I am a new postdoc at a lab and really worried/confused/upset.

As I am new to experimental work (I have a computational background) the principal investigator (PI) has grouped me into a weekly meeting with 2 PhD students (the lab, in the US, is large with over 20 members in total). One of the PhD students is a "star student". A star student without so far any ideas which worked out - so stealing my ideas seems to be currently her go to.

When I entered the lab the PI suggested I join these weekly meetings, because me and the 2 PhD students would be interested in similar topics. I, naively, presented the ideas I am interested in just to see that the star PhD student has taken them, implemented them (as she already has experimental experience she can do that quickly), presented them, while also presenting herself as benevolent (mentioning during her talk my name, saying that I must be surely interested in these ideas as well - um yeah, given that it these were my ideas..). She basically immediately abandoned her own ideas after she realized that the PI likes mine and is just copying 1:1 my ideas.

Worse than that, the prof, who really cares about the star student doing well and about her being happy with him, told her then how great it would be if "her" idea would work out, and then added an extension to her idea which was also mine (which he knows).

What do I do? I am new and can't get into a conflict, especially since this PhD student is the PI's favorite and well established. Ideally I would like to avoid these weekly meetings altogether, because if I go I naturally also have to share what I work on, which does not seem too good given that the star student does not mind stealing ideas and presenting them as their own. But I worry that leaving the meetings would already cause a conflict etc.

Also meetings should be a place where I can voice my ideas, safely, in particular when the PI is present, but given that he is helping to feed her my ideas I really don't know what to do. It sucks.

  • 4
    Have you tried talking to your PI, describing what happened, instead of automatically assuming what they think and feel? Feb 9, 2021 at 23:58
  • 5
    When you discuss this, make sure you state only publicly observable facts, avoid feelings, avoid attributing any mental states or intentions to anyone but yourself. Ask questions like, "I'm delighted to work in an environment where open collaboration is at the forefront, so I'm very glad you've organized these weekly meetings. But I did have questions about how authorship attributions are handled by the group." What you want to avoid is being accusatory, and be genuinely open to the possibility that you are presently misreading the situation. Feb 10, 2021 at 0:19
  • 2
    The PhD student is giving you credit, even though the PhD student did all the actual work. What exactly is your problem with this? Feb 10, 2021 at 0:51
  • 6
    Sorry what? You can't just take someone else's project ideas and pretending they were all yours - telling me that "I must be interested in these ideas" as well does not seem sufficient at all
    – banana ana
    Feb 10, 2021 at 0:52
  • 2
    TL;DR: As a postdoc, it's much more fun to supervise PhD students than compete with them. Feb 10, 2021 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


If your ideas were fleshed out experimental plans that someone else took and used, that's not cool. You should complain.

If your ideas were a bunch of "wouldn't it be great to study this topic" thoughts, that's just not enough to stake a claim. If the PhD student is acknowledging that you're also in that area I wouldn't complain. You should ask her for help designing and executing an experimental plan. The best outcome is that she teaches you some new stuff and you both end up coauthoring something solid.

  • 2
    I have, in fact, submitted a grant proposal with my ideas (which the PI knows - the extension he mentioned to the PhD student was something in my proposal and he had asked to read my proposal), so they were indeed fleshed out.
    – banana ana
    Feb 10, 2021 at 1:50
  • 1
    I would suggest that you welcome the help and have the conversation about how you expect to be the primary author on the paper. Frankly if you can get a good co-author on board that's a huge win for you.
    – user133933
    Feb 10, 2021 at 2:01
  • I won't have a paper if she implements my ideas before I can (as I am slower because newer to the lab)
    – banana ana
    Feb 10, 2021 at 2:26
  • 2
    Even if the ideas were not fleshed out yet, identifying a profitable line is the OP's capital. It'll not do to just take an inexperienced lab member's idea and run with it. Feb 10, 2021 at 12:19
  • 2
    @bananaana I do not know your group, so it's hard to say. I would first try the nonconfrontative advice given in transitionssynthesis comment (which should be a response). Or see if you can become coauthor. If that does not lead to a satisfactory solution, e.g. because the advisor supports "star student" unconditionally, you have to see how to either protect your ideas better (if that is possible at all) or switch groups, which is the subnuclear option. Do keep in mind, though, that it might be possible that what looked to you a brilliant new idea is something that was pretty obvious to them. Feb 10, 2021 at 12:53

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