Awful politics in the lab - complete loss of motivation


======= Date Modified 25 Sep 2012 14:04:18 =======
======= Date Modified 25 Sep 2012 11:41:36 =======
I was getting on OK in my first year when my supervisor had me work alongside someone who had just finished their PhD (not yet submitted) in a different dept -lets call her X. It became clear very quickly that X had only taken on the postdoc position offered by my supervisor as she wanted a bit of funding while she was finishing up her PhD and writing up. Without going into too many details, she did her best to avoid taking the blame for her lack of interest and work by blaming problems on me, ruining my relationships with other people in the lab, refusing to train me up on anything so I was always dependent on her, and ultimately just "vanishing" for long period of time when she was supposed to be working with samples I had painstakingly prepared. I tried to bring this up with my supervisor but got told we "depended on her for data as she was the only one who could use the technology, and there was very little time left for her to leave" and had to be "as nice as possible or there was a chance she could totally disengage from the work and then we would have nothing", and "I know its a pain but what can we do, we just need to grit our teeth and get on with it"

As a result, the paper we were working on is now unlikely to go through as we don't have good data, and she is leaving in a week (leaving academia altogether so doesn't care about references and so on). I feel like a lot of good work I did is going to come to nothing. My supervisor now wants to steer my project in a slightly different direction, so I have no idea what's going to happen to the samples I have already prepared. X herself is impossible to communicate with (doesn't respond to emails, becomes hostile when asked too many questions) and my supervisor seems to want me to just put it behind me and move on. Other people in the lab are wary of discussing the situation due to the awful dramas X has put us through already. I haven't gone into the lab for a couple of weeks now and frankly cannot bear the idea of going back in, though I know I have to. I've also been wondering if I've handled the situation badly and if there was something I could have done better, and whether my people skills are absolutely rubbish!


Hi. Wish I could well advise re this-- my field is not lab!! However, situations like this occur so much in every discipline. Doing a PHD can be hindered very much by inappropriate supervision/ blocking of new ideas/ plagiarism etc. It is so sad because new talent is then not discovered and people with ideas and motivation are restricted in their development. I can only think that you could submit  a written report higher up. The problem is as students, when we do this, we risk jeopardising our position with those who are established and who we may well need in the future.


Is there a possibility to get out of your need for X? Look for training at another Uni (go to their websites, see what equipment they, phone, talk to friends/strangers...beg if necessary) the the analysis by subcontracting another lab or so? If you really want them analyse look for other options to be self-reliant. Your supervisors would also be more likely to be more favourable to your 'complaints' if you show that you are trying different options, what the different options would cost (e.g. cost for subcontracting analysis or get external training) etc. I have been very unlucky with instrument breakdown. I have begged so many people for access, I now just filter samples at my institution and do analysis at 3 different places (one outside the country by subcontracting analysis, one in the same city, and one a 3.5hr drive away where I go and stay overnight). It is not ideal, but sometimes you just need to get things done.

Good luck


I think the crucial part of your post is that in a week X is out of your life and your lab. It's not been a good experience for you or your supervisor but I think your supervisor is right to say, try to move on and stop dwelling on what might have been. If you don't, then you are letting x continue to mess things up for you. Maybe the change of focus might also help you move on and I imagine once X is out of the way your supervisor will be trying to salvage anything possible from the mess. Yes X has been very unfair to both you and your supervisor (and the consequences are probably worse in the longterm for your supervisor if she's messed up a funded postdoc) but people can be selfish, and you will never have to deal with her again.