What happens to grad students who are disliked by all other grad students in their labs?

For background on the situation:

I started my phd recently, and I'm in a lab with three other grad students, a post doc, a tech, a computational analyst, and the PI. For the first three months, the three other grad students and I were incredibly close. It felt like working with best friends.

Then, my PI offered me a chance to attend a conference, and I said yes. The other students, upon finding out, got livid and won't speak to me. This has been going on for three weeks. I've asked if we can talk about it, I've asked if they feel like I did something underhanded (I can't think of anything), but they either ignore me entirely or don't respond. I feel horrible (I also have a childhood history of being gaslit, so while I don't think I've done anything wrong and confirmed that with my PI, it's hard for me to not feel guilty).

I've spoken with my PI about it because it is affecting my ability to find reagents and protocols (given that I'm the newest member of the lab), and he thinks it will change over time, but it has been three weeks and I'm still having to search through all the boxes myself to find everyday reagents.

If I need to switch labs, it's going to be easier to do it now than at any other time, but I don't have a replacement already set, and I'll lose a training grant I was accepted for.

My specific questions:

1) Does being a black sheep in the lab mean that I should try to switch labs? If I stay, how do I make sure I get the things I need?

2) Is this going to ruin my professional life? What are the consequences of having my labmates hate me enough to act like I don't exist, and how can I counteract this situation?

3) This one is more interpersonal, so please ignore if not appropriate for this forum. If this situation is my fault, how do I learn the skills to avoid doing this again?

  • 3
    Your supervisor has some responsibility towatds your wellbeing. Can you ask him or her to have a chat with the other students to bridge the gap? His intervention should ease things and convey to the students that such behaviour is not acceptable.
    – Pioneer83
    Oct 17, 2018 at 6:41
  • 1
    I am probably going to get flamed for suggesting this: decline the conference offer. Yes, it is not your fault and yes you are eligible to go, but by not refusing it you are enjoying the fruit of the PI's problematic treatment. By refusing it you did 100% due diligence and if they are still mad at you, you will be at a moral high ground to negotiate. Have peace or be the golden child, pick one. Oct 17, 2018 at 12:13

1 Answer 1


It is incredibly unfortunate that you've found yourself in a situation where it doesn't sound like there's much you could have done to actively avoid the contention. I do feel like there must be something in the story that you're leaving out, but if I base my conclusions assuming you've included everything that's relevant, here's my two cents worth of feedback to your questions:

  1. Being the black sheep does not mean that you should leave the lab. In fact, what you are experiencing is not unique and is something that generally happens to people throughout their lives (to more or lesser of degree). Simply leaving the group might be an easy and acceptable solution to your current situation (only you can really judge that I think), but you might want to view this as an opportunity to build your conflict resolution skills, which will be incredibly valuable throughout your life.
  2. This is not going to ruin your professional life, but like with all events in our lives (whether fair or unfair), it will absolutely alter your career-path experience. In general, it is always best to have a pro-active mindset (e.g., "I can direct my own career path") rather than a passive mindset (e.g., "these people will determine my career path"), regardless of whether other people can influence your trajectory.
  3. Whether or not this is your fault, you certainly can learn skills from the experience. In my opinion, the best thing you can do right now is to focus solely on how you can serve your colleagues. Having a dialogue with them could be useful, but like you said you'll mostly be at their mercy in that approach. If you proactively look for opportunities to help them in their own work and learn the ropes in the lab on your own so you can help them and generally be a "good neighbor", then they will really have no reason to maintain their animosity towards you.

I'm not sure there's much you can control beyond my points above. An enormous skill to learn in life is to not stress out over things that you can't control. Another enormously valuable skill is being able to recognize what you can or cannot control around you. Proactively seek to make the things around your more amenable to unity and cooperation, regardless of others' reaction to you. Be sincere in your efforts, not superficial or only acting to get a specific response.

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