Don't waste time, and look for the red flags
story by an angry black woman getting her PhD
1. What was your deciding factor to switch labs?
I decided to switch labs because of racism, sexual harassment, and not having a proper project. But also having a project that was too closely related to another student to the point where my data was being taken away and given to the student. Basically feeling like my advisor was sabotaging me.
2. How did you go about switching lab? What did you do and what steps did you take?
So I just sent emails to a bunch of PI behind my advisors back. I just found names of people that were taking students. I emailed and then asked them if I could meet with them for a potential rotation. I got a feel for their personality throughout the interview. I specifically looked for a woman because I thought it would be a safer environment. I'm not saying that's true, but that is how I felt at the time.
3. How did the transition affect you?
At first, I thought I was the problem, and then I started to see that it was a toxic environment. Since I was afraid to switch labs, I starting getting more anxious. I didn't want to come to work because I was scared for my safety because of the whole sexual harassment. Then I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere. I was getting so desperate and tired of feeling like that, that's what pushed me to switch labs. Afterward, I had to deal with the anger that I still deal with today. Before, it was a lot worse, but I'm getting through it and seeing a psychologist too. So it's not like I'm trying to get through this on my own. I try to take care of myself the best I can.
4. What are some of the positive things you took away from your old lab?
I learned a lot of techniques, learned to draw boundaries and to not put up with abuse. I also did not have to redo my exams as I was already a Ph.D. candidate.
5. What do you still carry from going through this experience?
A lot of anger. I don't trust people. I'm not as approachable, which is sad because that is kind of like a positive, but it's also a negative because now I'm not as friendly. I won't dare confide in people in my department; I don't want to get screwed over. I took away paranoia from the old lab. I'm super angry all the time, and I added on another two years. I mean, I thought I'd spend five years in grad school, now I'll be here for seven years. That's a long time for a Ph.D., and It's not because I didn't put in the work, it's because I got set up for failure.
6. Any tips for those who have found themselves in your situation?
Just do it. Just switch. Don't stay. It's going to get worse. Don't waste time and look for the red flags. When you're rotating in the lab, look at the relationship between the PI and the grad students in the lab. If they are always fighting, that's probably not a good thing. If there is a lot of competition in the lab, that's probably not a good thing. If there is a lack of boundaries in the lab, that's not a good thing. Just try and figure out the lab environment first. Lab environment over the research. If you join because they put their best foot forward, and then all of a sudden things started hitting the fan--leave. Don't feel ashamed and don't waste time. They don't support you.
Angryblackwomangettingherphd is a graduate student in neuroscience. Her goal is to get minorities to understand that their education is a right And that we should not take abuse. By sharing her experiences, she hopes it will help someone who is going through something similar. Check out her instagram and youtube channel where she tackles tough topics that people of color regularly face in grad school.