Friday, September 17, 2010
So there's a new PI around these parts, and, at first glance, he seems to have a pretty sweet operation running. He's a young, strapping assistant professor with a brilliant project, and he started this position with a nice little chunk of NIH change in his pocket. The other thing going for him? He poached who had to be the best technician these folks have seen in a long time as soon as he started. To all who were watching, it appeared this n00bie prof had it made in the shade. Productivity from the technician has been phenomenal, and the NIH gravy train has allowed him to avoid dipping into the oh-so-precious start-up funds this past year.
But something seems to be going off the track these days. While his technician is working 14-hour days to complete experiments on which he has insisted, he seems to be working, well, not quite as much. IMHO, his less-than ideal work hours are completely understandable, for reasons that I won't go into here. But it seems that the graduate students in his lab aren't getting that much done either...in fact, it appears his technician is being made to pick up their slack, ensuring the data machine continues to hum. The result? A very bitter technician with a lot of talent, potentially (and understandably) thinking of walking out the door.
Now, it's not clear to me how much of this situation is the result of A) a blind slave-driving PI or B) a whiny tech allowing herself to be abused. But the PI doesn't strike me as a blind idiot, and the word "whiny" has never really struck me as fitting for this tech. I think it's more likely that the technician hasn't taken the time to talk to her PI about the situation, while the PI, due to outside-of-work distractions, isn't quite as in tune with his lab dynamics as he should be. After all, two-way communication is a must in any employee-employer relationship. No matter the cause, I really can't blame the tech for being so unhappy. I don't know how long I could sit around working my ass off, while everyone around me seems to be in vacay mode. If things don't change, I fear this PI may suffer the consequences of losing an incredibly valuable resource in his lab, right when he needs it the most.
So my questions for the PIs out there (as well as those who hope to become PIs)*: If you're not around the lab as much, even if for completely understandable reasons, would you still expect those in your lab to be working these kinds of hours (I'm talking 70-80 hour weeks from a tech)? Regarding the double work standard in the lab, how would you correct the situation, or prevent it from happening in the first place, especially if you're aware that you may have to spend some extra time away from the lab?*General comments from the peanut gallery are also very welcome.