I came from India to UK for my PhD as I hoped to work in a team and learn from others. However, I am all alone as other students of my professor are. As I inspected this is the case in all UK universities.

I understand that a PhD student is responsible for completing his project but I expected that my project is part of a bigger project and people who work on different parts have regular scientific discussions.

I want to quit and apply in the US but now I am pessimistic if this is the case in the US too.

  • 13
    What field do you work in? I think this varies greatly across different disciplines.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 2:40
  • 1
    A colaborative envirorment is key. Without it, all you're getting is a lot of presure to do what you could have done on your own. Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 8:49
  • I would like to know more info about you. I think it is much better to find more suitable lab.
    – SSimon
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 11:38
  • It is not only the field. Local lab culture is greatly dependent on the professor, too, with large variances.
    – Greg
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 9:28

2 Answers 2


The answer to this question is partly dependent on the field and the dynamics of the research group you are in. I used to work in a spectroscopy lab (in the US) where most of the work was experimental. My impression of the office was that periods of silent concentration were always interrupted by lively discussions, be it scientific or otherwise. We had white boards all over the office and they were never under-utilized. On the other hand, I've also worked in a lab with a more theoretical/computational focuses. There were more international students in the lab, and overall people in the lab were more reserved and largely focused on their own problems. However, I also know of theory labs that have a more lively atmosphere, so I hesitate to say that theory people are more prone to feeling isolated.

I think the solution to your problem is not necessarily moving to a different country. For whatever personal or external reason, collaboration may not be easy for you. But ultimately it is your responsibility to reach out to other people and build collaborations. The easiest targets are people in your research group and your cohort who entered graduate school at the same time. But also consider going to departmental talks and conferences to network with external researchers. As you learn more about your own projects and other people's research interests, it will become easier to start a conversation and explore the possibility of collaborations. It may not come easy to you, but it truly is a necessary training for you as a scientist.


To be honest, it depends on the adviser. Mine has an open door policy where I can meet him everyday, but most of the time he passes my office (two doors down from his) and asks how things are going. Basically, we do things on daily deadlines. I find this very effective! You stay on top of your research and gets fast feedback whenever you need it. Keep in mind my adviser is superstar in our dept. He is a very active man (perhaps that's why this method work well for him). So, in a way, you do most of the research on your own, he gives it a quick look, then asks you why it makes sense or what's wrong with it.. Of course, one can argue and say a student may abuse this method and become dependent on the adviser. I beg to differ since doing so would make such a student a very bad research! However, in my case, it keeps me up to date, very focused and have my answers and justifications ready for his questions! He also makes me and his other PhD students work in groups for joint project and still utilizes the above method, successfully!

Other Profs. in my dept do the usual one/week meeting appointment to discuss the outcome of a week's finding. From my interaction with their students, I found that some of them starts working on their projects on Wed, to get something done by Friday! While some other work the whole week but either with minimum output or doing something completely wrong and been wasting their time. Then, you have those who are really good and very dependent!

To answer your question, it is a very case dependent!! My advise is, do your best, make mistakes but always try to optimize your work, and never do the mistake twice. You are a PhD students => Prof. in the making!! Act like it :)

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