A nightmare situation (any help would be great)


I started a life sciences pHD in Nov and its basically turned into hell. I like my project but the problem is that one particular experiment will not work...i've tried and i've tried and it just doesnt.
On average I work 60hrs a week (and have done so since day one) generally repeating the experiment over and over again. I'm treated as a idiot even though I know exactly what i'm doing and creatively think of solutions all the time (which are rubbished and ignored).

ANY excuse to give me more abuse and its done. I feel so depressed because i'm not a rubbish student I obtained a Bsc and a MSc from two universities with a far better reputation then the one i'm at.

I'm completely unsupported, totally overworked and undermassive pressure, my supervisors have already said they want rid of me JUST because I cant get it to work and continually threaten me.
Even the post-doc has tried and she couldnt get it to work.

I dont want to leave, what the hell would I do? I still like my project but my supervisors want rid of me and everyones against me what choice have I got?


Hi, most of us will have been in the position where experiments have failed. Firstly check over your protocols and make sure you are doing it right. Has the experiment been done before? Check this out and also other related experiments where similar techniques have been used.

If you could supply some information on what your experiment is doing, e.g. genetics, biology etc. someone may have a little tip. Also, just because they are your supervisor or a post-doc they really don't know everything so they may not have a detailed enough understanding of your topic to help out more



Firstly, i must say that i am in a similar position. A cell biology experiment i've been trying to do since starting my PhD still does not work (never done before in human cells, has worked before with rats, published by other labs). I'm coming to conclude that things aren't that simple with the experiment i am doing, and there may be key physiological differences. You are not alone.



What are your supervisors playing at? the fact that you can't get the experiment to work is as much their fault as yours. They apply for funding and have the idea. Your job is to execute that. As long as your execution is fine, you are still worth a PhD Even with a load of negative data. Doing a PhD is about learning to research, not how many papers you have.

If your supervisors will only accept positive data, they can't be very good at what they do, this also quite seriously encourages people to falsify data to give the supervisors what they want, which is a very dangerous thing indeed.

I would contact your union rep/ uni counselling service/ general welfare officer about what appears to be bullying from your bosses


Part of my contract was that I would develop a test method on a certain piece of equipment. All the literature said that it was impossible on this equipment, but I was asked by industrial partners to make it work. I felt just like you (except that my academic supervisors were more supportive): I tried and tried but it just would not work. In the end I gave up and used a different kit, which works. Sometimes things just don't work through no fault of yours, and any experienced supervisor should bloody well know that.


i think the key point here is that you are mentally depressed by the attitude from your supervisor. First of all, don't overwork! you are already on the edge of break-down, it doesnot help to work overtime. Just treat it calmly with a scientific attitude; a lot of experiments go wrong for a long time, that's research. If your supervisor can't see this, its his problem. and it is absolutely not worth it if you are stuck in such working environment no matter how good the project is.


i had a smililar problem, i spent 9 months solid trying to get an assay to work which my sup insisted was essential etc etc, only to find after i got the primers etc to work he then when and did the expeiment i was going to do for my phd, and published it using the assay i had developed. nice. is there no one you can talk to, after all sometimes things just DONT work in science.


Thanks alot guys! its nice to know others are feeling like I feel.
Its molecular cloning that I'm having trouble with but I'm patient i expected experiments not to work its the attitude of my supervisors that depressing me so much. Its not just me either out of 4 students in my research team one has taken time out with depression and the other ones having a nervous breakdown and doesnt come in much anymore. I dont know hows i've lasted as long as this I really dont!

I've arranged to meet a independent dean of another school in my university to discuss my options. Will let you guys know what happens.

Cheers for the responses guys!


Just one small thought cakeman, Have you tried the experiment that you know works? If it does then you know you have the method as stated right, if not, try to get in touch with those who did it for advice. (If this is a rubbish suggestion, just put it down to me not knowing anything much about your work )