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I am in my first PhD rotation. I wanted to ask everyone if my current experience is normal. I have been rotating in the current lab for less than a month. My rotation advisor is very nice and she is doing amazing work in a field I have no background in. I do have experience as a tech for over 3 years. However, as I said, this area is different. Anyway, I am working with a senior graduate student who is in the process of graduating. When I first started, I thought we had good relationship. However, as more experiments were not working (I.e had nothing to do with me, more of the concept related). Anyway, I think my graduate student is frustrated and doesn’t want to train me. She comes in late and ignores me. I instead have been asking her if I can shadow her when she is doing experiments which I thought she was okay with. I guess not anymore. She shrugs me off even when I want to ask questions. It also doesn’t help that no one in the lab really talks to me. I’m just ignored. I have talked with some of them sometimes, but not a lot. I just feel alienated. I honestly haven’t learned a thing. I even left early in the lab because there is no way I’m picking this lab as my thesis lab.

Maybe I’m over thinking it, but I wanted to ask everyone: how can I make the best of this experience since I have a couple more weeks?

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    Welcome to Ac.SE! We like to focus on answerable, actionable questions. Unfortunately, it's hard to answer "is it normal" - because certainly it happens sometimes a lab is a bad fit. "How to get through it" might be a better question for this site, if you reframe as "How to make the most of a bad rotation." Does that make sense? Jul 19 at 19:34
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    You're in your first rotation. Presumably you have at least two more? You'll have a better idea of what normal is and what a good fit is once you've done more than one. "Normal" isn't a very useful marker, anyways; you should join the lab that's the best fit for you, not the one that is "normal".
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 19 at 20:01
  • Are you just asking whether it is common to have to deal with unhelpful people? Note that a lot of academics are very introverted. To be successful you probably need to outgrow it (requires work) but students aren't often there yet.
    – Buffy
    Jul 19 at 20:01
  • Thank you guys! Based on the first comment, I changed my question. I still want to make the best of this rotation. With that, let me know what you think! Jul 19 at 20:03
  • Welcome to the site! I suggested some edits to your last paragraph: we also don't take "poll questions" like "has anyone else ever...", but an answerable question like "how to make the best of this" might be something we can help with.
    – cag51
    Jul 19 at 21:45

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First, I suggest remaining calm. As you say, this is just one rotation, and you don't have to choose this lab long term. So long as you remain in good standing in the program, you have little to lose here.

I wanted to ask everyone if my current experience is normal.

Well, yes and no. It's certainly not optimal, and many professors do offer excellent support to new students. So, I am hopeful that your future rotations will go better. Still, what you describe is not unheard of: the time it takes to properly supervise a new grad student is usually (much) more than the time we save by having an extra pair of hands. So, mentoring new grad students (especially ones on rotation) is often a low priority even for well-meaning supervisors. It's certainly common for the professor to delegate supervision to a post-doc or student (often one who is both busy and unexperienced with supervision) and to assume everything is going well until they hear otherwise.

She comes in late and ignores me...She shrugs me off...I’m just ignored...I honestly haven’t learned a thing...there is no way I’m picking this lab as my thesis lab.

Reading this, my overwhelming reaction is: what do you have to lose? If you remain polite and distant and just do what you can, there is little chance this lab will help your career long-term. On the other hand, if you are much more aggressive about trying to get something to do, then either things will get better (great) or people will remain hostile (no real change from the status quo).

So, a good first step is probably to be much more direct with the grad student. "I notice you're very busy and don't really have time to mentor me. Is there something else I can do over the next few weeks that would be helpful? Should I ask to be reassigned?" I have little hope that this will solve your problem, but it's worth a shot.

My rotation advisor is very nice and she is doing amazing work

Assuming your attempt to resolve this with the grad student doesn't go anywhere, this is your next stop. Do not criticize the grad student, just state facts ("I don't have a project, I'm not able to get my questions answered, I was told not to disturb her, we only overlap for an hour a day") and present possible solutions. Hopefully the professor can reassign you or come up with a different project for you.

I even left early in the lab because there is no way I’m picking this lab as my thesis lab.

I am reasonably hopeful that one of the above steps will succeed. But, it's possible that it fails: the professor brushes you off and/or the other group members are irrationally enraged by your attempts to resolve your situation. In this case, I agree with your instinct here; do the minimum you need to remain in good standing with the program, take the remaining time to learn something useful through self-study, and work hard on future rotations. Good luck.

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