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Considering Quitting Research Lab Help!!!


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I am an undergrad student with hopes of entering grad school next year. I have been conducting research at my university for almost a year and I'm really thinking about quitting my lab. I feel as though I have learned a lot from my lab but I have not accomplished nearly as much as I had hoped. I entered the lab with no experience or background on the topic. I had hoped I would have an advisor who would guide me along the way. My PI initially stated that he would be my advisor but as time went on I realized that he was not going to help me. For the first few months I asked several times if he could make time to meet with me and discuss my role and assist me with any trouble I may have. He constantly put off meeting with me and pretty much said "do whatever you can do on your own".

 

I spent months trying to learn on my own and taught myself a lot but I realized that the learning curve was far too high. Eventually, I sought help outside of my current lab and found another lab doing similar work. I was assigned a grad student from that lab and he has been a tremendous amount of help, he has sat with me for hours explaining the many complicated topics. I tried to use the knowledge I gained from him in my current lab but unfortunately his work is not exactly the same as mine.

 

As of recently I have become more disenchanted with my lab and my work. I notice that I am being compared to some of the other undergrad students ALL of which have had assistance in their work, they literally have senior level researchers guiding them through their work. I'm being painted out as the underworking lazy one of the team especially so since I have not actually completed anything to show. I am at the point where I want to quit my current lab and perhaps see if I can join the second lab for the school year. I'm concerned about making this decision because I don't think I will be able to get recommendations for grad school from my current PI if I quit and at this point its the only lab I have worked at for an extended period of time.  

 

Any advice as to what I should do?

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You're still an undergrad at this point, nobody is going to judge you for moving labs. 

 

Exactly. As an undergrad you're just trying to get exposure to research - it's not really imperative that are an expert in the topic or stay in the lab until the project is complete (even at the grad level it's not too big of a deal if you switch labs early enough and if there's sufficient funds)

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I am an undergrad student with hopes of entering grad school next year. I have been conducting research at my university for almost a year and I'm really thinking about quitting my lab. I feel as though I have learned a lot from my lab but I have not accomplished nearly as much as I had hoped. I entered the lab with no experience or background on the topic. I had hoped I would have an advisor who would guide me along the way. My PI initially stated that he would be my advisor but as time went on I realized that he was not going to help me. For the first few months I asked several times if he could make time to meet with me and discuss my role and assist me with any trouble I may have. He constantly put off meeting with me and pretty much said "do whatever you can do on your own".

 

I spent months trying to learn on my own and taught myself a lot but I realized that the learning curve was far too high. Eventually, I sought help outside of my current lab and found another lab doing similar work. I was assigned a grad student from that lab and he has been a tremendous amount of help, he has sat with me for hours explaining the many complicated topics. I tried to use the knowledge I gained from him in my current lab but unfortunately his work is not exactly the same as mine.

 

As of recently I have become more disenchanted with my lab and my work. I notice that I am being compared to some of the other undergrad students ALL of which have had assistance in their work, they literally have senior level researchers guiding them through their work. I'm being painted out as the underworking lazy one of the team especially so since I have not actually completed anything to show. I am at the point where I want to quit my current lab and perhaps see if I can join the second lab for the school year. I'm concerned about making this decision because I don't think I will be able to get recommendations for grad school from my current PI if I quit and at this point its the only lab I have worked at for an extended period of time.  

 

Any advice as to what I should do?

 

Every lab is different, and if you dont like the way your current advisor guides your research, by all means, move to another lab. Please keep in mind though, that you learn the most when you actually tackle the problems on your own, and it is not any advisor's priority (or grad students' priority) to babysit undergrads in the lab. I am pretty sure if you move to the second lab and expect the grad students there to guide you through every step, you wouldnt get that either. 

The undergrads in my lab are assigned simple and short projects that they can learn to do by themselves, and if they have good progress (capable of producing something publisable), they get to work alongside a grad student. My labmates and I are not responsible to help them, frankly Im very glad we arent.

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Consider your first lab as a stepping stone into the foray of research. Sometimes you like it, and you stick to it. Sometimes you don't. You'll probably want to have more experience anyway, and moving onto another lab that gives you that will work in your favour. Sure, this may end up being that you lose a reference, but it wouldn't have been a strong one to begin with if the PI is comparing your work ethics in such a way. Better to have a strong and great letter than have one that is on the fringe. 

I think this first lab experience should be your gateway leading you to other opportunities. Look for other research experiences, in the second lab, and other ones. The first one is always the hardest, but now that you have it you should have confidence in seeking other ways of moving forward in your experiences!

Good luck :)

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Thanks for the advice! I guess as someone whose new to the process this seems like a much bigger deal than it should be. My primary concern is that by not sticking with this lab I may be weakening my application to any potential grad school. 

 

Jay's Brain - Thanks so much for the words of encouragement, I feel much better after reading your post.

 

ballwera & eteshoe - You're right, I hope that admissions committees see it this way as well

 

Cookie - I didn't expect to have someone babysit me, in fact there is one undergrad on my team who seems as if he can't function without help from his senior researcher. That is not me at all, I hate being micromanaged and I prefer to work on my own. The problem was not that I needed babysitting, I just needed guidance to get started. My team assigned me an extremely heavy task not a "simple and short" one, my PI even admitted that it was a Phd level assignment yet he provided absolutely no instruction on where to begin or how to get started. If you are implying that graduate level advisors simply hand you a topic and say good luck then I might have to reconsider grad school. 

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Thanks for the advice! I guess as someone whose new to the process this seems like a much bigger deal than it should be. My primary concern is that by not If you are implying that graduate level advisors simply hand you a topic and say good luck then I might have to reconsider grad school. 

This is my advisor in a nutshell, although  I'm still and undergrad or well was an undergrad / not yet a graduate student. 

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If you are implying that graduate level advisors simply hand you a topic and say good luck then I might have to reconsider grad school. 

It really depends on the advisor. Some will assign you a smaller project to start out, or pair you with a senior lab member. Others may well give you a topic and leave you to it. Asking potential PhD advisors (and their students) about their project management style is really important.

 

Be polite when quitting the group. You can explain that your research interests have changed and you want to try something else, or that you are having difficulty balancing research and your academic studies - both of which are valid reasons for an undergrad to leave a group. Thank everyone for their time and assistance. 

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If you are implying that graduate level advisors simply hand you a topic and say good luck then I might have to reconsider grad school.

Some will do this, some won't. It varies a lot. Likewise, some people do best when thrown at a project with little guidance and some people need their hand held in order to get started. This is why selecting the right advisor is very important.
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