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biochem belle

Research-and careers therein-rarely follows a linear path. Instead, it is often a long and winding road. These are stories about science and my personal experiences on this road.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

I know. Things have been a bit quiet over here. But that's to be expected during transitionary phases.That's right. Ifinally wrapped things up at the old, unhappy postdoc place and have started the new, shiny postdoc. I will have more to say about that at my other home.* Of course, this move--in physical, professional, and emotional contexts--has necessitated changes to my routine, which I'm still tweaking. For instance, my commute is longer and now occurs via public transit. I'm on a train!** Yah!


Anyhoo, enough about me--kind of. Down to business. And my business is science, specifically research.

Everyone has a different approach, and approaches vary between career stages (e.g. undergrad, grad student, postdoc...). Obviously the foundation ofany research is the design and execution of experiments using any number of methods. It's the methods*** portion that I want to focus on today.

Scientists have a plethora of techniques at their disposal. The ones you use, of course, depend on your field, the question you want to answer, the materials and equipment available, the cost and how much money you have... But someone, somewhere, has to have a fundamental understanding of the method.

Most of you after reading that last line are probably thinking, "Well, no shit, Sherlock." But if you really stop and think about it, you probably know some people, maybe even worked with or for some people who have missed this step along the way. Some people learn how todo a technique without truly understanding what it is they're doing.

Perhaps you're thinking, What's wrong with a standardized protocol? Or a kit? Or a service? Nothing. That is, until there's a problem, and no one can figure out what the problem is or how to work around it. That's why someone who is directly involved with the project needs to understandhow stuff works from a technical and conceptual standpoint. They don't need to necessarily become an expert in that method (unless that isthe point of their training), but they do need a basic idea of what's involved.

Who's responsibility is that? Undergrads are still learning core principles, and though they need to learn to think critically and analytically about their work, it might not be reasonable to expect them to grasp the key aspects of every methods. For techs, it depends on their level and independence. If you're a grad student or postdoc, I expect you to have a damn good idea about what forms the basis of your research. Why you use certain conditions or concentrations? What's your readout based on, e.g. is it a direct or indirect measure of what you're interested in, and what end are you looking at? What things could introduce variability? Why are there differences in the numbers you get from different methods? How does the graphing program define an EC50/IC50/half-life, and is it defining it in such a way all your data sets have the same reference point? What's the difference in the structural information you get from a mass spec versus an NMR? What's the basis for separation of proteins or compounds using precipitation or column chromatography? What are the limits for loading and detection? These are things you should know because they influence everything you do and place limits on the conclusions you can draw from the data.

But where do/should PIs fall in this hierarchy? They're likely not in the lab running experiments. It might have been years, decades even, since they touched a pipette. Yet they're the ones staking their reputations and funding on the data and conclusions drawn using what could be a multitude of techniques. They certainly need to understand the limitations of the technologies, but do they need to know how the instrument is run? The components and time involved for an experiment? My feeling is yes, they do, to an extent. The lab I just joined has been bringing in new techniques and associated equipment over the past several months. My new boss's view is that he needs to know enough about the method to (1) understand what's going on, (2) to know what he's asking of a trainee or tech--in terms of time, effort, and materials--when he suggests an experiment, and (3) to be able to talk through problems with a trainee or tech when things aren't working. For him that means even though he's not typically working at the bench, anytime a new technique is brought into the lab, he watches someone run an experimentand might even get his hands a little dirty to get a feel for the technique and instrumentation. I don't know how it works in practice, at this point, but I like this concept. It gives the PI an idea of how much time is really required to set up, run, and analyze an experiment and just how trivial or not a certain step or method is. The PI also gains an appreciation for the limitations of the instruments and the data generated. It might potentially provide a little more continuity during the inevitable personnel turnover. It's not just a thingamabob in that room over there; it's something real.

What do you think?How do you/your PIs operate?How much should a PI know about the methods behind their madness?

* You might have noticed that the name and banner of the blog here have changed. Some of you might have also noticed that I'm posting at my WordPress site occasionally. No worries, I'm sticking around here, but I've decided to divvy things up--some here, some there. Though I'm still working out the divisions in my brain, things at WordPress are likely going to be more personal, more off the cuff, and more non-science/non-career related. There will probably be some cross-posting too--just comment on whichever blog you landed on first.

** By that, I mean most of this post was written on a train. I may or may not be on a train when you read it.

*** Notthis method. I'll get to it later.

They Might Be Giants - Put It to the Test from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

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Blog Comments

Odyssey
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That's why someone who is directly involved with the project needs to understandhow stuff works from a technical and conceptual standpoint.

Yes, yes, yes.


Odyssey
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Oh and congrats on the new lab home!


JanedeLartigue
UC Davis
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Great post! I completely agree with you that someone somewhere has to have a fundamental understanding of the methods being used. i actually think that people at postdoc level or above, working on a particular project, should ALL have a high level of understanding so that troubleshooting can occur on all sides, but also because it helps to generate understanding and enthusiasm for the project as a whole, and it's important for experimental planning as well as troubleshooting after the fact.

I would definitely say it's a progressive thing (at least for me), as an undergrad I probably had a fairly basic understanding and that has been built upon bit by bit over the course of grad school and into my postdoc. I often found myself having a sudden revelation that 'oh, that's why we do that like that'! It's like growing up, if only I had known then what I know now! I think that's why, typically, the last year (or two, if you don't do a British 3-year PhD) is so much more productive as you finally start to really get to grips with things.

I do have to acknowledge the fact that I had a fantastic mentor in my PhD, someone who taught me most of the techniques I know and really broke down each method so that I understood why I was doing what I was doing, and questioned me throughout the process, without being overly patronizing about it. On the other hand I worked in one lab where they made you do a technique with someone else three times before you were allowed to do it by yourself, even stupidly easy stuff, and that really felt like there was no trust in your abilities! My other PI during my PhD was the polar opposite, completely disconnected from the lab, but was notorious for still liking to come in every once in a while to 'teach' someone how to do something and show off his 'skills', which were rusty to say the least, and in the process made a brief protocol five times longer whilst he searched the lab for different bits of equipment! He also had no idea how long things took and pushed his 'underlings' ridiculously hard because of it, expecting things that really couldn't be achieved in the time he set, but between the two of them they established a pretty good balance.

In terms of a PI's responsibility, it sounds to me like your new PI is a pretty switched on guy, even though he doesn't do much lab work himself. I think that is definitely the right attitude to have, it helps to keep your staff motivated at the very least.


Jason Goldman
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Hooray for happier times!

Comrade PhysioProf

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You don't need to know how something works to be able to effectively mentor troubleshooting efforts.


Namnezia
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I'd like to think I can do all the experiments going on in my lab. I'm not familiar with all the protocol variations, and know some techniques more than others, but its important to be in lab. We also tend to do a lot of group troubleshooting during lab meetings, so that helps.

I spent all last week doing experiments for a paper and I was glad to see that a) I can still do experiments, and b) that I am still able to generate useful data. It was also fun, since everyone in the lab seemed more motivated and I noticed they were staying later and showing up earlier than when I'm sitting in my office. They also saw me curse at my preparation and hopefully realized that the frustrations they can encounter are just part of the process and not an indication that they are doing something wrong.

So yes, PIs should have their nose in the lab, and make time to work at the bench. I decided that I'm going to try and set apart 1 1/2 days per week to do experiments. I don't know how the lab folks will feel about this...

Comrade PhysioProf

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So yes, PIs should have their nose in the lab, and make time to work at the bench. I decided that I'm going to try and set apart 1 1/2 days per week to do experiments.

The fact that you want to spend time at the bench doesn't mean that PIs "should" do this. It is a personal choice, and is completely orthogonal to the success of a laboratory and the importance and quality of the science that gets done.


biochem belle
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Comrade PhysioProf said:

You don't need to know how something works to be able to effectively mentor troubleshooting efforts.

I would say that's somewhat dependent on the technique.

But I agree that a PI doesn't have to spend time at the bench to be successful, and that too much time doing wet work could distract from his/her other responsibilities that cannot be accomplished by trainees.


Namnezia
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Comrade PhysioProf said:

The fact that you want to spend time at the bench doesn't mean that PIs "should" do this. It is a personal choice, and is completely orthogonal to the success of a laboratory and the importance and quality of the science that gets done.

I guess its not necessary for being successful - but with a bunch of new trainees we just acquired, I think their training is more likely to be jumpstarted if I'm hanging around the lab. They are more likely to ask for help, than if I'm sitting with my office (even if they know my door is always open). So if you have a highly skilled crew with a slow turnover then having the PI around won't make a difference, but if your lab is transitioning to new people then I think it helps.


Namnezia
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I must be going crazy - I swear I just saw biochembelle's little avatar wave at me...


Prabodh Kandala
Texas Tech University Health Science Center
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Good Luck with your work at new lab.

Regarding the main theme of this post, PI must know about new technique, no matter how much experience he has in his arsenal. My PI refreshes his knowledge frequently. He requests for articles on new topics that we read. Such PI's, I guess set very good examples for who want to make career in science.


biochem belle
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Namnezia said:

I must be going crazy - I swear I just saw biochembelle's little avatar wave at me...

Time to lay off the "herbal" remedies, I think, Namnezia Tongue out


Evie
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 8:53 am CDT

Congrats on the new job. I think its great the PI is all about being involved. I find that it is extremely important for as many people as possible to understand the real basics of things. Makes it so much easier to communicate and troubleshoot and brainstorm.


Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 10:12 am CDT

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, as I'm putting together research proposals to be a PI myself.  There are techniques I'd really love my lab to use in the future, but that I personally don't currently know how to do, so I'm wondering, can I just hire someone who does, or send my grad student to another lab to learn a new technique?

Comrade PhysioProf

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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 12:08 pm CDT

There are techniques I'd really love my lab to use in the future, but that I personally don't currently know how to do, so I'm wondering, can I just hire someone who does, or send my grad student to another lab to learn a new technique?

Absofuckinglutely! I've never done with my own hands most of the shit we do in my lab. One of my grad students is even doing his dissertation research using a model organism we've never worked with before. Being an effective PI has nothing to do with being able to personally perform any particular techniques.


Evie
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 1:45 pm CDT

@ComradePhysioProf, I gotta say Im sad to hear that someone is doing a dissertation using a model they've never worked with. Or, just never in your lab? I would hope more hands on experience were common place. I'm not criticizing, just expressing my feelings that the more closely i.e. hands on experience one has and the more they understand the basics from experience, in my eyes, the more fundamental grasp they have of what is going on.

Comrade PhysioProf

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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 1:50 pm CDT

@ComradePhysioProf, I gotta say Im sad to hear that someone is doing a dissertation using a model they've never worked with.

What the fucke are you talking about? Every dissertation requires techniques and model systems the PhD student has never worked with before. That's what being a PhD student is for: to learn shitte you didn't know before.


Evie
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 1:59 pm CDT

@ComradePhysioProf, thanks for the lovely language. I'm actually an engineer, and apparently your methods are different than the Engineering world. In my work experience, which combines both science and engineering, I have found that unless you DO have hands on experience, and know the ins and outs of whatever it is you're working with, you will only have limited knowledge and understanding on the matter at hand. I find it odd that you don't think hands on experience would be a good thing.

Comrade PhysioProf

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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 2:33 pm CDT

The fucken PhD student is gonna get hands-on experience with what she is working on by doing her fucken dissertation research. The only way to get hands-on experience with something is to put your fucken hands on it without already having hands-on experience!

It is also important to recognize that hands-on technical workers always vastly overestimate the need for such hands-on experience in guiding and managing their work, and for setting broader strategic goals and agendas.


Evie
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 2:41 pm CDT

Well thank you @Comrade, I just learned a great deal. You are quite the inspiration. FYI, the 'hands on technical workers' that typically go on to be the 'guiding managerial types' do far better work, i.e. their projects are far more successful, cost less, achieve more in less time, than the 'non hands on technical types'. Just an FYI to you, in case you were wondering how things are done in the Engineering world.

Comrade PhysioProf

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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 3:57 pm CDT

I am not wondering how things are done in the engineering world, nor do I give a shitte. We're talking about science here.


Evie
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 4:22 pm CDT

Gosh @Comrade! I sure hope I get to work with you one day! It would be lovely. :)


biochem belle
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 4:58 pm CDT

I think there are significant differences between fields and even within fields depending on the techniques used. There's a vast array of physical/biophysical methods that are difficult to grasp unless you've been immersed in them at some point. Let's say you're a protein crystallographer--you're not going to send someone off to another lab to learn how to do protein NMR and then be able to claim this as an expertise in your lab. The same goes for things like EPR and a number of microscopy methods. There is simply no way to know whether someone's doing the experiment and analysis properly, whether they're getting reasonable data without some previous experience with the method. You could hire an expert, but if you have no experience in the method (or one similar to it), you have no way of know if they're brilliiant or blowing smoke. More likely, you'll pull in a collaborator or a core facility, although there are a few cautionary tales in that realm too. This is not applicable to all models and methods, but it is to some.

Sure, technical skills alone are not going to make a person a PI or manager, but some feel that having those technical skills or even minimal experience with a method can enhance their mentorship and grantsmanship. It's not the approach for everyone, but as long as they're good at the rest of their jobs (e.g. managing, publishing, getting funds), what does it matter how much time they are in the lab?


Suzy
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 5:04 pm CDT

Part of the PhD process is being able to understand methods and technology without having done it- to be able to pick up any protocol and understand how and why it is working.  For example, I personally have never done next generation sequencing, but I can understand how it works and why it works and when it could be a useful tool.

But, running a lab myself, there is definitely a whole new level of understanding when you have done most of the methods your lab does. Theoretical understanding can get you every far but actually doing something allows you to understand and relate to the bench scientists on a higher level.

CPP- it really depends on where a person is in their career, how much hands-on experience they need, like Namnezia said. It will depend on the level of the staff you've hired and how experienced they are. There is no right or wrong answer. Each person has a style for managing and training people.

Personally, having done the work myself is a benefit to my lab. We solve problems faster and when they are describing some effect or issue, I can follow along immediately- no digging up a protocol, no asking "what's in that buffer?" or "how long does that incubate?" because I already know. And while this might sound insignificant, it is not.

Engineering is science, and Evie was sharing her perspective on research from another viewpoint. With her science, you must understand the parts before understanding the whole. And with life science, we can start with the whole and dissect it down to focus on the individual genes, or systems, or pathways. It's just another approach to doing science.

Comrade PhysioProf

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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 5:17 pm CDT

Let's say you're a protein crystallographer--you're not going to send someone off to another lab to learn how to do protein NMR and then be able to claim this as an expertise in your lab.

This is 100% totally wrong. You damn well can send a post-doc from your lab to a protein NMR lab to learn how to do protein NMR, and then come back to your lab and start doing protein NMR in your lab. And you as the PI need to learn from the post-doc what she is doing, how she does it, and how she interprets data. And you get feedback and gut checks from your colleagues who routinely do protein NMR. And you and your post-doc publish paper(s) with protein NMR data in them generated by your post-doc. And then, other trainees in your lab can learn from the post-doc and from you. Ultimately, without ever having done a single fucken protein NMR experiment in your life, you the PI have become an expert at protein NMR and have incorporated that expertise into the armamentarium of your lab.

I know that as a trainee who is chained to the bench and immersed in the technicalities of what you do, this sounds impossible. But this is because trainees lack the broad vision and perspective necessary to think boldly like this. How fucken boring do you think a lifetime career in science as a PI would be if you never incorporated new conceptual and technical approaches in your lab via the creative efforts of your trainees?

When I was a post-doc I did exactly this: with the collaborative help of another lab that already possessed appropriate expertise, I developed a project in a substantive scientific area using a model organism, neither of which had my post-doc mentor ever had any experience with. Now both this substantive scientific area and model organism are the heart of my post-doc mentor's research program.

I also do this all the time in my own lab as PI, such as with my grad student who is learning a new model organism with help from a colleague's lab. When new people join my lab, I will encourage some of them to also work on this other model organism, and it will become incorporated into my lab's expertise. Another way to bring new expertise into your lab is to recruit post-docs with particular new expertise, and then leverage off of their talents to create a self-sustaining expertise in the culture of the lab. You can also send trainees to take intensive summer courses at places like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory or MBL, and then they come back to your lab and develop the expertise there.

This all seems implausible and scary to trainees, but that is because of the very limited scope of your vision.


biochem belle
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 5:58 pm CDT

How fucken boring do you think a lifetime career in science as a PI would be if you never incorporated new conceptual and technical approaches in your lab via the creative efforts of your trainees?

Frankly, I think it would be immensely fucken boring. I know very well that it's possible to bring in new concepts and methods because I've seen PIs do it and do it quite successfully. I spend a considerable amount of time sitting in seminars and perusing the literature in areas that have little to nothing to do with what I work on, and I think about ways that approaches and concepts could be applicable to what I'm doing now or might be interested in doing in the future.

I never said that PIs are incapable or should not expand their research programs into new areas. I accept that PIs don't need to have run every type of experiment, used every model or technique that's being used in their lab. "Hands-on" experience is often as much about understanding the data analysis as it is running the actual experiment. You might learn that from your trainee and colleagues, but you're learning it nonetheless. But there are areas where PIs can (and have) run into trouble because they don't have experience with the method, or more often, the analysis, and they're relying on the trainee knowing what s/he is doing. In some cases, it's much more reasonable to use the expertise already established at your institution or collaborators' labs. If you do decide to bring it in-house, you're not going to build that expertise in a vacuum.


biochem belle
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 6:07 pm CDT

On a different note:

Odyssey, Jason, Prabohd, Evie, and others I may have missed - Thanks for the congrats, hoorays, and good lucks. Things seem to be getting off to a good start.

Venkat

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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 6:22 pm CDT

I have seen PIs do exactly as CPP says. Have the trainee use techniques the PI has never used. But whether this is great for the trainee or not depends on the next question: does the PI effectively help the trainee when he/she is stuck? It's great if the PI makes an effort to learn the important aspects from the trainee and mentally work with him/her. If the PI is like "you are supposed to learn/know this. End of story", then it's a quagmire.

leigh

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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 6:46 pm CDT

one of the requirements of my phd mentor was for each student to go to another lab, learn a technique applicable to their project, and bring it back to teach it to others. while she herself had a lot of hands-on experience in several techniques, there were also many things i did that she had never tried. she still provided excellent guidance, just no hand-holding. if you need to have your hand held, you don't need to be in graduate school.


biochem belle
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 7:13 pm CDT

I think it is important for grad students and postdocs to learn new techniques, and they shouldn't need hand-holding, as leigh puts it. There were several techniques that I used in grad school and in my first postdoc that the PIs had never used. Even with my new lab, I am still learning methods from another postdoc and will be setting up approaches the lab has never used before. The PI not an expert in all the methods. He wants to understand what goes into the experiment and analysis, and the way he does that is to see how it's done. In many--even most--cases, PIs don't need to run the experiment to understand it. I do think there are some fairly specialized approaches where PIs have to tread very carefully so they don't end up publishing data blindly. And as suggested already, I suspect there are some differences between fields, as to how involved a PI is.


Dr. O
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Sat, Oct 02, 2010, 10:33 pm CDT

Congrats on the new job, Belle!


MitoScientist
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Sun, Oct 03, 2010, 8:56 am CDT

While it's definitely great that a lot of people are chiming in on this topic, I do find it funny that a lot of non-PIs are arguing with someone who IS a PI, over how to be a PI. Good times.


Dr. Zeek
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Sun, Oct 03, 2010, 10:29 am CDT

I was mulling this over in my brain this morning.  I think one of the major questions boils down to is can you be an expert on a technique without actually physcially doing the technique?  I think, as a PI, you have to be able to do this.  Otherwise, nothing is ever going to move forward and your research is going to get real borning real freaking fast.

So, using the NMR example.  I proposed some crazy-ass protein NMR experiments in my fellowship.  I have run many a 31P, 1H and 13C NMR.  I know how NMR works.  I have spent hours running VT-NMRs, troubleshooting the machine, training new users, yadda-yadda.  I know how and what the NMR can do.  Even so, I have never ever actually run a protein NMR in my life.  Never.  All small molcule shit before this.  And yet, because of my experience, reading, previous training I was able to make the leap (and my friends, it is a rather large leap) to designing the NMR experiemtnts/proteins WTF-ever.  Because that is what we scientists are supposed to do.  See some really cool new technique and be able to say "Hey, that would be freaking awesome way to detect this in my system..."

But, for the trainees and various peons in your lab, how much do you need to know?  I think you can garner enough of the basics for troubleshooting problems from papers, talking to collegues, etc.  without having actually gotten your ahnds dirty.  If that doesn't work, and things are still wonky, then you follow your student to the bench, watch them do things and then call in the big guns (i.e. the other grad students in the other labs doing the same things).  There are just some kinks in certain systems you don't know about until you actually do the experiments, true.  But as a PI, you use all of your resources to find these out when they arise.  You (or really, the grad student at this point) should be hunting people down, seeing if this is a normal problem.

So, in short--I agree with CPP (and I am not a PI--yet).  I think your responsibility as a PI is to know the basics of the technique to be able to help the grad student through things, but the actual mitty-gritty is up to the grad student to figure out.  Isn't that what getting a PhD is all about anyway?  Not jsut learning techniques, but learning how to think your way out of a paperbag?


biochem belle
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Sun, Oct 03, 2010, 10:39 am CDT

MitoScientist said:

While it's definitely great that a lot of people are chiming in on this topic, I do find it funny that a lot of non-PIs are arguing with someone who IS a PI, over how to be a PI. Good times.

I get what you're saying, Mito, but there a couple of counterpoints. One is it that many trainees do pay attention to what PIs do (either their own or others they encounter); sure, it's far from the same thing as being in that position, but it doesn't mean the point is invalid. Second is the assertion that things are the same in every other discipline or subfield as they are in your own; although there is much that can be generalized, each field (and even lab) has it's own personality and way of doing things. Finally, even when generalizations are accurate 99.9% of the time, there are nearly always exceptions.

Comrade PhysioProf

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Sun, Oct 03, 2010, 10:45 am CDT

Trainees always grossly overestimate the breadth and depth of their understanding of what PIs do.


Dr. O
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Sun, Oct 03, 2010, 11:43 am CDT

Comrade PhysioProf said:

Trainees always grossly overestimate the breadth and depth of their understanding of what PIs do.

Agreed that we don't know all that your jobs entail, but at least a few of us someday will (I hope). For the time being, we're trying to wind our way through our time as trainees, and learn all we can from you guys.

From the comments above, it sounds to me like how PIs deal with this particular situation varies quite a bit (there are quite a few PIs commenting above), and I have a feeling a lot of that variation comes from where they are in their careers.  It's not surprising to me, then, that different trainees might have different views as to how involved a PI should be in the techniques performed in their lab.

I don't think it makes one way more correct, though. I, for one, love seeing that different PIs can do things quite differently in their labs and find success. I'd hate to think there was only one prescribed way to be successful in this career. That would be fucken boring. ;-)


becca
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Sun, Oct 03, 2010, 12:39 pm CDT

One thing that amuses me about this is my committee members CLEARLY have different, mostly unstated, assumptions about what a PhD scientist should be able to do. Specifically as it relates to designing experiments vs. being able to carry them out with your own hands. I can see very clearly how this relates to their own styles as PIs.

 

In my view, anyone who will not read an article their trainee gives them summarizing the current state of a method or set of techniques has no business being a PI. Wink

On the other hand, it's inane to think that all PIs need to be able to do any particular thing themselves. If you can answer most questions about the work and know what kinds of questions you don't actually have the answer to, you can get by as a PI. If you also have a *realistic* appreciation for what a technique entails (in terms of time, money, energy, paperwork and safety hazards),  and connections/resources to help your trainees through rough patches (in fact, the illusion that as a PI you ought to be able to mentor your trainees in EVERYTHING can keep you both from getting help in an efficient manner), you can probably be an effective manager.

But there's clearly a pretty significant variety of successful ways to get the job done.

 

 

As an aside, has anyone noticed a gender disparity in terms of PIs who make time to stay at the bench? I suspect it relates also to lab size.


biochem belle
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Sun, Oct 03, 2010, 12:40 pm CDT

Trainees always grossly overestimate the breadth and depth of their understanding of what PIs do.

No doubt. We cannot truly understand the duties, responsibilities and methods of any position until we find ourselves in it. There's plenty of anecdata on this from the new TT prof bloggers.

 

I don't think it makes one way more correct, though. I, for one, love seeing that different PIs can do things quite differently in their labs and find success. I'd hate to think there was only one prescribed way to be successful in this career. That would be fucken boring. ;-)

Yes, this is the point I was trying to make from the beginning, but I feel got lost. Thanks, Dr. O, for stating it so clearly :)


biochem belle
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Sun, Oct 03, 2010, 1:07 pm CDT

As an aside, has anyone noticed a gender disparity in terms of PIs who make time to stay at the bench? I suspect it relates also to lab size.

An interesting question, Becca. I cannot comment on the gender disparity because there have been so few female faculty (usu. only 1 or 2) in the departments I've worked in Frown Among male faculty, though, I suspect there are several contributing factors--lab size, career stage (early vs. late), additional responsibilities (commitees, teaching, etc.), and the type of institution (which to an extent determines responsibilities).


Prodigal Academic
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Mon, Oct 04, 2010, 7:20 pm CDT

I just bought a fancy new instrument that does measurements that I have done since I started my PhD 16 years ago, only with newer, better technology. I have no idea how to use it, and had the 3 days of intensive training that came with it to go to my students. I have no illusions that I will have time to play with it any time soon. My students already know a few techniques I don't know how to do. Since I moved to ProdigalU, I moved further along a new path I started on at National Lab, which means new techniques. I understand how they work, just not the details on how to do the procedures.

All of my mentors (PhD and postdoc) were in a similar boat (no direct experience with the techniques I was using), and yet they were still effective mentors who helped me troubleshoot my problems, or directed me to someone else who could.

FWIW, I noticed no difference along gender lines in terms of PIs still active in the lab. In my direct experience in academia, 90% or more of professors of either gender do not do benchwork at all.


Tideliar
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Tue, Oct 05, 2010, 3:55 pm CDT

nothing to add, I just wanna say fucke. CPP's olde englysh is making me homeick for the fucken dayes of yore


biochem belle
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Sat, Oct 16, 2010, 10:14 am CDT

A little slow to respond to the last bit. Sorry about that.

I do think it's worth noting that in the comments, from my perspective, at least, the debate turned to exceptions and differences in individual styles. I never meant to imply that any PI needs to be an expert and/or have hands-on experience in every technique that's used in his or her lab. To keep up and to keep things interesting, most people do add new approaches or topics along the way. That is the way it should be.

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