How many reminders does it take to get to the center of a PI's brain?

May 24 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

If there's one universal feature that unites anyone running a research lab, it's that there are never enough hours in the day for them to get done everything that needs doing. From manuscripts to meeting, reviews to reports, there is always something due yesterday. The general hierarchy of How Fast Shit Gets Done, runs something like this:

Will it bring money into the lab?
Is it for a lab publication?
Is someone seriously pissed about the lateness of it?
Was it due yesterday?
Is it due today?
Are there meaningful consequences for missing the deadline?
Is it for my trainees?
Everything else.

Note that things from "everything else" can work their way up the ladder, but only if someone starts making some noise. I used to feel like an ass when I would get those reminders from journals that my review is due today. Now, depending on the time of year, that reminder is what gets me to download the damn thing.

Why is this important? Because outside of a few incredibly efficient PIs, most of us need reminders. In fact, for some tasks, if I don't get a reminder it will fall off the deck completely. This often comes up in the bloggosphere and IRL as an issue that a lot of trainees have, and the simple answer is that you need to stay on top of people if you want to keep the thing you need from them on the forefront. Always be pleasant and polite, but sending reminders is something you'll need to get used to. Remember that letting someone else's work sit on the back burner is an easy way to manage one's limited time, and unless there's some sense of urgency from that other person, it's gonna sit until I have nothing more pressing to do.

4 responses so far

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Oooh, I recognize this phenomenon. I've learned it's also important to give myself reminders ass well as giving permission for others to remind me.

  • Pharm Sci Grad says:

    Hahaha... yep. Exactly.

    There was one particular chemical that needed to go from the chemists to the biologists in our lab... But now the procedure is that all chemicals go through our PI first (don't know why, don't care either). It became a running gag as I would remind PI about once a week or so and PI would go "oh yeah" and then we'd rinse and repeat. After about TWO MONTHS the chemical finally made it's way over.

    At least PI is good about big things, like letters of reference, so it's easy for me to laugh at these minor annoyances - I just keep saying it over and over until it sticks. The lab knows keeping everything straight is getting harder for me as the years go by, so who knows how I'll cope when I'm PI's age... 😛

  • Chen says:

    I agree.
    Project/task management is indeed a tough task that NOBODY is thought in grad school. With the decline of funding we're all witnessing, less grad students will need to do more. So, there is no other way than to be efficient (both grads and PIs), to delegate tasks when possible (my PI is doing it all the time) and to have a concise plan with DEADLINES. When I was in the biotech industry, that's the only way things got done. Back then we used all kinds of project management tools aimed at the industry. Today there is a laboratory management tool for the academia - BioKM. With BioKM you can monitor the way your students are progressing and identify roadblocks quickly. Instead of asking your grads for reminders, the system will generate it for both of you. That's simple.
    Chen

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