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I have recently joined a research group, where everything was excellent until two weeks of my joining.

My supervisor was very friendly when I met him for the first time at a conference. He was very interested in conducting work similar to mine in his lab. He showed interest in the subject and insisted that I make an application for a vacant position in his group.

He was very happy when I cleared all formalities (completed the application, was shortlisted, performed well in the interview and received an offer letter). After joining, I felt that I had joined a very good group that could help me enhance my research skills, as my colleagues are very friendly and helpful.

However, two weeks later, when I met my supervisor to discuss my work, he suddenly gave me many difficult tasks, many of which are very new to me and out of my skillset and told me that everything should be finished within another two weeks. He also told me that I should do everything by myself and never disturb my colleagues.

When I discussed this with my colleagues, they told me that he is very strict, not a good person, and his intention is to dominate.

My question is how would I know about these things before joining his group?

For now I can’t imagine how to continue work in this group.

36

...never disturb to other colleagues. When I discussed with other colleagues...

Good for you!

My question is how would I know about these things before joining his group?

By talking with other members of the group, away from faculty, during your interview visit (or some other time before accepting the offer).

Conversations with students outside the professor's group would also have been useful. Also with the clerical staff. Even if unhappy group members themselves are hesitant to talk with strangers, for fear of reprisal, people know who the unhappy research groups are.

If the professor didn't actively encourage such conversations, that's already a red flag.

  • 7
    +1 especially for the last sentence. Where I did my PhD the PI would get some existing students to take a prospective new grad student out to lunch (on expenses) so that they could ask off-the-record questions. This was in a group where people were encouraged to contribute to each others' projects, very much a team – Chris H Feb 20 '17 at 9:23
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In addition to discussing with current members of the research group, it is often a good idea to discuss with students/researchers who left the group for another group in the same university (i.e., switched labs).

  • Current members may be unwilling to give negative feedback regarding their advisor, especially if you do not know them well. If you're a prospective PhD student at a visit weekend, beware that current graduate students are sometimes asked to convince prospective PhD students to join.
  • Members who left may have had a good reason to leave, and you probably want to understand it (is it because of the advisor/colleagues/funding/willingness to explore some of the research directions/etc).

I think that research departments should keep track of students/researchers flow between labs and make it available to new students/researchers, but unfortunately this is uncommonly done.

5

I would guess that the people that work the closest with professors are typically PhD students. They are also very much "exposed" to the professor's leadership style.

Often times the website of a research group lists the finished PhDs. Recently, I contacted former PhDs of a certain professor, because I consider joining his team. People were happy to share their experiences and I got a multi-faceted picture. Of course there may have been personal conflicts, so take their opinion also with a grain of salt.

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