It has happened to all of us: you finish a solid day of work at the bench, and as you head out the door to your well-earned R&R, the PI catches you and lays on a speech about how you need to spend more time in lab.
Everyone’s a critic
In one instant, all that confidence and satisfaction you felt goes up in flames like Parafilm in a Bunsen burner.
In this week’s episode, we tackle a tough question from a second-year grad student who is tired of colleagues, mentors, and family members sharing their opinions about how she should spend her time. How can she, and YOU, deflect the criticism and stop the haters from stealing your joy?
It seems like everyone, especially in a lab setting, has an opinion about how I should spend my time and resources. It shouldn’t bother me so much, but even after a great and busy day, an offhand comment about how I should be doing more/better/faster can make me feel kind of useless. How have you each learned to rise above questioning and perceived condescension from the people you work with, or even friends and family?
Before you even start that battle, we talk about how to make sure you can win it. We’ll also give you tips about how to manage your PI’s expectations and find a work-life-balance that actually works for your life.
Make time for the things you love
Next, we hear from a grad student who wants to make time for science outreach and education opportunities, but doesn’t think his faculty mentor will support his time outside of the lab. It’s another great example of finding the time to do the work you love while still pursuing solid laboratory training.
One of the many things I want to continue to do during grad school is to volunteer and become part of outreach programs. I acknowledge I am going to have a lot on my plate very soon , but I still want to volunteer and continue doing some form of work that likens the after-school teaching I was doing [during my undergrad]. Is it feasible to find time for outreach while in graduate school?
Finally, Daniel gets some scientific support for his acerbic sense of humor, and we put another punch on our “Frequent Hipster” cards with the Pinner Throwback IPA from Oskar Blues. It’s a healthy dose of hops with a side of sarcasm. Delicious!
This week’s resources and references:
2002 Letter from Mu-ming Poo to his lab:
To all lab members:
Over the past several months, it has become clear to me that if there is no drastic change in the lab, Poo lab will soon cease to be a productive, first-rate lab that you chose to join in the first place. Lab progress reports over the past six months have clearly shown the lack of progress in most projects. One year ago, when we first moved to Berkeley, I expressed clearly to everyone my expectation from each one in the lab. The most important thing is what I consider to be sufficient amount of time and effort in the lab work. I mentioned that about 60 hr working time per week is what I consider the minimal time an average successful young scientist in these days has to put into the lab work. There may be a few rare lucky fellows like Florian, who had two Nature papers in his sleeve already, can enjoy life for a while and still get a job offer from Harvard. No one else in the lab has Florian’s luxury to play around.
Thus I am imposing strict rules in the lab from now on:
- Every one works at least 50 hr a week in the lab (e.g., 8+ hr a day, six days a week). This is by far lower than what I am doing every day and throughout most of my career. You may be smarter or do not want to be as successful, but I am not asking you to match my time in the lab.
- By working, I mean real bench work. This does not include surfing on the computer and sending and receiving e-mails for non-scientific matters unrelated to your work (you can do this after work in the lab or at home), and excessive chatting on nonscientific matters. No long lunch break except special occasions. I suggest that everyone puts in at least 6 hr concentrated bench work and 2+ hr reading and other research-related activity each day. Reading papers and books should be done mostly after work. More time can be spent on reading, literature search and writing during working hours when you are ready for writing a paper.
- I must be informed in person by e-mail (even in my absence from the lab) when you are absent from the lab for a whole day or more. Inform me early your vacation plan. Taking more than 20 working days out of one year is the maximum to me. In fact, none of you are reporting any vacation and sick leave on your time sheet (against the university rule, although I have been signing the sheets), but you know roughly how many days you were not here.
On the whole, I understand and accept the fact that you may not fulfill the above requirements all the time, due to health reasons, occasional personal business. But if you do not like to follow the rules because it is simply a matter of choice of life style, I respect your choice but suggest you start making plans immediately and leave the lab by the end of January 31. I will do my best to help you to locate a lab to transfer or to find a job.
If you do accept the conditions I describe above, I am happy to continue to provide my best support to your work, hopefully more than I have done in the past. I will review the progress of everyone in the lab by the end of June of 2002. I expect everyone to have made sufficient progress in the research so that a good paper is in sight (at least to the level of J. Neuroscience). If you cannot meet this goal at that time, I will have to ask you to prepare to leave my lab by the end of August.