I am a second-year PhD student in an American university. I am having an issue with relationships in my lab. Right now I am very jealous of another student in my lab, and I start to hold grudges against him. Let’s call this student X.

We have the same advisor, but I feel my advisor likes X a lot more than me. X is working on one of the most promising project that my advisor is highly interested in. The advisor spends lots of time with X in their meetings. In their meetings, when X asks a question, the advisor would answer him patiently and explain to very detail until he understands. When I had my meeting, my advisor is waiting for me to say something and mostly give short answers and our meeting would end very soon. I feel compared to other students, my advisor has no expectations on me, and doesn’t care about my work.

I know that my thought is bad, and it might not be the case that my advisor has a favorite student. I also think X is stronger than me academically. But I am very upset when I see X having meetings with my advisor. In our lab, our advisor usually comes to the student lab and has meetings with each of us one by one. I start to hate having meetings with my advisor because I would have to watch X having meetings with him before/after mine. And I start to hate both of them all together. Indeed, for some personal reasons, I am jealous of both of them.

But I don’t want my negative feelings to impact my study. I don’t know what to do.

  • How do you know that your advisor answers X's questions in more detail? Are you just speculating? I recommend you search this site and elsewhere for the phenomenon known as "impostor syndrome"; negatively/unfairly comparing yourself and your research to others is a component of that. Dec 17, 2022 at 10:25

3 Answers 3


I would like to start by saying that I am sorry you've been experiencing such negative feelings and I fully understand how those can be time and mentally consuming.

Before suggesting a potential line of action, let me start by pointing out that "liking" should not be the issue here. It is indeed ok for people to like certain people more than others on a personal level. (For example, it is ok for an advisor to socialise outside the lab with one PhD student, but not the others.)

What is not ok and what should matter here is the differential treatment in terms of consideration, opportunities and resources you both are allocated to achieve your work in the best conditions. To decide whether this is the case or not, I would recommend to try to assess the situation objectively, by, e.g.:

  • asking the opinion of someone that is exterior to the situation yet able to confirm or infirm the claim.

  • compiling some objective facts regarding some differential treatment your advisor might be giving to X compared to you. These can take various forms, for example estimating objectively the duration and frequency of meetings with your advisor, comparing opportunities to give presentations or attend conferences, comparing allocated budgets and so on.

If indeed you manage to objectively confirm the claim for yourself (and preferentially confirm it with someone exterior), then I would suggest to try discussing with your advisor about it, backing up your claim with the previously compiled objective data if needed.

In any case, I wish you good luck and hope you can make the best out of this unfortunate situation.


If labmate X is more able to produce the work that your professor is interested in, then it is not entirely surprising if your professor spends more time with them. Having said that, even if it is not surprising, it may not be just. Here are a few suggestions, you might try one or a few of them, they are not mutually exclusive.

  • Tell your professor that you are worried you are not achieving as much as labmate X, and ask their opinion of what to do. It may be your professor has not noticed that they are spending more time with X than you, and this may be a polite way to draw attention to this fact. Or, it may indeed be that there's something X is doing that you are not that you can fix. Finally, it might be that your professor is not the best match for your PhD interests, and opening a conversation could lead to transferring amicably to another lab. But I would start out by asking the question in the least confrontational way possible, but ensure that there is a conversation.
  • Suggest that rather than individual meetings, your lab has group meetings, so that you can all learn from each other's projects and mentoring, and also possibly find ways to help each other out. I went through a few PhD supervisors when I was a student, and I also just hung out with a few other labs, and my favourite labs and supervisors had group meetings. So now I do this with my own PhD students. Of course for a long conversation, you occasionally have to have one-on-one meetings. But in general, group meetings would probably save your professor time (since you would all learn at once), and increase the learning, fairness, and camaraderie for all their PhD students. You might want to suggest this to the other PhD students first, then bring it to your professor, or it may come naturally out of the previous conversation.
  • Realise that is possible that your getting less attention is an illegal slight against you. Sometimes either implicitly or explicitly, professors favour students more like themselves, in terms of gender, background, or other interest. Again probably this would be an accident that will get corrected after your professor notices, but sometimes such incidents have to go to outside arbitration. Every modern university should have procedures about this. In fact, for my PhD, there was explicitly a research advisor and an academic advisor, and about the only thing the academic advisor did was give you advice if you were having trouble with your research advisor. That happens to most people at some point! but is usually fixable.

Finally, I want to share a story with you. I was kind of a rebellious PhD student who followed my own interests, so when I started out as a professor I took a lot of students with a lot of interests, and tried to let them be themselves. As a result of this, I didn't get much research on my own interests done. If I'd been in America, maybe I wouldn't have gotten tenure, but I was in the UK and it just took a long time for me to get promoted. Once I started having enough PhD students that I could have group meetings though, then it was great for me that students saw I was more interested in some projects than others, and more happy to help work on some projects than others. Then each student could choose for themselves whether to work on projects that were congruent with both their and my interests, or to work on things of interest only to themselves. As long as I did a good job and helped everyone graduate and get a job, I don't think it was a problem that I spent more time writing with the students working on the projects that were a part of my own research interests.

  • When you mentioned a professor might favor a student based on their personality, I think I can relate to this. Once in a casual conversation, I was talking about how to possibly have a business and make a fortune. Then he told me if money is my goal probly academia is not what I want. I replied I definitely want research experience out from a phd degree. Now I am worried that my professor likes me less because he thinks I am not interested in research?
    – Daydream
    Dec 17, 2022 at 20:09
  • 2
    The relationship between a PhD student and their supervisor is lifelong for both. Don't worry too much about past events, work on your future relationship. Dec 18, 2022 at 11:26
  • @Daydream Then he told me if money is my goal probly academia is not what I want. I replied I definitely want research experience out from a phd degree you may have a supervisor that thinks of a phd degree as something more than "research experience", because you can get research experience in a much easier way. A PhD degree is seen by many as the way to learn to be a researcher. However, why do you want to have research experience?
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 20, 2022 at 20:59
  • I think your last sentence can apply fully to the professor and student X of the OP question. You don't think it was a problem, but you could not enter into the mind of student Daydream which was counting the difference between the 25 minutes you spent with them and the 35 minutes you spent with X ...
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 20, 2022 at 21:02
  • I guess it probly makes sense. Student X’s project is much closer to my professor’s interest, whereas mine is more self oriented. So technically professor is able to offer more help to X’s project because that’s his expertise. I think I am just more on my own, but maybe it is not that bad.
    – Daydream
    Dec 21, 2022 at 2:14

It is all in your head. You must not give any mental space for such thoughts. It simply depresses you, and then it consumes you, and then you end up not having spend sufficient time on research. Acknowledge the negative thoughts, know that they are made up by you, and most likely do not reflect reality, and throw them out!

That's what I do, and disclaimer: I am no psychologist.

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