My kids are in school, DrMrA is out knocking everybody’s socks off at a conference, and I’ll be working in my office working on a response to a grant review. Which brings me to something I’m mulling over today- how much, or how little, actual working we expect from our laboratory staff (trainees, techs etc). Seems timely, what with it being Labor day and all.
Here is every PIs basic problem- how do we get absolutely the most (and most reliable) data out of each individual that we pay to work in our labs? I think we should get THE MAXIMUM of correctly done, well controlled work. I say this because for the most part we are spending taxpayer dollars for trainees’ salaries, and taxpayer dollars for our experiments.
Over the years I’ve seen the entire spectrum of PI personnel management techniques- from the ‘accept-that-I-expect-you-to-be-chained-to-the-bench-during-thy-training-here’ approach all the way to the ‘however-long-it-takes-you-to-get-the-data-is fine’ approach (OK, big fat lie- I’ve never seen that second one- but some milder permutation marked by excessive patience). I’m sure you all know at least 1 PI who wants to abolish holiday breaks (
and every other break) and feels that time to tend your personal life is a little luxury you can’t afford in the cutthroat world of academic science. There are those that think that if you are not working doing experiments at the bench, you are not working. For these PIs, more time = more data. This approach is only a strategy for coaching the team you have available, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it work very well.
In my little universe this issue isn’t about time served in data production, it is all about motivation. I may seem like I’m kind of a softie- I don’t count people’s hours, and I don’t really think about it when someone asks me if they can take some time off to take care of this or that (unless it is a repeated pattern). I don’t want to chain trainees to the bench (figuratively). But I’m a tough-ass certain ways- I don’t want personnel in the lab that aren’t internally motivated to be absolutely excellent. I can’t teach a trainee to love science, and I think it would be silly to force someone to work on a problem that I find intellectually thrilling. I want personnel that are driven to know the answers to the questions we are asking. It is frigging hard to be an academic scientist right now- and I want those that step up to that challenge, by working harder, by reading more, by thinking more creatively, by writing and presenting better. I’ll go one step farther and say we shouldn’t be training any people in academic science who don’t have these qualities- and I’ve seen many who don’t. I prefer a strategy that emphasizes starting with the right players.
I’ll do my part too- I will freely give trainees in this category all my hard earned knowledge, both from life and from the academic-school-of-hard-knocks. Us PIs and our trainees have to realize that our fates are intertwined- the ability to keep the $$ rolling in for projects we care about and said trainees’ stipends, tuition and supplies, depends fairly directly on the ability of those trainees to produce data and thus, papers.