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I've realized I hate being in a lab, but love another

  1. Jun 11, 2012 #1
    I'm doing an REU this summer in a topic that was incredibly interesting to me based on my previous research experience. I love working in that lab, and everyone is nice and well-rounded. The PI is easy to talk to, even though he's busy. This summer though, I'm working at a very highly ranked lab, and the atmosphere is much different. It's uncommon for people to NOT stay 12+ hours a day, and it seems like they have no time for a life outside of the lab. I haven't even seen the PI, and I've been here two weeks.

    I still want to go to graduate school, but I want to avoid being part of an emotionless lab. Can you get a sense of this from tours, or how can you prevent it?

    Also, any tips for making the most of this summer would be great. I'm at a great place with a great project, but I'm not having any fun while in the lab.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2012 #2
    Everything about your post says you are not so much interested in the work itself but in the feelings of the people and yourself in the prospective workplace.

    This bodes ill on many levels. The workplace is almost always an arena of simultaneous competition and cooperation, where people's self-interests both clash and align in various ways. There is courtesy but there is not family, nor should there be.

    Its almost never a communal sharing nurturing place where good feelings rule the day.

    If your expectation is to find a familial experience filled with goodwill and a deep sense of belonging, prepare to be disillusioned.
  4. Jun 11, 2012 #3
    I don't think that's quite fair. It's ok to want good work AND a good work environment. His post definitely does not say he is not interested in the research.
  5. Jun 11, 2012 #4


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    One of the best ways of figuring this out that I know of is to talk with graduate students currently in the program and the post-docs that work in the lab. When you tour the facility, make time to talk with current students and get their personal perspectives. Ask the questions that you want to ask.

    Most schools will also have some kind of a graduate student association. It's worth you time to contact them to see what activities are available specific to graduate students.

    Down time is important.

    So is a social and friendly atmosphere.

    When you're in a less-than optimal circumstance, first make sure you connect with your immediate supervisor. Ask specifically what is expected of you. Sometimes students can fall into the trap of long hours in the lab because no one ever told them different. Sometimes, they spend long hours there because they're running an experiment the requires it. Learn what's expected of you and do everything you can to meet that. But you don't have to go crazy to exceed it. And when you do exceed via quality rather than quantity.

    After all, who wants a letter that reads, "The student didn't get a whole lot accomplished over the summer in my lab, despite putting in extremely long hours?"

    Another tip is that sometimes you have to look outside of your work environment for social release. Are there any clubs or societies around that are active for the summer? What about forming a writer's group, or a book club? Take up a martial art. Join a co-ed intramural team.

    I hope it works out for you.
  6. Jun 12, 2012 #5
    And people wonder why there aren't more women in high-level physics.
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