7 Annoying Labmates and How to Deal with Them (Legally)

The general guidelines shared earlier about how to deal with difficult labmates were hopefully helpful, but what about specific cases? Here's a list of the most irritating types of labmate and ways to deal with them:

Transient
  1. The Inconsiderate: This self-centered student doesn't care about other's experiments as long as his are running. Take the student for a chat and explain to him/her why it is so irritating for you to clean-up after his/her experiment, not to mention the disrespect they show to your experiments and work.
  2. The Exploiter: This student constantly asks for help or favors but never gives back a helping hand. If a talk doesn't help just stop helping – he/she will soon learn that around your bench there's no free lunch.
  3. The Snob: Just ignore – don't waste your energy on people whose ego is (usually) larger than their brains…
  4. The Gossip: This type enjoys collecting personal information about everyone with usually no harm done, or uses it to generate quarrels. Wisely choose your words when talking with this type – you never know when your PI will throw you a remark about you "not being content with the monthly fellowship".
  5. The Aggressive: This student uses foul language or verbal violence. Take him/her for a talk on the side when BOTH of you are calm. Explain that such behavior is not accepted but do NOT threaten as it will generate more resistance. If nothing changes then discuss this with your labmates and then lay it on the PI's table. In case the PI doesn't want to get involved, and the behavior is extreme, take the complaint to the appropriate university authority.
  6. The Chatterbox: This one just won't stop talking. On a similar line there's also the "lecturing type" that takes the effort to share how much knowledge he/she acquired by elaborating on any subject. This is one of the hard cases to deal with because in many cases such type can be very likeable but they are such a time wasters! The best approach is to be kind but assertive and explain that you need the time to concentrate or do the experiment. You can fix a time later that day to discuss over a cup of coffee - just as long as you find the time to accomplish your work!
  7. The Needy: This student that will ask everyone what to do next and how to do it (and please see that he does so correctly for the fifth time!). Just stop helping and encourage the student to start thinking on his/her own. Don't feel sorry for such students, as it will be more difficult for them in the future when they will need to demonstrate autonomous research capabilities.

To sum up, much like any educational frame work, lab faculty members (PI, lab manager, technicians etc.) maintain their position while students are in a constant state of rotation and movement. Since the students make up the most of the working force in the lab, their relationship, interaction and team spirit will have a direct impact on the lab atmosphere and will certainly project to other neighboring labs. This is the supreme reason why it is important to ask around and "dig" for information from neighboring students about the working atmosphere before getting into a lab. In cases in which a difficult lab mate is accepted into the lab, the situation is more difficult and requires in many cases some adaptations. In many cases PIs don't consult with their lab students about a candidate which risks increasing "relationship friction" within the lab, which in many cases leads to a decrease in productivity and team cooperation, two components which are essential for a productive and innovative lab.

Do you have stories about an irritating lab mate? Please share with us in the comment below...

Also check out "10 Ways to Annoy Your Labmates"