I started to work in a Lab as a Researcher 4 months ago, with the prospect of being a PhD student. This Lab carries out research topics I am interested and passionate about but when I started there was only one PhD student working, so most of the research projects were stuck.

I am a very proactive and energetic person and I always try to give suggestions or ways to optimise experiments but my PI never listens (that's another issue, he does not like to optimise any new experiment, he thinks it is a waste of time and resources, and we actually end up wasting more resources in repeating experiments that are not working). He gets easily angry and just wants us to do exactly as he says (even though he usually forgets what he said).

I am not sure how to proceed. Should I just wait a little longer to see how things continue? should I enrol in a School before switching? or something else?

I feel depressed and no longer feel like the happy and passionate student anymore. I have a deep love for research and I don't want someone to interfere negatively on this.

closed as off-topic by Cape Code, scaaahu, user3209815, gman, Alexandros Apr 11 '16 at 10:23

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    This is a rant. You do not like your advisor and he does not like you (according to your version of the story). Then get out. Everything else is fluff. But "suggesting I should spend longer days" is not abuse. It is a suggestion. And "could give me a PhD project from the beginning to focus on" is not realistic. You are not just given a problem then you just do the work and instant PhD. Part of the PhD is actually defining the problem yourself and not strictly working on something that has been given by your advisor. – Alexandros Apr 2 '16 at 11:42
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    I understand your points, and appreciate it. I would actually like a PI that lets me work on something myself, rather than controlling every move I want to make and never listening to my ideas. And I can definitely spend longer days, if those days weren't spoiled by some of his harsh, sarcastic, or bitter comments. My real enquiry was not whether if I should "get out" or not. My real question is how to proceed on this transition. Thanks for your answer. – mermaid Apr 2 '16 at 14:23
  • If your real question is how to proceed, why would say so much about your PI, not your future plans? – scaaahu Apr 11 '16 at 3:22

A PI who is known to kick out some students, and graduate others after 10 (!!!!!) years, is not one you are likely well-placed with. I would certainly look into other labs. Leaving after such few months, when the period additionally was not officially grad school, might not be very hard. Just talk to other PIs, and, if possible, just profess greater interest in their topics as opposed to fleeing a colleague of theirs; it's better to leave on officially good terms, even if they weren't so good.

However, you cannot expect to always have a thesis topic served on a plate, and for sure not right when you start your Ph.D. - at least judging this from the U.S. perspective (if you are elsewhere, ignore the first half of this paragraph as all my experience is with the U.S. system). In many fields, finding your topic is an important part of writing your Ph.D. You might want to ask around in other groups or labs how things are there. Some advisers (I call them 'drawer advisers' - "What should I work on?", and the adviser opens a figurative drawer with topics they could not pursue yet) will do this for you; others won't. You also should listen to suggestions, and it's a bit early to expect your "optimizations" to be really, and always of use. If you genuinely dislike the PI's approach, you should see this as another reason to consider another lab (and try to be reasonably patient there).

The first version of this answer was wondering what exactly the adviser says or does which is upsetting. After your clarification, he seems unduly harsh, and I can see how that makes you feel depressed about your situation. I'm not convinced (yet) that this is because of sexism, but he sounds rude in ways that are simply not constructive for the close work necessary in a lab. Whatever the reason, it sounds bad, and I wouldn't take it. Some reasons (sexism for sure) could allow you to officially complain using your university's grievances procedures, but that's not a great start 4 months in.

Really, ask around, and see what else is out there. If nothing works at your current school, consider a gentler Ph.D. program approach with a period of coursework first, at another university, maybe in another country, a larger program size, and the almost inevitable student bonding which can be your support network.

  • As examples, he says things like "maybe I made a mistake in hiring you", or "as you are doing 70% of your work I should pay you 70% of your salary", or "where did your learn your science?". Even worse, as I come from a developing country he often loves to imply how grateful I should be to be in this much better european country, as if he is doing me a favor. But above all, he does not want to see all the hard work we do every day, even though it sometimes does not show results, and that his harsh attitude towards us every day is counterproductive for the lab (yes, he is around every day). – mermaid Apr 2 '16 at 9:42
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    "I wonder how is the typical confidentiality when PIs are hiring new people". There is no such thing when a professor hires a student that used to work with another colleague. Before hiring, he should consult the previous supervisor to ask about the student's potential, work ethic, etc... – Alexandros Apr 2 '16 at 11:46
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    Being sarcastic is unpleasant, he can also be a demanding supervisor, but are there students who completed their PhD in good time? In any case, you feel mistreated, and this is perfectly fine as a reason to look for another supervisor. There are, however, some unclear statements from you: "he does not want to see all the hard work we do every day..." - unfortunately, hard work is necessary, but not sufficient for success; one can work hard in the wrong direction. Hard work alone won't get you a PhD - have you given him any results that look like they are on the road to success? – Captain Emacs Apr 3 '16 at 0:04
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    @mermaid Bullying is a well-known strategy to make people leave by letting it look like it was their decision. Be careful, however, to accuse anyone of bullying without a very clear array of evidence. In short, to answer your question, it's possible. Alternatively, he may resent, for instance, the way that you try to tell him how to run the experiments ("He never listens"). Style of communication matters, and students should take care not to come off as patronising (actually, this holds for everyone). Withouth knowing the other side, clearly, if you stay, there are unpleasant times ahead. – Captain Emacs Apr 4 '16 at 7:56
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    @CaptainEmacs This is valuable info. These days have been very useful to reflect and listen. Thank you very much for your insights. – mermaid Apr 4 '16 at 18:33

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