November 3rd, 2007


Gripe and Question... HELP!

I've been a member for a while now, but this is the first time I've really had something to write about. Its a combination major gripe and question regarding PI's and their behavior towards lab members. I'm a fourth year immuno grad student. To give a general explanation as background, over the last year I've noticed/been told by the other members of my lab that our PI has some serious issues with what is appropriate/professional to say to the people in his lab. He has on multiple occasions complained about, bad-mouthed, and called people lazy (or something to that effect), and this is often to other lab members who are not the people that he has issues with. Furthermore, he refuses to directly talk to the people that he has problems with, and when he does he insinuates what he is unhappy about, but never comes out and tells you what he as already told some third party about your behavior. I realize that a lot of bosses have passive-agressive tendencies, but the fact that our PI continues to do this, and at a more frequent rate than before, is starting to make everyone in our lab distrust him and not want to have any interaction with him, for fear of what he will say about us to someone else in the lab.

Also, when he does talk about his lab members, he has referred to them as "f*ing rotation students," "failures," "unmotivated," and actually asked one of our techs point blank "are you high?" WTF?! He has also let his relationship with a post-doc form another lab completely interfere with his professional life and how things are done in lab. He spends more time talking to her than his own post-doc, and keeps flaking out on his own lab members when we do try to have meetings with him. And when we do manage to get time with him, there is very little offered in the realm of constructive criticism and advice, yet he has astronomically high expectations on our productivity levels, and expects us to be able to complete a list of things that he has given us at 5pm to do, even though we have already planned out our day, and won't be able to get to anything else until later, and then he gets offended that we can't drop everything and do the stuff he gave us to do at the last minute.

I think that the final straw happened recently, and this is the main reason that I am writing on here for some sort of advice on how to handle the rapidly deteriorating lab situation/morale problems that our lab is facing. My PI wanted to put his girlfriend on our post-docs soon to be submitted paper as a second author, when no one else in our lab can figure out anything that she has contributed to the paper other than a random comment in lab meeting (yes, she comes to our lab meetings too). The only reason that the girlfriends' name was removed is because our post-doc had to go in and basically tell our PI that he was being unethical. Why should the post-doc have to tell the PI what is unethical?! The PI's response was that he and the other post-doc (girlfriend) talked about the paper between themselves. And that she might be able to do an ELISA for the paper. Our post-doc was livid, and pretty much said that she didn't need someone else to do her work for her, and that at no point was any significant idea told to her directly by the girlfriend post-doc. Only after this did our PI relent and take the other girl's name off of the paper. And in order to "handle" this situation, our PI now wants to have a lab discussion on authorship, when it appears that everyone in the lab except for him and the girlfriend seem to have a clear understanding of ethical authorship practices. This has become the last straw for me. Nothing has been said to me directly about any of this, but it is affecting me and my ability to do work in the lab. I can no longer feel comfortable in the lab when I am there, and now I have no respect for my PI (I refuse to call him a mentor at this point, because he is not being one at all right now).

What should I do? How should I bring this up with my PI? For the first time in my grad school career, I have seriously contemplated leaving and just taking my masters, because the lab environment is getting completely frustrating, and I don't feel like I can trust the judgment of my PI anymore on anything based on this stunt that he tried to pull with the authorship issue. I am at my breaking point with all of this going on, and I'm making myself sick. I'm looking for any advice on how to handle this so that I don't do something stupid that I regret later. Thanks in advance.