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Left alone and insecure about mentorship


User: Nishanthi - 20 November 2020 13:08

Hi, I am a mid-year postgraduate researcher and more often feel like I am being left alone by my supervisor in terms of mentorship and advise . Our lab has a total of 5 Phd's and 4 of us has joined this year alone. I had worked in the same lab as an unpaid research assistant for like 6 months before obtaining my scholarship to register Phd. From the very beginning, I have noticed that my supervisor has spent lot of time with the other new students than me. I often think it might be because of the less communication that I had with my to be supervisor, after I left the lab to join a paid position to earn some money. But she knew that I was keen to join the lab again and doing the paid work only to fill the gap between the scholarship confirmation and joining date (roughly 6 months in my country). Then, I did not quite understand when she said to me in the beginning that 'I do not need much supervision like the rest of them' because I am also from a different background from the PhD project. But, as months go on, my insecurity has grown ever since and I feel like I am not getting enough support. In addition to that, I was not welcomed in the team also (research staffs in the lab) where one of the staffs yelled, used inappropriate word and discouraged me to perform certain lab works as I could spoil the sample and data!!. The staff told me that I am not capable enough to perform the test that they have been trained to do for all these years. When I told this to my supervisor she acknowledged it and arranged a meeting with all the staffs but did not listen to me personally if I had been mentally affected by the work culture. These are all lead to me to think that I am incompetent for this research position and might not get the degree in the end. Alongside, this pandemic did not help the feeling in a positive way as well. I am sure if I am wrongly complaining that my supervisor is not spending more time on me but I feel this insecurity because she is spending much time on the other students. To worsen the situation, one of the other Phd has written a paper with a data that I collected, although a different outcome when I asked about this my supervisor told that we both can get shared authorship which I personally feel injustice to my hard work. Because I put so much time and energy into data collection but in the end someone who just run one experiment and can get equal credit does not make sense right?. So, here I am in the forum asking for help from seniors and fellow researchers on how to overcome my insecurities and do an effective Phd? Thanks

User: random_6772 - 23 November 2020 10:38

Hi, Nishanthi... I'd say be careful of comparing yourself to others - why is this a competition? Imposture syndrome lies that way.

Confidence comes from ability; ability comes from applying your knowledge - which comes from practising learning. How about a possible paper on best technique practice? Tips, common problems, how to confirm work is OK; what the important steps are and why etc. Spending a couple of days on that will focus on what's important - and if brought into a paper, may earn points with colleagues.

Also be aware that a common trope today is "data-lite lab work"; a lot of people do the minimum. Make sure you have enough data for your topic but not x10 more than minimum (unless you chase a special discovery, perhaps!). Analysis can also be difficult; need to slay demons in there too. Well, perhaps add that to the techniques draft.

What I am suggesting is to get into the doing stage - in all areas, not just data gathering. Focus on achieving; there will be papers etc. to say how.

The more you do and achieve, the more you have justified confidence in yourself. And even if it goes wrong - good! Now you know what to fix :)

Hope that helps!

User: rewt - 23 November 2020 14:55

Hi Nishanthi,

I am sorry but I am bit lost. So... you did an unpaid researcher role in this lab, left for 6 months for a paid industry lab role, rejoined the lab as a PhD student, your supervisor trusted you enough to not be micromanaged, other lab members doubted your skills making you doubt your abilities, you talked with your supervisor, your supervisor organised a lab meeting to stop the bullying but didn't reassure you, resulting in you having no confidence in your ability. If I have understood that correctly; you have a toxic lab, an okay supervisor and you have impostor syndrome. Your supervisor giving you support will not solve your confidence issues. There is a lot of useful advice out their to help with impostor syndrome and I would suggest taking a short holiday to relax and get a break from your lab/PhD. It also sounds like you have more relevant lab experience than your lab mates and you need to ignore them if they are being toxic. If you ignore them and you show that you can deliver good research they will come to respect you.

About the paper, were you already writing the paper? If you were not writing it yourself or hadn't discussed it with your supervisor in a while, what they did is fair. It sounds like the other student analysed your data and did a follow up experiment that you should have done yourself. You can't sit on data and expect people to wait. Your supervisor should have encouraged you to do it yourself but data analysis and writing is a significant amount of work equivalent to actually acquiring the lab results. I would be cordial about but make it clear that you want a first name paper next time and clearly state your intentions for all of your research. With collaborative research/labs you need to communicate what you want and maybe the reverse will happen to you.

User: Nishanthi - 23 November 2020 20:23

Thank you @random_6772 and rewt for your thoughtful feedback. Yes, I did an unpaid role after finishing my master's with a thought in mind joining this lab and also I have some family commitments that restricted my travel to other state jobs. I read about the imposter syndrome and sometimes feels that I could be a victim of those self-doubts. But hearing it from others makes it more assured that i need to work on my lack of confidence. About the paper, I was not only collecting the data, in fact i submitted an abstract in an international conference and also writing a paper. But I was doing a different analysis than my co-PhD who wrote a paper out of it. Actually, this has sparked a slight incompetence in my work as he is a statistical person and done some very good prediction algorithm. My problem was not him writing a paper, but not having a clue about it, when he presented the work just days before my conference in ourlab meeting it was completely out of blue!! I was literally taken aback for a moment and wanted to scream. I am still writing the paper of what I presented in the conference with some added experiments and my supervisor told me to include that guy's work as well.





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