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A research assistant applying for grad school, should I leave my lab before the application season


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Here is my case, I'm working as a research assistant in a good lab/school, planning to apply this December for PhD programs in a related field ( I work in basic biology science and my plan to apply for translational research programs). I'm basically not doing well at this lab, a lot of mistakes I have done, no matter I do, the image that my coworkers have on me won't shake. 

I'm not enjoying the research topic here, I guess this is the main reason I'm not putting a lot of effort to perform better. Why I joined them the first place; I needed a job, a research experience to build my resume, that was the best place I was able to secure. 

Now, I really can't take it anymore, everyday there is a problem, a mistake, an experiment ruined, a condescending talk from the boss or the postdoc. I'm staying because the boss believed in me and hired me, I don't wan't to let him down, also I don't want to leave with bad terms before the application season, I need his recommendation letter. 

What should I do? Should I stick to the lab for two or three more months until I'm done with the application? 

Pros : 

- I might perform better and get a better LOR. 

- The school/ lab has a big name that's going to weigh heavily on my resume. 

- I'm paid ! 

Cons : 

- A lot of pressure. 

_ Distraction from the GRE preparation. 


Or should I leave now and start looking for a research that I really like, I still have one whole year until the proposed start date of grad school. 


- I think I will be happier. 

- A fresh start. 

_ I might apply to this school( nothing secured yet) PhD program then continue my research at the same lab ( that would shorten my PhD time - I'm not that young for grad school). 



- The probability of getting a bad LOR from my current boss is higher ( Loosing the loyalty point). 

- There is no lab that's offering me a position yet, no secured job, I'll be in the street. 


What should I do? 


Edited by AjjA
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Hmm. Well, if your boss is giving you condescending talks, you've made a lot of mistakes, and your coworkers have a poor impression of you, what makes you think you would get a good letter of recommendation from the boss anyway? I don't say this to be mean - I just wonder whether that's a good reason to stay if the situation is as bad as you are describing.

Before you make any decisions, I think you should probably have an honest talk with your boss and, in as professional a manner as possible, explain that you're struggling and ask him what you could do to improve the situation. Surely the boss is aware that it's not going well. Perhaps he will say that the lab doesn't seem to be a good fit for you, in which case you have a graceful out to leave. Perhaps he will give you valuable constructive criticism, which you can use to improve yourself. If you haven't already broached the topic of grad school with him, you may also want to use the opportunity to bring up your career plans and seek his guidance on grad school. Just be prepared for the possibility that he might not be the best person to write you a glowing LOR under these circumstances, and if I were you I'd think about alternatives no matter what. 

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It sounds like the two options are stay *and put in the work that's needed to do a good job* so that you can get a reasonably strong letter from this professor, or leave now. Doing a mediocre or bad job isn't going to leave the kind of impression you want spelled out in a letter. We're talking about roughly 3 months of seriously doing the work, and hopefully that might be enough so that even if earlier you weren't doing as well, the letter could say you've been improving over time. I second the suggestion to talk to your professor. Ask him if he would be able to write you a strong letter, and if he expresses reservation ask if there is anything you could do between now and the application deadline to change his mind. If he is unwilling to write you a (strong) letter or thinks there isn't much chance of things changing, there won't be any reason to stay. But if you do stay, you need to realize that just being there is not going to be enough. You need to get serious about the work, even if you don't enjoy it. Trust me, there will be other things you don't enjoy in this job, at school, and at any job you might have in the future. That doesn't mean you get to do a bad job at it. 

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