Friday, July 11, 2008

And a new journey begins

Although I have started to look into other labs and have voiced / written about my frustration, I hadn't made any concrete moves. Which means that if stuff started to improve slightly it would've been easy for me to stay. But doing the easy thing may have been what got me here in the first place. I looked around and researched other groups before joining this lab, but I only interviewed here and made the decision to stay because the reviews were very good, the lab members seemed nice and PI was really really nice. What I should have done was interviewed at the other places that I researched, done a comparison and then made a decision. But it was easier (less time consuming)to go somewhere that appeared to be a very good work environment. Which it was until the whole funding crunch in science happened and one lab in the building collapsed so that all the really good people left. Now there are just big gaping holes. The good people are gone and the lack leadership is front and center. Don't get me wrong, there are things that are very very good about my lab. There is (or used to be) an attitude of learning by doing, mistakes are OK its how you learn. There is the requirement to give a seminar on a regular basis to the whole institute. This not only keeps you on track, but it teaches you to present, take criticism and forces one to be upto speed on their literature, but also exposes you to different research. Its an open concept building which is supposed to foster communication between labs. The labmates (and building members) are kind and caring individuals. The PI is kind, caring and compassionate, but his inability to lead and yes his selfishness has forced lab members to become introverted and disconnected (this is rampant in all the labs in our building). They, along with the whole building, are disillusioned.
PI ultimately does want his students to be happy. Unfortunately his desire to be seen as the nice cool guy, conflicts with his responsibility to be a manager and leader. Managers and leaders have to make decisions that are hard to make, that upset people, that sometimes leaves people shafted. The good managers and leaders are adept at making the decisions quickly, communicate the decisions and follow through. They are able to see the longer-term implications and are able to make the moves that may cause short-term pain, but pay off in the long term. They are able to temper difficult decisions with kindness and respect. They communicate in an open and transparent manner. If PI could put his responsibility to be a good manager / leader ahead of his desire to be liked, he would be an excellent grad advisor. He would then make the decisions that need to be made but because he is genuinely a nice guy, he would naturally temper the difficulties with his kindness.
Unfortunately that is not going to happen, especially because he is not acknowledging his faults. No one can be perfect, however if we can acknowledge our weaknesses we can strength ourselves and grow. If he could take responsibility and make a genuine effort to improve, I could stay. But he won't because this has been an ongoing issue for 2 years.

Our whole building / institute is in shambles. We have really really smart grad students and some good post-docs. The whole situation that his going on in my lab is a product of the greater environment. The pressure to publish, the lack of mentors, the lack of training, lack of trust.


Isis the Scientist said...

Scientist Mother, I will confess that I don't know alot about your situation and so my comments may not be entirely appropriate. However, I have always operated with the belief that one should work with good people who have asimilar professional philosophy. Only being 2 years into your grad career, you are not terribly invested. I know that it feels that you are, but there is still the potential to find a mentor (because that is what they should be...a mentor...not just a PI) that can help you become not just a good PI, but a good scientist and professional. The funding situation has put alot pf pressure on alot of people, and made some people a little wacky, but I think everyone is different and, although we may work with very nice people, we may not fit professionally.

Amanda said...

I'm learning now how important your PI is to your progress as a student and after reading your previous posts I understand why you'd leave! I did undergraduate research in a lab like yours and it was not a good environment. However, I do think that it's hard to figure out what a lab will be like before you sign on. So, I wouldn't blame yourself too much for "taking the easy way" (esp. as it doesn't seem like the easy way to me!).