How to Tell on Someone Like an Adult

Dear Dora: Tell on someone like an adultDear Dora,

There’s one member of our lab that everyone has a major problem with, but our PI seems to think this person is a perfectly reasonable labmate.  It’s beyond frustrating- how can we communicate to the PI the trouble this person is causing without looking like immature children telling on someone?

– AAH!, grad student


Dear Frustrated Graduate Student,

It sounds like one of your lab mates is disrupting the work in your laboratory, and this affects everyone including your PI. I recommend talking with the other members of your lab to discuss the effect that this person has on your work. It is not clear from your question what troubles he/she is causing, but even simple offenses such as leaving a mess on shared bench space, hoarding reagents/equipment, using insulting language can be very disturbing for the entire group and your PI needs to be aware of this problem.

The way to make sure that your PI takes you seriously is to use specific examples of this person’s wrong-doing and how it affected you. For example, “I signed up for the HPLC, and he/she ignored the sign-up sheet, and ran their samples anyway. As a consequence, I lost my samples that day, and this has set my work back by an entire week.”

If you show your PI the loss of productivity that this person is causing, he/she will definitely take you seriously.


Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to [email protected] and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!

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1 comment so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Postdoc. Fellow.

    wrote on May 25, 2011 at 11:37 am

    If you have no real evidence that this person is disrupting your work, perhaps the problem is you. Why are you frustrated, how exactly is this person inhibiting your work flow, and could you have a personal issue with this person?
    A similar situation happened in my lab where 2 graduate students were trying to get 2 separate projects done, unfortunately a personal issue/rift between the 2 caused it to be almost impossible for them to work in the same room. The frustrated grad student (presumably you) refused to admit any wrong doing and continued to make this poor fellow always feel he was doing wrong.
    If this person is not inhibiting your work productivity and you just don't like them (or are annoyed by them) this is not a real issue you want to bring up to your boss.

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