Long story short, I'm a struggling first year graduate student. I considered myself very lucky when I found out that I was accepted into one of the best programs in my field, but didn't realize at the time how steep the learning curve would be to work alongside the best. I work in a wet lab, which I joined three months ago. However, given that I had very little research experience in undergrad, I've had a rough start. I don't think I fully realized the level of critical thinking skills that would be expected of me, and still depended on other people to tell me what to do and what to work on. A lot of science conversations I've had with people in the lab have also been completely over my head. Like I should be the one developing novel knowledge, yet sometimes I can't even understand someone else when they describe something to me (not just older grad students either, a lot of the undergrads also know more than me)... As a result, people in the lab have started treating me like I'm stupid or inferior, and my PI is slowly decreasing my level of responsibility.

I've spent the past few months in complete depression and anxiety, which is making the problem even worse. I would really like to change this situation, and have been working really hard on my project, but I'm not sure whether it's already too late to change the impression of my labmates and PI. So I guess my questions are as follows:

  1. Have you ever had/known any grad students who started slow, but have reversed bad first impressions? How much harder did they have to work to achieve the same level of respect?

  2. What do you think of students that on average take longer to learn the same technique or concept? Should such student still stay in research given the amount of competition that now exists in academia, or is it realistically a waste of their time?

  3. How would you recommend I go about making changes. Work harder and push out more experimental results? Dig into and understand literature broadly? How should I go about changing people's impressions of me?

  4. For any PIs out there, what do you think of your students that are not meeting your expectations? Do you wish you never took them on as a student, or are you still rooting for them to make changes?

  • 3
    It sounds like you're not only struggling with what others think of you, but also what you think of yourself. If you haven't already, I'd suggest you read this thread. And if you're struggling with depression, please see a mental health professional. – chipbuster Feb 1 '16 at 2:48
  • how steep the learning curve would be to work alongside the best. I believe you already know the answer to your question. My answer is to keep working hard and things will get better. – scaaahu Feb 1 '16 at 2:48

The truth is, even though people don't like to talk about it, that most graduate students start out like you do. As advisers we see it all the time, and the better ones among us have conversations about these sort of things with our students and/or to our research groups. Many students, and not a few of those who later make it into the professoriate, have at times struggled for weeks or months with frustration, depression, and general unhappiness with their progress in graduate school.

In other words, what you're describing is, if not a normal, a common experience in graduate school, even among some of the best students. I like to thing of graduate school as less of a way to filter out the best than a way to filter out those who can deal with frustration and yet persevere with their research.

So keep going on. If you want, seek out the postdocs and/or your adviser to talk about this. You'll find that you're by far not the only one to encounter such feelings.


Every new beginning is hard, don't worry too much.

Concentrate on doing your lab work accurately, more than fast. Fast comes with practice. Remember, this is a work for a normal human, don't drive yourself too hard. Understand what you are doing, and why. Check with coworkers/boss if there are better ways.

Study in an orderly way, check the ground covered each day. Get back to stuff you didn't get, with classmates, TA, lecturer, looking at notes on the 'net. Do your homework in timely manner. Try to reserve a day a week to do something else whatsoever, getting out off the stress is vital.

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