Today I finished my 10 month long MPhys research placement at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Ten months is unusually short for a placement student, but this year has felt less like a sprint and more like a marathon.
When I was asked today just before I left; “so what did you think of this year”, I had to think three or four times before replying. I’ve done well there, but I wasn’t really happy.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve enjoyed the work and I’ve worked hard and produced good science. However, I’ve been under too much unnecessary workplace stress. Some of it has been due to a clash of personalities, and I’ve learned from that, but that only accounts for so much. Often, I’ve found that none of my superiors agree on what to expect of me. Though I’ve been told I surpassed even the best expectations (which I say with no small amount of pride), I think that the mixed bag of expectations (and accompanying attitudes) has been the main cause of most of the problems I’ve encountered since starting in February.
To be honest, I think it’s sad that such a good group and such good research was spoiled by workplace politics and a manager with an attitude diametrically opposed to those of myself and my supervisor (in both a people management and technical approach). Had the management been somewhat different, I think I would have been a lot happier.
Lack of cohesion really got to me; that pronounced difference in styles meant that communication was rather poor. Often, important issues were talked about but not really understood by someone with the power to change anything. One of these issues, I discovered, was the way the group approaches students and what to expect from them. The issue had been identified before I even got there and… nothing happened.
I suppose that this is the cause of most of the difficulties I had.
In the end I said that I was glad I’d come, but I was also glad to be leaving. Most of the individuals there were perfectly nice, but I found the group itself a very difficult place to exist. I think I had a lot of avoidable stress for reasons outside of my control, and that taints the whole experience.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend the CMOS Sensor Design Group at RAL for a student placement. The work they do is excellent, but my experience there was tainted by ingrained problems with attitude and communication. Furthermore, I don’t believe that the underlying causes are going to change any time soon.
While I have utmost respect for the expertise of the people in the group, I won’t be going back.