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I currently am a sophomore in a US college. I have been accepted into a semester-long undergraduate research group. Officially, we have a faculty advisor as well as graduate student mentors. In practice, we mostly only meet with our graduate student mentors.

The problem is that, from the first day, one of my teammates deliberately ignores me in every group meeting. I do not know why, but they talked to all other teammates except me. Every time I tried to interact with or discuss with them, they skipped me and pretended to that they did not hear what I said.

(I said 'deliberately ignores' because there were occasions when only I and the person in question were present, and the person still refused to communicate with me. However, the person engagingly talk to everyone else. )

My other teammates are not talkative at all. In a meeting, they are the only person who casually led the conversation and left me out of the conversation. I feel ostracized and more and more mentally bullied.

The situation makes me feel extremely unhappy right now. I am quite certain I did not do anything inappropriate to them because the issue arose from the first time we met. For now, I feel out of place and think that I might not belong to this place.

What can I do for now, besides quitting?

One option I am thinking is to approach graduate student mentors. However, I am holding back from doing so because it seems that I am the only person who has this problem. Also, since our mentors are also present during the meeting, I have a feeling that they already knew the problem exists.

For clarification, I had an issue with only one teammate and not the others, and the issue is with that person refusing to communicate with me, even when only two of us were present.

  • 4
    How much longer is the research commitment? If it's not for very long then just stick it out and then not return to the lab again when you want to undertake research again. Are you a high school or undergrad student? Perhaps they don't want or need input from an inexperienced researcher (not saying that that's the right thing to do, just saying why they might be behaving that way). – Eppicurt Oct 26 '17 at 7:00
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    When (s)he does it again, just say "I'd like to have a talk with you personally after the meeting.", and after the meeting you say "I have the impression that you are ignoring me, and it makes me feel uncomfortable. Are you aware you are doing this and how will we handle this situation?". You'll easily derive from his/her answer if there is any bad intention or not. Good luck. – Dominique Oct 26 '17 at 10:13
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    @AlbertXu Not an answer, but I've been in a similar situation where I was a junior in a grad research program. I think my mentor resented me because she thought I'd waste her time. Some teammates resented me because (I think) they thought an undergrad shouldn't be on the team. Basically, they thought I didn't belong. If you think your coworker thinks that, the best advice I've got is to show them you do. Keep producing your best work and people will notice. Worst case, you end up more involved in the project and your teammate has to interact with you anyway. – Lord Farquaad Oct 26 '17 at 13:17
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    Are there any gender/race/age/religion/cast issues at play? – Mawg Oct 26 '17 at 13:42
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    Have you tried asking your teammate directly? – JeffE Oct 26 '17 at 19:11

10 Answers 10

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Based on the updates, there are a few things I can offer in terms of advice. The first is that given it's a short amount of time remaining on your term, stick it out. Especially if this is going to impact your college credits/marks/etc. Sure, it's a crappy situation but try to make the best out of it as not to impact your marks or the progress of your degree.

Once completed, don't return to the research group. Take the opportunity now to find research groups within your institution that are nicer and more willing to host a student because it sounds like the current group sees students as a hindrance rather than as a collaborator or colleague.

There are avenues you can take to make complaints about bullying in the workplace, such as speaking to professors (not unless they're the one involved in bullying) or going to a human resources division. However, this may not be in your best interests to do anything 'formal' at this stage of your career given you aren't committed to this lab group on a fixed term contract as an official job. I would be talking to the student mentor you mentioned in the comment about your experience.

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    Being ignored is not the usual type of bullying and will be hard to prove and to act upon (you cannot force people to talk with others - and that's a good thing, BTW). I concur with the idea to let it go, since it is a limited period and a limited impact visit. – Captain Emacs Oct 26 '17 at 7:23
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    I think it depends on the institute you're at. Ignoring in work situations such as meetings has been characterised as active bullying in a place I used to work at. I agree that it's hard to prove and is on the 'fuzzier' side of workplace bullying. – Eppicurt Oct 26 '17 at 7:30
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    I think it is very unwise to force people to talk with others. I had cases where minimising contact with the person in question was the only way to liberate oneself from an abusive interaction at work, especially when one does not wish to involve managers or they do not take this seriously. (I am, of course, not insinuating that this is the case here). – Captain Emacs Oct 26 '17 at 7:39
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Keep your nerve.

This will likely not be the last time in your life people will treat you badly, so learning to cope with it will come in handy for the future. Concentrate on your work, listen, absorb and, apart from that, imagine you have been stranded on a lonely island. 2 months is not short, but it's not too long either.

Important: Keep your friendships and social connections outside of the group alive.

  • 1
    AKA do nothing, accept that all the bastards can do whatever they want and bow down. That is ridiculous !!! – SteffX Oct 26 '17 at 15:13
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    @SteffX this is called "pick your battles". Frankly, it is unwise (to avoid the disparaging adjective "ridiculous") to try and start a fight because of "bad vibes". No one really knows what is going on here - starting to confront members of a group early when you join it is the surest way to encourage confirmation bias in the group. You have to know when to fight and when to wait and observe. – Captain Emacs Oct 26 '17 at 15:51
  • I could agree with you in some cases but not on this one (if it is the whole story, of course!). I think you always benefit from fighting if you are right. – SteffX Oct 26 '17 at 15:59
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    @SteffX There are fights worth picking. I am not sure whether trying to curry favour with a group (or, in this case, with a single person) that does not appreciate you is one of these. And what "being right" has to do with this is not clear to me; especially as we do not know why the person in question decides to not interact. I second dan1111's comments below. – Captain Emacs Oct 26 '17 at 17:05
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    @SteffX I'm not sure about in Academia but, in the working world, that belief will not be your friend. There have been many times where I'm certain that I'm right but if the big people upstairs disagree, even after I've made my case, continuing to debate/fight is just going to get me into trouble. There's no sense wasting energy on a battle you can't win or a battle over something that, in the grand scheme, is trivial. It also runs the risk of making you look confrontational. Pick your battles. Some hills just aren't worth dying on but it's up to you to determine which ones are. – Kalmino Oct 27 '17 at 15:14
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Go to your graduate mentor who is present during your meetings. Tell them that you feel like this person specifically ignores you, but that you aren't sure if your impression is accurate. Ask them if they have also observed that, or possibly ask if they can pay attention to the interaction between the two of you during the next group meeting and see if they observe the same thing that you have. Then ask them what to do--either if they say they do not observe the same thing, you can talk to them about how you came to your impression and figure out where you went wrong, or if they do observe the same thing then they can tell you what to do about it.

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    best advice so far, I think – neuranna Oct 26 '17 at 15:22
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Be careful in ascribing ill intent to others.

You sound quite confident that this other group member is intentionally excluding you: "deliberately ignores me", "mentally bullied", etc. I don't want to diminish how you feel, in this difficult situation. However, be careful in assuming that the person is intentionally excluding you.

Interacting with other people is not easy for many. I know this personally--my shyness was often considered rudeness by others, though I didn't intend that.

This student may be insecure, lack self-confidence, or feel awkward in starting conversations. This can be particularly hard across different cultural backgrounds, with different expectations for communication.

I'm not trying to excuse the student's behavior, which is clearly not good, and has an impact on you. I would, however, try to view the situation as generously as you possibly can. It's a good rule to assume that everyone around you is acting in good faith, and act on this basis as far as is possible.

In this case, I would keep trying to make a contribution to the conversation.

Do seek advice from a mentor or faculty member.

I would raise the issue that you are finding it challenging to participate in the group, because this one member seems to be ignoring you.

The mentor or advisor may be able to make changes to help let everyone participate (for example, change the format to give everyone a turn to speak). They also might be able to give you advice about how to approach the issue. At the very least, hopefully they can give you some encouragement.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Oct 30 '17 at 14:26
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Are you different in race/gender/nationality/stature from other participants? Any disabilities? This sounds like your teammate has no concept how he can sensibly deal with you being part of the course, like if someone enrolled a house cat. It doesn't help if the cat does its parts of the experiments diligently.

This is a problem of the person dealing with the reality of you participating in that course, consciously or subconsciously. It's their impediment. Don't make it yours. Don't feel forced into behaving in patterns matching their preconceptions. "They did not fit in here and chose to leave": that's not the verdict you want others to arrive at for you.

Whatever the reason for this kind of behavior, stressing out over it would make you fit its purpose.

Keep your cool. Keep the door open for the other party reverting to normal behavior but don't depend on it.

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Have you considered confronting the person? Perhaps with, "Have I done something to upset you, X?"

If they ignore that, then you know for sure they're actually ignoring you.

If they say something like "No, not really," you have the opportunity to point out that they don't communicate with you. "Oh, you just don't talk to me much compared to everyone else, so I was concerned."

If they say "yes," then you may be able to address the root cause of the issue.

  • 1
    This can be done in a group setting too. – axsvl77 Oct 27 '17 at 18:56
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Do you work well with other members of the group? How do you get along with the instructors? This seems like a pretty cool experience for you, other than this guy.

As time progresses and you act normal but he is a jerk, you will definitely look like the good guy. Just make sure that you do not look like the non-communicative one by always saying what is professionally relevant in class (then he looks like a jerk) and always using email to communicate about doing group work.

If he does not reply, complain to the instructors that he does not participate in group work.

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Talk to your grad students. It's part of their job to help resolve personnel problems, especially when said problems could potentially sabotage their research. That possibility alone should be enough of a motivation for them to take your concerns seriously. Asking the PI to get involved is more of a last-resort situation (excepting emergencies or anything relating to funding); it sends the message that group members, undergrads and grads included, aren't doing their jobs. You don't want that.

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I understand it is one of your team mates and not the Mentor/Professor that is upsetting you. My first question is why it is important for you that this particular person should pay attention to you? In many cultures, direct eye-contact or engaging another may not be perceived in the same way you take for granted. I recommend approaching the personin your most friendly way with NO preconceived ideas as to why he/she is not engaging you. You may be surprised to find that they are wondering the same thing about you! In any case reaching out in with your best self is the way forward.

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I've experienced something similar, yet I am American and faced being ignored by a majority international student research group; they seem to self-segregate themselves in our group.

Knowing that my opportunity to learn the ropes in research through a great group leader / professor, I ignored the fact that I was being ignored, I stopped asking them for input. I focused solely on learning from the professor and I gave input when needed to the rest of the group. I earned another research position with the professor the next semester and then no longer had to deal with the people that ignored me.

So, go after the research and be aggressive and proactive. If your graduate mentors are helpful, seek them out for more guidance. And yeah, the professor and grad mentors probably are already aware of the situation and group dynamics that are perhaps not fair for you, so don't worry too much.

Lastly, I disagree with the tone and the message in CaptainEmac's answer. He or she suggests tolerating any sort of bullying and just coping by keeping one's friends around. What a ridiculous piece of advice. It's like if a woman gets raped, tell her to cope with it by keeping her friends around. Sounds absurd, doesn't it?

  • 8
    @user81988 I gave you a +1 for the first group of comments, before noticing your second part of the answer. I will not take the mark away post hoc. It is ok to disagree with my opinion. However, your comparison of people not wanting to communicate with - legally prosecutable - rape is totally inappropriate and a completely different level of aggression. Keep in mind that there are people who are so aggressive towards other members of the group that keeping distance is the only way to handle them. To be sure: I am certainly not claiming that OP is one of them. Cont'd. – Captain Emacs Oct 26 '17 at 10:01
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    I also did not say anywhere that you should "tolerate any sort of bullying". This is an argument you introduced, so, respectfully, I ask you to not put it into my mouth. I responded to the particular type of situation OP is in. It is not clear at all whether keeping silence is intended as a form of bullying, is a natural in-group behaviour or comes from some other dynamics. – Captain Emacs Oct 26 '17 at 10:05
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    -1 Wow, tolerating not very nice treatment from a colleague is not at all like tolerating rape. The seriousness of the offense makes all the difference in what sort of response is required. What a terrible analogy. – user24098 Oct 26 '17 at 10:28

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