After finishing my master's degree, I contacted a principal investigator at another university, who seemed to publish interesting high-quality research. I met with the person, and the interview went well. We agreed a 3-month probationary period, during which I should apply for funding and see what it is like to work with him.

Now, having started, everything seems quite awful. The supervisor came to the office during the first day after I had been there for approximately 5 hours, and did not bother to chat for longer than 10 minutes. Now it seems I am actively discouraged to use the skills I just spent five years learning, and revert to using approaches I know will not perform so well. We have talked for perhaps 30 minutes during the first whole month. I have tried to comply with the group's practices as well as possible, and be as open-minded as possible.

After reading all the group's and their competitors recent publications, and suggested some ideas for further work, I have only got comments indicating that they are worth nothing (but they are, since the ideas come partially from suggestions in published work).

It seems the position is not a good match. I was very sad for the first three weeks but thought to see whether it just the emotions related to stress of changing the university, working style, topic, etc.

I would like to know what to do about the situation. Would it be a bad idea to apply to other programs without stating where I currently am (I have been here only 5 weeks now). I don't think I should ask recommendations from here, since the people at my previous university have known me for years and the people at the new lab for just some weeks.

I kind of fear that my supervisor will know if I apply to other programs, since they would be at the same or neighboring universities. I lost a good deal of money when relocating for this one, so I would like to continue until I find another place. I guess the best thing is to remain working as hard as before. I have to give a 14 day notice before leaving, which further complicates things.

How should I approach this situation? What should I do? I think time is critical here, since if I get stuck for too long then what I do here starts to carry more weight, and complicates leaving the program. I am in a country located in the western Europe if it matters.

1 Answer 1


If you are in the middle of a "probationary period," then you should feel no qualms about having to apply elsewhere. You tried to make the current position work, but you feel it is not a good fit for you. That's the whole point of the period—it's a tryout for everyone!

Obviously, working somewhere for two months is not enough for someone to form a strong opinion of your true capabilities, so I would not ask your present advisor for the recommendations you need to look elsewhere.

As far as your supervisor goes, I wouldn't worry about it too much; after all, your advisor may also feel that this isn't the best situation, and may think ti better to go your separate ways than to continue. Again, you're in the probationary period, not halfway through a PhD, so the overall commitment of time and resources is not enough to really justify (much) anger or resentment on the part of the PI.

  • It would be a bit unfortunate, if the pattern repeats itself for a new group, so do a bit of internal reflection, too. Another way to look at the situation is that a new member of the group (untested, untrusted) is feeling unappreciated because the message has been in the first weeks that 1) we trust you enough to work independently and with considerable latitude 2) but please use our protocols and methods as we are not standing over you to supervise and help us build our trust in your instincts 3) before we listen to you tell us how we are doing ABC wrong.
    – Carol
    Sep 13, 2016 at 19:07
  • @Carol Yes, that is what I have been much worrying about. I don't want appear as doing 3). I don't mind if I am wrong in the end about something. I would just like to do good research together with the other lab members. Anyway, I guess I did something wrong when going for this place. I would be happy if I got any reasonable topic to work on.
    – exis
    Sep 13, 2016 at 19:18
  • @exis - If after reflection, a primary issue is miscommunication, then being point person to organize regular group meetings might be very useful to you. Having the time to discuss details in how things are done helps a lot in finding out whether there are backstories to choices. This group has been going on a lot longer than you have been in the field, presumably. And naive or probing questions about whether there advantages and disadvantages or engaging in hypothetical questions of 'what if we tried it this way' feel like an open discussion when people are having time to think about answer.
    – Carol
    Sep 13, 2016 at 19:46
  • I disagree with Carol. Your exposition makes a strong case that this is a situation where it would be best to cut your losses. Sep 14, 2016 at 3:21

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