Lab based PhD's


Hi guys,

I've been in my PhD for about 7 months now - I admit I found the fisrt 3 months very hard. I feel more settled in the lab now etc but I was wondering if any other science based PhD's could answer this question. How much time do you spend on your PhD and how much time is spent on general stuff for your research team etc. In my lab everyone is expected to "muck in" so I'm learning lots of practical techniques but these experiments wont really go into my thesis. I am planning my own experiments too but struggle sometimes to find the time to do as much reading etc as I would like due to working in the lab. I pointed this out to my supervisor and he asked what I did on the evenings and weekends so that answers that question. If I was employed as a research assisstant I wouldn't mind what I'm doing but in the back of my mind there's always a nagging thought that I have a PhD to get out of this in 3 years! What are others experiences of this type of thing?? Thanks.


This seems unfair indeed. I've done 4 1/2 studies this year and as I am funded by a departmental studentship, they will all form part of my PhD. We are now going to write a paper and the supervisor is the co-author, but that's OK because I had lot's of support from him. Whenever people do jobs for academics in our department, that are not linked to their PhD's, they get paid extra for that. I also find the answer of your supervisor very rude an unfair. Do you also have teaching duties on top of that? My arrangement is that as a part of my PhD I am obliged to teach a couple of hours, which I do, but It doesn't say anything about slavery to my professor. If he expects you to do things that are not in the contract, you have all the right to complain!


No I don't have any teaching commitments. To be honest everything in my lab is a bit jumbled up anyway. For example I haven't learned how to do PCR yet but when we had some tissue available from a study then the post-doc did the PCR however I think I'm going to be able to use those results for my thesis if they are required, maybe?? I mean everthing I'm doing is linked to the general topis of my PhD but the experiments aren't for my thesis - they are for paper corrections or for the grants that my lab have (i'm university funded) to get papers out as fast as possible. I have also been doing a lot of time comsuming checks alongside anther phd student - this work is more for her thesis but I don't mind helping her as when push comes to shove I might need her help in the long run!


The ethos in my lab is definitely evryone has to "muck in" and my supervisor would be very unhappy if I spoke out about it - I would definitely be seen and the selfish one not pulling my weight. I feel bad because I'm going to need their help (supervisor and the fellow in the lab) to do my experiments but at the moment I'm unsure as to whether I'm a research assisstant or phd student!


I think his response re: evenings/weekends was pretty rude (most supervisors I know go home at 4.30 at the latest and don't do any work out of hours). But in my lab I have to do a lot of day-to-day stuff like maintaining cell lines for other people, and QC work for outsiders. None of it's paid. What's annoying is that other people always offer to help...just as you finish. How convenient...


hee hee. My supervisor lives and breathes it! After the evenings and weekends comment he gave me a big lecture about how it was impossible to do this type of work esp a phd without reading on the weekends and evenings or there just wasn't time for everything. I know he does read on the evenings and weekends - I think his idea of fun?!


I see that maintaining lab space might be a problem. What I did not mention before, was that I do social sciences, which means that all the lab equipment we need is a big room with cubes in it.

But still... the only person I know in my department who works for her supervisor, is an overseas person. As a part-time assistant and-part time PhD student she works 2,5 days a week on her thesis and 2,5 days for her supervisor. Everyone is perfectly happy, as they both agreed to this rule and try to respect the boundaries.

On the bright side Walrus, you do not have teaching duties. 300 undergrad essays to mark every year and 4 hours of teaching per week really distracts me from my PhD.

Lets face it, we're cheap labor to the department :o)


Hi Walrus
I understand your frustration BUT you should realize that the PhD is not a 9-5 job so yes, weekends and evenings are unfortunately going to be filled with reading, and once you start your experiments with lab work. If you are lucky it will only be some evenings and some weekends and not every single one of them.
My other advice is to embrace the fact that you are part of a big team. By helping the others you will gain confidence regarding lab procedures and you will be likely to make more successful experiments of your own. Of course it should be a “give and take” and finding this balance is maybe something you need to talk to your supervisor about. If your contribution to other peoples work is substantial you should be included as a coauthor and this will help your future career (if you stay in academia)

All the best,
Almost-there (5 days left until I hand in my lab-based thesis)


i dont and never have done work for the group?! its not expected (im a science based phd)


It does sound like you are getting a bit of a raw deal, but on the plus side, if there is this 'team' mentality in your group then chances are when your time comes then everyone will muck in to help you out.. Your set up is different to my experiences in the lab.. On a day to day basis I just work on my own project, occasionally I get asked to help to do things, but this is generally if someone needs to do something that I know how to do. Everyone has to muck-in when it comes to keeping the lab in order and keeping reagents and consumables topped up but then thats not a problem as we have a rota system to make sure everything gets done and the lazier people in the lab are forced to do their bit. I come in on weekends at least once a month but that is out of choice rather than being expected to by my supervisor. Sometimes it's nice to come in and have the lab to myself while I do certain things.


Thanks for your comments guys. I'm not sure I'm really cut out for this PhD malarkey to be honest. I don't mind working hard but I really hate the thought that I'm going to lose weekends and evenings for the next 3 years, I don't do any weekend or evening work (unless I need to come into the lab which isn't too often) at the moment and have absolutely no enthusiasm or inclination to do any to be frank. Any thoughts of actually knowing my subject well or having the ability to talk about my subject seem very very far away at the moment!