Working with rude/problematic PhD students


Hi All,

My situation is this - I get on fine with the people in my department but I've never really 'clicked' with the other PhD students for some reason (I guess partly because they like to go clubbing and I'm a bit more settled, I live with my boyfriend and like to chill out at weekends, etc.) However, in the last few months I've noticed one of the other PhD students has taken a real dislike to me, to the point where she glares at me if I speak to her, gives one word answers or simply a grunt infront of other people and outright blanks me when no one else is around. As a result it's made me even more isolated from the rest of the department than I was before, as she tends to be the one organising coffee breaks (and endless cake breaks!), drinks after work etc, to which I never get invited along to anymore. On good days I just tend to ignore her where possible and email her about work related stuff when necessary, but on days where I feel a bit rubbish it bothers me more. I have days where I just think what's the point of going into work when I'm not really part of the department (even though I'm there everyday as I do a lab based PhD).

Anyway, I'm sorry if this sounds like I'm feeling sorry for myself, I'm really not but I thought other people might have had problems with colleagues and have found a way of dealing with it. I've seen a lot of posts on here about problematic supervisors, but perhaps someone has experience of problematic (and sometimes downright rude) PhD students/colleagues?

Thanks in advance! X


Hi Tulip,

I am sorry you are in such a difficult situation. Although she is not a supervisor she is in a somewhat powerful position being the one who is informally organising socials etc.

I used to be in a similar situation at work and ended up in a vicous circle. I got very cold towards that guy, ignored him or lashed out in some way. He was probably insecure, took it very personal and continued treating me quite as you describe.

I understand things are difficult for you, especially because I guess the only effective way out is forward. Do you think you can directly talk to her about it? One interesting advice I once read is to show the person some appreciation, which she probably craves more than anything. Tell her she has done xyz very well and what you really admire, in front of her and in front of others, even when she is not present. It might be an interesting experiment - as long as the things you say are somewhat genuine.

Feel hugged :)


Hi Tulip. Sorry to hear this, sometimes hell is other people! Before coming in to 'academia' I always thought it was a lovely collegiate environment, but I've now realised it's even more bitchy than other workplaces.

I know it is getting you down but I would ignore this bully and not give her the time of day. I think you need to make friends with people in your department outside of her organised events, how about meeting other staff/students on a one to one over a coffee? Is there a 'staff room' where you can go to have lunch and get chatting? I think if you speak to individuals outwith the arranged stuff you will feel better. Don't make a big deal of not being invited, just arrange your own things with the people you want to be friends with. If they aren't friendly back, then don't waste your time!

I think sometimes the PhD environment can be quite unhealthy, there seems to be a lot of competition and some people spill it over to being really nasty. She sounds like an idiot, so please rise above it and do your own thing withour her input.


Is your PhD 3 years? If so and you are at the start you have about 2 1/2 years to put up with this person, which actually isn't that long. I've worked at the same place for 10 years and don't socialise with colleagues as I too am settled. Maybe this person thinks the same of you as you do of them, that they have invited you but you don't come so they feel you don't want to be their friend? Just a thought. Ordinarily I'd say don't bother but as I see it getting on after PhD can rely lots on your circle of aquaintances and keeping these sweet might be a good thing. I'd either, start to go along to more social events (it could do your future career good and if this person is a nasty piece of work, it will annoy the hell out of them so bonus) or arrange your own social gatherings (but beware, this person might see this as unwelcome competition/alternative group to their own) Yes bitchyness is not ever left in the schoolyard! Sometimes you have to learn to play the game, even if it is immature :-( Good luck


I can only say I met more truly unpleasant and arrogant people among the PhD student community, than I have met before in any other job or after actually working in academia, so my sympathies! If this person is excluding you, then it's probable that others are also being shut out - perhaps you could find out who else is on the outside and invite them for coffee. The other thing I would say is that while it's not nice to feel excluded from coffee breaks, in the larger scheme of things they aren't that important, don't let her attitude let you exclude yourself from other more important lab / departmental things. Where I work at the moment, the 'in' crowd of PhD students think they are far too important to attend the departmental research seminars, and it's the 'outsiders' who come along. Who is it who gets invited to drinks / meals with the academic staff and the visiting speakers, thus getting chances to network professionally? The ones who attend the seminars and to be honest, they are the ones making the connections that will help them get jobs. Keep your eye on what really matters.


Great advice bewildered :-)

Avatar for Pjlu

And the key word here is 'bullying'. Grunts, 'death stares or glares', one word answers, exclusion, etc -if the person has the usual set of social skills-so this behaviour is not their usual personality and if it is kept over a period of time-it's bullying. Advice from others is great, so this is just to reassure you that the person is not behaving in an adult fashion nor as a professional. Whether you click with someone and they become your new 'best bud' or whatever, or whether you don't-in an adult and professional workplace we are all entitled to basic respect, whereas this sort of behaviour is fairly adolescent. Let's hope she grows out of it...people often do. Hope you have a better week...


Hi all,

Thank you so much for the comforting replies, it made me feel a bit better just knowing that I'm not making a mountain out of a molehill and that this behaviour is indeed wrong. I've tried a few different things over the past few weeks, such as being friendly towards this person and making more of an effort to join in with general chit-chat in the office, although this hasn't really improved things and her behaviour is still the same towards me. I notice she will only be pleasant when she wants help with something, but the rest of the time goes back to blanking or ignoring me. The knock-on effect of this means that the postdocs in the lab also have little time for me as they are all friends outside of work.

Anyway, based on your advice newtophd, I've started trying to make more of an effort with a couple of the other students (without mentioning any of this to anyone, partly to be professional and partly because I don't want the hassle!) but I'm not hopeful that things will improve much. I did consider walking away from the PhD but I think I'm too stubborn to be pushed out by other people. CR1980 your comment about hell being other people made me laugh, being in academia is definitely making me agree with you there!

Wowzers, bewildered and pjlu - thank you for the really good advice, I'll definitely keep my eyes on the important stuff and go to seminars etc. although if I'm honest the last thing I want now is an academic job at the end of this. I'll happily walk away with my PhD (if I can stick at it) and work elsewhere afterwards. Fortunately I have less than a year and a half left so hopefully I can grit my teeth and find the motivation to just keep going. Bullying or not, I don't want to be seen as a troublemaker so I'll just keep going...


Avatar for wrinkly

Hi Tulip - The other answers have concentrated on solutions, but I wonder if the problem is more in the cause. Your responses seem to show you as a pleasant and intelligent person. In my experience, this is a problem for those who are less secure - particularly in a competitive environment. If the cause is jealousy then there is no solution (other than offering to write her dissertation - not recommended). However, the good news is that the others, who are probably quite bright too, may well have noticed what is happening and are secretly sympathising with you. If this is so, the mood will shift gradually over time and her position will become increasingly isolated as she picks on others. Do NOT let this person put you off academia. People like this are everywhere. The last thing anyone would recommend is that your decisions are made for you by others who do not have your best interests at heart. Stick in there.


hi Tulip
I've just seen your post and also the ones from people here. I also did not socialise much with my colleagues. I don't know whether being based in another building had anything to do with this--but I suppose that this did isolate me from others. I've also learnt that we can click with some people, others we can't. I have a colleague who never answers email, especially if you email him to ask him for something, he pretends he never got it. It takes one email from our supervisor--to tell him to give me the document etc. then he suddenly remembers "oh yes" and then I have whatever it is I was supposed to have received.

I have another colleague who seems to be nice and friendly on the outside--but she also never answers email. Sometimes she smiles when she says HI and I feel it is a fake smile. But I smile back anyway, I am not fake.

I always answer email :-) thankfully I haven't been bullied.
I think we all need to strike a balance somewhere as well.

Another thing I wanted to say is that sometimes we never know how we may need a colleague--or how others may need us. For example--I have never spoken much to this other colleague of mine (she is based in another building--again) but I needed help for some software--and she helped me! I really appreciated it.

Hope I haven't gone out of context :-)
Hope you are ok.
love satchi