Life through a PhD program can, at times, be stranger than fiction – Part 2

Story continued from my previous blog –

Previous students who had done a rotation under Kim’s professor (let’s call her Prof. X) thought she was very intrusive. Prof. X thought it was her business to tell her PhD students what to eat, how to keep fit and whom to hang with. Hence, most students left the lab following a rotation and never joined for a full term PhD. Even other faculty members in the department would at times drop hints to new graduate students about Prof. X, often discouraging them from joining her lab. I just want to add that, most Professors I have come across are very professional, encouraging and kind. Advisors with eccentric personalities are not that common.

Getting back to the story, Kim has my respect for being able to work under Prof. X for six long years. Work in her lab was monotonous. The two or three protocols they used had been optimized ages ago and they kept doing the same experiments with different biological entities. Publishing papers wasn’t difficult in Prof. X’s lab. She wrote the papers and Kim just had to follow instructions to get experiments done, without much trouble to the grey cells in her head. By the time Kim graduated, she had four or five decent research articles to her credit.

About Emily, one of the reasons she joined the PhD program was because she was really pushed into it by her husband, in hopes of a better future for them. Her heart was not completely in it. And to complicate things further, she ended up joining a lab that wasn’t the best fit for her. Her advisor was a big shot scientist who hardly ever had time for her and she was assigned a supervisor who could not have cared less. Emily’s supervisor would often treat her very unprofessionally (to put it mildly), listen to music at work, hardly ever help her and at times even take post lunch naps in the lab.  This supervisor later on quit science altogether and opted for a career switch. Towards the end of her sixth year, Emily hardly had any concrete experimental results to show. The funding in her lab also started getting very low at this point. From what I had noticed, Emily tried hard working long hours but her project was extremely challenging and she hardly had the expert guidance that all PhD students need. And in scientific research your effort is not always proportional to the outcome.

Finally in her sixth year, with no end in sight, Emily decided to quit from the PhD program. Her decision seemed logical given that she wasn’t going to get any graduate assistantship to support herself after her sixth year, there was also no money in the lab to fund her experiments, and she didn’t have any mentor to rely on. It was a tragic waste of intelligence.



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