During my position as an RA, my supervisor was not really a problem per se, and my experience of research in the first 1-2 months made me accept a PhD position that was offered to me ahead of time. However, after the “new” feeling wore off, I saw the stark reality of the lab environment I was in. The lab members were *****y, jealous, and highly competitive.
The supervisor was far too laid back with them. If one person made another person in the lab cry, the supervisor would just say that is how labs are without accepting responsibility or trying to rectify the animosity within the lab. They even re-hired one of the main perpetrators on a new grant, even though it was clearly damaging to other members of the lab (and the supervisor could see this).
I already had severe mental health problems, that I had been suffering from for 13 years by the time I came to the lab. As the newest member, a lot of the abuse got pushed onto me. The comments would even spread as far as to make fun of me for eating my lunch, even though the lab were well aware I had a long-standing eating disorder. Six months in, I stopped eating and would spent (sic) 12 hours a day in the lab, just to try and avoid the atmosphere in the write up area. When I spoke to the supervisor and head of department, they didn’t really take any notice.
I decided to leave the lab and go to another lab before the start of my PhD. The atmosphere managed to follow me as I still needed to interact with the lab in order to carry out my PhD research, and the lab was on the floor directly below me.
One year into my PhD and I’m now moving institutions. I hope I can be in a healthier environment where I can carry out my PhD without bullying, harassment, or having to worry about people severely affecting my mental health. Prior to the RA job, I had no problems in research environments (undergrad and masters), and had been lucky enough to be in good labs with supportive supervisors.
We’d like to thank our first anonymous blogger for sharing their story with us, something we appreciate can be a difficult thing to do. We are moved by their courage and supportive of their brave decision to switch to a more supportive lab environment and institute. Like them, we hope that their move brings about a positive change in their lives and career.
We remind our author and readers that if you have the experience of both good and bad environments, it’s a good idea to actively seek out the warning signs when applying to a new place, and to openly ask the current members of the labs not only about their own well-being and career progression, but whether the institute provides the right support when issues are encountered.
As always, we urge our readers to actively take care of their mental health and well-being and to seek support when these are at risk. Remember that your mentor and institute have a responsibility towards you as their trainee to do everything they can to make sure you reach your fullest potential as a scientist, whichever career you choose to pursue.
With great admiration, solidarity, and gratitude towards our anonymous poster and those suffering through similar situations,
The Labmosphere Team