Thursday, August 5, 2010
I love my job as a scientist. I love that my job varies from day to day. I love that I get to discover things that nobody else knows on a [somewhat] regular basis. More than anything, I love the relaxed atmosphere found in many laboratories...the joking around, Nerf Ball and water-syringe fights, autoclave bag races
, and other useful methods of stress relief can make an awful day at the bench more bearable. It's a far cry from the administrative assistant job in a stuffy office (yawn) I had as an undergrad, and I'm thankful for it every time our lab gets a bit goofy on a Friday afternoon.
However, there are times when I wonder if scientists have totally abolished the idea of professionalism. Over the last couple of months, I've heard disturbing stories of inappropriate questions on job interviews, overt sexist behavior from PI's toward their students, and afternoon shot contests in the lab. There's no doubt that the looseness of the lab environment is a welcome distraction, and dare I say necessary, in our high-stress careers. But a line that shouldn't be crossed still exists...or at least it should.
Even as scientists, there are some ground rules we should consider. 1) PIs, don't make a move on younger grad students or postdocs when out for some drinks after work. And if you don't know how to hold your alcohol, consider substituting tonic water for the next beer. 2) I'll admit to a late-night beer in an empty lab from time to time, but having a shot contest with your students at 4 in the afternoon in the lab is unacceptable...don't do it. 3) An interview in science is subject to the same legal constraints as one outside of science: you're not allowed to ask a potential employee about anything personal, about other jobs they're applying for, or ask them to hand over information they're being hired for before you've given them an offer.
As obvious as these rules seem, they were missed by at least some of our fellow scientists. And I'm sure there are more examples of crossing-the-line that my readers have heard about or experienced. Let's get the word out to some of our misguided colleagues and share what would qualify as inappropriate workplace behavior.