Saturday, August 04, 2007

Rodney Dangerfield Disease: I don't get no respect.

It bugs me when I help someone with their project

and I say "You need to do X, Y and Z because it would tell us if it's A, B or C"

and then they go talk to Famous PI Guy who says

This is very interesting! It is probably A, B or C.

and then they come back and report to me that

"Famous Guy said it's probably A, B or C!"

like it's news and I'm going to be impressed with this Famous Guy's unique insight.

And I don't know whether it was mentioned to Famous Guy that I was helping them, and suggested not just the same idea, but how to actually test it, too.

I understand that the reality of the system is that you have to go talk to a big famous PI, maybe even make them an author, if you want your paper to get published in a big famous journal. I get that. And you have to make them feel included, even if it means pretending they gave you great advice that you had already heard before.

What annoys me is when the person I'm helping doesn't say,

"Hey, I know we talked about talking to Famous Guy, I'm going to go meet with Famous Guy this week and just see what he says about what we've done so far",

you know, just to keep the lines of communication open

And the report afterwards is never, ever,

"Hey, he said just what you said! It's good to know we're on the right track and thank you again for all your help and I made sure to tell him how much you've done for this project."

It makes me wonder why I bother helping anyone?

I guess I bother because I enjoy it, the journey anyway, even if the end product helps someone else a lot more than it helps me, they did more of the work so that's fair.

And I do get little benefits here and there, exchange of reagents and that sort of thing does go more easily when you have lots of good will.

But there's nothing to make me feel stepped on more than the total lack of acknowledgment for my ideas. Maybe because it's the only currency that really matters to me.

I guess people like to use money as a reward, for example, in industry, because this is one way of acknowledging input. But I wouldn't want to get paid off, for example, in exchange for not being an author.

But for now I'm going to hold onto my idealistic hope that this person I've been helping will at least make me a co-author in the end, and that seeing this paper and this person succeed will be reward enough? That I will eventually have this person as a colleague, who will be more secure and more gracious in the future?

That when it's all said and done, I'll be proud to have been associated with this project, even if nobody really knows how much.

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At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well obviously, it depends on who's saying it, and not the content itself. if everything was based on merit, wouldn't you have at least gotten an interview by now? i rest my case.

At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! That drives me nuts, too. In calmer moments I think that the problem lies in the insecurity/ego of the person failing to acknowledge the support and guidance.

It's one thing when someone your junior does it, but what eats me is when people - like my tenured ultra"senior" PI - do the same thing.

At 12:04 PM, Anonymous JaneB said...

This continues to happen at all levels... like you, I'm working hard on cultivating my enjoyment of the process, of the ideas and (in my case) the working with other people to help them untangle complex ideas.

And of course anonymous is right - a platitude from a prof is always always taken more seriously than a new idea from someone without that badge... Kuhn was right, science takes place in a social and cultural mess, not just on the plane of ideas. More's the pity.

But I really hope you do finally get your feet on that ladder, we NEED more colleagues willing tostand up and challenge these ideas

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Lab Rat said...

I totally sympathise with you; I've been in your position several times before.

One guy who I had to work with would tend to regularly dismiss what I suggest, until told by Famous Guy that the approach works after all, at which point he would sell it to the rest of the project team as "his idea". After the third time it happened, I got myself off the project (which now seems to be in its death throes - maybe there's such a thing as karma after all)

At 11:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Lab Rat: I've experienced the exact same thing as you. I've had my ideas poo-poo'ed so many times by arrogant overly-competitive peers who are trying to show off their 'superior intellect'. Then when Someone Important affirms that I was right (though without knowing that I was the one who originated the idea), those same ultra-competitive arrogant a$$holes not only do a complete 180 but then try to claim that it was THEIR idea all along.

Well there's been at least one occasion where one of those people got what was coming to him. It took several years (I had long since left that department and moved on, and only heard through colleagues who were still in touch with him). I heard that he got caught for academic dishonesty and almost lost his job. He didn't in the end, but it sure humbled him because it was a very public scandal and his reputation is forever tarnished. karma does come around for some people.

I admit that since I had long since moved on both geographically and profesionally, it didn't feel as sweet as if this news had come in when I was still around this guy. But, there's also something poetic about getting what you want when you no longer want it.


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