Lab mistakes


Hi all,

Before I begin I just wanted to point out that im not a Phd student yet, although i will be applying shortly. Nevertheless I decided this forum would be the best for this post.

I just recently finished an MSc in neuroscience and am on the look out for a phd. Im extremely hard working and because my MSc supervisor cannot get funding (shes a start up PI with no luck in a year to attract funding) I decided to return for a few months to carry out some more work on my project on an UNPAID BASIS. I wanted to do this, not only for more experience but also because it would look good on my CV.

Anyhow, she was realy pleased to have me back, that is until i cocked up. I made 2 errors while plating out some cells in 24 well plates and becuase of this she has said she doesnt want me working anymore, primarily becuase the experiment was due to have expensive anti-bodies used and she couldnt afford to have me mess up. She said she'd rather do it herself.

I feel quite hurt by this. I mean, what kind of imbecile must i be if I cant even work for someone for free? I know that iv made a few mistakes, but doesnt everyone do it from time to time (and sometimes twice in a row???)? Im still quite new to lab work and I get really anxious sometimes because i dont have much confidence. She already ruined my confidence during my MSc.....but then she must have thought i was good because she awarded me a distinction for my project.

So i posted this to see what people would say. I feel de-motivated right now. I spent loads of money on an MSc, took a year out of work and now im being told i cant work for someone for free.


Pal, you really don't have anything to worry about regarding your lab skills, and don't think all your MSc training was a waste! Perhaps your supervisor is under time pressure to get this experiment done, which might explain their attitude. You'll soon find that 20% of your PhD will be mistakes (if you don't end up thinking the whole thing is!). And it is very improbably that your supervisor has never made a mistake either. Has she terminated your 'contract', or does she still want you to work there, but on something else?


Well she said I could stick around for a while but i didnt want to feel like a spare part. She said that had she had the funding she would have allowed me to continue. She said to me that she is so desperate at the moment that she is using her salary to run experiments. Still it doesnt make me feel much better.


You need to try and look at it from her point of view: She's using her own money for materials etc (I'm guessing) and can't afford to cough up much more and therefore the only way of making sure it gets done properly, is to do it herself. She's obviously realised this after you made a couple of errors.

Of course people make mistakes but this is obviously a situation where she can't afford mistakes.

It sounds like you are a good student otherwise she wouldn't have bothered asking you in the first place but I think you possibly are wasting your time waiting for her to get some funding. Try looking for lab technician type jobs whilst waiting for a phd position to come up? Or something similar.


I think there are quite a few things to think about here, not least of which - do you want to work with someone who behaves like this. Everybody makes mistakes, if it was that important, why did she not ask to check what you were doing before you went ahead? Unless you have a very good reason for sticking with this person, look elsewhere. She may nor be able to let go of the project and let others do their bit, she could be forever fiddling in what you are doing. Anyway you certainly don't want to feel like this at the beginning of your research, you need to be brimming with enthusiasm :-), put it down to experience and find another person to work with.


I disagree Joyce, if this super is self funding her work that is highly unusual. Reagents ain't cheap so in a situation like this I can understand why she'd be less inclined to be tolerant of (expensive) mistakes.
@ Stevo: That being said, the very fact she would like you to continue were this funded should be enough to keep you motivated. As has been previously said, mistakes can and do happen. Plating out errors are hardly catastophically, end-of-the-world serious so I would suggest that you let it go, there's nothing wrong with the odd c**k-up and you learn not to do that mistake again. Have some confidence in yourself and your abiliites. If in doubt, go PhD hunting but get a reference off her first, I'm sure you'll be pretty surprised. (up)


Personally, I wouldn't want to work with a supervisor who was paying for her own experiments. That's very worrying to me.


EVERYONE who works in a lab screws up experiments from time to time. I'm sorry to say that this won't be the biggest mistake you ever make!

Whilst your supervisor's cashflow problem might explain her reaction, it does sound like she is taking an unreasonable amount of her frustrations out on you. Given that she's getting a free research assistant out of you, this is somewhat stupid.

Is there any reason you've not applied for a paid job? You sound more than capable of getting a research tech, if not research assistant post. It sounds like you would also benefit from having a more encouraging mentor. Plus working in a variety of places can be a useful experience.

If I were you I would go and get paid work elsewhere, until you start your PhD. And don't think of working with her for a PhD unless she sorts out her funding issues and her attitude.


No-one's made more mistakes than me, I can tell you (and I'm still making them). Everyone is (except the fibbers).

It's not unusual for a supervisor to self-fund experiments whilst gaining enough data to write a proposal: but self-funding doesn't mean it comes out of her personal pocket - it will be contingency money, or leftover from student budgets.
I don't think she seems like the sort of person you could work with long-term, so I'd be looking for something else. But don't take it personally.


Cheers thanks for your support guys. Actually I am looking for a techy position and I have applied to one. Its just a case of seeing what comes up, applying and waiting.

I didnt want to bias you guys too much when I posted this so as to get a more balanced opinion. In fact, the full picture is that shes a cow and clearly enjoys being nasty to people. Shes always shouting at her new Phd student (and i mean shouting hardcore) , shes fallen out with a ton of people in the institute and she doesnt appear to have a social life (not due to being hard working but more because of her attitude it would seem).

Anyway its in the past now. Of course im a little upset by it all but I will press on and keep going with the career i enjoy.


Just wondering how this worked out...?