I am an undergrad who was recruited to join a lab by this PhD student and help her with her thesis, but since working with her I have come to the conclusion that she is incompetent and probably not going to finish her PhD. I often question her judgment especially related to safety and her research. This is my first research job, so sometimes I am unsure if this is normal, but at the same time I don't want to pick up bad habits. Some of the highlights include:
- Lack of safety awareness. No gloves/splash goggles when working with (hot) concentrated acids and bases. Some of these experiments are run outside the fume hood, and sometimes on the floor when there is no space on the lab bench. Lab bench is a mess and when I mention cleaning up she says it'll take too much time.
- When I ask her about her research proposal, she seems confused and is unable to answer basic questions about previous results. Previous experiments all seem inconclusive, need to be rerun, or she can't remember. One of the major part of her proposal is to investigate a particular mechanism, but when I ask what tests she plans on running, she has no idea.
- I will talk to her about papers that I found, sometimes exactly matching the experiments we want to run, and she seems surprised. I will mention things from papers we've both read or thesis of previous students and she has no clue so most conversations about research is unproductive or she offers very superficial, obvious observations. Conversations with other group members are much more productive.
- She (and I) have very little to share during group meetings because experiments are sometimes poorly designed and she does not plan them out. She will have a rough idea of what she wants to do, but no procedures or plan so lab time is spent planning the experiments out. She seems to have a very bizarre attention to some details but not others. For example, when running some high purity experiments she doesn't want us to wash the beakers with soap due to fear of contamination, but then she'll proceed to run these experiments on the dirty lab floor.
- She has poor organization and samples are sometimes lost or results are not written down.
- She has very rudimentary technical skills. I have watched her use the computer multiple times and instructions on how to use simple programs need to be written down step-by-step with very specific instructions on which button to press... etc. Sometimes she wants me to write a program from a paper, but she is so inept that she is unable to offer any assistance/advice, and after I'm finished writing the program she will have no clue how it works.
At times, it seems like I'm doing all the literature search, running the experiments, writing the programs, and coming up with new ideas while she grades homework. She says she is going to graduate this year.
Our PI is a very hands off person. I spend a lot of time reading literature and have ideas of other experiments we can run related to this research area in general. I would like to run these experiments myself. Since we're working in the same research area, however, sometimes when I discuss these ideas the grad student will mention wanting to include it in her thesis (even though it wasn't in her proposal). And because of how unproductive she is, I would prefer not to work with her anyways. I'm also concerned that the PI will think that these are good ideas and that I should work with this student to test them, particularly because I am an undergrad.
How can I politely distance myself with her and start doing some independent research?