I wanted to do a pivot and go in a different direction due to interest and better funding prospects down the road IMHO by going more translational. I was the first grad student and covid hampered progress, but my committee let me go with just one 1st author and few secondary authorship manuscripts. I stumbled upon a position that I felt would give me an opportunity to grow in the direction I want. The issue is there is a sharp contrast in working styles that cannot be bridged which makes getting anything done painful.

I just started, but I can tell it will be a slog and the advisor and I do not get along. I have some leverage in that the lab is inundated with work and skilled help is scarce. I am also covered on a training grant.

I think there is a way to make this a productive stint, as I have had some initial success pulling together stuff to craft my own unique identity while growing in this new field. However, any transitional award would need input from this individual. I have no faith that they would do right by me and put aside differences if the productivity was there.

How far of a shadow can this person cast over my career? I have not spent much time under their mentorship yet (only 4 months) and my training program allows me to switch to something else (assuming, I can find a willing taker, but I am free labor). The catch is while I find this person disagreeable, they have the projects that will allow me to demonstrate the skills I want to possess.

How to proceed?

  • This is hard to assess as there is so much we cannot know. Why would that person even have an interest in "casting a shadow over your career"? Not getting along well is one thing, actively harming somebody else is quite another. And then, we have no idea whether this person has a strong network and influence. Also, if you think any reference of this person would be "bad", don't ask for one in the first place. Oct 31, 2023 at 10:23
  • @ChristianHennig Obviously I would avoid using this person as a reference but would this not be a red flag? I am trying to balance personally fit with fit for my research goals. This postdoc is a career pivot so my thesis mentor, who is also less senior would not carry as much weight. Oct 31, 2023 at 10:43
  • Not getting a reference from your postdoc advisor is a definite red flag.
    – Spark
    Oct 31, 2023 at 10:47
  • Well, it wouldn't look good, that's true, but it may not do that much damage either. I've never seen an admission decision in which such a thing made the difference. Oct 31, 2023 at 11:57
  • I didn't specify my postdoc advisor as a reference and had an easy time getting invitations and offers (in Europe). I had other senior and established collaborators that provided excellent references, which surely compensated for that. Nov 1, 2023 at 10:11

1 Answer 1


Your question should be edited for clarity and succinctness

I am understanding your question as

I do not get along with my postdoc advisor, but can probably be very productive working at their lab. How much can they hurt my career?

The short answer is - a lot. If your postdoc advisor is truly a vindictive and toxic person they can write a terrible reference letter to your future employers (if you list them as a reference), or just make your life miserable in the future by, say, badmouthing you to whoever they know.

However, this is extremely unlikely to happen if all you have is a simple difference of styles/character. First of all, postdoc advisors want to see their postdocs hired in as fancy an institution as possible. This sends a signal to future hires - "my postdoc got a job at this ivy league school after working with me, you will too if you join my lab!".

Secondly, advisors have a reputation to uphold. If they are perceived as toxic/difficult towards group members, then that will make future applicants weary of joining their lab.

Finally, if you will be productive as you say you'll be, that should be more than enough for any semi-reasonable PI to be supportive of you and your work. Unless there is a severe personality mismatch, PIs primarily care about your productivity. If that is good, anything else will be secondary.

That being said, if you can find another lab to work with where you'd be more productive and you get along with the PI, then you should absolutely do that. However, be mindful of your timeline and do so sooner rather than later. Postdoc positions aren't forever.

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