Today in the lab we had a birthday, I had participated, but not so much as I feel anxious in crowded areas. I felt very shy and that's true, so I withdrew from the party after 15 minutes and wished everyone well.

Later, my PI informed me that he is extremely pissed off and did not like the fact that I am a very shy person. I am supposed to select a potential supervisor; the one whose work I am interested in also has also a shy person. The PI (head of the lab) informed me that he cannot assign two shy people to work together (me and the prospective supervisor) as he thought we are going to fail to make significant work.

The ugly truth is that I am an indeed shy girl for many years and I lose many social opportunities, likely marriage opportunities because I don't interact so much as other girls. However, I look very confident in voluntary works, teaching and giving talks.

I know it sounds controversial, however, I began to lose my self-confidence and esteem although I had a strong character.

The question: How I should react towards this?

  • 14
    It seems that English is not your native language (which is fine). Just to be sure, is 'shy' the exact word used by the PI?
    – Emilie
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:00
  • 6
    Is your PI simply upset that you are looking to leave as he has found out and it's not about "shy"? See academia.stackexchange.com/q/124482/72855
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:12
  • 2
    @SolarMike, No not all, he later said he wants to keep me in the lab as I am working hard, not at all related to it, I vouch. He is a kind of manipulative person and even I had this feedback from his students before coming.
    – user103209
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:13
  • 5
    @Nick, BTW there are other students left, but he did not tell them anything (from his same nationality). Moreover, they were speaking non- English language, and there was nothing to say that's why I left. BTW my colleagues appreciate me thankfully and they are good. The person who had the birthday was the secretary and she appreciates me very well and I do the same and I wished for her all good wishes and it was fine. Literally, I felt there nothing to do or engage as there were many people who are close friends for her and the PI and his colleagues were with her.
    – user103209
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 20:36
  • 4
    In both your question and some comments, you seem to be using "shy" and "aloof" synonymously, although they mean quite different things. Did your PI actually use one or both of those words to describe you?
    – Kat
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 13:35

4 Answers 4


This answer will only focus on long term strategies that might help you avoid such situations as you move forward.

To succeed in academia you can't really seem to be shy and certainly not seen to be less of a contributor because of it. No matter how good your ideas are, if they don't get considered then you have very little impact.

However, that doesn't mean that you can't actually be shy, or introverted. Many successful scientists are very introverted and even some are quite far out on the autism spectrum. Shyness isn't a defect or a flaw, it is just a personal tendency. Introverted people, in fact, often are extremely productive as they gather internal strength from reflection, consideration, and thought.

But the trick is to learn to act as if you have a different set of preferences than you actually do. You can act like an extrovert naturally would even while remaining an introvert. You play a role in public situations that lets your thoughts and needs get notice in the deliberations and conversations.

But it is a skill that can be difficult to learn. I know, and I did it. The "face" that I show to the world has evolved over time. I once suffered from an "inability" to speak up when I should have and it cost me extra years in a doctoral program. But after that, I learned how to play the role so that my ideas weren't ignored by those with a bigger mouth.

In fact, you aren't limited by your shyness unless you let it overcome you. You can look people straight in the eye and explain your ideas to them. You don't need to defer to louder people.

One person, a friend, who is very prominent in the CS community and is a marvelous public speaker is naturally, and in person, extremely quiet and has some characteristics of autism. But he taught himself to do what needed to be done to have his ideas accepted and to act in public in a way that seems to others to be comfortable, even if it is not. One of his tricks was to join an acting group in which he learned how to "put on" a role and act within that role.

Some people just freeze when confronted. Other people explode into inappropriate behavior. Both of these need to be avoided. Practice is what you need to overcome them if you tend to do that. Preparation for meetings, with notes on what you might want to say can help.

Finally, let me note that people reading your several posts here probably don't think of you as a shy person. In your writing, you are able to say what you want to say. Some of that is the anonymity that the site affords. In a sense, you can hide the "real you" behind a certain invented persona. The trick is to learn to do that same thing in person. Invent a persona for yourself and act in the way it suggests, hiding your "real self". Yes, I do the same thing here as Buffy.

  • 7
    Buffy, thanks so much for this answer! I touched me deeply and especially the last paragraph.
    – user103209
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 20:46
  • 7
    As another autistic person... being able to put on that face is a vital skill, but it's also important to recognise that it can be draining and can contribute to the burnout that a lot of autistic people experience around the 30s-40s. Do it when you have to, but leave space to recharge the batteries, and where possible work with people who don't require it.
    – G_B
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 15:19
  • 2
    @Monkia After being in academia for several years and transitioning to industry, I can attest to this answer by Buffy as well. I had to really teach myself to be expressive and be able to communicate my thoughts in an assertive way, while naturally being a shy and introverted person. It is quite difficult to learn but it came out of necessity to be able to conduct proper research and to teach courses. I don't think there's anything wrong with what you did. Your PI simply isn't used to dealing with people like us.
    – rayryeng
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 18:00
  • 3
    +1 I teach in public health graduate degree programs. My courses demand group discussion and often presentation, as well as collaboration. I take pains to point out that while some of us are introverts, and some of us are internal processors and that is fine, that the profession is a collaborative one, so they should just look on the participatory stuff as developing a necessary professional skill (they can still dislike it, even if competent at it). That said: the OP's PI was being an arrogant jerk and a bully.
    – Alexis
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 19:09

The situation is hard to evaluate without knowing exactly what the PI told you. I feel, however, that the problem here is not necessarely that you are a shy or timid person, but that you did not respect a unwritten social convention.

Today, in the lab we have a birthday, I had participated, but not so much as I feel anxious in the crowded areas. I felt very shy and that's is true, I withdraw from the party after 15 minutes and wished everyone the good.

Birthday parties or other celebrations are often moments where links between colleagues are created. In some cultures, leaving off after 15 minutes could be considered rude.

The PI ( head of the lab) informed I cannot assign two shy people to work together ( me and the prospective supervisor) as he thought we are going to fail to make a significant work.

This is a very strange thing to say to a prospective student, but, as research involves communication, the PI might fear that two extremely shy person could have problems with that essential part of research.

From your own account, you seem anxious in social events but you say that this is not a problem in professional event. You could ask for a meeting with the PI and simply explain that; ideally, you would provide proofs by the things you did that professional communication is not an issue.

However, I would suggest to be careful. If you found the PI rude now, you might want to find another lab.

  • 9
    Emilie, actually I figured out that he is racist, he said that people from my same nationality are aloof and are not similar to people from his own nationality, I told him I am a special case and that is my personality. Actually, I am considering looking for other labs as I cannot endure this behaviour for a couple of years.
    – user103209
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 20:49
  • 1
    Wow, this is horrible. I'm happy you found out and that you will be able to escape! Good luck @Monkia in your search of a new advisor!
    – Emilie
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 13:13

It's one of the more disgusting facets of our society that Type B people want to be left alone, but Type A people are rabid in their efforts to change Type B's into Type A's. I don't like noise but I'm told that I "don't like to have fun." Something is wrong with me because I'd like to be able to talk to the person I'm with rather than have a band screaming in my ears all night. And they NEED to fix me. What I consider fun isn't. Only what they consider fun.

This bigotry is subtle, pervasive and devastating. If your shyness is the result of an emotional disorder, all the more crushing and ostracizing this is. And probably no place is it so concentrated as academia (as you can witness on this stack exchange daily.) "You play by our rules or you don't play at all." Type A's are bullies, and that's exactly what this PI is doing. Either be just like him, always agree with him or he throws a tantrum and somehow it's YOUR fault.

What to do? Say, "You're trying to bully the wrong person," and walk away. Repeat as needed.

  • B. Goddard, well said you exactly mention an ugly truth about academia, and I am figuring out whether I should continue in this game or leave, I am not sure what is going to happen. I do like research and working with people share the same value and ethics in the work, however, I didn't find that good PI from heaven.
    – user103209
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 14:43
  • 2
    @Monkia I bailed. The latest re-cycled fads in education are tailor made for Type A's. Things like clickers and "flipped" classrooms and IBL oppress the Type B students and it was too the point that a compassionate prof was no longer allowed to be compassionate. Not only was I being force to pretend I was perky, I was also forced into forcing my students to pretend they are perky. I can't do it. Those of us on the spectrum just can't fake it; it's too shallow and vapid.
    – B. Goddard
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 15:06
  • B.Goddard, I am so sorry for you and what you have been through, I can understand the pain you had. Actually, since I opened my eyes in the academic world, I found that great professors are pariahs by A-type professors, and it was awkward. Even my self later, I had been blamed many times, I hated my home university so much. However, I don't want to make a sweeping generalization, we still have people like Geoffry Hinton, the godfather of machine learning, he was a pariah in his community in the last 40 years before 1997 and his ideas come true.
    – user103209
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 19:06

End of the day, you need to buckle down and do good science. Run experiments. Write them up. Publish. Be a little motor that churns and works and moves forward. Not one that is always asking questions. [This is the answer to "what should I do?" Which is the actual question part of your story.]

P.s. On the marriage concerns, this site is very persnickety about off topic posting. Personally I think there is nothing wrong with your wanting a mate. I feel ya. It is a natural human biological drive. Our hearts are programmed for it. All that said, I doubt you will find reflective advice in many corners of the Internet. But if you want killer advice, I recommend joining a running club. The odds are good. And the goods are...good. [And I would avoid the "somebody was mean to me, what do I do" in any discussions with potential suitors.]

  • 5
    The OP never mention wanting to have a 'mate'. This part of the answer is highly inappropriate and irrelevant
    – Emilie
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 17:57
  • 5
    Third para: "I lose many social opportunities likely marriage opportunities"
    – guest
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 17:59
  • 5
    Yes, but she did not say she wanted one, she said she lost opportunities. Brushing off her preoccupation about her PI is not helping, but adding on top of that a reference to her marital situation sounds a lot like (unvoluntary) sexism.
    – Emilie
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 18:03
  • 1
    guest, I think you are kind to the extent you tried to give me the advice to enhance my social life which is off-topic, however, I do agree with your answer, your success in professional and personal complement each other, finding good people in work-place or in my life is a biological need and it is not restricted to a marriage itself.
    – user103209
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 20:53

You must log in to answer this question.