27 and a PhD

Home » Grad school » Can a PI kick out a PhD graduate student – Search Terms, short answers

Can a PI kick out a PhD graduate student – Search Terms, short answers

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.

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This is yet another awesome search term. I believe the answer is yes, a PI can indeed kick out a graduate student. For many reasons, but I’d say the main one is due to irresponsibility on the part of the student (or a very sick (mentally speaking) PI). I have yet to see this happen, but there are urban legends about this issue. Remember, when you join a lab you sign a contract with the university and/or department and/or PI. I can’t exactly recall who “owned” me while I was in grad school, but basically I was to become a member of my department and work under the wing of my former PI. One very, very important detail to remember is that when you decide to join a lab/group you’ll more than likely have a conversation with the PI regarding project(s) to take, lab policies and expectations (and vacation time, don’t forget that). One such thing to discuss is working hours (whether 9-5, or 6 or 7 or 10pm), how often to be in the lab or office (depending on your discipline) and even how often to meet with the PI to give progress reports. Because your relationship with your PI is contractual, if one of the parts fails to deliver, the other can feel free to sever ties with the failing part.

In my current lab there’s a student who has been there for  a number of years. That student hasn’t made significant progress (in their own words) on the thesis project and a few weeks ago started working like a maniac, as apparently the PI was fed up with not getting publishable results. The student said that there was a risk of getting kicked out of the lab, and thus why the sudden peak in performance and delivery of results. Whether it was a real possibility or just an “incentive” to get the student’s hands moving, it has worked. But also, this situation presents the very real consequences of one of the parts not delivering the way they were supposed to. So, yes, PI’s, if they reach a critical point, can kick a student (or lab tech, postdoc, or other lab members) out of a lab.

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22 Comments

  1. momromp says:

    Interesting. I never did a PhD but worked in some labs and I think all the PIs with whom I worked were certifiable.

    • kevin says:

      I am a current graduate student with ~2months to go and the system is designed to protect the PI, not the graduate student. The PI can make bad decisions, act like a psychopath, etc.. with very little repercussions. Furthermore, graduate students invest a great deal of time and effort with very little compensation. We basically work for minimum wage. I think the system needs a little revamping so that graduate students can rightfully take ownership of their work.

      • Dr. 27 says:

        Ugh Kevin … I’m so very sorry. Indeed, it does seem like the system is in favour of profs and there are very few (if any) protections for grad students. The system does indeed need much revamping.

      • hank says:

        Unfortunately, that’s often the case. But I think it also depends on the institutions. My guess is that if you were in a good institution with good student government, you will be able to switch PI – assuming you’re not on your last year.

        I was in PhD program in Singapore (NUS) – and my PhD was terminated when I was entering 3rd year (right after my Qual) – read my post in this blog under “hank”. And it was done by E-Mail!

        It has been 2.5 years now and I have let go. Fortunately, I have found a job where there is ethics, responsibility and respect.

        Of course, the scar is still there.

      • Dr. 27 says:

        Hi Hank! Thanks for the update. I’m so very happy you found a much better place.

        Indeed … the scar will always be there. But moving on to a different environment where you feel appreciated and where there are ethical standards (that are enforced) and respect is such a step up.

        Thanks for your input. I’m so happy things are much better.

        Hugs!!

  2. 28 and a PhD says:

    Yeah, some can be a little “quirky”, but it’s true indeed that if they’re not happy they might/will kick you out. What kind of work did you do? Now I’m doing mostly biochem, though I hope to do some structural biology in the near future.

  3. Carl says:

    I was kicked out of a tier 1 PhD program while writing my neuroscience dissertation for “irresponsibility on the part of the student.” It’s definitely possible to be forcefully withdrawn from a program, but there are a number of fail safes that a reasonable student wouldn’t fail. I ended up in a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation” due to a family situation and leaned for the latter.

    • Dr. 28 says:

      So sad to hear about this Carl. My heart goes out to you. If you don’t mind me asking …. how did this all got solved? Were you able to go back or you were just fed up and sent it all to hell? I hope times have gone brighther since it happened.

  4. Kurt says:

    Here’s a sob story for you: My PI recently pulled his sponsorship for my PhD candidacy, citing the time it has taken me to complete my MA (6 years) and an inability on my part to comprehend the fundamental principles of our psychophysical vision research (texture perception). He says it requires a “certain way of looking at it and that I don’t seem capable.” This, after 6 years! Granted, The program requires a strong background in math (engineering wouldn’t hurt); neither was my strong suits coming in to the program. This was known from the beginning and the PI accepted me in his lab, despite. (My background is in psychology with an emphasis in sensation, perception, and vision, with biology minor.) He, at the time, was a new tenure track hire. I was his first (and, still, only) graduate student. Here’s the catch, the methodology, statistics and basic principles of his program are not covered in any of the required graduate course study (the two required statistics courses did not, for example, cover non-linear regression models, nor did the research methods and design course cover any of the designs or methods covered in our lab, no psychophysics courses, no computer vision courses). This, in and of itself, would not have been too much of an issue had my PI supplied anything in the way of text books or other forms of literature by which to learn the concepts. He stance has always been, “It’s in the library, go find it.” (Fun guy, this one.) Also, I’ve asked on numerous occasions for example thesis papers that I could use to understand what is required of me, his response has always been, “This is my lab and I want things done my way.” Yet, he has always failed to offer insight into what that means, exactly. Fact is, no one in the department really understands what he does (my chair mentioned that he doesn’t even understand the research questions my PI asks enough to understand if he knows what he is doing) nor has the department pursued, during their annual departmental meetings, any way of determining why it is that I’ve taken so long to complete MA, (or if it was reasonable for me to continue in this guys lab at all). At least this is my guess, here. I, to this day, still have no idea what he would deem a reasonable dissertation effort in his lab, because he doesn’t know and has said so directly. Bottom line in all of this venting (and I certainly appreciate the forum to do so) is that I’ve successfully completed all my course study, have been received very well by the students in the 5 courses I’ve taught, and received a higher than average evaluation of my recently accepted masters thesis. Yet, no sponsorship is extended. Moreover, due to the specialization in the lab and my PI’s complete lack of providing any reasonable structure to my program, the only form of evaluation for continuation was his (fairly tautological) opinion on the matter. Now, due to the time it has taken me to complete thesis and the specialization of my training thus far, my bids to pursue a PhD in other programs in our department have, to date, been unsuccessful. My chair has offered me another year of funding if I were to find another PI, but even then, a single year to complete dissertation is a bit unreasonable. Anyway, I’ve been checking into precedents for wrongful termination from graduate programs–they’re sparse. I do believe I can make a legal case that my program failed to provide a fair opportunity for me to succeed. If nothing else, it would be nice to have that bargaining chip. Any advise or thoughts welcome…

    • Dr. 29 says:

      I’m so sorry for what happened you Kurt. Here’s my take on what to do:

      Here’s what I’d recommend. First, I am really sorry that your PI (or former PI) “worked” things this way. Ideally there should be an honest and open communication between all the parties involved, and if indeed this PI kept you in the dark and didn’t really offer insight and help to get you moving in the right direction it is terrible and people should know this. Sadly, this is very hard to know for first-timers in a lab, especially since the boss is so new, and if this person didn’t do his/her PhD at that institution, then there’s very little one can do to find out beforehand how this person works, what’s his/her style of mentoring, and working and what the expectations for prospective grad students are.

      A PI shouldn’t come out of the blue and complain about you not doing your work, if he or she hasn’t offered any real input, and follow-ups to your progress. And there should be a departmental policy put in place to protect you. In my former department the guidelines were followed to a T. It was expected that students would have a committee meeting every 6-9 months (I only worked with PhDs, so I wouldn’t really know if this was the case for MS students too, but I imagine it was similar). The admin people would gently “harass” you until you could provide them with a time and date for your meeting. That was one of the ways to ensure that students were making good progress. I would first check any policy (via website or grad student manual) that your department has on this. Whether it is expected that students will meet with a committee, or what is expected of MS student who will eventually transition into the PhD programme. It shouldn’t indeed take 6 years to complete a master’s … but, if your PI neglected showing you the rules, or providing guidance, and your department didn’t even bother to track your progress … then this is really serious (I think) on the departments’ end. Again, I’ve mostly dealt with biomedical departments, so I don’t really know how it is in other disciplines and how engaged those disciplines and programmes are with students.

      If you have any emails or communication with your PI, anything that proves that you gave advanced notice to him or the department that you didn’t have the math knowledge and he still let you join; pull those out, make copies (hard and soft) because if you proceed with legal action those may come in handy.

      I remember back to my 1st year in grad school and indeed I had a strong background in biology, but I didn’t in math, engineering or structural biology (the field I ended up doing my PhD in). I remember that I had several conversations with both my PhD PI and the other students in the lab at the time. I made it very clear that I had no clue of how they did the research but I was willing to learn. This next part may vary from PI to PI, but my PI was very engaged in my education and advancement so I would get regular emails on web courses/tutorials, review articles, I participated (attended) every lab meeting, even the ones where I didn’t utter a single word because I had no clue what the lab peeps were talking about. I was soaking up as much info as I could to become familiar with all the research and techniques they did. A lot of it involved computers … a topic which I hold dear to my heart now that I understand it better. I learned fairly quickly, but I required a lot of assistance at first, since I was afraid I’d fry the computer or delete my data along with that of previous students. My lab mates were very supportive and helpful, and I did make mistakes, but overall there was a serious engagement of all parties to make sure I learned my stuff well and in a timely manner.

      I did know some people who through either doing a post-bac program, or undergrad research elsewhere did pretty much everything from their project, from coming up with a hypothesis to designing experiments, to running everything. Their PI was just an additon to the manuscript, and a provider of bench space. Some people were just that independent, or had to learn once the PI showed their true colours. I wasn’t, but I learned how to do it eventually, and I’m still learning to do it, to be it.

      And while grad school should be a time in which we develop our own personality research-wise, and there’s some independence to be expected from you … a PI is also a mentor, and should work like that in some way or another. From what you tell me this person neglected his mentoring role by not providing you with the very basic stuff you needed to get you started. That, I feel, is terribly wrong. While it is true that you should be expected to pull some material on the subject on your own (I once went back reading and photocopying papers from the very first time the technique I used was described in the literature, without my boss asking of me to do it), even if you have the best researching skills you should at least get some input by way of helping you choose which reviews or articles or books are more relevant or trustworthy than others. And if you asked him for articles, the least he could have done was to leave one or two on your desk, or write you a couple of lines with links to the theses or articles that could serve as base for your research.

      This part has me really worried: “nor has the department pursued, during their annual departmental meetings, any way of determining why it is that I’ve taken so long to complete MA, (or if it was reasonable for me to continue in this guys lab at all). At least this is my guess, here.” A department that seems to lack any engagement with its students is baffling … which is why I recommend looking for any (hard or soft) copies of their policies and procedures, and go from there. If they failed you, I think you may good legal grounds to proceed. The key here is evidence. But, and this is very important, I am not a legal expert, so, you shouldn’t take it as me saying “sure, go sue their a$$e$ and their kids a$$e$ too.” I think that if you can convincingly show that you were neglected and you did everything within your power to push things forward, you could have a solid base to get their attention and find a way to resolve this. I have to say that from the little I’ve seen some departments and institutions are very protective of their profs, so it shouldn’t surprise you if you see the department siding with the prof, even if you provide convincing evidence that the guy is bad news.

      I do have to say that it worries me that you remained in this guy’s lab/group for so long without taking action sooner, regardless of your department. I’m sorry if I sound heartless and like the suckiest person ever, but it worries me that you remained there for so long, especially for an MA, if sufficient progress wasn’t being made, or if things weren’t progressing. This all goes back to departmental policies. If it is a rule that students take so long to complete a degree, then well, that’s the way they work, but if not, I wonder why didn’t you seek a way out sooner. Again, you may hate me for asking this, but having seen a dear friend fumble through her PhD, remain in a lab for close to 4 years and have nothing to show, get all depressed because the boss wasn’t paying attention, and she “seemingly” doing nothing to move things in one direction or the other, it begs asking. Maybe you were expecting a change from the boss, or maybe the boss, in his “infinite wisdom” thought that he’d let funding or money run out only to kick you expecting that you’d barge into his office 2.5 years ago to demand an explanation (there are PIs like that, that expect a LOT of independence from day one, but offer no clue as to how you should approach them, let alone when … it’s almost like you have to be a mind reader). I’m playing devil’s advocate here. It may well be that on ocassion your former PI led you to think that he would/could change his ways and that you were making good enough progress … until 6 years went by. That is most def. sucky, and if this was the case maybe you have something to fight.

      I think that if there’s a chance for one more year of funding, and you’ve made some decent progress, it may be hard, but no impossible … to complete the thesis. If it’s a few months of data processing, and writing a paper, then it can be achieved more easily than say, going back and collecting AND analyzing data; that’s fairly steep.

      I’d look into the dept. proceedings, and talk to your chairperson. If there’s a director of grad studies in your department (and it’s not your PI) I’d talk to him/her too. Maybe schedule a meeting with the chair and the DGS. You 3 could create a timeline and see what you can conceivably commit to achieve within a given period of time, say at 3, 6 and 9 months. If something useful can be shaped with what you’ve got, go for it. Obviously don’t count on your PI’s help for reviewing things or writing any recommendations. By now this person is probably dead with regards to your dissertation. Also you may want to ask yourself if the MA or the PhD is/are the only way you can feel fulfilled and pursue your future goals. If they are, by all means, go mind, body and soul into it, but if not, do whatever restructuring is necessary to put yourself in the way to whatever degree, certificate or goal it is you want to achieve in the future. The important thing is that if you do (and can pursue) complete the degree requirements, you are mentally able and ready to do it, despite your PI’s lack of care/interest.

      I’d probably ask for counselling from a law expert (maybe at school) once you have all the facts, and possibly use that info as a bargaining chip. If your chairperson is a stand up guy/gal, then chances are he/she will side with you, and help you reach your goals, independent of your PI. Have him/her review your achievement or somebody that knows, and possibly organise a committee meeting. Maybe the chairperson can be present or a DGS to ensure that things are fair and clean and realistic … sometimes committees forgot how many hours and effort go into completing that “little” tiny extra aim in your proposal. Have people who will have your back and present to them how you can proceed from here. Chances are you will need a committee to examine you and sign off on your thesis, so choose well and be very upfront about your time and money constraints.

      I certainly hope to have given you a bit more info or things to consider to move ahead. Do write back if you have any questions, concerns or ideas. I hope I’ve answered some of your most pressing issues. If not, do ask me to elaborate on what you’d like to know more about. If you feel like something was helpful, and with your approval, I’d like to add this email, or my answer as reply to your comment. I won’t do it if you don’t want to, hence why I wrote you to your email rather than publishing it for the world to see.

      • Kurt says:

        So, after a 25 page grievance letter and numerous meetings with the Department Chair, my Ph.D. candidacy was finally granted. I’ll still be working with the same PI, though with far more in way of structure and evaluation and a great deal more flexibility on his part. Many thanks, once again, for your extended and thoughtful responses, Ph.D. 29!

      • Dr. 27 says:

        Hi Kurt!!! So glad to see that things worked out. And I’m glad you got the higher-ups to listed to you and not just the profs’ interests. Best of luck and thanks for sharing yours story with me. Thanks for keeping me posted 🙂

  5. Hank says:

    Recently got kicked out by my PI at my 2.5 yrs in PhD. I thought I was working with a great mentor as he’s internationally known for his field. My experience proved me otherwise.

    I got terminated because my PI was just bored with what I did. He wanted more exciting stuff from my work. Thus, he called it unsatisfactory performance despite all the research work I did to ensure I delivered. Interestingly, I actually passed my 2nd year qualifying exam.

    Moreover, there were no prior warnings or notifications discussed btw my PI and I about this. I kept him in update about research, courses, bad & good time. Given his high position at the university, I rarely saw him. Communication was 75% e-mail. He’s also harshly terse. If you were to send him an email, he’d only reply “thanks” or “many thanks”. That’s all !

    The oddest thing is that I got terminated by E-MAIL. Who does this? It’s just inhumane. I requested a meeting with him and we met after 2 days he sent the email. No viable options were given. I even asked if I could transfer to other lab, or terminate with a master. He’s just cold.

    When I further asked the university for help, they couldn’t help as this PI is also the dean of research, who decides if a grad student can appeal or not. All of my professors from my classes and friends were shocked to see what happened.
    Another interesting point is also none of the professors at the university want to cross with my PI given his high stance and reputation.

    I am now begging a visiting professor for help. I really hope he could help. I don’t intend on going back to the same university – I lost trust of its ethics and morals. Transferring as a 2nd year grad student to another university is challenging – this rarely happens.

    For now, I can only think and hope for one thing. I hope the visiting professor is willing to be my reference to help cleaning up my reputation and work.
    Wherever I next go to get a job (or re-start phd), my potential employer will want to know what happen. They should know! I have nothing to hide!
    I want to make sure that the university provides an explanation that I was kicked out solely based on my PI’s decision – not due to my grade or misconduct.

    I really wish there’s way for me to disclose what happened to me to the scientific/research world — only if science or nature magazine publishes academic misconducts on grad students.

    Any other suggestion is appreciated.

    Found this online and is helpful
    http://www.dissertationadvisors.com/articles/dissertationwritingadvice.shtml

    • Luke says:

      I myself got kicked out by email, after being blind-sided during my latest committee meeting by being told that I no longer had an advisor, the day of my committee meeting.

  6. Hank says:

    Yup – by e-mail!
    I did request for an appeal to the university. But, given the fact that he was and still is (sadly) the dean of the university, he’s the only person who could grant to approve or reject the appeal. Of course, it was the latter !

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Oh Hank, I am so very sorry. This is so unfair. Is there any other mechanism to help you? Are considering taking action? Is there a person high above your former PI? And more importantly, do you want to continue studying? Hugs. I am so very sorry. This is so crappy and unfair.

    • Jay says:

      Hank, were you at a university somewhere in North Carolina? I could have written almost this exact same story about what my spouse is currently going through.

  7. Andy says:

    I expressed interest in a certain PI before starting grad school. When I got to grad school and started rotating, I got threatening letters to push out data or people would lose their jobs…then my weekly meetings were blown off by the PI. I was so burnt out at the end of the rotation I didn’t want to look back. I rotated with another PI, and wanted to stay, but he couldn’t take more than one person. Now I find myself with no one that has any openings. I met with the first PI to discuss my concerns and he said that I wasn’t a good match then. Not the director has told me that I should find another department. Have I been blackballed before even starting my program?? 😦

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Oh no 😦 It does sound like they’re blackballing you. Is there a director or graduate studies or and ombudsperson you can talk to? Someone that watches out for the students’ interest? So sorry. I know this is going to sound terrible, but maybe it’s a chance for you to reevaluate things and see if there’s another program, or school you fit better into. Keep me posted, please.

  8. PhD take 2 says:

    I have kind of a similar sob story.. but perhaps on a slightly different note then those here.
    I also got kicked out after a year in my PhD. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming; from the beginning, my PI made it clear she wasn’t happy with the amount of effort I was putting into my work. This was mostly due to working hours – which I didn’t really keep, since at the beginning of my PhD I told her I have a problem keeping normal hours due to personal issues (I suffer from PTSD, but that was none of her business). At the beginning, she said that was fine, she doesn’t care about work hours as long as there are results. I started my first project and got pretty good results right off the bat; at this point I should note that my PI was very busy, was almost never in the lab and was abroad ~75% of the time. She had a lab manager (or senior researcher, to use the exact title), who ran a research project and was instructed by my PI to supervise and train me.
    At first, we got along splendidly; I did everything she told me to do, tried to be on time for meetings and experiments (even despite living 1.5 hours commute from the university and despite my condition), and actually got good results on the first project I worked on. This was a project that used to belong to the senior researcher; so I got some good results, and my PI started talking about publishing these results, but then I went through some difficulties with producing valid controls for this experiment (due to no fault of my own, to the best of my knowledge). After three months of this, I was suddenly moved to another project in a completely different field. I put myself into this new project, and was able to devise a method for sample preparation which got good results; unfortunately, somewhere along that time my PI decided she wanted me to set up a new model system based on some primary cells she got as a gift. So the new protocol worked, but not on my new samples – one of my labmates samples were used, and as a result he got that project and I was moved onto yet another project (I am now six months into my PhD).
    At that point I began to feel uncomfortable. My PI would keep pressuring me to work more and hinted obliquely that she finds my efforts unsatisfying. The senior researcher started changing her attitude towards me and left me more and more to my own device; I kept working on developing the new model system, and at first didn’t really realist what was going on.
    After about 9 months into the PhD, I presented some of my latest results (or lack thereof) in a group meeting, where I was battered alternatively by her and by the senior researcher. Many of my fellow labmates later told me they felt very uncomfortable and that it was ‘highly irregular behavior’. I was called for a meeting with my PI where she said that she doesn’t know what I am going to write my research proposal about, that my work is unsatisfactory and that I need to ‘work harder’. I asked her what changes should I make, and what specific goals do I need to meet, and she responded that I should “sleep in the lab for all she cares”, and find a way to make all my results so far ‘blend into something coherent and presentable’ while broadly hinting that unless I get publishable data I will be shown the door. She also told me to start working on every single method I knew of microscopy, in order to combine all these methods and data into some ‘larger model’ based on the new cellular line I was trying to make a model system out of.
    I ground teeth and worked harder, and applied for an extension for my research proposal deadline (1 year) and received 3 additional months, which I put into trying to show how I am planning to use said microscopy data and my cellular model into attempting to create a 3D model of the lab’s main interest using my computer skills as well as data gathered by the lab; I hoped this would be what she was hoping for.
    After 14 months, my PI called another meeting. I sat there and was chewed up by her and by the senior researcher again, to the point where I nearly lost my temper. At some point in that meeting my PI actually asked me ‘why are you looking at me like that?’ I guess I gave her too much of the evil eye, but of course I couldn’t really say anything by try to protect myself. At that point my PI said that she will not sign my research proposal.
    I went up before the board, which cleared my case and allowed me to search for another PI within the academic institute, and also ‘reset’ my academic clock (this is done so as not to discourage PI’s from taking a student that has ‘less time’ to finish his research, and is usually done in cases where there was a mismatch between student and mentor, and is never done in cases where the student is at fault); however, when I tried to find another PI in the same institute I found that I was now a leper. No one would touch me. I went to another institute, and got a position there as a research assistant, with the understanding that if my work will be satisfactory I could start a PhD in the lab; the trial was set to one month, and then extended by the PI for one additional month, after which she met with me and politely declined to accept me into the lab. At first this PI tried to say I did not show ‘enough enthusiasm about the work done in the lab’, but when I questioned a bit further the PI said the decision was made based on ‘bad recommendations’ received. So I was blackballed.

    I got out of the academia and went to teach science in junior high for a couple of years, and then found some PI who was crazy enough to give me a second chance. I still carry my problems (and the current PI certainly doesn’t like my problems with early mornings any more than my last PI), but at least I am not blindsided this time. But the scar will always be there. I happened on the wanted pages of my faculty and saw that my current PI is looking for new grad students, and immediately started thinking that he is planning to kick me and didn’t tell me in order to get more work out of me. Even though I have a problem with waking up in the mornings, and usually do not keep office hours (read: can’t work 9-5), but I work nights, I sleep in the lab when I must, I learn quickly (and read quickly), I’m good at method development and I have QA experience from the industry so I’m also handy to keep around the lab as I improve protocols, help others and in general try to keep myself useful. In addition, I have quite a lot of computer technical know-how (and previous experience working at helpdesk for IT), so I’m the go-to guy when it comes to computer problems, I tutor younger students in excel skills, fix printers, etc.

    I am not saying all this because I think highly of myself. I am saying all this because what my PI did has scarred me, and I feel I have to prove my worth all the time or I’ll get kicked. I am not stupid and am a decent scientist (so I was told by many of my peers); but I cannot remain calm, even though it seems my major fault is not working mornings, and I try to make up for it by forcing myself when I have to and by working nights and weekends when I can perform the experiments without help.
    And yet it’s never enough. I never get a praise for my PI. And I keep looking over my shoulder and losing sleeps over nightmares of being jobless and trying to reinvent myself without a PhD in a field where a MSc means nothing. I am 33 years old now, married and recently also a father. And I have no security, no backup.

    Why is academia allowed to do this? Why are PI’s given the freedom to treat grad students like slaves? This certainly does not make them better researchers; this only makes the competition harder, and not for the better; the ones that survive are not the smart, creative types. The ones that survive are the hard-asses, the ones who do not care, or the ones who will fake results when pressed. This is the kind of newly-minted PhDs that academia keep spewing out (this is not my opinion alone, but based on talks with many people in the pharma industry who have despaired from getting good researchers without extensive in-house training). Academia does not teach how to think, nor how to learn, nor how to promote science; it teaches how to survive in a world where the PI is god, and where we as grad students are cheap work force with sufficient knowledge to perform the work needed to get publications for the PI. I’ve seen many labs where only the post-docs where allowed to suggest new experiments, and where masters students and even PhD students were given protocols and specific instructions to perform. Is this learning? Why do we let this go on?

    I am sorry for the long post and rant. I have been keeping these feelings for a long time. Please disregard my emotional outburst; nevertheless, I believe my point is valid.

    • rjamesw says:

      I have a slightly similar story. My PI kicked me out of his lab within days of me passing my qualifying exam. He explicitly used my PTSD as an excuse, even though he only knew I had it because he harassed me about my doctors appointments till I told him: it never impacted my lab work except for when I had prior doctors appointments or the very infrequent request of a day off during one of those emergencies. He had the nerve to accuse me of making it up to mess with him, even though about a week before my doctor got angry at how he had been treating me and sent him an email (and CCed me) telling him that my doctor was personally impressed that I’m this capable even before I recieved any real treatment for my condition.

      At this point, I was without a lab. Again, I didn’t know he couldn’t kick me out over those reasons. The school pretended to help, but then stabbed me in the back when the 3 month line passed, because that’s how long you had to report them to the ADA department. Basically, they offered to fund me for whatever lab I wanted to go to, but then after the 3 months passed they pulled my funding and told my new PI to fund me (who accepted this ‘broken merchandise of a student because he was free). I found that out later. Now I’m stuck suing the pants off of them, and no degree for my wasted time in that institution.

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