Should I switch advisors and how to do it?

posted
03-Nov-19, 01:46
edited about 9 seconds later
by Smerkly
Avatar for Smerkly
posted about 1 week ago
Hi all,

I got a fully funded PhD in a very good university in the USA. My advisor who is from my country have earned quite the prestigious prizes and is getting bigger by the second. The problem that I have discovered once getting into the lab is that there is some unethical behaviour going on. Results were being "polished", authors were flipped and approaches were being overstated. Needless to say I am feeling very uncomfortable working in this environment and with someone with a lack of research ethics. The problem is that I don't know how to approach this issue and how can I switch advisors. Also, I feel that I owe the man because he supported me during my application.

Right now, I have talked with a senior lab member who is in his final year confidentially and he told me that he never saw that happening with him and advised that if I have any concern I should have a conversation with the advisor. The catch 22 is that some other lab members with whom I am close friends told me that they found their results changed to make them look like state of the art for their publications. I don't know who to trust here and I don't know what to do. Can you guys give me an advice on how to proceed?
posted
04-Nov-19, 12:03
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 week ago
I would trust your close friend's words over that senior lab person. The senior person probably depended on your supervisors to advance his career and will never admit that results were "enhanced". It would also be an admission of him being complicit in the generating fraudulent data.

If you want to change labs, never tell your supervisor. That is assuming that he was not already informed by this senior lab person. Have a look around other labs with good supervisors and no link to your supervisors. Ask confidentially as your supervisor will not take it lightly that you left him and inform him only after you have secured a supervisor
posted
04-Nov-19, 19:46
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 week ago
I totally agree with tru. Don't talk to anyone else about it in the lab. I don't think senior lab member will talk to supervisor about it. I could be wrong, but I imagine that these things aren't openly spoken about - just done. If I were you I wouldn't tell any new potential supervisor why you want to switch to them. Find another reason about why you like their research for example and so want to switch to their lab. Hopefully you'll have better luck in the next lab. Also, I think you're doing the right thing to get away now as soon as possible. You wouldn't want your thesis and papers to be full of fudged stuff.

Good luck!
posted
04-Nov-19, 20:41
edited about 3 minutes later
by Smerkly
Avatar for Smerkly
posted about 1 week ago
Thanks tru and tudor_queen for your responses. I have identified a faculty who is looking for PhD students and that I like his research. The problem is that my adviser is never around and rarely even answers mail from me so I can't schedule a meeting with him to break the news. The second issue is that he wields too much power in the department which is small (approx 20 professors) as he is raking in the most funding so I'm afraid that even I'd he let's me go other professors wouldn't take me in as they'll be afraid of him for one and for two I'm afraid that he may cause me further problems in the future. Anyhow, I greatly appreciate your help and responses and I will keep this thread updated with whatever happens in the future. Wish me luck.
posted
04-Nov-19, 21:20
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 week ago
It sounds like a really tricky situation you are in. Is there any way you can confirm 100% your move to the other lab/other supervisor? Then it would be just a matter of telling him, not asking him. And this could be done by email if you had tried several times to meet without success. Please keep us posted.
posted
04-Nov-19, 23:41
edited about 8 minutes later
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 1 week ago
Not to sound unethical but are you sure that this guy is manipulating data? This is a serious allegation and your colleagues appear to have casually accepted it. Have they not had the same ethical conundrum? I also find it hard to believe that these people are just handing over data and are not asking questions about it changing. The others here are right on how to go about changing supervisor but are you making this decision on hearsay?

Again not to sound unethical but I think this is a lot more common than people think and something needs to be said about it. I have tried my utter best to replicate some high tier papers and cannot replicate their results. My results are always 10-15% lower and I have tried other papers that also have impossibly high figures. Fortunately my work is a novel combination of two different projects and such I don't have to compete directly with previous literature. However there is pressure on other researchers when publishing to be better than previous works, that may be fabricated, and causing ethical people to struggle. So once someone is unethical it is easier to also be unethical than to call out that first person.

If you are a early career researcher, in order to publish you have to compete with unethical people or perish. My supervisor has asked me to "polish" my data once or twice and I have flatly refused. Which in hindsight has made my PhD a bit more difficult as I have had to push the novelty of my work that bit harder instead of just being incremental. I honestly believe that a lot of "super star" researchers "polish" data, at least occasionally, because they always seem to get 1-2 high tier papers from every grant. Which is simply not possible as research is inherently risky.

Or this might just be me projecting my own insecurity about my lab skills at 11pm on Monday night.
posted
04-Nov-19, 23:54
edited about 19 minutes later
by Smerkly
Avatar for Smerkly
posted about 1 week ago
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
It sounds like a really tricky situation you are in. Is there any way you can confirm 100% your move to the other lab/other supervisor? Then it would be just a matter of telling him, not asking him. And this could be done by email if you had tried several times to meet without success. Please keep us posted.


Unfortunately, it is. I still haven't told the other professor that I wanted to join his lab and I am really afraid that this might hamper my work and research. My advisor is very influential as I said and a lot of the faculty including the other professor are part of his initiatives so I believe that if I "dump" him and then just send an e-mail, I might be ending my career in academia.

Quote From rewt:
Not to sound unethical but are you sure that this guy is manipulating data?


I trust the people who told me and one of them is a very very close friend of mine. No they haven't accepted it and every time we discuss the subject it ends up in sighs. We feel powerless and for me since I haven't worked the polishing machine yet, I wanted to find the best way to leave. They asked questions and were met with the perennial question: do you want to publish or not? Not everyone can say no and uphold their values and I don't want to be in that predicament. Also, some of them are halfway through and don't want to restart all over again.

I really salute you for taking up a stance to your advisor and refusing to polish your data. Persevere and work hard, at some point, a breakthrough by an honest person will trump all the noise generated by fraudulent people.
posted
05-Nov-19, 10:31
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 week ago
Quote From Smerkly:


Unfortunately, it is. I still haven't told the other professor that I wanted to join his lab and I am really afraid that this might hamper my work and research. My advisor is very influential as I said and a lot of the faculty including the other professor are part of his initiatives so I believe that if I "dump" him and then just send an e-mail, I might be ending my career in academia.


I think it's all about how you handle it. Can you / have you tried establishing some sort of working relationship with the other professor, so that they know you are interested in their work and would want to take you on? If you have a relationship then the answer is likely going to be yes. And once it is all established with the otehr professor you will have security - even though you'll be cutting ties with the other professor, you've already got a new home to go to, so as to speak. The other professor won't be able to harm you. And if he has issues about being dumped via email then he should make himself more available to meet in person.

If you haven't made links with the other professor yet then maybe you could think of some ways to get involved in the work in their lab. Contribute on some projects. And then be like, oh my goodness... this is what I love (assuming you do like it there!)... I really would like to switch my PhD. Is there anyway on earth that we could do this? No mention of what is going on in the other lab / with the other professor. Totally about you realising you want to work on different projects. I think it has to be something like this for it to work.

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