How to Navigate a Difficult Situation

A big part of graduate training is working with people, especially your advisor and lab members. When disagreements or issues arise, the exact process and best practices for addressing issues with your advisor, lab members, or the broader UCSF community depend on the issue and people involved. We acknowledge the power differential between advisors and graduate students, and challenges it creates in resolving issues, especially those involving advisors. Our goal is to provide a clear summary of what resources are available to deal with disagreements, hopefully finding solutions to them before they become unresolvable.

For disagreements with your advisor or other lab members on scientific direction, authorship, managing collaborations, work-life balance, safety in the lab, job search, graduation, publication timeline, etc the thesis committee can provide a good initial source of advice. Each Biophysics thesis committee meeting has a section (typically at the end) with the non-advisor committee members and the student where such issues can be discussed frankly. Often, followup meetings with a subset of the committee can be scheduled to provide further advice. If you do not feel comfortable talking to your committee about an issue, the Biophysics Program Leadership (Tanja, James, Nicole) are available to provide advice. The Leadership team can also provide advice on how to navigate changing labs, if necessary.

If you do not feel comfortable discussing the issue with anyone in the program or aren’t sure if you want to, it can be useful to contact an outside mediator to help with advice or discussion. Outside mediators could include peers, members of the Biophysics DEI or executive committee, graduate program directors of other programs, or Liz Silva in the Graduate Division Dean’s office.

The UCSF Office of the Ombuds is also available to guide confidential discussions. Ombudspeople can be consulted individually or in groups to provide confidential mediation and advice. Conversations with Ombudspeople will not result in any official action being taken by UCSF.

We know that navigating these issues can be stressful and affect your mental health. Student Health and Counseling (SHCS) provides students with high-quality healthcare and wellness services, including primary care, counseling and psychological services, drop-in appointments for consultation, wellness programs, immunizations, and more.

Please know that all UC employees, which may include graduate students in some rare cases, are “responsible employees” and must report any harassment of students that is disclosed to them to the UCSF Title IX office. The Office of the Ombuds and CARE Advocate are exempt from the reporting requirements and are available for confidential discussions including around reporting options. Other mentors, including faculty, may be able to advise as long as the issue is not fully disclosed. See Sexual Violence Frequently Asked Questions.