of my two supervisors only present 2 days a month!...worry!!

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seamoro's picture of my two supervisors only present 2 days a month!...worry!!

I am about to start my PHd in a month in genetically modifying plants to produce human proteins. I guess i just want know people experience of research?....any advice. I will have 2 supervisors, a cell biologist and , a molecular biologist. I have some concerns about my molecular biologist being only present in the university 2 days a month as she now works for state department. Should this worry me?..i have talked with some of my friends and they said this is nearly normal as many Phd/Master students supervisors are always out of office!
But i guess emails and phone calls will help fill the absense hole?
Also they will be other research students...and maybe other people that can should i be worried!!
Thanks guys in advance for your answers

sarakumar47's picture
Hai Seamoro

Hai Seamoro

Nice to see your post. I hope you are well trained in all the advanced laboratory techniques and you have an excellent knowledge in your field of study. If so, you do not need to worry about your supervisor. With little help of your supervisor, you can accomplish your goals easily.

I wanna let you know about some of the research institutes in India. As a Ph.D. students, here we are doing official works rather than laboratory works. It's all our fate. Here supervisor's usually ordered that the working time (Research work) of students is from 5 PM (After he/she leave the office) to 10 AM (Before he/she enter into the office). How will you feel if you are in this situation? 

I am not saying about all the institutes in India. We have excellent research institutes.

R Bishop
R Bishop's picture


I wouldnt be too worried about your supervisor situation.  In fact its pretty normal for this line of work.  I've been in academic science for 18 years now and to be certain many PIs are absent for long periods of time. For the most part you will learn lab techniques and how to set up experiments from the older graduate students, post docs, technicians, or research scientists that work in the lab near you.  Your PIs will be there for guidance and advice on your project. Keep in mind that a PhD is the time to learn to be an independent researcher.  Email is a great way to communicate, but I would suggest establishing early on that you like to drop by and get help from your PIs in person. 

Another piece of advice I can give you is to come to them (your PIs) with well thought out questions, having exhausted lab resources and forums like this one for help first. As you go through classes and in house seminars meet and establish a rapport with other faculty that fit your personality type and use them as a resource as well.

As a final piece of advice always follow Bishop's Rule #1 of lab work -
Trust no one, not even yourself.

   - By this I mean, make your own reagents, check any clones that people give you, run every positivie and negative control for every experiment no matter how trivial it seems, learn to read scientific manuscripts with a scientist's mindset, and ask a lot of questions.

Best of all enjoy it!  Science can be rewarding in so many ways if you dont let it frustrate you.

The Bishop

Ivan Delgado
Ivan Delgado's picture

Hi seamoro,

In an ideal world, and this does happen although not that often, your PI is your mentor and you learn a lot from him or her. In reality there is a very good chance that your mentor is going to be one of the post-docs in the lab or even a graduate student (at least that is the way it typically works in the US). This by no means is a negative thing since many post-docs are not only very good but tend to have more time than a PI to shape you as a scientist.

I agree with Rusty that it is up to you to establish communication with your PI early on. While they may not be there for you most of the time, they are typically more than happy to share their experience with you if you take the time to do everything you can on your end and only then come to them with some well thought out and researched questions. I have never met a PI that would not get excited, and even start coming to you, if you bring him well thought out questions that put into perspective possible avenues for research within the context of the greater literature.

Plus since you will be having two PIs it is very likely that you will get more from your PIs than the average student. 

Good luck on your PhD and have a blast! It is a great time in a scientist's career, even when at times it may not seem that way :).

Jason King
Jason King's picture
I would agree with Ivan when

I would agree with Ivan when he says that most of the day-to-day technical advice and training is going to come from post-docs. It is vital that your PI ensures that you, the PhD student, really understands the direction in which the project should go. It's always a good idea to read the grant proposal that was written for the position you have. Then get a good understanding of the literature and make sure that you and your supervisors all agree on the rough direction. The rest is down to you, but don't be afraid to ask questions.

One real danger is that a PhD student who does not have regular contact with a supervisor is left to "drift along". It is important to have regular lab meetings where problems can be discussed and potential sources of advice, reagents etc can be suggested to you by the more senior lab members.

Finally, in the final year of your PhD, you should be at the leading edge of your research field. Sometimes (!) it will be the case that you and your supervisor do not agree on what has to be done. You will get to know the feeling that a PhD student gets when they "feel" that they know that something is the right thing to do. Because you are closest to the experimental work being carried out, you will develop a natural 6th sense for things. I would say that you should go with this. In my case, my supervisor told me to do A not B, I wanted to do B because I felt is was right. In the end (and probably to avoid bad feeling between the 2 of us) I did A during the day and B in the evenings and weekends. Guess which one worked! B. It might be difficult but you will become more independent and win the respect of your colleagues.

Good luck with your research and don't forget to post on the plant biotechnology sub-forum!

Omai's picture
You can also rely on high

You can also rely on high quality post docs to mentor you if your PI happens to be unavailable. Many of my former colleagues in graduate school who worked for a very high profile PI (and therefore unavailable) found a research mentor in the lab (either a post doc or a lab manager/ senior technician).

Good luck and look for mentors wherever you can find them.


Docmagus's picture
 I have to agree with

 I have to agree with everyone, but one other rule is this. Be Independent. Your graduate work is really on the job training for your scientific life. You should be the one calling the shots and knowing the literature. Another way to put it is that sheep make great antibodies but horrible scientists.