I would like to sandbox a question. I don't think this is a dupe.

We are a group of PhD students, have a group lunch with our boss (PI). That never happened before and there is currently no agenda. I would like to use this as an opportunity to suggest some cultural changes in our lab, and get some clarity from the boss. I would like to ask questions, rather than making suggestions how boss should manage the lab.

As I see it, there are couple of things that are currently missing in our research lab:

  • it is not clear what are PI's priorities. "What are top 3 things that occupy your day?"
  • it is not clear what constitutes "good" work. "Could we come up with a list of top 3 things people should be concerned with, e.g. papers, fellowships, grants etc". What is that list for you?
  • it is disturbing that some higher-level employees display unprofessionalism again and again, as well as some people who do good (publish) are not acknowledged. What can we do to tighten the feedback loops and make sure everybody gets positive and negative feedback. Is that a professional way to start discussion about cultural changes? Is it a professional way of "managing up"?

Is that Q on topic at Workplace? Are there edits or maybe re-framing I should do to make it more useful for community.

  • 1
    This may be worth also asking on the academia SE meta, given the nature of your workplace.
    – dwizum
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 20:08
  • 2
    You might wish to spell out the term PI. Non-academics may not be familiar with it. You might want to give some context to what "unprofessionalism" means here. Otherwise it seems fine to me. Commented May 9, 2019 at 17:12
  • @dwizum i thought about it, and I don't see this being academia-specific. In our case "boss" is called Professor and structure is very flat. Commented May 9, 2019 at 17:42

3 Answers 3


Your proposed question (as well as the questions you're planning to ask) are asking about your attempted solution to a problem rather than the problem itself. Related: What is the XY problem?

If someone were to criticise your proposed solution, that would not help you all that much with figuring out how to actually go about addressing your problem.

  • You want cultural changes, so focus your question around the specific cultural changes you want and how best to approach getting those implemented.

  • Regarding your boss's priorities, the problem is not that you don't know your boss's priorities, it's the effect of how they're prioritising. Or it's that you don't think your boss is doing much work (which may or may not be affecting you) and you want to do something about that. Knowing their priorities would only be the first part of a broader conversation or set of actions to accomplish some goal (whatever that goal may be). So that question should be asking how to accomplish said goal.

  • "What can we do to tighten the feedback loops..." might be a bit too broad and unclear. Improving feedback within a company is something one can write a book about. While you may not be in a position to implement much of what might be written in said book, you can certainly suggest it. Although the main problem here is possibly just the same as the above: the problem seems to be the unprofessionalism and your proposed solution is "tightening feedback loops" (which may or may not be a good way to address the unprofessionalism).

  • Don't ask for lists or what other people concern themselves with. Those things are hard to answer objectively, which doesn't make it a good fit for this site (i.e. either is likely to get your question closed).

  • Regarding "good work", this will always be a trade-off. This part definitely belongs on Academia (the rest doesn't seem to have Academia-specific elements, so should be fine on Workplace). I'm not to familiar with their scope, but I'd suggest trying to focus on a single one - e.g. how quickly should you aim to finish a paper or how many papers should you aim to write in a year (those might not make sense for your circumstances or even be good questions; they're mostly to demonstrate what I'm suggesting).

  • I'd encourage separating distinct questions into separate posts.

    It looks like you have at least 3 distinct questions there. It might also make sense to separate different cultural issues into separate posts as well, but this heavily depends on the specifics and how closely they're linked.

I hope the above doesn't sound too harsh. The above problems are fairly common and your question would likely be received fine / well even without you having addressed all of them. Although all of the suggested changes are to increase the likelihood of you getting the most useful answer and make the question more useful for others.


Overall I think this is a good question, though as dwizum said in a comment, you may get better answers at Academia if this is an academic setting.

The biggest improvement I would point out is that you don't actually ask a question right now. I would just add something at the end along the lines of:

Is this a good approach to suggest changes at our workplace? If not, how should I go about trying to communicate the concerns I have?


This question is off-topic because PhD students are not employees. They are not paid salary but tax-free scholarship. University is not their "workplace".

Is that Q on topic at Workplace

No. It's not. Students are not workers, not covered by the employment laws.

Please close the question.

  • In the US you can be a PhD student and an employee (part-time or full-time), at the same time - but in any case a paid salary (stipend, not everyone gets one) is not itself a tax-free scholarship (though it can include a tax-free scholarship portion to cover tuition). In many European countries PhD students are explicitly full-time employees, fully covered by all applicable workplace law 100%. So a University is very often indeed a workplace, paid as salary, hourly wage, or 'other'. This variation and complexity is not familiar to many people outside of Academia, though.
    – BrianH
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 17:01

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