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019: How to Avoid a Toxic Lab

The research is cutting-edge. The publications are top-tier. Funding is abundant. But this lab has a toxic secret that will make your life a living hell.

 

Hidden in Plain Sight

mold
Identifying the seventeen varieties of mold living in your walls before you try to remove it. #ItsAScienceThing

This week, we answered a question from a first-year grad student who found himself in a lab that felt more like the gladiator’s arena than an ivory tower.  The PI created an adversarial environment where it was every scientists for himself.

This summer (my first lab rotation) was in an HHMI lab and the PI was both non-existent and absolutely poisonous. Furthermore, their caustic attitude bled into the rest of the lab. It seemed like the rest of the staff withheld information so as to throw you under the bus during lab meeting. This experience has led me to reconsider my position as a grad student as well as a scientist. How do you handle a bad lab/mentor?

Thankfully, this was just a rotation, but it raises an important question about how to detect the subtle signs of disfunction.  We share one simple tip that helps you discover the hidden drama before you commit to joining.

And it’s not just advice for grad students on rotation – you’ll want to take the same advice if you’re choosing a postdoctoral lab because the stakes can be even higher!

 

Cutting on the Bias

We also took some time to answer listener mail about our recent gender bias episode.  Josh and Dan take the implicit bias test semi-live and on the air, and share their results.  If you haven’t taken it yet, go find out how biased you really are.  Jerk.

And we get the giggles about the fuggles with Ad Astra Ale from Free State Brewing in Lawrence, KS.  It was sent in by some listeners at the University of Kansas, so thank you to all of our Jayhawks friends!

2 thoughts on “019: How to Avoid a Toxic Lab

  1. It would be great if you could also give advice on how to deal with internal lab sabotage, and a toxic lab environment you cannot get out of, if funding is an issue. Seems like there are plenty of such labs all over the world.

  2. Sounds like you’ve got some personal experience! If you’re willing to share, reach us at podcast@hellophd.com and we’ll find an expert to help address your situation.

    Lab sabotage and being stuck are certainly common, but every situation is a little different. We’d love to tell your story and get feedback from others feeling the same way.

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