A reader asks: Are all PIs assholes?
This is a fundamental question. And should make for a good discussion if people are back from vacation and ready to rant.
Are you rrrrrrrrrready to rrrummmmmmmmbuuuuuuuulllllllllllllll???
And the corollary to it: is science a black pit of despair because most of the people doing it are jerks, or just because it is a system that has outgrown its usefulness and needs to be massively overhauled?
I can tell you what I know, but I, too, look forward to seeing what other people want to contribute to this discussion.
I think my answer has (at least) two parts.
1) From your comment (see previous post), I can tell that you need to work on having a thick skin and standing up for yourself.
It's hard for me to gauge, from a distance, whether your PI is unusually assholish, or if you're unusually sensitive, or neither, or both.
However, I can tell you with great certainty that it doesn't matter, because having a thick skin and being able to take criticism (using it is another matter) will always be a useful skill, whether you stay in science, or in your current lab, or not.
2) Not wanting to make any assumptions, I can tell you my general feeling:
Yes, MOST PIs are assholes.
But this also depends on whether you believe that most people in general are
a) inherently good
b) inherently not good
c) inherently stupid
And whether you believe that stupidity leads inevitably to nastiness. I do believe that stupid people tend to be mean, and mean people tend to be stupid, after the poet Nikki Giovanni who was so astute as to say it that way.
Whether scientists are actually less stupid (not to be confused with the opposite of smart or intelligent) than most people in general... is another issue we can discuss later if people want to talk about it again, but I think I have older posts on this issue if you want to browse the archive.
I guess I think that scientists are just as stupid as everyone else, and since most people are stupid and mean at least some of the time... well you get what we've got.
As you yourself pointed out, your advisor isn't always a jerk. Taking that into account:
Nobody is nice all the time and able to keep their jobs. Sometimes you have to say "No more mister nice guy" or people will walk all over you.
Similarly, nobody is an asshole all the time. This may seem hard to believe, but I've had good experiences with some people who have terrible reputations. I don't love and admire them in every way, and I have certainly seen them treat other people like dirt and wanted to yell at them to get a clue. But I have had valuable discussions and gotten useful feedback, and even encouragement, from some PIs described as 'tough' or 'makes even the coffee nervous' or just 'totally unapproachable.'
I've also had bad experiences with people who had good reputations. What can I say, I bring out the best in everyone(?).
One thing to keep in mind is, nobody treats everybody the same. I always think of labs as little nuclear families. Much as we try to pretend it's not the case, everyone has a favorite, and everyone has one kid who is the 'trouble child.' Which one you are really depends on whether you click with your advisor, or if you get along okay but not amazingly, or if it's just a bad fit. (Or if your advisor is a sexist/racist/antisemitic/misogynistic jerk.)
Personally, I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I can be brutally straightforward sometimes if I need to, and sometimes if I'm in a bad mood and don't mean to.
It's important to remember that PIs are human, and they generally don't mean to treat you like crap. Many of them never consider the effect their words have on you, or that the phrases they choose are not always the best ones. Others realize later that they were being nasty, and feel terrible, but don't have the spine to tell you (can't lose face by doing so). I worked with one woman who would tell stories about how crazy she used to be, and laugh about how she's learned her lesson, but I never thought to ask her if she ever apologized to any of her former victims.
One thing that drives me crazy about PIs is when they Expect You To Know Things. No one has ever told you; it's not written anywhere that you could read about it, and yet they get mad when you can't Read Their Minds or you don't Just Know. I think this is a frequent source of friction between PIs and lab members, and it often goes unrecognized. It's one of the great failings of the old system in the modern world, I think, because apprenticeship doesn't cover everything we apprentices need to Know.
(Communication is a good thing, people!)
I guess my point is, there are different ways for you to take charge and deal with the way they treat you.
1. Stand up for yourself. Argue back. There's no reason to just stand there and take it, especially if they're wrong and you know it. This is America, and most people (scientists especially) will respect you more for defending your ideas than for being a doormat.
2. Resolve to stay in science and be a better, nicer PI than the world has ever seen before (this is one of my personal goals). I figure the system is not going to change from the outside, we have to change it from within. Plus, when they treat you like crap, you can look at it as, "I'm never gonna be like that!" And analyzing it as a learning experience always helps take the sting out. Just add it to your list as One More Thing To Not Do As a PI.
3. Try asking your PI to be more aware that language matters. There are books on this. Lots of them. Good managers and ambitious people usually make a point of reading these books when they realize something is holding them back. In lieu of your PI getting a clue on their own (we don't want to hypocritically expect them to read Your mind, do we?), have an adult conversation about how you value feedback, and that you would prefer that it be constructive, that the tone not be condescending because it's not necessary to get the point across. And that you can't read anyone's mind.
I'm sure Ms.Mentor has things to say about this, too, but I have to confess I can't remember (see other earlier post on my terrible memory).
Anyone else want to add to this?