Friday, September 01, 2006

proper care and feeding of graduate students

A few days ago ProfGrrrrl wrote a post with a title that matches mine in response to Psychgirl, who seems to be getting royally shafted.

At this stage in my grad student-dom I have been a full member of two labs and rotated through 3 others. I left my first lab due to a rather unhealthy working relationship with the PI. He was more about running a science "factory" than actually training up graduate students. I just did a quick lit search for that lab: the student who is in their sixth year has one first author paper and two others as second or third. The other student who is in their fifth year? None. Only one of them has ever been to a conference, and that was mainly because the PI didn't want to go themself. That PI was mercurial and demanding. You never knew if PI was going to promise you great things or come storming in wanting to know what was taking so long. PI only had meetings with people when things were going wrong. For holidays we had a party at PI's house with everyone invited. Occasionally the whole lab went out for lunch together.

There were no random gifts of food. No one-on-one lunches. Certainly no hunkering down after hours to work side-by-side. Heaven forbid you walk out the door before 7pm, even if you got there at 8am which was two hours earlier than everyone else.

My current lab is a much nicer environment. New PI is much more relaxed. He isn't a clock-watcher, but he isn't afraid to say "hey, you need to step up a bit more." We've had several parties at his house for holidays or goings-away of labmates. We always celebrate birthdays with a card and cake. We don't do one-on-one meals, but no one here really does with their students. I'm expecting that we'll be burning some midnight oil together when we resubmit the grant based on my projects, as well as when I'm writing my first paper. (This winter I hope). He meets with each one of us on a weekly basis. This makes it so much easier to track progress and catch problems before they become miasmas of crap.

I'm very happy in my current place. I don't have to TA every semester though, like Psychgirl. The one time that I did TA I fell behind in my lab work. I can't imagine doing it constantly. I really only have the one prof to answer to although I'll (hopefully) have a thesis committee soon. I definitely don't work 100 hours a week. 50ish maybe.

From my experiences in the labs here and from reading blog experiences of other students and of the profs themselves I think I'm getting a pretty good idea of what to do and not do with any future students I may have.

2 Comments:

At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Abel Pharmboy said...

Sadly, we learn how to run our labs by trial-and-error observation of those with whom we worked. We all try to do what worked for us as trainees and avoid the behavior of tyrannical PIs.

Now, I'd never encourage a management-training program for future PIs, but it would certainly be useful to have some formal mentoring on this aspect when you are assigned a lab as a new assistant professor.

Kudos to you, Honeybee, for paying attention to such things well in advance. Your future trainees will thank you!

 
At 11:06 PM, Blogger Angry Lab Rat said...

I left my doctoral program 10 years ago in part because I was starving, but also because of a bad PI. She was a real screw-up. Sadly, there are a lot of them in academia.

One of the great needs that go unaddressed in grad programs is the need for leadership training. It doesn't stop in academia, either. Folks may eventually leave and go to private or public biotech, or the government, and go into supervisory postions, bringing their bad habits, undeserved sense of entitlement, and lack of leadership with them. I've seen it plenty in my evil global biotech company.

(angrylabrat.blogspot.com)

 

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