Thursday, August 26, 2010
A friend of mine has a bit of a quandary right now. He has an 'untrainable' staff member. It's quite strange and I thought that I'd see what the blogosphere thought. Obviously I've changed some facts here and blatantly haven't asked his permission to do this.
My friend, let's call him Malcolm, is in the second year of the TT at a small State University in the US (small university, not state. Then again, I suppose the state is quite small compared to some, so maybe it works either way...Sorry..this oddly long digression is now getting recursive...(I wonder how many times I'll go off topic while writing this (this comment, not this post))).
Anyway, Dr. Malc was fortunate enough to walk into his gig with a sweet project and some nice prelim data so he secured funding very quickly. For those who are about to stop reading out spite and jealousy, he doesn't work in basic sciences, so don't worry he's not stealing y'alls thunder. Malc needs someone to do the basic science side of his project while he focuses on the clinical aspects of the research so he hired a postdoc. This person was hired as a Research Associate because it's a nicer package - benefits, decent health insurance etc.
Very generous, I can hear you saying. And that's our boy, Dr. Malc. Heart of gold and generous to a fault.
RA seems to have got into his head that because he was hired as an RA, he's not really a postdoc lab rat, but more like a non-tenure track Research Assistant Professor. And this is where and why things are derailing kind of fast.
The RA seems to think he can act independently and has full autonomy to do so. Malc has asked for things to be done and they usually are...eventually when it's convenient to the RA, rather than convenient for Malc, which is to convenient say for the larger project. One might argue that because the RA is the boots-on-the-floor worker it would be more likely that he would know when things need to be done by, and that the PI should be concentrating on the 'larger picture'. Drug Monkey
and many others (whose refs I can't find), have written about this at length elsewhere.
However, in a clinical science setting it is the basic scientist who is out of his element, not the clinician. Also, the lab is run differently to a basic science lab such that the PI is much more involved with the day-to-day running of the project than one might expect, at least until another MD joins.
Malc is starting to notice that there are problems with the quality of the work being done as well. It turns out that RA acts like the grad student and tech are 'his property' (according to the tech). He spends a great deal of time arguing with the grad student about how
things should be done, and expects others to clean up after him when he's "finished". And I don't mean clean up as in re-stock the chemicals, or empty the biohzard bin, I mean as in leaves errors in the work that others need to notice and fix. At least...that's what they assume.
I'm wondering if the guy is just a lazy motherfucker who does half-assed work.
The latest in the Tale of Woe from the MalcLab is that the guy just tried to submit a paper without really telling anyone. Now the first reaction here, and I certainly had it, was
WHAT THE FUCK GET OUT OF MY LAB YOU LYING THIEVING BASTARD!
But he put everyone's names on the paper and they were getting ready to write this work up anyway.
It's like he either thinks he's doing Malc a favour by doing it for him, or he thinks it's his job to do. And the quandary is that I can't figure out which it is. Or rather, I think I know which one it is, but I can't prove it and thus my advice to Malc (fire the twat) goes unheeded. Something that makes me hesitate (and fortunately for this guy, stops Malc from taking my advice) is that when Malc stopped the RA from publishing and looked at the paper it was utter fucking shite. Like really. Like, half written paragraphs, poorly articulated ideas and discussion and references and figures out of sequence (Figure 3 was the first one referenced in the text, yet the second in sequence embedded in the paper)...plus a hundred little things that...if you're trained correctly
you would have automatically have not made.
See where this is going?
If you look at the whole pattern you see a litany of issues that one can't imagine a PhD would make...timing errors, authority errors, manuscript errors, data errors...
I asked Malc what the guy's references were like. Guess what he said?
"I didn't bother. He had a good degree from a good school. He interviewed well and could talk-the-talk in the interview..."
Dude. Fuck. Sigh. To be employed the guy to provide credentials to the HR department, who, with all due respect, wouldn't know a photocopy of a PhD diploma from a photocopy of my (charming, firm and pert) ass. So he could be a fraud. Or he could be a former senior postdoc or even junior PI who got canned and is using this as a second innings. I think this might explain some of the authority issues too.
The blogosphere's thoughts on this intriguing case, and how you might remedy/deal with it are much appreciated...