To the laboratory based PhDs


Has anyone experienced or heard of a situation where a PhD student has not been able to grasp/get to work the 'bread and butter' techniques of their project, even after 6/7 months and beyond? What happens to such people if they have no data by the MPhil/PhD transfer? Do they get asked to leave, for example?

I must admit I'm a lot more comfortable in dealing with the theory (reading, writing, presenting) than the lab. It really isn't my natural environment. I'm not panicking yet but just interested in other experiences.



If things don't work in the lab then it's useful to go back to the books and write your own protocols. Use your strengths in theory to get things working in the lab -- the two are connected.


Hi Doctor Soul, I feel your pain on, I spent many, many months trying to get something to work in my PhD, and I'd had 5 years lab experience before I even started! But it was super satisfying when it finally worked.

If it's not working because you're making mistakes, then no problem, you just have to keep doing it until you get it right- you will get there with practise, like anything, the finicky techniques take everyone some time to master. You could try asking more experienced lab members for tips- maybe there are other ways of doing things that you might prefer.

If its not working because of your specific samples/materials, particular to your project, then as cleverclogs says, you probably need to adjust your protocols or even change method completely. If you can document that you're working methodically through, optimising procedures or systematically trying various options, that's a perfect thing to show when you get to your PhD transfer. Adjusting methods to suit your specific needs is a legitimate part of the work, and can sometimes end up as a publication in its own right.

If you don't know why it's not working, or you don't know if you're doing it correctly, the best thing is to just ask someone experienced in the method. If no one in your lab group is using the method you need, you might be able to arrange a visit to another lab- ask your supervisor about this option. This is quite common- some techniques are very hard to get started on without any help! Also if you find a paper using a method you want to use, email the authors and ask them about it.

Basically- don't be afraid to ask people for advice on lab techniques. It's very normal to have problems in the lab at the start. And all the time actually :p. It's extremely unlikely that you would have to leave (!!), provided you tell your supervisor about your problems, and work methodically to find ways of solving them.

Good luck, I'm sure you'll get it to work in the end :-)