Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm not your fucking technician.

This pretty little phrase is something I'm dying to say to my PI, I just can't figure out how to do it without screaming (while throttling said PI and banging PI's head against something hard, repeatedly).

Yes, I can kind of see it from the PI's point of view. You can't do the experiment yourself, you are impatient about that, and you sometimes aren't the most polite about asking.

No, what really gets me is the ASSUMPTION that I haven't ALREADY TRIED IT. I know you like to pretend that I'm your student or your secretary, but here's a newsflash: I ACTUALLY HAVE A PHD.

In an attempt to calm down and thwart my natural violent instincts, I am writing this letter into the blogosphere, and hoping that the internet karma fairy is paying attention.

...............

Dear PI,

1. I showed you the data already.

2. You DIDN'T UNDERSTAND IT.

3. I patiently tried to explain it to you, because I needed more reagents and/or expertise than we have in the lab, and you didn't understand why.

4. In the end, you pretended to understand but you actually didn't. You would not let me get what I needed, and insisted there were other things I needed to do first.

5. So, because I didn't have time to beg other labs for the things that I needed, I shelved it.

6. Now you come back months or years later, because someone in another lab asked about these experiments (BECAUSE IT IS THE OBVIOUS THING TO DO). Now, after all this time, you have the nerve to act like I have been lazy or stupid not to have pursued this particular line of experiments WHEN YOU TOLD ME NOT TO in addition to all the other ultimately useless things you made me do because you didn't believe me when I said there was no way they were going to work. And I was right about all of it, wasn't I?

So I ask you: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS SHIT???!!!!

In point of fact, dear PI, I was thinking that since you don't understand what these experiments are about, I should take this entire project with me when I leave.

We haven't had that chat lately, but I know your lack of creativity. If I tell you I want to work on this, you will say you want it.

So I will not mention it to you. Now I just have to figure out how to get you to forget about it, and squelch the urge to motherfucking kill you with my bare hands.

That is all.

Sincerely,

MsPhD

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13 Comments:

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone who reads your blog will dispute that your relationship with your PI is broken beyond repair, but let me ignore that for a second and add this piece of advice: you need to start recording some of these interactions with him in writing (i.e., e-mail). Even if it's writing e-mails to your PI after you meet describing what you understand he told you to do (or not to do). For your piece of mind if nothing else. Get it in writing.

 
At 2:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel for you...

I agree - take the project with you; PI will go down one road and fail repeatedly, you will go down another with it and progress and learn.

Best of Luck,

 
At 7:34 AM, Anonymous Sasha said...

Although I'm a graduate student, I can totally relate to your post. My PI refuses to hire a lab tech -- because they are a "waste of money" -- so his graduate students must pick up the slack. He then gets mad at us when we are behind in our research but we had to spend the whole day autoclaving trash, ordering supplies, and making common reagents. If he'd just hire a lab tech, the whole lab would run more smoothly.

 
At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, take heart that as infuriating as it is to be your PI's technician, it may not be as bad as being assigned by your PI to be the technician of the lab's new Golden Child. Yup - as the senior postdoc I got assigned to be a technician for a brand new postdoc, because said new postdoc came from the lab of my advisor's buddy and happened to do his PhD in a hot field that my advisor wanted in on. So I, as the more senior and experienced postdoc, am now a technician for someone who doesn't even have half my experience or knowledge. How insulting is that.

 
At 4:31 PM, Blogger daisy mae said...

wow. you've got your hands full. if it's any consolation, i recently reminded my PI that i'm not his administrative assistant and therefore i would not be making photocopies and distributing them to various lab members. he actually has an administrative assistant who is capable of that exact task.

 
At 10:26 PM, Anonymous FrauDrLOL said...

Hmmm. I regularly read this blog but I think this is only the second time I'm commenting. Anyway, I don't get offended by all the infantilizing BS that's tossed my way, whether in my current position or my former one because it happens all the time. I do think it's sexist in nature but I don't try to change people, only my circumstances. Therefore, I take their BS while at the same time dissociating myself from those around me by taking the high road and generally being indifferent to their BSish natures. Better to have an outlet like this blog though. I think you should relax and not take things too personally. The effect of other people on ourselves is in a large part under our control. You seem tough enough to not care too much what others think about you. Cheers!

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 5:07,

I do this already, K thx.

Sasha,

We have techs. We actually need more techs, I think, because they can't seem to keep up with the bare minimum work load to keep the lab running. If that happened, we could have the grad students and postdocs doing the interesting things that require all that precious "training" we've acquired.

Anon 2:27,

That's OUTRAGEOUS. I would quit on the spot if my PI tried to do that to me.

daisy mae,

So it's not just me?

FrauDrLOL,

Interesting that you brought up that it's sexist (I actually didn't say anything about sexism in this post).

I'm pretty sure my PI does this to everyone, to differing degrees. I'm not sure if it's worse for the women or not.

My feeling is that because we're not really heard, it's worse for us when we try to explain our rationale for doing things a certain way.

We don't get as far as we should when we try to negotiate, so in that sense we probably have more of these kinds of setbacks.

And in a sense, that is what this blog is all about: identifying the things that lead to women not getting as far as we should despite working just as hard, if not harder, than our male counterparts (because we have to work harder to overcome this kind of bullshit just to get our regular work done!).

 
At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to vent! Sounds like your PI and my PI are similar types of d*ckwads.

I'm interested in what tactics you've found help you have the most productive interactions with your PI? Through trial and error, my labmates and I have found a few techniques, including

1. Ego stroking. Makes me want to gag, but somehow works. For example, when I have an idea for something I want to try, I attempt to phrase it so it sounds like I was clearly inspired by my PI.

2. Introducing ideas multiple times. The first time, we ALWAYS get a "no" answer, but later, the PI will agree for some reason. Sometimes because he now thinks it was his idea.

3. Appearing to have ridiculous overconfidence in ourselves and our ideas.

4. "Snowing" the PI. Sounds like you're already doing this to some extent, but maybe it doesn't work on your PI. With my PI, if I make it seem like he should understand what I'm telling him (though he doesn't), he will often let me do what I want because he's too overwhelmed to actually guide me.

 
At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 5:07 here again. Don't be so dismissive of the suggestion about getting things in writing, which was intended to be helpful. Because if you have things in writing you print them out and show them to your PI when these situations arise and basically confront him with his own inconsistency without being overtly confrontational. I've worked for some difficult bosses and this has never failed to work. So if it's not working for you - why not?

 
At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, maybe it's a cultural issue (and obviously I don't know the particularities of the situation), but if I asked anyone to do something and they refused to do so on the basis on their degree or that the work was somehow beneath them, I would drop them really really fast. This just brings to my mind the kind of professors that don't say good morning to the janitors because of some idea of class or what do I know --- or the professors that insist on people calling them Doctor or Professor "because they went to bloody grad school". However, I get the impression from the above that this post was not really about the title? In my experience the best way to deal with clueless bosses is simply to say "okay" and then do the correct thing anyway. Or practice the art of deadpanning. Work around them, not against them. Or maybe it's just microbiology that is so high strung and cutthroat. I come from a different field.

 
At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 2:27 again - really MsPhD, you would really quit on the spot if you were in my position? I've read a lot of your blog and about the crap you put up with, and how lots of people encourage you to leave, and why you continue to stick through it, but what I'm going thru now would for sure be something that would make you quit (or go to another lab at least)?? Trust me I want to quit too (just that I'm having a hard time finding another job at the moment). I would be interested to hear why you consider my situation to be a more serious issue than all the other crap you have endured for this long (and continue to put up with)...? thankyou

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 10:21 and 5:07,

I haven't figured out a way to do this that doesn't make my PI get defensive and pissed off. My PI is VERY insecure.

Confronting this kind of person with evidence of their fuckups tends to make them angry and vindictive (not embarrassed and apologetic, as usually happens when confident people are told they made an honest mistake).

Whenever possible, I do gently remind "yes, we've discussed that before, and you said ___, remember?"

But actual confrontation with written documentation is too harsh, I've found, to be used as evidence.

Having said that, it does help MY memory for when I feel like we've been going in circles, I can always check my notes and confirm that yes, indeed we have.

Anon 11:11,

In my mind, it's not so much on the basis of degree as it is on the basis of experience.

Personally, I don't care if somebody has a PhD or not: if they have the most skill with a certain technique, I want that person to be helping me or teaching me.

As a postdoc, when I go to somebody else's lab to use their technique, I LEARN HOW TO DO IT. I would much rather do that than have them do it for me. For a variety of reasons.

By the same token, if I were the PI and I had a new person come in who needed to use X technique, I would have them LEARN HOW TO DO IT from the most skilled person. And where appropriate, that person would be a co-author on the paper, so they would get something tangible out of putting in the effort to be helpful (and hopefully, nice about it).

It's called ACADEMIA for a reason.

I generally don't believe in assembly-line science in academia. I think that's appropriate in industry where you're making a product that you're going to sell.

But when we're supposedly giving "training" to our students and postdocs, THERE SHOULD BE SOME FUCKING TRAINING GOING ON.

Otherwise, it's not Higher Education at all. It's assembly-line work, and I definitely don't need any kind of degree to do that.

That's why I get so pissed off when I hear about this stuff like postdocs whose PIs write their fellowships for them. Where the fuck is the training in that???

ANON 11:54, see my response to anon above. THAT is why I would quit on the spot. Because it means they don't respect your experience or you as a person, and it's probably the opposite of a training environment.

I'll admit, I have put up with a lot of crap, but most of it has been more subtle than this, and I have gotten much of what I wanted in exchange by making compromises (none of which have been as bad as what you're describing).

But maybe I skipped over a few options in trying to make a point about how much this kind of thing pisses me off.

Maybe you shouldn't quit on the spot. Maybe you can negotiate with this person that you will teach them how to do the stuff and help them until they're doing it confidently? Or maybe you can use deliberate incompetence to make them think they'd be better off doing it themselves? Maybe you can just make yourself unreliably late when working with this person, forcing them to start on their own; and leave early, forcing them to finish on their own. That kind of thing?

People have done it to me enough times for me to know that whether you intend it or not, you will make them independent by doing it. Or they will find someone else to help them (either way, it gets you off the hook).

See what I mean?

 
At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a technician II, I have been in this position many times with my PIs in labs I have worked in. The fact that you have an extra degree doesn't really matter on the bench or to your PI, other than to show off to his peers. You have to let him know what matters to you, career wise, and follow through with your plans.

 

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