out a way to spin it so that it doesn't make me look as though I'm not a team player or whining, because I know in the end I'll be the one to look bad. And the PI has already hinted in the past and asked me whether I'm getting along with the post-doc, I said "yes" haha.

My PI is a leader in the residency that I want to go into which is why I'm treading this situation so carefully.
 
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Aug 8, 2012
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If it's for your thesis, then you should definitely talk to your P.I. As long as you're tactful and avoid "blaming" the post-doc, then you should be fine.
 

mercaptovizadeh

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yeah that's a good point, he'll only be here for a few years but yeah it'll be longer than me.

Anyways, today he said that I should focus doing in vitro stuff (which wont be publishable alone, and I don't see that being enough data for my thesis) and he told me to let him focus on in vivo stuff (which will be publishable) even though I was the one who proposed the in vivo studies.

I'm doing a Master's so have to write a thesis on this project (at least 2 year commitment in lab) and my committee (PI included) wants both in vivo and in vitro data. And I had already proposed both aspects of the project since last year.

The post-doc told me that I don't know the procedure and he doesn't trust me because of my lack of experience (yes he's that blunt but I don't take it personally because his English isn't good so I give him the benefit of the doubt although he doesn't talk like that with the undergrad in the lab). I asked him to let me learn but he still wants to do all procedures. He also mentioned that the "in vivo" projects are his study because he's proposing them for the grant---yup this is exactly what I thought would happen.

I'm trying to be very accommodating and not showing that I'm frustrated or anything but he's making it difficult. He is being territorial and somewhat aggressive in taking over the project. Like I said I don't mind at all if he helps me and would love to have him contribute to the project. The senior post-doc is on his side since they work together. I'm worried that if he's being so territorial about the procedures he wont even let me review or analyze the data which I kind of will have to at some point to use for my weekly update meetings with the PI and also my thesis committee meetings.

Should I talk to my PI? I'm trying to figure out a way to spin it so that it doesn't make me look as though I'm not a team player or whining, because I know in the end I'll be the one to look bad. And the PI has already hinted in the past and asked me whether I'm getting along with the post-doc, I said "yes" haha.

My PI is a leader in the residency that I want to go into which is why I'm treading this situation so carefully.
You need to be extra careful. Try to stake out space and contribute (can you propose a totally new set of experiments, both in vitro and in vivo, that are completely unrelated to the post-doc's stuff? hence, less friction?) but not to step on toes. You're at the bottom of the totem pole and the PI will not be happy if you make too many waves.
 

miz

Oct 14, 2011
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I'm really sorry you're in this awful situation. It sounds like you are not contributing a unique skill set if he is the only one in the lab who knows the technical procedure you need to perform the project. This is your real problem. He is much more valuable to the PI than you are, technique-wise.

Here are some options and my opinion of pros/cons
1. Be honest. Let the PI know that your previous/current work overlaps with the postdoc's work and ask if you can propose a new project involving both in-vitro and in-vivo studies. This will set you back a lot of time and work and probably the data you have worked on will get used without your permission, unless you have it organized in your own system in which case you might get a lower authorship because they will have to ask you to give them your data. This implies that you have the independent knowledge necessary to form and propose a doable master's thesis project.

2. Talk to the PI about coauthorship on this project, which you have been working on since you joined the lab. This is a crummy option because it forces you to be dependent on someone who is interested in cutting you out of the project.

3. Change labs. How long have you been working for this guy? I don't know, this one is a weird option because your program may not allow that kind of flexibility and/or you might offend your PI, which is verboten.

4. Try to switch to another project already existing in the lab that does not involve that postdoc. Runs the slim risk that your postdoc will sign on to your project, but otherwise seems pretty solid to me.
 
OP
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Jan 22, 2013
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It sounds like you are not contributing a unique skill set if he is the only one in the lab who knows the technical procedure you need to perform the project. This is your real problem. He is much more valuable to the PI than you are, technique-wise.
yeah exactly! thats why he will always be favored over me by the PI because he has that one particular skill set that no one else in the lab has and thats why I don't know if it's even worth the hassle on my part because it seems to be a lose-lose situation for me..PI has to keep him happy over me

so actually there are two co-PI's, and one of them used to initially "favor me" over the post-doc which really bothered him so I think he feels that if takes over my project he'll get more interaction with this other PI...dont know why he feels the need to compete with me, he's going to be gone back to home (he's on a work visa), probably won't ever cross paths again, so doesn't make sense

unfortunately I can't change the project or PI..too late in the process to do that..I just want enough data for my thesis, a potential publication (at this point I dont care if I'm first author because it seems likely that the post-doc is going to fight for the first author based on comments he made today) and just get out with a half-decent letter
 
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Dec 28, 2012
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I'm sorry you're doing through this. You have every right to be upset about this. It's not just "poor form" to strip a project from one person and give it to another behind their back. It's ethically wrong but unfortunately very common in research for such things to happen. Let's call what this post-doc is doing by what it really is. You are being bullied, not dissimilar to the guy who made you do his homework in middle school. Also, quite common in research.

The fact that your PI did this tells me either that he is super busy and completely oblivious to what you're doing or that he does not have qualms to throw your career under the bus in order to further his own. If you proposed the project and generated the data yourself, you deserve to be first author and to see the project through.

You really have two options. You need to determine whether your PI's have your back. Throughout your training, the only person who will ever have your back is your PI. This is why choosing a mentor is so damn important because when push comes to shove, you really are powerless and expendable.

I noticed that some PI's are completely about mentorship and supporting their students and will go to great lengths to do so and even sacrifice their personal scientific advancement (e.g. wait for a student to learn a technique even though they know they may be scooped) for a student's training. These labs tend to have a lot of graduate students and mentors who are physically present quite often. Others PI's are completely about their own career and will pit lab members against each other on the same project in hopes of publishing ASAP. These labs often have nothing but postdocs and the occasional foolhardy grad student.

1) Talk to your co-PI's about your concerns and be assertive that you are not happy with the situation. You probably wrote a proposal describing what you were doing, so you have proof that it is your project. Make it clear that you want to be first author on the project. Being a first author will help your CV quite a bit, so don't downplay its importance. Your PI's may go to bat for you, defining what part of the project is each person's. Maybe you can be co-first authors with you listed first? The risk is that your PI's will completely throw you under the bus and strip you completely off the project or even ask you to leave the lab or the program entirely. Also, the post-doc may accuse you of going behind his back and start harassing you more.

2) Keep your head down and shut up. As others have noted, you are low man on the totem pole. Science is a cruel business. As a grad student, you are expected to get pushed around and abused and not complain. You're going into ortho, so get used to it. It's part of that culture as well, and there isn't anything you can do to change it while you're a trainee; you can only live up to your personal ideals when you're in a position of power. Why do you think there are so many bitter PhD's? If you can finish your work in a reasonable timeframe, get your work done and get the hell out of there. Use it as a learning experience about choosing a PI wisely.

Sorry you're in this situation. Science can really, really suck sometimes. Know that your situation is all too common but not inevitable, and there are PI's and departments that have an environment in which it is not acceptable. Sadly, I've found those places to be rare indeed.
 
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miz

Oct 14, 2011
158
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MD/PhD Student
unfortunately I can't change the project or PI..too late in the process to do that..I just want enough data for my thesis, a potential publication (at this point I dont care if I'm first author because it seems likely that the post-doc is going to fight for the first author based on comments he made today) and just get out with a half-decent letter
This really depends on your relationship with your PI(s). If you feel comfortable, you could express your concerns about your shared project and ask if you will still receive publication credit for the work that you did as a second or third author. That might save you a lot of grief in the future, but I wouldn't question the postdoc's 'right' to be chief leader on the project or even to do most of the in vivo work for the reasons we've already gone over.

If you want to play it even safer, you can ask him what his vision is for your thesis project and what kinds of publications he would like you to produce in the next year/two years and how that lines up with your own goals and perceptions. If he hasn't even thought about it, that might help present you as a living, thinking person rather than as a tool.