David Yang is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis with a Bachelors of Science, majoring in Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Engineering. He will be applying to medical schools this summer where he intends to focus on mental health and medical engineering. He is interested in using his writing to reexamine his interests and keep a record of his reflections on mental health activism.
What advice would you give to a friend who is having trouble dealing with a devil-in-disguise boss
She called me two days ago, complaining about her PI. “I watched as he congratulated my lab partner on the work that I did! He won’t listen to me anymore when they tell him that I was the one who put in the hours and the work. Dave [the boss] never answers emails and has been postponing our biweekly meeting for months.” One year into the PhD project and Kate was done. She had an amazing job but a terrible boss, and she didn’t know what to do.
I suppose that’s why she called me. I have a habit of micromanaging my life and weighing up the pros and cons of decisions, it’s just how I work. As this was the first time anyone had asked me for advice on a topic like this, I approached it as I would approach anything: pick up a pen and weigh the situation.
Find another position.
Her supervisor wasn’t working out, so this would give her another chance at finding a more suitable mentor. She can focus on finding one that doesn’t stress long hours and gives her credit for her work. While she would be a year behind her peers, she would be in a better position, having the chance to explore another research question. She hasn’t taken her qualifying exams yet, but maybe that was a good thing and would make finding a new mentor easier. Choosing to switch mentors would be a big move and should be done only if there’s no hope with Dave. Ultimately, it should come down to what she wants out of this job for her career.
She already committed a full year to this lab and leaving now would be like admitting defeat. Maybe it wasn’t her boss’ attitude but her attitude that needs to change. Even though she works long hours with little credit, the work load is not unexpected for a first year graduate student. If she sticks it out, there is always the possibility of improvement. And if there’s any way to improve her relationship with Dave, she should try it. Maybe something as simple as sitting down with him to talk about the problems she faces with his mentoring style would help. Either way, she should take some steps in changing her relationship with her boss before making any drastic decisions.
I meet her a couple days later for lunch with my evaluation in hand. After talking, she still is undecided on what to do and I can’t say I know for sure what to do either. So I sit down and hand her a coffee and we talk about life outside the lab, because in situations like these, the best thing to do is simply be there for support.