A newer PhD student in my lab has begun conducting research very similar to mine. We are both working on a large body of research, and although the projects are similar, their research will ultimately be complementary.

I have been working with certain collaborators for >5 years, even before starting grad school, and the new student has been reaching out to them for samples. The collaborators recently met with me out of concern for the direction of the new students work, and have asked me to ‘oversee’ the student’s research.

Personally, I have had my own concerns with the highly enthusiastic new student, who intends to use irreplaceable high value samples, but still has little lab or research experience in this area. Additionally, I have talked to the student in the past about the importance of our samples, especially with regards to our collaborators, and they continue to act with confidence as though they can do whatever they want.

At this point, I want to bring in my advisor, since it’s not my responsibility to oversee a fellow PhD student. I don’t want to come off as being petty or just complaining about the new student, but also need to maintain good relationships with our collaborators who put a great of trust in me with their samples.

Any advice on how to move forward? Suggestions for reigning in the enthusiastic new student while also saving face?

1 Answer 1


I also work with irreplaceable (biological) samples. And I've had experience on both ends:

  1. feeling weary of a new student trying to take over and treating me like a stepping stone and unpaid mentor, and
  2. being the new guy and getting the pushback from the old guard and what felt like their excuses to protect their territory

It all depends on the details, and as with everything, keeping communication open and honest with all is most important, including the other students, the PI, etc. But in my experience, sharing honestly and openly has always been the best strategy. People come with a big push and fizzle out, the old guard spends so much time protecting their turf that they miss the constant change and become outdated and obsolete.

Not knowing anything else than what you wrote, I suggest welcoming the new student with open arms, explaining the importance of irreplaceable samples (and maybe help them get their own), and say exactly what you wrote here, that samples are a sign of trust from collaborators, and that's why you guard them -- if the new student does not understand that, then you've got an actual problem.

With a policy of sharing and openness, you might win a lifelong collaborator, or they might realize the huge amount of work involved and move on to a project that looks easier.

Following comments to this answer, I should emphasize the need to communicate with your advisor. In your question you mentioned how the collaborators are asking you to mentor this new student, but you don't mention the role of your advisor into this. To "oversee" a junior student's work covers a wide range of tasks, from the acceptable (e.g. pass on training you received when you were starting), to the unreasonable, e.g. taking on full management responsibilities like keeping track of the student's progress and then report on that progress to the advisor. So definitely a talk with your advisor is in place to trace the line between the reasonable and unreasonable.

  • 7
    Good answer, but I'd emphasize a bit more the communication with the advisor. It's important that everyone is on the same page! And it's important the new student receives some direct instructions from the 'higher ups' and not just the more senior graduate student. Apr 29, 2023 at 19:05
  • I added a paragraph including your suggestion.
    – Cheery
    Apr 30, 2023 at 14:14

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