Thursday, November 6, 2008

My little ducklings

I have such a strong mother hen instinct--its hard for me to let go and just let the people in my lab get on with things. But I've been trying very hard this week to just give my rotation students and new post-doc the basic instructions, point them at the manuals, and say "Go for it and come find me when you get stuck." So far, it's working well: they are all coming along much more quickly and showing me their capacity for figuring things out and independent learning. This benefits all of us: they learn more and learn faster when they have to figure things out, and the sooner I feel confident and comfortable with their initiative, the sooner I push them to be more productive, and the sooner I let them do the cool stuff.

Of course, not everyone can be managed this way: some people need much more hands-on, direct training and interaction, and really need their every move to be monitored. That seems to correlate strongly with visual memory skills: the ones with bad memories can't remember what they did when and why, and consequently need way more controlled, involved management to be successful (SOMEBODY'S got to know what the heck is going on, and if they don't, it has to be me). I wish everyone could have the sharpitude that (of course) *I* have, but sadly they just can't.

It's hard to decide where you draw the line (for their continued employment) when someone can't function independently in a complex context, and I guess that's part of what makes for different roles in a lab. It's an essential characteristic of a Ph.D., but not so common among the non-PhD wanting/getting/having crowd, so my expectations have had to change. At previous institution, all of our technicians had that special 'excellent grad student' quality (which is why many of them didn't stay with us long...) and so I guess I got spoiled. But at new institution, not everyone in support roles is quite as independent. That's okay, I can work with that--it just takes more time to get used to, and makes me unsure of how high is reasonable to set the bar.

2 comments:

Nat Blair said...

This can always be a hard thing to navigate. Too much control and the trainee will complain of being suffocated, while too much of a soft hand and they complain of not getting enough guidance. I would agree though that technicians you rely on initially need good guidance.

My approach when working closely with rotating graduate students is quite hands off, mostly showing them the mechanics of stuff, and then letting them do their thing. Maybe I'm not doing a good enough job, since none of them have joined the lab.

Academic said...

I think the key is being there when they admit they need help. (And also being there to help the discipline of making sure everyone's putting a good foot forward.) If students know you will be there when they get stuck, then I think it makes for a happier group.