I am a second-year PhD student in the US. I work in my lab during the night-time. I find that one of the senior PhD students in my lab is into drugs big league. I would not mind that if it were not to affect me, but it does in two ways - sometimes the smell in the lab during the late hours is horrible, and he moans incongruously and loudly at times without taking others' presence into consideration.

Talking to the supervisor may not be of use, because he takes it coolly and I have heard the two joke about drug use in casual conversations. The fellow PhDs also take fun in his eerie ways, and him being an excellent and helpful chap, they do not want to fuss about his habits.

If at all, should I raise this issue with my advisor, the department or the police? Sometimes I feel I should be silent about it all, bite my teeth and bear it for a year as he will graduate then. But at other times, I am so heckled about being disturbed during my hours of concentration. Is there a discreet way for me to handle this tricky situation?

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    I am not seeking legal advice. I am simply asking if there are discreet ways to handle this situation.
    – Remo
    Oct 28 '16 at 12:53
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    I don't see the word "discreet" anywhere in your question. Moreover, it currently reads more like a rant, than a question. And given the contradictions in your post, the fact you've registered today, and the baiting nature of your question, I'd guess you are a troll. So, I'm voting to close, unless the question is heavily modified. Oct 28 '16 at 13:09
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    You are annoyed because he disturbs you, not because he uses (apparently illicit) drugs. The former is not against the law, and whether the second should be is controversial. Certainly, if he were loud because of frequently being in the lab drunk, you would be equally annoyed, despite alcohol being a legal drug in most of the world.
    – gerrit
    Oct 28 '16 at 13:11
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    I'm confused: how does this person's drug use lead to a bad smell in the lab? Are they smoking drugs in the lab? Cooking drugs? Do they have poor hygiene which you think is related to their drug use? Oct 28 '16 at 13:21
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    One more point of interest: reporting to police because that's required by law is one thing. Reporting to police to stop him disrupting your work is another. Frankly, sorting out work atmosphere should be the business of the group leader, not yours, and neither the police's. Oct 28 '16 at 13:36

Are you just talking about marijuana? This is (mostly) legal in Washington and Colorado currently, decriminalized in New York (in practice it's similar to a parking ticket), and on ballot measures in many other states (so give it two weeks). In short, the American public (or more than half of it) has shown signs of moving past marijuana as a moral issue.

Here you write:

I find that one of the senior PhD students in my lab is into drugs big league.

Which makes me think he's running a meth lab out of your school. But here:

sometimes the smell in the lab during the late hours is horrible, and he moans incongruously and loudly at times without taking others' presence into consideration

That sounds more like marijuana. (Not sure what you mean by moaning though).

And here:

Talking to the supervisor may not be of use, because he takes it coolly and I have heard the two joke about drug use in casual conversations.

It makes me think it's a drug that's just actually accepted for use. Which raises the question: Is it possible you are being very judgmental here and are in the wrong?

Normally I would discuss the smell and "moaning" in their own right. You generally have a right to an odor-free work environment. But I also don't know if these are grievances you only have because you have a vendetta against his marijuana use in the first place, and yes, there is a pretty realistic chance that anyone you raise this grievance to will have the same thought. If you portray recreational drug use to his supervisor or anyone else the way you did in your post, you're going to be laughed at and lose trust.

You probably want to entirely let this go. See if you can lessen the vendetta against the drug. It's possible the student has some awful behavior but I don't even have enough information in your OP to seriously advise on this.

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    If the person in question indeed smokes and this leaves a smell in the lab, I must say, it would be really a drastic reduction of the quality of the work environment, legal or not. Myself cannot stand the smell, and find it more offensive than tobacco smoke (which I also do not appreciate in a lab). But good analysis of the legal situation. Oct 29 '16 at 10:48
  • @CaptainEmacs I think this case OPs opinion is against several others: it sounds like no one else is bothered by the person, no dander involved, and seems everyone else find the person a helpful, productive and good colleague
    – Greg
    Oct 30 '16 at 7:49
  • @Greg: Just because the others in the group don’t object, it doesn’t mean the OP is being unreasonable, or even that the other group members would be unsympathetic to them. I don’t mind e.g. co-workers playing music in shared workspaces — but if a new group member was unhappy with it, I’d respect and support that.
    – PLL
    Oct 30 '16 at 9:31
  • @PLL I knew people that were difficult to bear from their personal hygiene point of view, and utterly brilliant scientists and can see how the group wants to have someone like that in a group; and how OP probably doesn't want one like that near themselves day after day if they are the only ones that have to suffer the effects. We do not know. The problem is now that OP has possibly a legalistic handle to enforce their view. Without hearing both sides, the answer is not clear. (See my comment above about the smoking colleague). Oct 30 '16 at 11:50
  • @CaptainEmacs OP also assumes that the reason of these annoyances is the drug use , which may not be true... Neither poor personal hygiene nor "moaning" is necessarily a direct result of drug use.
    – Greg
    Oct 30 '16 at 12:36

The legality of the type of drug is irrelevant. If he were annoying or otherwise harming the productivity of labmates while drunk, it would be equally problematic, despite alcohol being a legal drug in most of the world. So in my opinion, the legal situation is not really relevant for you personally.

Talk to your supervisor and/or others within the department, such as a health&safety officer. Focus on the problem his behaviour is causing for you; his behaviour is reducing the quality of your working environment and harming your productivity. It is their responsibility to provide a safe and quiet working environment where you can be productive. That may include enforcing that co-workers do not harm such conditions. Here I mean safe in a broad sense, not necessarily implying that his drug use is dangerous for you.

After that, the question is whether you would choose to report someone for using illicit drugs (even if the law requires you to do so); that is a moral question that is up to you to answer for yourself. We cannot help you with that.

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    OP said in comments that there isn't a safety hazard. "Harms productivity" isn't the same as "unsafe". Oct 28 '16 at 13:25
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    @NateEldredge True. Although health and safety is usually broader than directly related to hazards. Edited to clarify.
    – gerrit
    Oct 28 '16 at 13:28

I checked a sample large university's drug and alcohol policy. Here are a few items I found there. The reason for having a policy is to protect the learning environment and reinforce the university's missions of teaching, etc. The goal is to uphold the law and comply with the code of conduct, which has jurisdiction over what occurs on university property. All members of the university community are expected to share responsibility for the members' health and safety.

One could also read the code of conduct.

A lot has been written on this page about live and let live, but what I think is being overlooked is that we're not talking about someone stinking up your hallway in a dorm, or showing up tipsy or high for class -- we're talking about drug use in a workplace.

I understood from your question that you are not asking whether to take action, but how to take action discreetly.

My suggestion would be to make a confidential report to campus security, without telling them that your supervisor has been aware of what's been going on, without doing anything about it. I looked up confidential report to campus security at the same sample university, and easily found guidance that clearly states that you can report a concern without identifying yourself. You could take a look what has been published about this for your university, to reassure yourself about this.

(By the way, I didn't understand either what the drug is and how the moaning and the smell are connected to the drug use -- but those seem like side issues.)

  • The OP probably has good reason not to give specifics. Oct 29 '16 at 10:49
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    One clear risk of anonymous reporting is that if the op has been demonstrating discomfort around this then it's pretty likely he'll be assumed a snitch. The point of the "live and let live" advice is to give considerable caution toward alegal mores like this.
    – user18072
    Oct 29 '16 at 23:55

I can’t answer from a US perspective unfortunately, because I’m in the UK, but I’ll try to answer your question in a more general context.

Basically, the key issue for you is that this guy’s drug use is antisocial and is making your working life unpleasant. The possible illegality of it comes into this situation in two ways:

  • You may in some jurisdictions have a legal duty to report it to the police.
  • If it’s illegal, you’re on extremely firm ground when it comes to getting him to stop, and you shouldn’t be afraid to escalate the situation until it gets resolved.

I suggest the following (with a certain amount of tongue in cheek in places):

  • Determine the strength of your hand: first, find out whether or not the drug use is actually illegal where you are. If it’s not, find out to what extent the university has a legal duty to protect your working environment regardless of that.
  • If it’s illegal, or the university has a legal duty to protect your working environment, you’re on very strong ground. Talk to the following people in order, being friendly and non-confrontational about it, but making the strength of your hand and your willingness to escalate the situation clear: the guy himself, other people in your group (who may share your view), your advisor, a trusted person in admin/HR in your department who can talk to your advisor discreetly without pulling the trigger on the whole situation, the head of HR in your department, and the head of your department. In the extremely unlikely event that all of these people are more willing to protect a PhD student taking illegal drugs in their lab than their own careers (this will never happen in reality), you have the option of escalating it to the central university, the police (if it’s illegal), the press (if the police in your country are corrupt), and social media (if the press in your country are also corrupt). Once it gets to a certain level, you have to start asking yourself who this guy is and why everyone’s willing to protect him - he may be a scary guy with connections (have your escape planned ahead of time) :) You also have to ask yourself if it wouldn’t just be easier to switch advisors.
  • If it’s not illegal and the university has no legal duty to protect your working environment, you’re on weaker ground. You can still escalate things, but more cautiously, looking for someone who might view your situation sympathetically and help sort things out. You should definitely consider switching advisors, if nothing else.
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    Every part of this answer is 100%,confrontational. Saying you're not being confrontational in the middle of a confrontation in which you "show your hand" and "make clear you're on strong ground" does not help.
    – user18072
    Oct 29 '16 at 23:58
  • @djechlin: To be clear, I think that if someone was e.g. smoking marijuana over me in my place of work, I would feel that I was already being extremely reasonable in going to them about it first and being polite. I have no particular axe to grind about what people do in their spare time, but (at least in the UK) using drugs in a workplace is 100% inappropriate - where I work, someone doing that would reasonably expect to get a good kicking from the powers that be, and in my view rightly so. I would regard talking to them first about it to be a courtesy - and I would expect them to stop. Oct 30 '16 at 9:10
  • @djechlin: I also wouldn't say that I wasn't being confrontational - that's pretty confrontational already. I'd probably buy them a coffee and then have a polite but firm chat about it. Oct 30 '16 at 9:17
  • As an aside, showing your hand is actually extremely non-confrontational - the whole point of a show of strength is to prevent a pointless fight that you believe you're inevitably going to win. Various writers on conflict from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz have made the point that you only fight when you can't get what you want another way - in this case, demonstrating the ultimate futility of this chap's position is the best way of getting him to stop without the situation getting nasty. Oct 30 '16 at 9:35

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