Must... fight... bad PI... trap.

Nov 16 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Three and a half years. That's how long it's been since I could legitimately claim to be doing bench science. Of course I've done the odd experiment here or there in my own lab, but my trips to the lab for work are rare. And some things you begin to forget a bit.

Just a couple weeks ago I was talking with a person in the lab about how great it would be to have These Data for an upcoming proposal. We talked about how to get These Data and off they went. Weeks have passed and as I started writing yesterday I thought "I wish I had These Data, I wonder want happened with them" and so I found the person work on the data to inquire.

It turns out that to get These Data they had to track down Those Data and write a program to wrangle Them Data and the initial analyses with All Data didn't make sense, so they had to be troubleshot with Some Dudes. Some Dudes found a bug and had to overhaul That System, which meant These Data needed to be collected in a slightly different way. They were and we are now close to having These Data, but they are not ready just yet.

No problem, that is how these things go. But when I first realized that These Data weren't available yet I recall being slightly annoyed about it. I mean afterall, we talked about is a couple weeks ago!

And herein lies the trap of the not-in-the-lab PI. It's easy to forget that everything takes longer than you expect when it comes to lab work, especially if it is collaborative and you sometimes have to rely on other people. There's always something, in addition to random attacks by lab gremlins, and it likely has nothing to do with the dedication or work ethic of the person tasked with collecting These Data.

It's good to remind myself of this from time to time, along with all the various set backs I experienced during my tenure as Bench Scientist.

10 responses so far

  • Can I fly you out to just read this post to my boss?

  • You're Pfizered says:

    My graduate adviser was a young assistant professor when I joined his group. This story takes place about 4 years into his career, probably a good 2-3 removed from doing heavy bench work (organic synthesis).

    We had an undergraduate doing some pretty big scale-up chemistry for a total synthesis. Apparently Boss-man wasn't thrilled with the yields and/or the speed it was taking to get said chemistry accomplished. I came into lab one morning and a large flask was stirring on a painfully too small stir plate, set up by Boss-man. I inquired as to what it was and went into my lab to get things rolling. About an hour later I hear a big 'crash' and went to investigate. The vibrations knocked the flask off-center and it fell over, leaving a huge, smelly mess on the floor that Boss-man began to clean.

    I told him that what had just happened was similar to a major league player who couldn't turn on a fastball like he used to, even if he brain was telling him he could.

    He never touched a flask from that day on...

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Why didn't you spend more time in the lab?

  • Heavy says:

    You know you are out of it when the undergrads can run most things better than you in the lab.

  • gerty-z says:

    "Why didn't you spend more time in the lab?"
    Yeah, slacker. I don't know why you just don't get in the lab and do this your own self.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Damn, I knew I should have let the students write all those proposals while I did the lab work!

  • BadBart says:

    For what it's worth, this is not a problem unique to the lab. I became a manager based largely on my troubleshooting and technical support skills, but the longer I'm away from actually taking calls and working problems, the more unrealistic my expectations become...

  • Lab Rockstar says:

    Isn't being impatient and having unreasonable expectations part of being a good graduate advisor? I'm only partially kidding. I think telling my advisor to calm the fudge down and telling him what reasonable expectations look like is an important part of my grad student experience. Dealing with my advisor being annoyed at me is also important. I had to get past the insecure "I'm a good grad student, pet me on the head!"-stage of graduate school to find the ice-cold "Even if you fire me I'm going to keep showing up" place.

  • Susan says:

    I think as long as you're not sending the Poo letter you'll be okay.

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