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I came to a university for my master's studies in computer science, along with five batchmates from my country. Since most groups are formed in threes, two teamed up with me and instructed me not to help the other two. While strictly against plagiarism, I see nothing wrong with collaborating and sharing information.

I soon noticed that these two group mates only care about people they deem helpful and ignore entirely those they consider beneath them. You also lie to mislead others and ensure they don't complete assignments correctly. For example, one of them lied about finishing an assignment, saying he hadn't completed it when he had. e could have said, "I've completed it but can't share it. However, I can help you understand the topic." This behaviour annoyed me, and I began distancing myself from them.

Realizing this, they flattered the other two batchmates and included them in their team, trying to isolate me further. Unfortunately, I later discovered that the other two shared their mindset of ignoring those they don't need. I am without teammates and handling everything alone, which puts much pressure on me.

There was an internship position for five people, which they secured by approaching the professor before I could, despite my better grades. I was preoccupied with completing my courses alone. There was one more position available, but they didn't inform me.

When I finished my exams and sought a position, only a lesser opportunity was left, offering one-third of their total payment. I found out I would be working in the same lab as them. On the first day, their pale faces showed they didn't want me there. Hey had not told me about the opportunity they secured a month earlier, yet they questioned why I hadn't informed them I was joining the lab.

These childish, competitive antics are making me feel sick. Sometimes, I wonder if I did something wrong. I grew up in a different culture, where I competed with myself rather than engage in such competition with others. Unfortunately, I now have to work with the same team. I'm worried they will plot against me to force me out.

Please advise on how to address this situation.

Clarification based on a few answers:

  1. I have no complaints about not being informed initially. I focused on my exams and approached for the internship two days before the deadline, getting a smaller package. When I didn't inform them about my role, they reacted negatively, though they hadn't informed me either. Later, I discovered the professor was looking for one more person, and the slot remained empty. It made me feel they might not want me on their team. Should I be comfortable with working in the same lab going forward?

  2. Initially, I chose to work with them due to the ease of language. However, they isolated one of our four apartment mates, ignoring his general questions and confusing us about course topics. When I asked why, they said he was from a lower-ranked faculty (business) and wouldn't be helpful to them in the future. His behaviour disgusted me and seemed likely to spread unnecessary toxicity. Helping: I mean answering general questions or helping resolve confusion regarding a topic, not explicitly tutoring him. Would someone have to lie because he is from a lower-demand faculty?

  3. After the incident mentioned in point 1, I worked with other people, including those from different countries. Any of them were warm, collaborative, and helpful with questions. Unfortunately, I applied for the internship at the last moment and ended up with the same group. That's why I've mentioned only these five people. Ignored only two of them; the others might be unaware of what is happening.

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    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented yesterday

5 Answers 5

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My advice is to ignore them and focus on yourself. In my field in the US, the type of person you're describing is not all that uncommon - usually a type-A person with no self-awareness and a willingness to throw others under the bus for a perceived advantaged. In my experience, sooner or later they get found out - others tend to not like them and they eventually rub superiors the wrong way. It doesn't always work out, but 9/10 times, these people start to make more enemies than friends.

In terms of what to do on the day-to-day, remain professional and detached. If they tell you something, verify it for yourself. If they don't tell you something, oh well, you can't rely on them for info. Don't help them or work with them outside of what is required. If they start to do things that actively harm you or are dishonest/unethical - lying, plagiarism, sabotaging experiments, whatever - talk to your supervisor. Most importantly, don't stoop to their level.

And try to surround yourself with people who aren't like that.

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    I just want compete with myself and stay away from people who invent competition with others out of thin air.
    – user_009
    Commented 2 days ago
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    They can't be ignored as they are in the same lab and working as a group against OP.
    – Trunk
    Commented 2 days ago
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    "ignore" is maybe too strong, but "protect yourself, don't be distracted, don't waste emotional energy" is along the same lines. @sErlSaNo explicitly says to report actively harmful behaviours up the chain.
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented 2 days ago
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Let's consider.

There was an internship position for five people, which they secured by approaching the professor before I could...There was one more position available, but they didn't inform me.

Why is it their job to inform you? Why is it their fault if the professor gave the position away before you got around to applying?

They also lie to...ensure they don't complete assignments properly. For example, one of them lied about finishing an assignment, saying he hadn't completed it when he had. He could have said, "I've completed it but can't share it. However, I can help you understand the topic."

How can they "ensure" someone else doesn't complete assignments properly? This is too much. It sounds to me like they told a white lie to avoid being asked to provide tutoring services. While occasionally tutoring your classmates might be a nice thing to do, they are under no obligation to do it, and refusing to do it does not "ensure" that others will fail.

I began distancing myself from them. Realizing this, they flattered the other two batchmates and included them in their team, trying to isolate me further.

You deliberately distanced yourself from them, and now it's their fault that they replaced you? And you assume that they did this to "isolate you", rather than simply to fill the spot?

Unfortunately, I later realized that the other two shared their mindset of ignoring those they don't need. Now, I am without teammates and handling everything alone, which is putting a lot of pressure on me.

So there are 4 other batchmates, and all 4 of them, according to you, are toxic. Hmm. Also, are there no other "batchmates" from other countries who you could work with?

On the first day, their pale faces showed they didn't want me there...These childish, competitive antics are making me feel sick. Sometimes, I wonder if I did something wrong....I'm worried they will plot against me to force me out.

I recommend you stick to actual facts of things they did wrong (e.g., lying), not just your inferences from "their pale faces" or your conclusions about "their childish...antics." If you rewrite your story to contain just the facts without the inferences and conclusions, then you'll find yourself in one of two situations:

  1. There won't be much left. You might not like your coworkers, but they haven't actually done anything wrong. This is then an interpersonal matter rather than an academic one. Or,
  2. There are many facts that didn't make it into the above narrative. In this case, you can use this list of facts to do a much better job telling the story in future (should you ever have to) than you did above. As for next steps, I agree with @sErlSaNo's answer: remain professional but detached, don't rely on them, and talk to your supervisor if they cross the line.
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    On the contrary, I gave two different interpretations and gave advice for each.
    – cag51
    Commented 2 days ago
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    I would suggest that you not extrapolate so much beyond what I wrote. There are certainly situations where I would respond with kindness or anger, but on the internet, I've found it's best to be detached and professional and to focus on next steps rather than assigning blame. In this case, OP is convinced that their labmates have formed a conspiracy against them. I do not believe it would be kind to allow such an extreme assumption to pass unchallenged, though note that I also acknowledged the possibility that the assumption is correct. In any case: I have no more to add, good luck.
    – cag51
    Commented 2 days ago
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    This answer would be better if it was gentler and a more charitable interpretation was given to what OP wrote. Probably half the points are to do with OP's non-native / non-standard English, or cultural differences.
    – toby544
    Commented 2 days ago
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    @user_009 Maybe you are used to a warm, very cosy atmosphere. Not all surroundings are, and between full-on toxicity and cozy familiarity, there is a spectrum. Your situation may be on the cold side, but not yet on full toxicity. Extricate yourself, and your former "fellow students" may not feel they have to actively distance themselves from you. Worry about their machinations after they happen, not before. Sometimes one projects what one fears, causing it to happen in the first place ("self-fulfilling prophesy"). Just treat them as near-strangers in a coffee shop. Courteous but distant. Commented 2 days ago
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    @user_009 My assumption would be that someone who lies when asked for help is doing so because they want to avoid an argument about it. It seems that they were likely right to expect an argument if your view is that living together comes with an implied promise/obligation of help with coursework.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented 2 days ago
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You didn't mention which country you are from. In my country, France, Master's programs are highly competitive and will impact your career and determine your capacity to pursue a PhD program. This kind of behavior is not unknown, and such approaches are as old as the world. Many people here are telling you that you should ignore them, but it is not always possible. One piece of advice: work hard and try your very best. I have a PhD and I worked at Harvard (as a post-doc). My master's degree was one of the most competitive place I have ever been. This can be a shock. My advice is not to let yourself be influenced by people informing you that they did not study or complete their assignments. If you have to work in a group, send emails so that you keep everything in writing. This may help you if things go sour and you need to justify what you have done and what other people have done. As for collaboration, again not sharing your homework in such a competitive place is not a bad idea, all depends on what you want. Because depending on your goal, you may want to be at the very top of your class.

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  • This answer provides useful information, but much of it ("[don't] let yourself be influenced", the idea of focusing on your own work) is not that different from what others are saying ("Don't help them or work with them outside of what is required")
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented 2 days ago
  • You misunderstood some aspects. I did not say to share homework. I mentioned not to unnecessarily lie with someone you live in same apartment. Eventually he will figure out and spread animosity. Same happened with the apartment mate and now with me. What kind of top you are talking about? A lone place where you put anyone under the bus when not required? I believe most "top things" in the world came out from collaboration not competition
    – user_009
    Commented yesterday
  • You don't have to put people under the bus to be successful, but some people find it easier that way. What I am saying is that you need to learn to work with all kinds of people. You can only be betrayed by people you trust. What we find acceptable or not is up for debate, from what you describe, I would not like working with them, and I would definitely not trust them.
    – RomainL.
    Commented yesterday
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In addition to the useful answer from @trunk , I suggest that you document all interactions with your colleagues, assuming "colleague" is the right word in this case. A (paper) notebook should be fine: record dates, and don't leave blank paper, so that it is obvious that you aren't inserting stuff later. Stick to objective facts (no "pale faces") and don't leave it behind in the lab. I also agree with the suggestion of "courteous but distant", and suggest not retaliating to deliberate insults, (but record them). One possible response is: "that is interesting".

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    Not too bad a solution... Would possibly add "discretely record (interactions)". One advantage would be the historical record to review objectively in order to assess whether moment-to-moment perception aligns with objective analysis... We naked apes tend to remember events coloured with emotion -- especially negative emotions) -- better than neutral events that are forgotten as soon as they occur... (see Confirmation bias.)
    – Fe2O3
    Commented yesterday
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    @Fe2O3: Probably you mean discreetly. Commented 22 hours ago
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    @DanielR.Collins OMG! A typo has been entered into the repository!! :-) Yes. Thank you! :-) (Now I'll have a "reference point" to ALWAYS remember to check the distinction... Cheers! :-)
    – Fe2O3
    Commented 21 hours ago
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    @Fe2O3 OTOH, it my be more practicable to record interactions discretely, rather then with continuously. Commented 20 hours ago
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    @DanielR.Collins Perhaps: "discretely record (interactions) discreetly" (I tried, but "Get thee behind me, Satan!!" failed... Sorry.... :-)
    – Fe2O3
    Commented 19 hours ago
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I think it is time you discussed this situation with whoever is in charge of your lab. It will only get worse and worse otherwise.

I don't understand why this sort of malicious ganging politics was allowed (even seemingly fostered) at the university where you did your master's.

But remaining silent about it is only going to make these sort of antics the norm around you.

So get a dependable witness and tell the situation to the senior academic there.

It may be that in the end you would be better and happier in another more positive (as a result of more vigilant professors) department.

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    I'm a bit worried that OP has some unreasonable expectations of their coworkers which might be driving them away, so it's maybe risky to escalate, especially if OP is going to describe the situation with the type of language in this answer like "malicious ganging politics", especially if the examples of "malicious ganging" include "they didn't tell me about an internship" and "they didn't help me with my homework".
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented 2 days ago
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    agree, this all could be my over thinking thats why I am posting here and also may be a ganging up which is making me uncomfortable. So who knows for sure? I see no point of escalating. One thing is I realized for sure that they are not interested to work with me. I need to know how to go arround it
    – user_009
    Commented 2 days ago
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    @user_009 go around it? Ignore that they are there. If you were alone in the lab, what would you do? You still can be courteous, but distant, as if to a fellow elevator traveler who you share space with, but nothing else. Maybe if they do not feel they need to interact with you, they'll relax. I do not get from your post the vibes of explicit bullying. Concentrate on your job and social opportunities outside of your work. Commented 2 days ago
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    @CaptainEmacs thanks i liked your advice. I am not saying they are bullying me. But as I have confirmed evidence that they are not willing to work with me, I am seeking ways to go around it. Completing my tasks properly without having to further deteriorate my relation with them
    – user_009
    Commented yesterday

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