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Advice needed for ending a rotation that wasn't supposed to end...


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Hi all, 

 

I would like to ask the many bright and helpful people here to give me some ideas for a very unpleasant conversation I need to initiate in the near future.

 

I have been in a rotation lab for 4.5 months that everyone thought would become my PhD lab from the start of the rotation. Although conversations haven't been had about the decision being finalized and set in stone, both I and this PI were intending for him to become my advisor assuming that nothing went wrong during the rotation. He recruited me somewhat aggressively from another lab with a project that sounded like it would be great for me, and he has been freely discussing my long-term future in the lab in front of everyone. I've been nearly entirely integrated. However, at this point I've learned that I really struggle with his arrogant "I'm smarter than everyone, including you" personality, I'm bored by his subfield (my previous subfield really fascinated me!), and his advising style is extremely overbearing (both in terms of asserting his own opinions about any random thing and about completely controlling the project that's planned for me). The bottom line is that I've found myself unhappy and dreading going to the lab every day. 

 

I want to return to the first lab I worked in, even though I originally walked away from that PI for the lab I'm currently in. Now I feel like a total ass for having to go tell the new overbearing PI that I'm flip flopping and going back to the lab I left in the first place. I obviously don't want to tell him that I can hardly deal with his personality or that he's basically a human steamroller as an advisor, but I do have to make a strong enough case for walking away without making it seem like careless flakiness. 

 

Getting to the point: does anyone have suggestions for specific things to say or general advice for talking to my almost-advisor about leaving his lab and framing it as an issue of not wanting to stay in his subfield of research?

Thanks! 

 

Edit: The typo in the title was a great giveaway of how frazzled and inarticulate I feel about this whole thing. Yay me... 

Edited by Taeyers
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Well, first I'd make sure I was welcome back at my previous lab.  If they don't have a spot for you anymore, this whole thing is kind of pointless.  anyway, if they are willing to take you back, then I would say that you should approach the person you are working with now very diplomatically and explain that you feel that the subfield you are working on here isn't what you feel most fits your interests and further education.  Whatever you do, don't make it sound like it's the prof's fault.  He sounds like the type to go BOOM if he thinks you are pointing fingers at him in any way.  I don't know if i would mention where you are going to lab-wise as I'm not sure if this guy is jerk enough to bully the other lab's prof.  anyway, it's your education and your future.  You have the right to make decisions that go in the direction you want to go instead of the direction your profs try to push you.  Be strong but diplomatic.

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Thanks for the response!

 

Well, first I'd make sure I was welcome back at my previous lab.  If they don't have a spot for you anymore, this whole thing is kind of pointless. 

 

They're eager to take me back. The previous PI was very unhappy about me leaving and seems glad to have me return. 

 

 

I don't know if i would mention where you are going to lab-wise as I'm not sure if this guy is jerk enough to bully the other lab's prof.   

 

The two labs share a large open lab space (along with a couple other labs) and the two PIs' offices are directly next to each other. So there's really no getting around him knowing where I'm going, nor having to still see him on a regular basis. That's a big part of the dilemma - I don't get to just leave this behind me and move on once I get through the conversation.

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It has to be about objective reasons and about you, not the PI. The best way to talk about it is to say that you've learned through doing this current rotation that your interests have changed and that they are now more in line with the work you were doing in your previous rotation. Make sure you say (and repeat) how grateful you are to have been given the opportunity to be in your current lab and how much you've learned. Thank the PI for all he's done for you, mention nothing about his personality. If he is great but you want to do research he doesn't support, it's much easier to make a clean break than if you make it about your personal fit. 

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I think it is a great idea that you want to frame this as simply an issue of not being interested in this lab's subfield and would prefer to pursue another subfield. Definitely do NOT bring up any other reasons for leaving.

 

I think it will help you if you know more about what your work with the other lab will be. Have a very clear and concrete plan for what you'll be doing in the other lab. Not necessarily long term, but just what you will be doing next. Have a vague long term plan too that clearly shows you should be in the other lab. You're not committed to any of this of course. I just find having a plan like this helps me internalize and solidify that I am making the right decision and this will come off in the conversation as more confidence. This might be necessary if the "bully PI" tries to convince you to stay, or if they start asking questions about your future plans. Being sure that this is what you want to do and having good reasons will help eliminate any potential thoughts that you might be leaving for personality reasons too.

 

In addition, I echo everything fuzzy said about being grateful etc.

 

Finally, my school has resources in the grad office that will help you "break up" with an advisor like this. They can give tips, role play the scenario etc. If you think you would like that type of support, maybe see if you can get the same at your school!

 

Good luck!

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Make sure you say (and repeat) how grateful you are to have been given the opportunity to be in your current lab and how much you've learned. Thank the PI for all he's done for you, mention nothing about his personality. If he is great but you want to do research he doesn't support, it's much easier to make a clean break than if you make it about your personal fit. 

This is exactly why I posted here. Of course that's so obvious to me now, but in the chaos in my mind it never even occurred to me that I should use expressions of gratitude to cushion the overall impact. And of course I am grateful, that feeling just wasn't at the forefront of my mind when thinking about this. 

 

I think it will help you if you know more about what your work with the other lab will be. Have a very clear and concrete plan for what you'll be doing in the other lab. Not necessarily long term, but just what you will be doing next. Have a vague long term plan too that clearly shows you should be in the other lab. You're not committed to any of this of course. I just find having a plan like this helps me internalize and solidify that I am making the right decision and this will come off in the conversation as more confidence. 

That's also great advice. When I talked to my previous PI about returning to his lab, he outlined what the 3 parts of my thesis would be, and one of the parts is a continuation of the work I was already doing before leaving. So not only do I know what my broad long-term plans are, but I also know that I really like that research. I will make sure to say so if the opportunity presents itself. 

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