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文章阅读:向大家推荐一本如何做PI的书
[同主题阅读] [版面: 发考题] [作者:Highly] , 2014年09月09日13:29:06
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发信人: Highly (先挖坑,后灌水), 信区: Faculty
标  题: 向大家推荐一本如何做PI的书
发信站: BBS 未名空间站 (Tue Sep  9 13:29:06 2014, 美东)

离开前同事送了一本书。以我一贯的读非娱乐书的风格,起码要拖拉一年才能读完。但
由于与工作相关,逼自己当成功课来做。以下是读后感。

注:自己当PI还不到一个月。有很多个人见解请大家take with a grain of salt.



                              On Being a PI
                        Book Review---At the Helm

“Scientists are notorious for being unable to say ‘No!’ and are very poor
managers of their (limited) time. This leads progressively to an over-
burdened, over-worked, harassed and distracted individual who has no time
for lab or family.” (Caveman 2000)

1. The missing training with a well-trained scientist

So far I have recruited four undergrads who volunteered to work for 8-10
hours per week in my presently-empty lab. During interviews I told them, “
You set your own schedule, but once you’ve decided on it, please try to
stick to it. You’re welcome to bring homework to the lab if there isn’t
much to do.” Having flexible hours is one of the biggest advantages of
working in academia. The reason for me to be strict came from past
experience working in my advisors’ labs. That is, for unpaid undergrads,
except a few highly motivated, once they are used to not showing up, you’ll
see them less and less often over time.

This is one example of what new PIs do---they make decisions and establish
styles based on previous observations of what have or have not worked for
their advisors. With extensive training in almost every aspect of academia,
they have never been trained on how to be a PI. Although replicating the
labs they have worked in can be an effective strategy in some situations,
sooner or later they will run into challenges, because they are in a new
institution, with different student qualities, and most importantly, what
have been proven to be golden doctrines in an established lab with an
experienced PI may fail a starter.

This book focuses on all kinds of issues that are likely to be encountered
in the early stage of a PI’s career. I especially appreciate the fact that
the opinions are not from a single source. For most of the topics that are
covered, the author, Kathy Barker, has interviewed dozens of successful PIs
throughout the country. Some of the arguments are contradictory to one
another, because there isn’t supposed to be a universal answer. Given your
skills, personality, and the environment, you choose your style and come up
with your own solutions. As mentioned above, beginners tend to imagine there
is an ideal way of surviving every situation, and they often resort to
memories of their mentors. With the many options listed in the book, you may
gain more freedom when designing your career, and the author tries not to
make judgments on your preferences. There are questions with no answers,
just to bring up your attention on the issues. Even if you have no idea what
you would do facing those situations, learning the questions in advance can
be a great help. “There are occasions when you have to rush, but more than
often, composure is what people want the most from their leader.” (The
Starlight Fortress)

Note that this isn’t a book that is meant to please you, i.e., to make you
feel good about yourself (nor is the career as a PI in general, to be fair).
It will point out mistakes you have made, and may even forecast the regrets
you are going to have later according to others’ experience. You will read
about issues you wish you’d never run into in your entire career, but bear
in mind that the intention of the book is to be preventive; living through
an imagined crisis is, after all, easier than handling it in real life. In
the worst case when things do happen, it can be comforting to know that you
aren’t the sole individual in the world who is suffering from an imprudent
hire, or crying over the permanent loss of experimental data.

2. The guts to say “No”

Recently someone on this forum complained about being frequently occupied
with various administrative duties and left with only scattered time slots
for research. We really can’t afford that to happen! A PI should never
grant others the right to take charge of his schedule. I work at an
institution where everyone uses Google Calendar that allows colleagues or
students to see one another’s schedules (they know you’ll be busy at a
certain time without knowing the exact details). It’s easy for people to
assume that, for any blank period on your calendar, you’ll be available at
that time and they can just pop up or send you a Calendar Invitation to
schedule something.  A colleague once shared his schedule with me, and I saw
that he even put down “12 pm, lunch” on every single day! Poor guy, I
thought.

A request can be difficult to decline if we indeed have an open slot, not
one with which we forgot to note an event. However, having nothing scheduled
does not mean you are obligated to fulfill someone’s request. Especially
if that chunk of time has been intended for you to read papers or write
grants or visit your lab, it’s actually not an open time slot and you
should say no. Find another time, and if the meeting doesn’t demand much
thinking, find a time with which you can’t do intellectual things anyway.
If we can’t control our own time, how are we going to be the masters of our
labs?

Speaking of time management, we all have some ideas about priorities, about
sticking to our plans, but why do we still struggle for more time to do what
we really want to do? The book categorizes a PI’s common activities into
four categories.
1) Urgent and important, such as grant deadlines, personal (e.g., health) or
professional (e.g., tenure) crises, equipment problems (e.g., broken
machines).
2) Not urgent but important, such as reading papers, lab meetings, thinking
and planning.
3) Urgent but not important, such as certain phone calls or mails,
administrative meetings or duties.
4) Not urgent and not important, which can include a lot of things.

We admit that urgent and important things (Cat-A, grants, etc) have to be
dealt with seriously in a timely manner. We don’t ignore urgent but
unimportant duties (Cat-C, meetings, etc.), however reluctant or resentful
we might be in carrying out the tasks. What matters is that, with only that
many hours every day, plans that are important but time insensitive (Cat-B,
reading papers, etc.) often get pushed aside. Sometimes Cat-B can even yield
to Cat-D, such as sitting on meaningless committees or listening to gossips
, mainly because we are unable to say no (another reason may be that Cat-B
doesn’t pay off immediately). You could argue that we aren’t machines;
what the fun of life is if we aren’t allowed to relax. That’s absolutely
true when you have the leisure to dissipate, but not when little time is
left for research.

We have probably all met a few businessmen-typed PIs. If you ask them about
their current schedule, they have meetings every day, and two incoming grant
deadlines.  Check back two months later, the same thing. This may work for
a senior PI whose lab has several postdocs or scientists, each being
responsible for his own project, attending conferences and keeping up with
literature. In other words, the PI has well-trained people who are doing the
Cat-B for him, and all he needs to do is pay for the publications. For a
new PI with at most a technician and a few students who count on him to
write programs and papers for them, this can be suicidal. Under the current
funding situation, we are often advised to “keep sending proposals out”.
Well, yes and no. Why should any organization fund you if you no longer
advance in science?

The book especially urges beginner PIs to spend adequate time thinking and
planning. It can be tormenting not to have publishable data for the first
year or two, and the quickest way to circumvent the problem is continue on
your previous projects---“to tie up loose ends, to bolster earlier
conclusions with still more evidence, and to explore side issues” (Vermeij
1997). Different opinions are offered here. Some think that having a
productive project as soon as possible is all that matters; you can always
explore new ideas later. Others caution on this strategy because once you
have something going, you are less willing to take a risk in a new area that
may involve investments in new equipment and endless trial and error.

Whichever path you adopt, be sure to think carefully and don’t rush into
actions. I once came across a quote related to novel writing. “One of the
problems we have as writers is we don't take ourselves seriously while
writing; being serious is setting aside a time and saying if it comes, good;
if it doesn’t come, good, I’ll just sit here.” (Maya Angelou) So instead
of putting down “12 pm, lunch” on my calendar, I have reserved a whole
afternoon every week marked with “Cat-B”. I’ll go all the way to protect
that sacred time, and if on a particular day, for some reason, I couldn’t
read papers or write computer programs or create research plans, I’ll just
sit there.

Note that sometimes we have to say no to offers that appear to be attractive
but do not essentially agree with our best interest. After I had recruited
the undergrads, I was called for a meeting with the Director of the Graduate
Program in our college. He encouraged me to take a couple of Master’s
students by promising full tuition coverage. Had I not read the book, I
might have considered it. At the moment I have enough to worry about my own
future. The last thing I want is the responsibility of another person’s
future. I don’t feel too bad to engage the undergrads in cleaning and
shelving, but I would be sleep-deprived knowing that, in a year or two, the
Master’s students will need something for their theses. On this forum we
have also read stories about the regrets a PI can have by taking Ph.D.
students that have been offered “for free”. After spending a tremendous
amount of time and energy in training a student, a PI may end up in a
fruitless mentorship. The frustration to both the PI and the student can be
painful, although it may bring excitement to other lab members as they
speculate “Is he going to fire her?”

All right, there is a fine line between selling a book and pirating its
content, and I should probably stop here. If I have to give a negative
comment, I’d say that the arrangement of the topics can be improved. For
example, the section on Working with a Secretary / Administrative Assistant
appears quite early in the book. Maybe it’s just my field, but I’ve never
met a PI who has the luxury of hiring a full-time secretary to work solely
for him. When fifty pages later I saw the prudence one needs to have in
evaluating candidates, I had already finished my hiring process.

A final message. It’s not rare to come across negative or passive attitudes
from PIs on this forum, evidenced by complaints of losing interests in
research, or statements that being a PI is just another job to pay the bills
. There can be various reasons for it to happen (some are listed in the book
), but I hope people realize that it is to their own benefit to stay
motivated with their projects, because research is more productive if we
genuinely care about it, and life is more gratifying when we feel proud of
what we do (this applies to any type of job). Off topic here, over the years
I’ve noticed a trend of “devalulization” (I know this isn’t a real word
) among certain Chinese, here and in China, towards arts, science, and faith
. Does it look smart or cool if a person appears to care nothing about
spiritual things, I wonder. But it’s a personal choice. To me, being a PI
is about enjoying the fun of science despite funding pressures, setting
realistic goals without forgoing your wildest dreams, hanging on a little
longer after others have all quit.

About being yourself and yourself alone.


--
※ 修改:·Highly 於 Sep 30 16:52:20 2015 修改本文·[FROM: 165.]
※ 来源:·WWW 未名空间站 网址:mitbbs.com 移动:在应用商店搜索未名空间·[FROM: 165.]

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