I have an undergraduate degree and I'm working as a medical researcher in a research lab, affiliated with a University. I've done very little since being employed, due to problems such as:

  1. lack of usable samples for projects
  2. equipment being broken down for long periods of time
  3. issues getting trained on equipment & techniques
  4. waiting on reagents with an otherwise unspecified delivery date

Sadly, roughly the first 6 months or so into work I was given very little to do so had to try and self direct as much work as possible, which I filled by teaching myself software programming and data analysis automation. There were several attempts to get me trained on things that would support my project but due to people being too busy or not wanting to give up time for their own work, every attempt failed and the training would get forgotten about. This was a difficult situation as the people training me were not actually a part of my group (I don't actually do any work with my team), but collaborators/colleagues/students from other labs in the institute.

Programming worked very well for a good 4-5 months but now I'm back into another rut with all of my equipment being out of order with an unspecified ETA on repair as well still waiting on reagents. Whilst I know this happens in science all the time, when it comes on the back of nearly half a years worth of not a whole lot it's hard to keep spirits high.

This has caused a severe reduction in morale and 'excitedness' about work and I often come in day to day feeling depressed and unhappy because all I can do at the moment is busywork (lab stocklists, cleaning, etc). How do people go about dealing with a slow moving or otherwise stagnant project for long periods of time?

I should mention that I love the environment I work in, including my boss and the people I work with. I got the opportunity to move to an entirely new state and experience a different way of living, which has been very nice. My boss is happy with my work (I was re-contracted) and says I have very good ideas and is sympathetic to my current situation but has little to offer in terms of solution, granted he's not able to speed up repairs or make my reagents come in faster!


I thought this warranted a clarification. I have done some work which has contributed to the project and provided some good insight. I am now trained and fully autonomous in the work that I need to do. My only restriction at this point is having the equipment I need to work and the reagents for them. A problem which is kind of rife throughout medical research.

  • it is ok, dont worry you are paid, for nothing, so it is not your fault, their fault
    – SSimon
    Dec 6, 2017 at 5:20
  • 4
    I know its not my fault, and believe me I like getting paid, but I'm the sort of person that thrives on a busy schedule. I'm just bored out of my skull right now.
    – Eppicurt
    Dec 6, 2017 at 5:27
  • 3
    I am not undergraduate, as my post says I am first year out of undergrad. I am a full time employee.
    – Eppicurt
    Dec 6, 2017 at 5:40
  • You could leave. I appreciate that you "love the environment [you] work in, including [your] boss and the people [you] work with. But, you're not happy with your work. Alternatively, you could create a reason to stay. E.g., by setting up a project that doesn't have such problems. You'll need to justify the project to your boss, but that shouldn't be a problem, given that you have lots of free time and given that you'll leave otherwise.
    – user2768
    Dec 6, 2017 at 8:54
  • 2
    Start some side-projects (that don't require fancy equipment and products you would have to wait for)
    – Mark
    Dec 6, 2017 at 9:26

3 Answers 3


First, I'm not from your area and I don't know how things usually work in medical labs. But I have participated in several research project in field of computer science. Some of these projects were just as you described, and even though the fields are different, I think the situation is the same.

My simple suggestion is to leave that lab for good. That might be a very bold decision, but unfortunately people like you (and me) have to take this bold decision for a brighter future.

You have mentioned that the lab environment is very good, you love your boss and your collegues. That is great! But that is not enough. Simply put, the things you have done goes in your CV. Not your good relationships with your boss and collegues. As a person who is at the beginning of their career, you should activate your potential before it is long lost.

I recently moved to another country from my hometown. And that was not an easy decision. Just like you, I had very good friendships, and perfect relationships with my supervisors. Thus, most of my relatives told me that these type of friendships are not to be found abroad, and I was gambling by leaving such a good environment.

They were right. I do not have very close friends in my workplace here. We do not usually go out for a few drinks occasionally as I did with my collegues back in my hometown.
However, I found two things way more precious in my new workplace. Shared ambition and productivity.

I still do the job I love, I have good relationships in my new workplace, I have a great and friendly boss, and I actually work!

To sum up, every single research project I have participated was exactly as you described. Despite the good relationships and laughter, lack of productivity and drudgery work made me feel like I'm wasting my life there. I realized that I was not happy. I moved on. I'm happy. If you prefer being productive for the expense of slight decrease in the close relationships environment, realize that you are not happy. You should move on. You will be happy.

Also, if allowed, I suggest you also ask this question in Workplace.SE.

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer. As I've had a few days to think about it, I am of the opinion that this is relatively common amongst medical researchers. Unfortunately, I don't feel that leaving the job is necessarily the right nor the best option for me both financially and career-wise. I don't have any contingency plan or any other means to support myself, and since the funding runs for only another year I feel like it's worth sticking it out. I think my plan will be to talk to my boss about how I'm feeling, as I'm not sure he fully understands what I'm going through.
    – Eppicurt
    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:11
  • I have also added a clarification.
    – Eppicurt
    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:24
  • but OP is not PhD,
    – SSimon
    Dec 8, 2017 at 12:16
  • Neither was I when I made the decision.
    – padawan
    Dec 8, 2017 at 12:17

If the equipment is broken, in my country researchers seek collaborator from other institutions, universities, and labs that have that equipment. Eighter rent, borrow or use for the benefit.

What are things you can promise them? usually, it is sort of co-authorship or if collaboration is with someone above lab setting, it is a form of special bilateral institutional agreement for cooperation. This looks good on CV of executives. For another thing, I am not sure what you can promise them.

There are many websites and social media platforms that you can ask for collaboration, it is out of the scope of your question to name it, but the second good option for finding collaborations are conferences, workshops, and researchers night.

Generally, seeking for collaboration outside of your institution should be number one priority for you now.


I am not in medical research or academia, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt. I previously had a job where we were unable to perform a large percentage of our work due to broken equipment. The monthly meetings usually went like this:

Them: "Why such little progress with X?"

Me: "Broken equipment, same equipment as last month..."

Them: "(Still) no money to fix it."

Me: "...then here we are."

After a few months, I mentally changed jobs. My job became "find a way". I started making phone calls, learning about the equipment, borrowing equipment from others, talking to people that do the repairs, trying to negotiate prices (which I'd take to management for approval, of course) - beg/borrow/steal and sometimes just fix the equipment ourselves. In your line of work, that may be impossible due to equipment calibration requirements or whatever - but maybe not.

You seem an intelligent fellow - if you can learn to code you can learn to fix your own equipment, or find a way to get it fixed. In my opinion, that is your job now.

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