Do I take these PhD red flags seriously?

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Hello, I am looking at an interesting PhD. However there seem to be a few small redflags:

-Previous guy in a similar position left after 2-years. I asked them why, they said he didn't like having "too many projects at the same time" or something. But didn't give me a clear explanation. I found the guy on linked in as I want to be SURE, and friended / messaged him. He accepted my request, read my message, and then unfriended me with no reply! I'm not sure it's for privacy reasons or he doesn't talk to random strangers, but it struck me as weird.

-People there I talked to mention multiple projects (it's quite a big lab) so I would have to have many irons in the fire.

-I came to visit the lab, they told me they would pay the train ticket. However, they recently transferred only 50 EUR to my bank, the train ticket, costed 180 Euros however. It's not a big deal for me, just that I thought it may indicate some BS

-They mentioned I will need to help people with their studies (I do IT/engineering research) to get their tools to work "occasionally". But there are many PhD's there and only 1 other engineer, so I got a feeling It might turn into a consultant job. I asked about this and they didn't directly address this point of mine, but mentioned I will be doing very original research myself which is not rudimentary or repetitive.

-I told the lead PI that I needed about a week to think about it, he didn't reply since then(I assume no reply means 'ok'). Others in the lab are very helpful though when asking about renting and such things.

-The PI is a successfull researcher but people I talked to mentioned they are "pushed hard" during their work to meet deadlines etc. "You might need to stay in for an evening to get it done for tomorrow".

These are minor things, but as it's several years and I haven't done a PhD before, I don't know if it means anything or could be a major issue down the line.
 

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  • #2
symbolipoint
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Hello, I am looking at an interesting PhD. However there seem to be a few small redflags:

-Previous guy in a similar position left after 2-years. I asked them why, they said he didn't like having "too many projects at the same time" or something. But didn't give me a clear explanation. I found the guy on linked in as I want to be SURE, and friended / messaged him. He accepted my request, read my message, and then unfriended me with no reply! I'm not sure it's for privacy reasons or he doesn't talk to random strangers, but it struck me as weird.

-People there I talked to mention multiple projects (it's quite a big lab) so I would have to have many irons in the fire.
I will read more from your post soon or later, but the quote above seems lacking.

"Previous guy" --- what kind? Where? He or they/them? Which?

You found which guy on linked-in? What is your Human Resource department doing about communicating with, which guy?

"It's quite a big lab" ---- makes one wonder if the establishment is poorly-lead, or not well organized.

Maybe you, jarfi, are a recruiter(only a guess) and are relying on internet tools, but you really should take the effort to communicate with candidates on telephone or if possible, ideally in-person if you find someone to be an importantly strong candidate. One hires real people to do real things; not data through the internet. Internet search may be a way to start but continuing should ultimately be done more directly.
 
  • #3
symbolipoint
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I came to visit the lab, they told me they would pay the train ticket. However, they recently transferred only 50 EUR to my bank, the train ticket, costed 180 Euros however. It's not a big deal for me, just that I thought it may indicate some BS
Now this brings some clarity. My sense is the company who wants some PhD person is not treating you properly, and,.......
 
  • #4
symbolipoint
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These are minor things, but as it's several years and I haven't done a PhD before, I don't know if it means anything or could be a major issue down the line.
That makes no sense and not understandable. Not clear if yourself is the PhD to be hired or you are looking to help a company hire a PdD. Not sure if you are trying to earn a PdD.
 
  • #5
Choppy
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-Previous guy in a similar position left after 2-years. I asked them why, they said he didn't like having "too many projects at the same time" or something. But didn't give me a clear explanation. I found the guy on linked in as I want to be SURE, and friended / messaged him. He accepted my request, read my message, and then unfriended me with no reply! I'm not sure it's for privacy reasons or he doesn't talk to random strangers, but it struck me as weird.
Sure - might be weird, but this is basically an unknown. There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to talk about an experience in a particular lab and not all of them mean that this experience will be negative for you. It could be the guy felt he was treated poorly, but doesn't want to say anything negative about a former supervisor. On the other hand maybe he left because of personal issues that he doesn't want to discuss with a stranger. (That can also be why the people at the lab are vague with an explanation... they can't reveal personal information.)


-People there I talked to mention multiple projects (it's quite a big lab) so I would have to have many irons in the fire.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but a lot can depend on you as a student and the kind of work you enjoy. Some projects can have a lot of down time, while you're waiting for an experiment to run, waiting for equipment to arrive, code to run, etc. It's nice to have secondary projects to work on in the meantime.

What's important here is clarity of expectations. Make sure that you understand what your supervisor expects of you and what your timeline is. Even if the expectations are challenging, the process tends to go much smoother when everyone is on the same page.

-I came to visit the lab, they told me they would pay the train ticket. However, they recently transferred only 50 EUR to my bank, the train ticket, costed 180 Euros however. It's not a big deal for me, just that I thought it may indicate some BS
This might be a case of reading the fine print. The people running the lab may not be the same as the administrators who control the purse strings. The lesson here might be to pay attention and get things in writing when it comes to your reimbursement and financial support as a student. Ask questions.

-They mentioned I will need to help people with their studies (I do IT/engineering research) to get their tools to work "occasionally". But there are many PhD's there and only 1 other engineer, so I got a feeling It might turn into a consultant job. I asked about this and they didn't directly address this point of mine, but mentioned I will be doing very original research myself which is not rudimentary or repetitive.
Sounds to me like maybe this point needs a little further discussion. It's fair to go back to the table just to make sure that you're not going to be taken advantage of. If you're being taken on as a full time PhD student, it's fair to expect to work on your PhD full time. If they're asking you to do additional IT support in the lab, it's fair to expect additional reimbursement for that.

But of course, there are grey areas too. Often in a large lab different people develop different skill sets. Part of being a team player is offering up your skills to help the others around you advance their projects and in exchange, they do the same for you.


-I told the lead PI that I needed about a week to think about it, he didn't reply since then(I assume no reply means 'ok'). Others in the lab are very helpful though when asking about renting and such things.
This might be a hint of the kind of response, non-response you can expect from the PI in the future.


-The PI is a successfull researcher but people I talked to mentioned they are "pushed hard" during their work to meet deadlines etc. "You might need to stay in for an evening to get it done for tomorrow".
This is common in graduate school. And it's good to be pushed hard, because I would assume that coming out you want to have accomplished all that you could have (in a healthy way). Scientific research tends not to be a 9 to 5 job. You don't just put in the hours and clock out. As a graduate student you often have freedom to come and go as you please, but sometimes the work requires that you put in the long hours to meet deadlines.

To this end, again, it's about clarifying expectations. Establishing expectations and timelines early on can mean fewer of those late nights (or at least only having to blame yourself when they happen).
 
  • #6
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Thank you for the reply @Choppy
-I commented on the reimbursed travel fee, seems they made a mistake and saw the price listed under "VAT" and paid me back the VAT, the full price was not shown at the bottom.

-Indeed I expect to work hard and push myself hard, but I will not work hard to grind myself into an unwinnable battle of "carrying" other peoples work. I told them this in a way and even if they didn't respond on this specific point, the fact that I have it written in email I am sure will give me a decently secure standing .
I will read more from your post soon or later, but the quote above seems lacking.

"Previous guy" --- what kind? Where? He or they/them? Which?

You found which guy on linked-in? What is your Human Resource department doing about communicating with, which guy?

"It's quite a big lab" ---- makes one wonder if the establishment is poorly-lead, or not well organized.

Maybe you, jarfi, are a recruiter(only a guess) and are relying on internet tools, but you really should take the effort to communicate with candidates on telephone or if possible, ideally in-person if you find someone to be an importantly strong candidate. One hires real people to do real things; not data through the internet. Internet search may be a way to start but continuing should ultimately be done more directly.
I don't understand what is not clear. I am a single person that is looking to find a PhD lab to work in. I never stated otherwise. The person was one guy that previously worked in the lab .
 
  • #7
CrysPhys
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I don't understand what is not clear. I am a single person that is looking to find a PhD lab to work in. I never stated otherwise.
Your first post included the following:

"They mentioned I will need to help people with their studies (I do IT/engineering research) to get their tools to work "occasionally". But there are many PhD's there and only 1 other engineer, so I got a feeling It might turn into a consultant job. I asked about this and they didn't directly address this point of mine, but mentioned I will be doing very original research myself which is not rudimentary or repetitive.

....

These are minor things, but as it's several years and I haven't done a PhD before, I don't know if it means anything or could be a major issue down the line."

<<Emphasis added.>>


It's not clear to me whether (1) you are planning to enroll as a PhD student (i.e., seeking to acquire a PhD degree for yourself); or (2) seeking employment as a support technician/support engineer/research assistant in a lab staffed by PhDs; or (3) some combo of (1) and (2); or (4) something else.
 
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  • #8
Office_Shredder
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I think it's pretty clear he wants to get a PhD but is worried he'll spend all his time doing other people's work.

It sounds like your job is to do work that's a bit outside the normal wheelhouse of the lab. Do you know if previous students have gone on to get jobs similar to what you want to get?
 
  • #9
symbolipoint
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I don't understand what is not clear. I am a single person that is looking to find a PhD lab to work in. I never stated otherwise. The person was one guy that previously worked in the lab .
You did not say it that way. I could not tell who was looking for which kind of who. The way you expressed, you seemed like a recruiter searching for a PhD person for some company, and then you gave other comments just confusing.
 
  • #10
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Thank you for the reply @Choppy
-I commented on the reimbursed travel fee, seems they made a mistake and saw the price listed under "VAT" and paid me back the VAT, the full price was not shown at the bottom.

-Indeed I expect to work hard and push myself hard, but I will not work hard to grind myself into an unwinnable battle of "carrying" other peoples work. I told them this in a way and even if they didn't respond on this specific point, the fact that I have it written in email I am sure will give me a decently secure standing .

I don't understand what is not clear. I am a single person that is looking to find a PhD lab to work in. I never stated otherwise. The person was one guy that previously worked in the lab .
I have to say, I really don't know what a "PhD Lab" is. Is that where they study PhD's or are you actually talking about an academic research lab that has a doctoral programme? From my perspective, most of your concerns are unsubstantiated... not unimportant, just "feelings" based. The real hook for me is the failure to reimburse you for the full fare. That means that either there was a misunderstanding about what they would do or they stiffed you (either intentionally or otherwise). I personally wouldn't accept a position there until/unless I had the chance to speak with them again. I also would try and talk with current MSc and PhD candidates. In fact, it's common for a new prospect to meet the team that they would be working with.
 
  • #11
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I have to say, I really don't know what a "PhD Lab" is. Is that where they study PhD's or are you actually talking about an academic research lab that has a doctoral programme? From my perspective, most of your concerns are unsubstantiated... not unimportant, just "feelings" based. The real hook for me is the failure to reimburse you for the full fare. That means that either there was a misunderstanding about what they would do or they stiffed you (either intentionally or otherwise). I personally wouldn't accept a position there until/unless I had the chance to speak with them again. I also would try and talk with current MSc and PhD candidates. In fact, it's common for a new prospect to meet the team that they would be working with.
Hello. It is a lab where most of the staff is on PhD contracts, as it is a dept in a Uni. You are right most of it is feeling based, I might've been a bit paranoid as of PhD horror stories I've heard, and it is a big commitment of time and opportunity cost(3-5 years). I met the team and they all seem very nice and helpful, a bit tired though which is understandable (PhD research is difficult). Anyway for the fare, I don't think they remboursed me the difference. It was a misunderstanding where they took the VAT as the ticket price (it was written at the bottom). They said they'd re-send me the remaining sum(around 100 EUR). This never happened or I didn't notice it, but I attributed it to the fact that they might've simply forgot . I didn't want to seem cheap and petty so I stopped pressing on this issue. But ofcourse it is a matter of principle .
 

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