Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why Ronald doesn't want a lab... and why I'm confused

The weather has been entirely too beautiful to be cooped up in a lab all day. That’s not to say I’ve been scientifically unproductive. I’ve spent quite some time in a quiet, tree-laden area of little park writing specific aims for a fellowship proposal and thinking about what experiments to do in the next few months to gather necessary preliminary data. I rather enjoyed it. There must be something wrong with me.

This causes me to reflect upon a conversation with a couple of postdocs earlier this week. The question arose as to whether one of them, who I will call Ronald, wanted his own lab. I had assumed that Ronald did indeed want to run his own lab. This is not due to a perception that every postdoc at BRI intends to start his or her own lab. Nor do I feel that not starting your own lab means you’re a failure (as some scientists I’ve known do feel). Rather from my previous conversations with Ronald, I had the impression that he intended to return to his homeland and set up his own lab there.

I was wrong. In this conversation, he indicated the opposite. It seems that he’s not opposed to the idea in principle, but he gave two reasons why he would not be a PI.

His first reason was—his words, not mine—he doesn’t write well enough. This one I get right off the bat. I think one of the fundamental rules of science is: Interesting results (and by association the hard work it took to get them) are meaningless unless you can communicate them. Perhaps, in principle, results should speak for themselves. But you’re dealing with people, and people need to hear more. The success of a lab is hinges upon the ability of the PI to explain, in writing, the work his or lab is doing and why people should be excited about it. Perhaps it is possible to learn this skill, but I get the feeling that some people don’t see the need or simply don’t want to.

His second reason was he wants a life outside of the lab, and as a PI, he couldn’t have that. This I didn’t understand at first, and even as I’ve thought about it, I still don’t get it. My first thought was: That’s not true. My second: Maybe I have a skewed idea of what life outside the lab should be. My next: What the does that even mean? Which is where I’m at now.


Comrade PhysioProf said...

His second reason was he wants a life outside of the lab, and as a PI, he couldn’t have that.

This is ridiculous. If you know what you are doing, you should be able to be an effective PI spending fewer hours per week than are required to be an effective grad student or post-doc.

Tucker said...

At any rate, I liked some of the vadlo scientist cartoons!