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I have been involved in a research lab for a while now. I have a set of peers who work on related, yet non-overlapping fields.

I find myself uncomfortable when other's works get accepted in some research venue (journal or conferences). And, so do I believe that others feel the same when my work gets accepted.

However, though it might be common in the research labs, I feel it is not a good sign and it, in some way, restricts me to open up my discussion on my ideas on any problems. Further, others also do not discuss much on their own ideas and their working problems. It is obvious that discussion among peers could lead to better research and outcomes.

  • Is it common for others who have experienced such behavior during their graduate studies? Or, is it a paranoia?
  • How to handle such uncomfortable feeling inside the lab and feel positive?

I did speak with some of my professors and still, I can not let this useless feeling go away from my brain.

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    Just start collaborating. It will be uncomfortable for a while, but eventually everyone else will notice that you're getting more papers as a result. – JeffE Jun 24 '17 at 21:42
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    It depends how such publications are communicated to the peers. If grad students show off with accepted papers, peers start to get annoyed by such a behaviour (although it is great for the persons who can publish that earlier in their career). So, perhaps start communicating earlier about your ideas and the long way from getting an idea, to data analysis and writing to rejections, R&R and the final publication - make transparent that getting published is not an easy thing?! – Stefan_W Jun 25 '17 at 15:00
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    Additionally, talking about 'failed ideas', problems on writing or so is part of it, I would say. Talking about successful publishing is great and good for the ego ;) but mentioning that paper X got a fair rejection or that idea 2 wasn't actually a good one, is also okay and should be communicated as well. – Stefan_W Jun 25 '17 at 15:20
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    Could it be that you are a little too competitive in this? Where I work, other people's publications result in cake and a little "release party" at the group meeting. – skymningen Jun 28 '17 at 13:05
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    What the hell is wrong with this generation? – Shake Baby Jun 28 '17 at 16:36
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I share an office with several grad students in a similar situation of non-overlapping fields. The problem extended to the PhD students of the program in general.

Is it common for others who have experienced such behavior during their graduate studies? Or, is it a paranoia?

In my experience, it is completely normal, but as you say, not desirable. I have heard that programs with less pressure to publish experience it less. I remember learning that a Masters student had entered the PhD program with a publication and felt like I had been punched in the gut.

How to handle such uncomfortable feeling inside the lab and feel positive?

To echo some of the comments, a lot of it seems to boil down to openness and collaboration. Here are some options that have helped me and my fellow grad students reduce negativity and increase the quality of our research:

  1. Reading about the publishing process and ways to get better at it, like with How to Write a Lot.
  2. Start or join a weekly writing group with your lab mates to mutually support one another. For me, this was the game changer. We talk about the good and the bad, as @Stefan_W mentioned.
  3. Find a supportive community outside the lab where you can discuss your feelings. For example, in Barcelona, we have several city-wide communities of early career researchers from every discipline.
  4. Similar to Point 3, participate in the associations of your field. For example, I attend events for the British Academy of Management. Not only do they hold seminars for grad students, but they generally require me to bring a work in progress, which has a motivating effect.

At my university, we went so far as to start a student association. We hold regular social events, mock conferences, organize writing groups, and participate in community events. These have started us in the direction of a feeling of shared victory (instead of resentment) when one of us manages to publish, and of course it gives us a place to turn for support in the case of rejection. In the beginning there were just a few of us in a weekly writing group, but eventually we got more organized.

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Firstly, congratulations for being able to openly express your feelings, being so honest, and asking for advice.

Very important: understand that those feelings of jealousy are totally normal in that environment and at that stage, so there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.

No matter what people try to sell you, particularly the ones who already have a position where they don't need to compete, a research lab is a highly competitive environment and you are constantly being evaluated. There is constant pressure. People work there to accumulate merits and build a CV, so it is normal that you believe, at first glance, that this is a zero-sum-game and when someone accumulates a merit, they have moved a position in the game and you haven't.

Many people will try to make you feel bad about those feelings, but that's how it is and most of us have experimented it, particularly at the beginning of our careers and in very competitive areas. It's just that most people will never reveal those feelings, or only do it with people they really trust, because people immediately tag them as "negative", "jealous", etc... and no one wants to be called that.

Jealousy is the basis of competition and free market and it leads to great things, like better ideas and products, when managed properly. There would be no great thinkers, companies, or products, without jealousy.

So, the key is to learn how and where to focus that energy.

My advice would be the following:

  1. Try to forget about what others are doing and focus on things that you like / think are worth researching. Are you really jealous about that guy that published something about a topic you couldn't care less about? I don't think so.
  2. Be very careful about collaborations. Particularly at the very beginning of your career and when you are under constant evaluation, it is frequent that misunderstandings occur. You still don't know the rules of the game, so only collaborate with people you trust and try to clarify everything since the very beginning (responsibilities, authors, order, etc). This is one of the biggest points of resentment at the beginning of a competitive career.
  3. Focus your energy on becoming a good researcher. As suggested above, read books on how to research, how to write, do a god job, and be proud about it. The number of publications a person has, their length, or even the journal or venue, is not automatically a guarantee of quality and hard work. Sometimes, it turns out to be the opposite. You will get that pretty quickly.
  4. Surround yourself by the people that you truly "envy" because of their capacity and hard work, ask them questions, etc... good researchers are usually willing to help and teach others.
  5. Run away from those who you feel are getting merits unfairly or have dubious ethics, or you will either become like them or have a hard time. You know: groups where one person does all the work but others are automatically added as co-authors, etc, etc.

In any case, congratulations again for your honesty, and good luck!

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