Post-docs and grad students (which I was JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO folks, before you get up in arms about how "the (wo)MAN is just trying to keep us down and just doesn't UNDERSTAND US") tend to have this feeling that their work somehow should not belong to their PI, or anyone else but them as the person who PERFORMS the experiments. This was just brought up in all the discussions surrounding Chalfie's being left out of the Nobel group for GFP, and gets vented about a LOT in the science blogosphere, since this is a place that grad students and postdocs can come and let out their frustrations without the danger of repurcussions or those uncomfortable interpersonal experiences that would ensue from trying to bring these up in person with your PI.
But thinking that the beauty of science and discovery is all about some individual striving to do something only they can do, with some cartoon, superhero version of intellectual 'purity,' is just deluded, self-important and pretend. If wishes were horses and great scientific breakthroughs could be achieved through THOUGHT experiments, then maybe that could happen in a vacuum universe. But the reality is none of us ever do anything on our own. Not even our own thinking. Even our private thinking and problem-solving skills are shaped, molded, influenced and ultimately built upon frameworks created through our interactions with other people: ESPECIALLY those mentors and advisors and teachers who have been particularly important to our lives. So, no: nothing you ever do is TRULY your own work and your own creation. That's just the fundamental bottom line of being a social organism.
Aside from that esoterii (did I make that word up?), there's the issue of infrastructure and teamwork. Yeah, see, the thing you come to understand once it is YOU in charge of stewarding the multi-millions of dollars that are required to keep a lab in operation is that GUESS WHAT: everybody has a distinct role, and nobody's jobs should overlap too much otherwise it gets redundant and wasteful of resources. Sure, I could stand at a bench next to my post-doc and we could each run parts of the overall experiment, or we could act as eachother's reproducibility checks and each do a set of replicates. And then I would know intimately what it took to produce the data that we used to support our work.
I could also go back to take classes and/or work on and learn myself all the various techniques and special skillsets that come in, either from those people or from someone else, and become an expert in every single action and strategy ever performed or taken in my lab. I could metaphysically absorb more and more and more and more information and skills and expertise until I expanded into a giant. But then what would they do in my lab? If I already knew how to do everything, why would I hire anyone else? Why not just do it all myself?
Because being the PI of a lab isn't about knowing how to do everything in the world. It's not about becoming the intimate expert on threads of detail. It's about leading a team, finding people to fill knowledge and skill gaps and managing them in a way that best combines their skills with the resources around them to produce emergent creative phenomena. It's about not redundantifying who does and knows what, so that each person's time and skills can be best used to move the whole group forward towards: 1. finding things out, and 2. making sure you can afford to keep finding things out. While I must say that I am quite vain about my abilities to understand just about anything (and I have lots of practice--if you saw my publication record you might scratch your head with how random and varied it looks)--I recognize that it is NOT NECESSARY for me to be able to run the experiments for a given thing in order to use that expertise in my research. Not necessary, and not efficient: it would be a waste of taxpayer money and lab resources for me to duplicate the skills of people on my team.
I could not have articulated this three months ago. I never had a problem acknowledging the contributions of my PIs and mentors and always automatically considered them a part of my work, anyway. But before I started managing this amount of resources, and became responsible for putting together and shepherding a team of people using those resources, it just wasn't as clear. And, don't think I don't understand the situation of having a bad mentor, a selfish or inept PI. I know that just as well as the next girl from experience, too. But I can see the difference between the POINT of PI-ship and the bad apples. And if you are unable to see the forest because of all the frustration you have with the trees in your way, try taking a step back to remember that you could not have gotten into the woods without support from SOMEWHERE (there's no such thing as a free lunch or a free thought) and you won't be able to get OUT of the woods without depersonalizing things and seeing where you and others fit along the path. And you won't be very good at making paths until you can see how they have been made for you.
Mama works at the donut store.
5 days ago