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This might seem like a small problem, but one I've been thinking about lately, and was hoping for some insights. I joined a new lab around a year ago, and while things have mostly been going great, my lab colleagues are really not the brightest group. They are wonderful people to work with (and friends in a non-work sense), but just not engaging when it comes to the science. They basically fall into two categories: 1) average students. Average at everything basically. Not bad in any way, but just... not great either. Cannot have an intellectual conversation with them. 2) Very smart, but not hard-working. Takes short-cuts etc. Essentially someone who is very good at talking the talk, but not really walking the walk. Again, very smart people, but overtime I'm just losing respect for them as scientists.

I guess I was just used to (and took for granted) working with great people who are engaging, and who you can have a real "science" conversation with. People I respect and have learnt so much from. To be honest I've been a little down lately because I just miss being surrounded by great colleagues. I know it's a downside to joining a new lab, and that it'll likely get better as our lab grows, but I'm still regretting the growth opportunities I'm missing out on. My advisor is basically the only person in our group I can have a real conversation with. Even our lab manager is just a few years older than me, and I can tell she sees this as nothing more than a job that pays the bills. All of our conversations I walk away from feeling indifferent and having gained nothing. This probably seems like a silly problem, but I was just wondering if anyone has had similar experiences or have advice.

  • Is there anything stopping you from joining a new new lab? :-) – tonysdg Dec 8 '16 at 5:29
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    I joined a new lab around a year ago, and while things have mostly been going great, my lab colleagues are really not the brightest group I realize this doesn't answer your question (and may annoy you), but I feel obligated to point out that when someone dislikes and/or disrespects all of their colleagues, that the problem is generally with them, and not the colleagues. – 01010110011001 Dec 8 '16 at 5:33
  • Do you mind me asking -- is this the first lab you've worked in? – 01010110011001 Dec 8 '16 at 5:50
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    @01010110011001 It doesn't annoy me at all. Yeah, I realize from the way it was written it looks like I have attitude problems :) – ConfusedStudent007 Dec 8 '16 at 12:52
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    @01010110011001 I don't dislike my colleagues at all, as I said they are great people to work with. I am simply a little bored. All of them alone are great colleagues under any other setting. That comes with the premise that in most other labs, there is at least another person you can go to to troubleshoot or talk about your work with. I have none. That's kind of the problem: not that they are all bad, just that there's no on great. This is not my first lab, I've worked in several others previously. – ConfusedStudent007 Dec 8 '16 at 12:55
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From your question, I get that you feel like the big fish in the small pond. It does happen, but you might be able improve your situation and your environment. Here's a few ideas:

  1. If your lab doesn't do it, propose weekly lab meetings or a journal club where science is discussed. Yes, it means more work for you, especially if no one else is interested in leading some of those meetings. But it will bring some science discussion to the group, and might excite their curiosity.
  2. Seek scientific fulfillment in other groups: open the journal club to other related labs at your university, or join a professional organization linked to your discipline. There's plenty of opportunity for grad students to get involved.
  3. Twitter is full of grad students like you. You will find that you can engage in science conversations and get support from fellow graduate students.

In any case, you have a great opportunity to act as a leader in your group. In the best case scenario, your example will motivate the other students and you will create a better environment. If not, your involvement will be noticed and it will be good for your own career.

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    +1 for focusing on how the OP can make the best of the situation. It's impossible to always be surrounded by people without flaws. I feel like it's our responsibility to try and improve the situation, or, failing that, make the best of it. – Jeff Dec 8 '16 at 15:06
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I think basically everyone (other than the luckiest among us) who has ever had a job has at one time or another felt that their team wasn't professional and/or pulling their weight. To address your thoughts:

You described your colleagues as falling into two different categories:

1) average students. Average at everything basically. Not bad in any way, but just... not great either. Cannot have an intellectual conversation with them.

By this, I assume you mean that your colleagues lack the expertise necessary in order to be effective collaborative partners -- If this is the case, then it sounds like you should find a new research lab. The whole point of working in a lab is that you're on a team of people with specialized expertise in a research area. If you have a question in your research, ideally there is someone in your research group who has experience in that area and can give you valuable insights. If nobody in your research group can provide this to you, there is very little value in being there other than receiving a paycheck.

2) Very smart, but not hard-working. Takes short-cuts etc. Essentially someone who is very good at talking the talk, but not really walking the walk.

I am assuming that what you're saying here is, my colleagues are capable of contributing valuable intellectual horsepower to our research projects, but they don't perform their day-to-day duties --If this is the case, then it's really no different than someone not doing their jobs in a normal workplace. Even though you see your lab manager as someone who "sees this as nothing more than a job that pays the bills", you should bring it up with her as you would any manager.

I do want to point out something else. It sounds like some of the issue here lies with your attitude about your team and the workplace culture of your lab. I think you're being a bit unfair to your teammates. Keep in mind that doing research in a lab is very different than doing research as part of a graduate degree. You're now working in an office setting, so the attitude of the lab is almost always going to be more "business" oriented and less "hungry" than research you did as part of your graduate degree. In that same vain, good workplace habits apply in a research lab just as they would at any other place of employment. So, if you're saying that your research lab is full of people who, "are really not the brightest group", that tells me that you don't really have a great attitude about teamwork in general. Keep in mind that these people have normal lives. Most of them are probably not really interested in making a huge discovery or working 80 hours / week to publish something unbelievably cutting edge like they were in graduate school. To me, that is actually a sign of maturity as a researcher rather than a negative.

Basically, my suggestion is to take a step back, and reflect on how you can improve your lab rather than focusing on why the experience not being perfect is because your labmates are intellectually inferior. If it really is the case that your labmates don't possess the expertise necessary to be effective collaborative partners, then leaving the lab is a perfectly reasonable choice. Also, every lab has a different work culture. If you would prefer to work at a more intensive lab, that's always an option. Otherwise, it sounds like you may need to calibrate your expectations a bit, and ask yourself what you can do to make it a better experience.

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  • Thanks. I am a graduate student actually, and these are mostly other grad students I work with. Yeah, I would put it under the "not effective collaborator part". I still love my project and field though and unfortunately there isn't a lab nearby that I would want to join. I'm also not going to drop out of grad school right now to change labs so I was more interested in making the most out of what I have. – ConfusedStudent007 Dec 8 '16 at 12:40
  • i was more negative when I posted the question than I actually am. I'm all for teamwork. The thing is that if someone has "a life" outside, and therefore don't put the extra time in, that' great. The problem comes up when a lot of times they work more than I do, and I somehow always become the emotional garbage can of: oh my experiment didn't work again today, for the tenth time, I have nothing to show for months of work. And then I troubleshoot with them, and yet again they forgot to do something rudimentary in the protocol. There's only so many times I can do it with a smile on unfortunately – ConfusedStudent007 Dec 8 '16 at 12:50
  • It seems eminently reasonable to me that someone who is passionate about their field could find themselves stuck in situation where less passionate people around them are making them feel down about the experience. – Jeff Dec 8 '16 at 15:18

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