Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Request: Please close the time abysses

Dear Guru,

You are a smart, successful scientist. This is one of the reasons that I applied for a position in your lab. There are many good scientists in your lab and interesting projects that are at advanced stages. I realize that at this precise moment, my project is not the highest priority, nor am I your pet trainee--I'm OK with that.

It seems to have not crossed your mind that I am effin busy right now.

My project was really just a glimmer of an idea in your mind with practically no experimental evidence when I started. This involved being cast into darkness where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth--and lots of literature searching. It took me a few months to get the (new-to-your-lab) model system up and running and to find a replicable positive control. A lot of tweaking and optimization was required, due to technical issues and omission of tiny details in the methods of the vast majority of papers in this area (which really isn't that many). Plus I was spending time trying to make your pet project work with your favorite cool and pretty technique (CPT)--and determined it's pretty much hopeless (at least under these conditions).

That was then, this is now. I applied old school technique (OST) to your pet project and have gotten reproducible results that not only provide useful information on your pet project but also provide a potential explanation for why CPT didn't work. That glimmer of an idea that I started is turning into a real research project. It has been producing interesting results for a couple of months that indicate this a project worth pursuing and has peculiar features we had not considered. This makes me happy. I am experiencing the joy of science again. But it also means a lot of work.

Plus you gave me an undergrad student this summer. I had forgotten how much time and work they required.

I know that with your vacation, meetings, company, grant and manuscript preparation, etc. that you haven't been doing as many walkthroughs the lab. Otherwise you might have realized that I am effin busy. Due to/on top of the reasons stated above, I am balls-to-the-wall trying to generate preliminary data so that I can put together a competitive fellowship app in a few months. And (in case you haven't really processed it) we soon have to shut down the lab for an entire week (possibly more) for the move down the street. Although I look forward to settling into our new home, I am effectively hamstringed for a few weeks until I can get my little bastards up and going and happy again--which is why I'm trying to bust out as much as I can right now so I won't be sitting around with my thumb up my ass for a month.

I tell you all this not so much to complain (ok, so maybe to complain a little) but to build the case against all the interruptions-largely of your doing-that are robbing me of my time actually doing science. Such as:
  • lab meetings that take half a day
  • 2 hr meetings with collaborators for which you give me ~48 hour notice of said event and that you'd like me to present
  • after the half day lab meeting, requesting a meeting with the minion and me for that afternoon
  • or my current favorite scenario: after the above meeting with minion, we discuss my project (the combination of which took over 1.5 hr) and you tell me you want to put my name in for a position on a training grant. You tell me I'll need to write a paragraph for it, and that it's due some in about a month or so. No problem, I'll take some of my weekend time to write said paragraph. After receiving a draft nine days later, I essentially get this response: 'btw, you need to write 2 pgs., it's due next week, and you really should get your grad advisor to write a recommendation.'
I am resigned to the fact that none of this will actually change. You have been operating this way for years. Still, a girl can always dream.

Your effin busy, slightly frazzled postdoc,


Comrade Physioprof said...

Disorganized people like that continue to be disorganized, because they are protected from the consequences of their disorganization by the people around them. When your mentor makes an unrealistic demand of you, you need to say, "I am sorry, but that is simply not going to be possible."

And, of course, you need to mean it, and not just be bluffing. That is the only way people like that learn.

As far as endless meetings, that is just ridiculous. Any meeting of any kind that lasts more than 1.5 hours is simply not being run correctly.

biochem belle said...

You're right. It's one issue that I need to work on-being ok with not making other people happy and instead doing what I need to.

And you're also correct about the meetings. If it weren't disrespectful to my colleagues, I would just plan experiments as normal and leave halfway through the meeting or come late.