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falling out with lab/PI

PsychNLife

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I really messed up. I've been going through a lot over the last year (personal mental health stuff, changes in medication, other life stuff), and I just haven't been a very good RA. I know it's no excuse but its just part of the explanation. Either way, I've been making mistakes with the protocol a bit, trouble with staying on task....and I've been rejected from doing an honor's thesis in the lab during my senior year. I've essentially been let go. If I even want to remain at the lab, I'd have to go through a whole remediation process, and that might not even get anywhere. Even if I did that, there's not a huge chance that she'd end up changing how they feel about me. Given that I'm more clinically inclined anyway, my current plan is to not return to the lab and pursue my school's clinical practicum course instead.

However, I've spent two years at this lab. While I've had 2 other research internships, they've all been short and this one was my big resume builder. Now, I don't have this lab/ PI as a recommendation, which I REALLY needed for my graduate school applications.


What do you do when your biggest research supervisor will no longer recommend you? Am I now screwed for doctoral pursuits?
 
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jdawg2017

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First off, sorry to hear that you've had a tough year! It can be challenging to manage complex interpersonal relationships in research and other settings when life isn't going the way we maybe had planned.

It sounds like you care a lot about this lab and the work they are doing, beyond even getting a big letter of rec from the PI. What will the remediation process look like? Are there clear steps laid out for you to complete? If it's mostly protocol violations that are correctable, then hopefully the remediation plan could be reasonable. Do you think the relationship with your PI can be rebuilt if you complete remediation, to the point where she would recommend you? If you truly have been let go and there's no reasonable path forward, it may be best to move on and follow the clinical plan you had mentioned. It's probably not the end of the world to not have a letter of rec from her, but having good letters from big name people certainly is helpful.

Even if you don't do an honor's thesis with them, it does probably look better to be with the same group for several years working on the same project, assuming you are doing good work and can maybe get some products (like posters/papers) out of it. Honor's theses really aren't all they are made out to be assuming you can get other meaningful research products out of your work?

Hope that helps. I can chat some over DM if that's easier/more confidential if you want to share any details.
 

PhDenial

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I really messed up. I've been going through a lot over the last year (personal mental health stuff, changes in medication, other life stuff), and I just haven't been a very good RA. I know it's no excuse but its just part of the explanation. Either way, I've been making mistakes with the protocol a bit, trouble with staying on task....and I've been rejected from doing an honor's thesis in the lab during my senior year. I've essentially been let go. If I even want to remain at the lab, I'd have to go through a whole remediation process, and that might not even get anywhere. Even if I did that, there's not a huge chance that she'd end up changing how they feel about me. Given that I'm more clinically inclined anyway, my current plan is to not return to the lab and pursue my school's clinical practicum course instead.

However, I've spent two years at this lab. While I've had 2 other research internships, they've all been short and this one was my big resume builder. Now, I don't have this lab/ PI as a recommendation, which I REALLY needed for my graduate school applications.


What do you do when your biggest research supervisor will no longer recommend you? Am I now screwed for doctoral pursuits?

Honestly, I would be hesitant to pursue this remediation plan in hopes of getting a letter of recommendation because there’s no guarantee you’d get a stellar recommendation. If you apply to grad school, you’ll be applying among others who receive multiple glowing recommendations. If your letter is lackluster, admissions committees will see that, and even if this PI doesn’t straight up say anything negative, there will be a lot to read between the lines. I think it’s your call to determine whether you’d be able to do enough following this remediation plan for the PI to be able to write a good letter, which is unfortunately unlikely given that the PI probably had plenty of undergrad RAs who didn’t make enough violations to require a remediation process.


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PsychNLife

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Honestly, I would be hesitant to pursue this remediation plan in hopes of getting a letter of recommendation because there’s no guarantee you’d get a stellar recommendation. If you apply to grad school, you’ll be applying among others who receive multiple glowing recommendations. If your letter is lackluster, admissions committees will see that, and even if this PI doesn’t straight up say anything negative, there will be a lot to read between the lines. I think it’s your call to determine whether you’d be able to do enough following this remediation plan for the PI to be able to write a good letter, which is unfortunately unlikely given that the PI probably had plenty of undergrad RAs who didn’t make enough violations to require a remediation process.


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Right! Given that, is this detrimental to not have her rec? I have two other research experiences but they were more minor/less time. I feel like it dooms me to not have my bigger research experience count for anything.
 

biomom

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When I was getting my masters in molecular biology, I had an issue with my PI. He was never available and was openly having an affair with a lab tech. I looked around at the other labs and found one doing similar research plus a little. I joined his lab and got great research. On the day i defended, he insisted on being the one to stand up, shake my hand and congratulate me.
So, is there another research project you could get with on a similar or different project? It might take more time but it might be worth the recommendation.
 

psych.meout

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Right! Given that, is this detrimental to not have her rec? I have two other research experiences but they were more minor/less time. I feel like it dooms me to not have my bigger research experience count for anything.
It's not that your experience won't count for anything, it's just that you won't have a recommendation from this person. That said, it will likely delay you being competitive for grad programs while you're shoring up you other two experiences (e.g., going back to them and doing more research) and/or getting new research experience, from which you can get another recommendation.

Think of it like this, you're generally limited to 3 recommendations in your grad school apps. That you didn't get a recommendation from this PI isn't a big deal if you have 3 stellar letters from other PIs. That way, no one will even give it a second thought if you don't have a letter from this PI. They'll likely just reason that the application limitations prevented you from having this PI as a reference, instead of any bad blood or problems.
 
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PsychNLife

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It's not that your experience won't count for anything, it's just that you won't have a recommendation from this person. That said, it will likely delay you being competitive for grad programs while you're shoring up you other two experiences (e.g., going back to them and doing more research) and/or getting new research experience, from which you can get another recommendation.

Think of it like this, you're generally limited to 3 recommendations in your grad school apps. That you didn't get a recommendation from this PI isn't a big deal if you have 3 stellar letters from other PIs. That way, no one will even give it a second thought if you don't have a letter from this PI. They'll likely just reason that the application limitations prevented you from having this PI as a reference, instead of any bad blood or problems.
Would clincial rec's seem good as well? I can accept doing extra time for research.......but if I can get by with a clinical rec, an academic rec, and MAYBE one short term research rec (4 mo-8 mo) I could work it. That would give me some hope. I try to avoid extra research if I am able to because I prefer clincial. But obviously I know research is important.
 

cara susanna

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Would clincial rec's seem good as well? I can accept doing extra time for research.......but if I can get by with a clinical rec, an academic rec, and MAYBE one short term research rec (4 mo-8 mo) I could work it. That would give me some hope. I try to avoid extra research if I am able to because I prefer clincial. But obviously I know research is important.

From my knowledge, research rec is probably more important than clinical rec.
 
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cara susanna

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Even in a more clinical program? I had no idea the rec's needed to be so specifically tailored to that. That makes me MUCH more nervous because more of my rec's are in the academic/clinical/less significant research realm.

Yes - generally the exposure to clinical work that you get before grad school is so different from what you'll eventually be doing that admissions committees don't really care much about it. At least that's what people have always told me.

I'm not sure if that changes if it's a PsyD program, but I went to a balanced PhD program where the majority of graduates go onto clinical careers and that definitely seemed to be the case there.
 
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PsychNLife

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Yes - generally the exposure to clinical work that you get before grad school is so different from what you'll eventually be doing that admissions committees don't really care much about it. At least that's what people have always told me.

I'm not sure if that changes if it's a PsyD program, but I went to a balanced PhD program where the majority of graduates go onto clinical careers and that definitely seemed to be the case there.
Right I know about the whole psyd/phd debate, I'm gonna probably apply to both...but now I feel kinda screwed in terms of really strong research recs. It's a shame that won't count for much.
 

cara susanna

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Right I know about the whole psyd/phd debate, I'm gonna probably apply to both...but now I feel kinda screwed in terms of really strong research recs. It's a shame that won't count for much.

Sorry that you're in this position :( I would maybe ask the PI if they'd be able to write you a strong letter provided that you complete the remediation plan.
 
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psych.meout

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Would clincial rec's seem good as well? I can accept doing extra time for research.......but if I can get by with a clinical rec, an academic rec, and MAYBE one short term research rec (4 mo-8 mo) I could work it. That would give me some hope. I try to avoid extra research if I am able to because I prefer clincial. But obviously I know research is important.
If getting another year or two of research experience to make yourself more competitive for grad school is so aversive and unacceptable, then maybe a doctoral program in clinical psychology isn't right for you. Even balanced, scientist practitioner programs are going to have multiple research milestones (at least thesis and dissertation), which require a lot more independence, skill, etc. than RA work. It's not uncommon for people to neglect their research, especially if they really enjoy the clinical training and practicum, causing them difficulty in completing those milestones and sticking to their timelines. This would be even more of an issue if you're already so averse to doing research.

Yes - generally the exposure to clinical work that you get before grad school is so different from what you'll eventually be doing that admissions committees don't really care much about it. At least that's what people have always told me.

I'm not sure if that changes if it's a PsyD program, but I went to a balanced PhD program where the majority of graduates go onto clinical careers and that definitely seemed to be the case there.
I have been told similar things before and during grad school.
 
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beginner2011

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Without knowing the details of what you did that makes you think the PI won't be willing to give you a positive recommendation it's hard to say whether or not it's worth trying to repair. Having worked closely with over 20 undergrad RAs on my own research activities, I almost can't imagine anything they could have done that would be so egregious they could not have recovered from it. My suspicion is that if you're able to demonstrate that you're worthy of a strong recommendation from other PIs, I can only imagine that you're able to repair with this main PI. Contrition, professionalism, and commitment to remediation demonstrated by behavior go a long way. In my experience, most PIs recognize that undergrad RAs are green and are still figuring out how to be professionals. Again, assuming you didn't do something egregious like fabricate data or steal participant funds.
 

PsychNLife

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Without knowing the details of what you did that makes you think the PI won't be willing to give you a positive recommendation it's hard to say whether or not it's worth trying to repair. Having worked closely with over 20 undergrad RAs on my own research activities, I almost can't imagine anything they could have done that would be so egregious they could not have recovered from it. My suspicion is that if you're able to demonstrate that you're worthy of a strong recommendation from other PIs, I can only imagine that you're able to repair with this main PI. Contrition, professionalism, and commitment to remediation demonstrated by behavior go a long way. Again, assuming you didn't do something egregious like fabricate data or steal participant funds.
yeah I've done nothing as bad as that, simply just being more careless that I should be. However, especially if I do the clinical practicum I'm signed up for (which requires an 8 hr per week internship).... I'm not sure I'll do much better given the constraints. I don't think I can do the internship/practicum and try my best to stay at the lab as well.
 

psychRA

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Do you have publications or posters on your CV from your time with this lab?

I haven't been part of the PhD program admissions process for years now, but I do think that it may look odd to graduate programs if you have those pubs/posters on your CV but no letter from that lab. Clinical psych is a small world, and if someone who is considering your application notices that you don't have a letter from that lab, they may reach out to the PI to ask about your time there. Clinical psych programs are a small world. I have no idea how likely that is, but I will say that I have seen it happen under similar circumstances. If you have research from that lab on your CV, it may be worth it to pursue the remediation in hopes of getting at least an average letter from the PI, which you can attempt to offset with stronger letters from other references.

I agree with others that research-focused letters matter more than clinical ones. There isn't a lot of meaningful clinical work that you can (or should) be doing at the undergrad level. By all means pursue it for the experience, because that may help inform your decisions about what kind of work you'd like to do.
 

beantownpsych

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Depends in part on the reputation of the PI and if the professors you are applying to work with are in the same research area as the PI. I would be very wary if an applicant did not have a letter from their major research experience (particularly if I know the PI and the work of their lab). Letters typically matter a great deal, particularly given many (funded) programs get 600+ applicants a cycle. Not having a letter albeit is better than having a bad or luke warm letter. Most PIs I know put very little weight on clinical letters or letters from course professors. However, my sample is limited to clinical science or scientist practitioner PhD programs (mainly R1s) so there are likely other programs with different philosophies.

I think your best bet is to not only complete the remediation plan, but also to excel in your work with this PI going forward. If that's not an option then finding a way to get more lab experience (postbac RA position) would make you more competitive. That being said, not sure how you'd get a solid postbac RA position without a recommendation from this PI....
 
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Faculty member at a PhD program here. Having clinical experience does not actually really improve applicant's chances at my program; the clinical internship is far less useful than research in terms of application quality. That said, doing a clinical internship because *you* want to see what it's like on the ground to be involved/near active clinical work can be valuable to decide if the clinical piece is really what you want. And if it is....then you might consider other types of degrees (clinical social work) which are shorter and less research focused than the PhD (or even the PsyD).

Clinical and academic letters matter far less than research letters. Why, you might ask? Because in a doctoral program, you have to both do and interpret research. If I'm bringing someone into my lab, I want to know that they are going to commit themselves to research for the 5 years they are in the program, do a good job helping me with my research and develop independent research skills. I want that even though I know full well that most people in my program (which is actually skewed to the research side) go on to have primarily clinical careers. Why do I want to admit a student who is lukewarm about research, when there are so many applicants who seem eager and willing to research with me?
 
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