"My trainees don't work hard enough."
Is there a PI out there who hasn't at least thought this at one time or another? Probably not, and I'm sure there are numerous cases when it was true. But, what is working hard enough? How many hours does it take per week? How many days per year? Can you take vacation from working hard enough?
Herein lies a problem of expectations, reality, perception and selective memory, garnished with a touch elitism and a hint of elderberry, blended and served over ice in a tall glass*.
An interesting discussion touched off from Dr. Becca's TT job search advice aggregation post when a commenter left a note complaining about having a TT position that wasn't all it was "supposed" to be. Drug Monkey picked this up in the follow-up comments and then in a post. The discussion there has wandered a little bit and really fallen into two camps, 1) being a new faculty member is overwhelming, and 2) the expectation PIs have of their peeps. If you read this blog at all, you know I've written more than I probably should about point #1, so I'm more interested today in delving into point #2.
I'm on the record for cutting Dr. Becca's commenter, alreadyTTandhateit, a little slack. This job will fuck with you at times and make you question why you're killing yourself for a paycheck that some of your friends were making a couple of years out of college. You spend a lot of time trying to balance your own interests with everyone else's so that you can survive and turn out trainees who will too. But when things aren't moving fast enough and you're in a tight spot, there is a tendency to whip the horses pulling the cart, and this is where I'll take issue with the comment of alreadyTTandhateit, who states "I think its a combination of worrying about grants, science not going as fast as I want it to, dealing with annoying staff at my institution, not much help from other faculty versus what I had been told there would be, grad students not working as hard as I think they should (don’t people work weekend anymore?)".
Maybe they do, maybe they don't but it's not the PI's call to make. I have no idea what kind of supervisor alreadyTTandhateit is and I'm not going to make assumptions based on a couple of comments. However, the "thou shalt work more hours than me!" phenotype is not uncommon in academia and I am always amazed that there exist PIs who demand their trainees work certain hours or a certain number of hours. I mean, for the love of St. Kern, don't we have enough evidence that imposing shitty work conditions on people is NOT going to make them more productive? The students recognize this, why don't the PIs?
So in honor of stressed out PIs everywhere, I present the PLS rules for what you can and can't expect from trainees.
What you can't expect
1) Trainees to work the hours you want them to work. Hours =/= productivity on a linear scale and just because it took you X hours to do something, it is stupid to think it takes everyone X hours to do the same thing or that they are happy to work X hours in a row to accomplish said task.
2) Trainees to crank it up when your ass is on the line. Sure, it would be nice if everyone in the lab pitched in when things got critical, but if you're a grade A douchecanoe, they are probably half curious to see what the crash and burn would look like.
3) Trainees to care about your promotion and tenure.
4) Trainees to spend countless hours helping to recruit new trainees. It's important for perspective students to get a chance to talk with everyone in the lab, but beyond a couple hours a year, your lab peeps are not there to choose the next generation.
5) Trainees to plan major life decisions around their work. If you want to do so, that's your choice, but life happens and people need the appropriate time to deal with it when things come up.
6) Trainees to be perfect writers from day one.
What can you expect?
1) Your people to work on their projects and produce results in a timely manner. Sometimes people are actually not working very hard and need to step it up.
2) Lab folk to respect each other and you, provided you show them the same.
3) Trainees to let you know when there are issues in the lab, with either equipment, interactions or protocols.
4) Everyone in the lab to take care of live organisms to the best of their ability, be they mice, yeast, bacteria or ciliates.
5) People in the lab to meet reasonable deadlines for research and writing.
This is not an exhaustive list, but can serve to start the discussion. No one is "inspired" by being forced to slave away well beyond the hours they want to spend on that task and micromanaging people in the lab only makes them want to spend less time there. As a PI, it is up to you to figure out how to get the work done with the help you have. If that is not happening then you may need better help, or maybe more appropriate expectations.
* I'll leave it to Dr. Becca to actually make this cocktail, but it might not be a big seller.