Thursday, July 30, 2009

Good thing the recession is over.

Yesterday I heard a report on CNN about how bad it is that some people are claiming the recession is already over, when it's really not. They said it was just like declaring the Iraq war over and then dragging it out a few more years.

But I guess somebody thinks everything is okay. Check out the new Jobs at Scienceblogs. The list is longer than I would have expected. So I guess somebody is hiring?

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stupidity vs. Dishonesty

Saw this as an interesting dichotomy posed by Janka over in the comments at a recent post by FSP.

It was posed in reference to a question about rules and regulations, and what's really unethical if the rules make no sense.

But it got me thinking about certain quandaries I have experienced in the lab, where I have to watch sloppy science going on all around me and I'm not always sure how much anyone is aware that they're juggling hand grenades.

I have made it my policy to steer clear, as much as possible, of things that I think are stupid, especially if I think they could lead me into scenarios where I would have to confront my PI about past published potential dishonesties.

In general, the scenario comes down like this:

PI suggests I try a procedure that Other Postdoc has used recently (Other Postdoc may be in my lab or in other lab, this has happened both ways).

I get the protocol and maybe ask Other Postdoc a few questions. I go off on my own and do a little reading and run a few controls to make sure things are working before I try the full-scale experiment.

Then things get hairy.

I get some results that are puzzling. They do not fit what Other Postdoc has published. I do some more reading and then I get really concerned.

In some cases, I have told PI and we have confronted Other Postdoc. Sometimes, the answers do not clearly distinguish between Stupidity vs. Dishonesty, and if anything only serve to make the whole incident more alarming.

Generally, if it were up to me, I would probably abandon said protocol at this point and do something else. I have fallen into this trap before of wasting time on uninterpretable methods, and I can usually smell them from far away.

However, sometimes I am forced to use said protocol, and PI has some long rationalization for why it's okay.

I usually go a little further and rationalize to myself that it's okay so long as we don't overstate our findings, and mention the caveats if/when we ever present this work in public.

But if I were the PI and I had published work like this, I would be losing sleep. A lot of it. I would be thinking hard about retracting papers and whether I would have to refuse to ever write another recommendation letter for this person in the future.

So I guess my question is this: isn't it always stupid to be dishonest? Or is it worth it in the long run to split hairs on hairy experiments?

Maybe I won't know if I never get to see what happens in the long run. Because when it comes to rules and regulations that make no sense, it's clear that it's often smarter to be dishonest, especially if you're smart enough to know which rules are enforced and which are not.

I feel like this dichotomy is one of the major weaknesses that will eventually bring science down if nothing changes.

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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.


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?


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.



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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Alternative career biographies.

Saw a link to Uncertain Principles over at FSP in the comments recently (posted by Dr. Pion).

Check out several posts tagged PNAS: since many of them are about science-related careers that do not require a PhD, and they are in all different areas (geophysics, astronomy, enzymes, high-throughput drug screening, etc.).

Note that in almost every case, the inteviewees mention that sometime during graduate school, they realized they did not want to stay in academia.


As an aside, for those of us who did not make that decision deliberately or early on, I wonder if Chad will find anyone willing to say on the record that they ended up doing something different as a backup plan after wanting to stay in academia? Seems unlikely, but it must happen to postdocs quite frequently nowadays?

Maybe everyone just rationalizes it so they don't look at it that way?

I'm thinking of examples like my friend who wanted to be a professor, but ultimately took a job in industry to support his family, so his kids could continue going to the same schools and wouldn't have to move. He was forced to make a choice, because he knew he wouldn't have many options about location, and the salary of a PI wasn't going to be enough to support his two kids.

I'm thinking of search committees who complain that they "can't find anyone good".

I wonder if search committees have caught on to realizing how bad it is that we're losing really good people who can't rationalize becoming faculty for these kinds of life-quality reasons?

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Friday, July 24, 2009

I don't care what you are, I care about what you did.

Check it out. Funny AND educational! Found this over at 49 percent who had linked to one of my previous posts (thanks for that!).


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jump in the water*

Yesterday I was talking to someone about the Eureka! myth of doing science, and how most people seem to misunderstand where great scientific ideas actually come from.

The person I was talking to was a scientist and hadn't heard of Archimedes. And I thought if he didn't know the little story about the bathtub, I must have sounded like I was making it up. So if you don't know what I'm talking about, go click on the link and read the wikipedia entry first.

I've realized this particular myth, the idea that someone is just struck by a lightning bolt of an idea out of nowhere, is a major reason why students don't want to study science. Perhaps more relevant to this blog: it's a major reason why a lot of postdocs freak out and quit.

I was astonished the other day to notice how many women in science "alternative" careers cite this as their biggest reason for going into other kinds of jobs. And how these women are often pointed to as role models. Why? Because it's so empowering that they found something they love, and they've been successful doing these other kinds of things.

But their explanation for why they left leaves me feeling flat. They all say it was the fear that they could not come up with their own ideas out of thin air.

How many people go into science because they got good grades in science classes? Presumably somebody encouraged them. And yet, we must be teaching science all wrong if people are going into it thinking that eventually, if they just get good grades long enough, they'll have a Eureka moment.

Well dear readers, some of you know that this is not how it works, but I bet some of the rest of you are terrified that when it comes your turn to devise projects and write grants, you won't be creative enough. I say that because I've been hearing this refrain a lot lately as an excuse for leaving academic research. I'm just not creative enough.

What? Tell me you're sick of the poor salary, of being treated like dirt, of all the politics and the ethical lapses. Don't tell me you're beating up on yourself. That's a terrible thing for a role model to be doing!

So I'm writing this little post today about another way to come up with ideas. It's a huge secret, but I'm going to write it here on the internet where everything is true and widely believed. Right?

Ready? Here it is. The big secret to having ideas in science:

Do some experiments.

Yep, that's it.

Personally, most of my best ideas come while I'm doing experiments. Even if they're stupid experiments that were poorly conceived or poorly executed, usually in the course of a pilot run or a few, I will see things that give me ideas about what can be improved. Or I will see some weird thing that had nothing to do with the experiment I was working on, that will give me ideas for much better experiments, or even whole projects.

So when I'm really stuck, I do an experiment. Even if I think it won't work in a million years. I'm of the mind that the crazier the experiment, the more ideas you'll get along the way, but I'm sure there are people who meditate while doing the same old thing they've done before. Sometimes that works too. Sometimes I have ideas while I'm doing the boring part of making samples, maybe because my hands are busy and I'm usually talking to myself while I'm doing it.

Anyway, that is my little plug for a different way of coming up with ideas. You don't have to read a book, or smoke a pipe, and say Aha! I think I've got it!

That's for old guys with beards and beer bellies and British accents (because it just sounds better with a British accent).

*obscure reference: In this case, the idea for the title comes from a lyric in a Peter Gabriel song, which coincidentally you might know (if you saw the new Harry Potter film) is based on a fable that is being made into a Disney cartoon movie (there was a trailer for it at Harry Potter, is where I was going with that). Pretty far from the more vulgar analogy, if you know what I mean.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stop Beating Yourself Up

Lately I'm struggling with watching younger women putting a lot of pressure on themselves to be competitive. I'll mention three examples here, although of course these are just a few of the women I interact with at work.

One is a grad student whom everyone admires for her hard work, intelligence, and personality. She's looking for a postdoc position and afraid of making a mistake.

Another is a new postdoc writing fellowships. She keeps saying she has no chance at getting one, but is trying anyway.

A third is a new grad student barely started on her thesis project. She's terrified of getting scooped, or that she might get kicked out of the grad program, and constantly beats herself up when her experiments don't work perfectly.

It's really hard for me to watch this. I really identify with the first two, in the sense that I worried about finding a good postdoc lab, and still fucked it up. So in a way, I think the first one is afraid of ending up like me. And like the second one, I also applied for fellowships, most of which I didn't receive. Nobody told me not to try, but I also didn't get the mentoring I needed. (But despite what I've told her, she refuses to get help from anyone other than her PI.)

I have a particularly hard time watching the third grad student, though. Her project is hard, and she already knows she's in a race with several other labs. Her PI expects her to be like a postdoc already, and since she had some research experience as an undergrad, she does too.

Now, we senior postdoc types all know the difference between experienced grad student and experienced postdoc. Along the way, if you've been paying attention all those years at the bench, you've learned a lot of stuff. You've figured out how to avoid the really big traps, and a lot of the small mistakes, too. You're just faster because you don't waste time worrying about the wrong kinds of details, or taking advice without looking things up (at least, I don't). You figure out who knows about what, and you ask them first because it saves time.

I'm trying to figure out if there's anything more I can do for these women, because I know they don't believe me when I tell them they're doing fine and to stop putting so much pressure on themselves. To some extent, they're still clinging to that hope that if they just work hard enough, the luck part will work out. But we all know that's not quite how things are. Sure, Jim Watson said it, and it's mostly true for experiments that there's no substitute for just trying a lot. But there's a lot to be said for having patience with your experiments and with yourself.

I feel like I've made a lot of progress in the patience-with-self department. Patience with the system, not so much, but these women haven't really caught on yet that the "luck" part is largely politics. Intellectually, they're aware, but they're aware like I was. Where they are right now, it's sort of like a warning light dimly blinking through the fog, not a blaring alarm right next to your ear.


I was watching the Sotomayor hearings and thinking about this concept of "disparate impact", which I had never heard of before. The way I understand it, this is a way of saying that a situation can have discriminating consequences against a subset of people, even if there was no "disparate intent".

It really fits the problem for women in science, that we usually feel the effects of disparate impact before we have any evidence of disparate intent. And sometimes there isn't any intent to discriminate at all, it's just a matter of context- if you're the only woman in your research group, for example, you're going to feel the effects of being a minority sometimes, even if all the guys are super-supportive and really respect you a lot. Even in those situations, every once in a while, something will come up that makes you feel uncomfortable and left out. That's disparate impact. Whether it's a big impact or not. And then we come to the "death by a thousand pinpricks" metaphor for being a woman in science. That's a lot of little disparate prickings.


Anyway I am watching these young women and their sort of nebulous fear, and it's hard because it's not so nebulous to me. I know exactly what they're scared of, because it has happened to me. Even if they can't quite name it yet, they have a vague idea of what is likely to be ahead. And they're scared they won't make it through.

Two of them have told me they're interested in industry, and disgusted with academia. And yet, they feel pressure to stay in academia until some arbitrary point when they might feel competitive enough, or when the economy improves enough, that they can get the kinds of jobs they want. Part of their fear is that the economy will never improve in our sector, and they'll have to find something else to do. And then all the suffering will have been basically pointless in terms of helping them reach their original goals.

The third one, bless her heart, wants to be a professor.

The funny thing to me is, I think all three would make great professors some day if they wanted to do that. So it's a little hard for me to watch them suffering, knowing all the factors that go into making them miserable, and knowing that there's not much I can do to stop them from suffering, not to mention stopping academia from losing these talented young scientists due to their being completely and righteously fed up.

I guess I'm writing this post because I can't figure out how to make them understand when I say, Look, it's hard enough without you also beating yourself up.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Fortune Cookie:meditation on vague messages

From a couple nights ago at dinner:

Good opportunities: Make up your mind to grasp the next.

Hard to know when the next good opportunity will come along. But let's break it down (because that's what we do here).

1. Define "opportunity"

Presumably this refers to the one kind I really care about: a job

2. Define "good"

Still trying to figure out if I'm capable of recognizing "good" when it comes along? My therapist said that my judgment is dysfunctional because I'm depressed.

Nothing like being told your judgment is dysfunctional to make you feel even more helpless and hopeless!

3. "Make up your mind"

This makes me laugh. One of the worst things lately has been feeling indecisive. I have been chalking this up to depression, thanks to my therapist telling me it's a symptom. However, my therapist also noted, as I did, that I seemed to get more depressed as we went along. This is probably because she was telling me it was all my fault and that I'm defective, but that I shouldn't blame myself. What?? It made no sense. So I stopped therapy.

4. "to grasp"

As in, to not let slip by. This also makes me laugh. On the one hand, my therapist said one of the reasons I've gotten into these awful situations (not my fault, but yes, my fault) is because I just grabbed what seemed like the only option at the time. On the other hand, when you "pause", as my therapist told me to do, you miss your chance(s). As they like to say, not choosing is also a choice. I have to say though, when you're exhausted all the time, it doesn't feel like a choice. It feels like a disability.

5. "the next"

This is how I have always been taught to think.

The next time, I'll do this differently. The next chance I get, I'll say something about this. The next time this happens, I'll know better.

The next. The next. The next.

Never the now. Never seize this moment, this is it, make the best of it.

More like you'll probably fuck this up, but there's always next time when you might know better.

Come to think of it, this is the perfect attitude to have in research. A certain humility coupled with persistence, right? It reminds me of a clip I saw advertising the DVD edition of that cop/firefighter show called Third Watch. The guy is telling his partner something like "What makes you great at your job makes you terrible at being a person."

One of the things I hate about fortune cookies is their vague time limit. I got one a few years back that said:

The current year will bring you great happiness.

At the time, I read it as meaning that year would be a great year. And it was wrong about that. And yet, technically it could still be true, it was just my interpretation that was wrong. Stupid vague fortune sat in my desk reminding me to try to be optimistic. All year. But you could also take it to mean that something I was doing then will eventually pay off.

Are we there yet?

I think fortunes should have an expiration date, even if the cookies could ostensibly outlive us all. It might be less confusing, anyway.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Just for the fun of it?

Been thinking a lot again about the old "art for art's sake" part of doing science. In other words, just to know the answer, even if no one else knows or cares.

This is very similar to the pressure of blogging vs. writing just because I enjoy writing. Almost every time I sit down to write lately, I debate whether I should be writing here at all, or if I shouldn't just be writing in my journal for writing for my self's sake.

This analogy got me thinking again about the Journal of Visualized Experiments (as in, "By JoVE, I think she's got it!"). It hasn't really caught on yet, at least not in my little corner of science. But ever since it appeared, I've had real hope that it will fill a serious hole in science.

The thing is, no matter how carefully done, there is really no substitute for doing the experiment yourself, or short of that, witnessing it (live or recorded). JoVE is the opposite of science for science's sake: it's science for everyone else's sake.

My frustration with my PI lately mostly stems from this central problem of trust. My PI does not watch me do experiments. Therefore, my PI, being a control-freak, does not trust my results. Does not trust my skills as a scientist. Does not trust me.

And yes, after all the hard work I have been doing, yes that is depressing.

But it's not just my PI. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to convince not just my PI, but my scientific "peers" and "colleagues" (aka competitors and reviewers) that my results are real. They may be stranger than fiction, but the data are what the data are. And I might not be able to explain it all right now, but the default setting assumes that I can't be trusted to have at least, in good faith, done the best I could with the best of what's available right now.

And nevermind the part where I should be given a chance to continue to try to figure it the rest of it out, because I'm really the best person to do that.

But given all the hurdles to getting your science seen and respected by everyone else, wouldn't it be easier to just do it until you yourself are convinced? And screw the part where you're working your ass off trying to convince everyone else, when they're not even open-minded enough to appreciate how hard you've been working?

Especially if there's no jobs anyway? What the hell difference does it make if I piss away what's left of my funding just amusing myself playing with scientific toys until my time is up?

I wonder how many people are daily asking themselves these kinds of questions? Is it just me?

Lately I'm not sure what gets me to lab everyday. Sheer work ethic, I guess, to bring home a paycheck and health benefits, if not any sense of accomplishment or respect.

Sometimes I try to console myself that, even if it doesn't work well enough to convince anyone else, I should try to have fun doing it, at least maybe that would restore some sense of personal accomplishment (even if it's not professionally recognized). Sometimes this works, at least temporarily.

But I think the central hypocrazy is that constantly having to worry about how to convince everyone else is sucking all the fun out of it for me.

Is this what it's like for the rest of your career? Always worrying about what everyone else thinks? Or is it really true that you can hide in your little corner, do your little thing until you think it's good, and then put it out as an offering when think you can't possibly make it any better?

This is the part of mentoring that I never got. My thesis advisor was a hide-in-corner type. The GlamourMag wannabes tend to be the crowd-pleasing type. Guess which type has more funding?

I can't figure out how to reconcile these. The cycle is wearing me out. Here is a stripped-down version of how things have gone for me. This was sort of an interesting exercise. Maybe some of you will recognize it as familiar:

1. Have exciting idea for a way to answer a cool question.
2. Do experiment. Have fun doing it!
3. Get exciting result. Feel slightly nervous that it might never work again.
4. Mock up figure. Try to contain excitement.
5. Repeat experiment somewhat nervously.
6. Get reproducible result! Hooray!
7. Revise figure, rejoice in the scientific method!
8. Present figure to various people (including PI).
9. Receive criticism from various people (including PI). Feel slightly deflated but still determined.
10. Perform different experiments to address criticism, slightly annoyed but mostly confident that they will be consistent with original result.
11. Mock up supplemental figures.
12. Repeat supplemental experiments.
13. Get reproducible supplemental data. Phew!
14. Revise supplemental figures. Rejoice that the scientific method works!
15. Draft manuscript. This part is fun, too.
16. Submit manuscript to PI. Don't expect an immediate response, but need a break from looking at it myself.
17. Time passes. No response from PI. Not a big surprise.
18. Present work to other people; ask for comments on manuscript draft.
19. Receive feedback from other people (no response from PI). Some of the feedback is very positive! This is fun too!
20. Approach PI and ask if/when draft will be read.
21. Perform additional experiments as per feedback from other people. That was helpful; rejoice in the scientific community!
22. Get additional results. Make additional figures and supplemental figures.
23. Revise manuscript. Yes, glad we did that, but no, these additional results did not change the point of the paper. Maybe it is a stronger claim.
24. Resubmit revised manuscript to Journal of PI's Desk.
25. Commence Nagging.
26. PI reads manuscript, does not understand it.
27. Long meeting with PI. Leave thinking PI understands somewhat better.
28. Repeat steps 18-27.
29. Commence reading books on Negotiation.
30. Attempt to convince PI that it's time to submit manuscript.
31. Repeat steps 18-26.
32. Consider quitting science.
33. Write blog; visit therapist; cry a lot. Think about alternative careers.
34. Diagnosis major depression. Make appointment with psychiatrist.
35. Repeat steps 18-32.
36. Watch peers from other labs gets papers accepted into High Impact Journals.
37. Repeat steps 32-33.
38. Get asked if I'll be applying for jobs this year and did that paper ever get published?
39. Repeat steps 32-33.
40. Avoid confronting PI for fear of bursting into tears, yelling, or both.
41. Repeat steps 36-40.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Dear PI: it's your fault I'm depressed

Drugmonkey has an interesting post up about depressed trainees and what it's like to be the PI in this situation.

The comments devolved, as they usually do on scienceblogs, into some kind of childish argument, so I stopped reading them. But several people made interesting points before that happened.

This discussion seems very timely to me, since my therapist told me she thinks I have major depressive disorder, and last night the Southpark episode on alcoholism aired as a re-run.

Now I know what you're thinking, MsPhD is an alcoholic??? Well, no, I actually don't drink much and don't like to be drunk (too much of a control-freak, I guess). But I love the way the Southpark guys wrote about the 12-step program, as in making fun of the irrationality of "You are powerless" and "alcoholism is a disease" and how, even if it's partly true, that can be a completely dis-empowering attitude.

My point being that depression can fall into some of the same traps, i.e. that because it's a disease, you should put all your eggs into your psychiatrist's bag of pharmaceutical tricks, surrender to their higher power, and hope that like a magician's hat, you'll stick your hand in and pull out happiness.

Having said that, it's interesting to think that depression is what gets us trapped into negative thought patterns, not the other way around.

Or that it's a feedback loop that continues to get worse for biochemical reasons, even if you're only there because you fell into a psychological trap.

The idea that long-term depression can actually change your brain so that it doesn't function as well as it used to, that's just scary, especially to a scientist where creativity and problem-solving are key. That's the one reason I am considering trying anti-depressants. I never thought of depression as a neuro-degenerative disease.

I have definitely felt that, in these really dark days (and despite how it may appear on this blog, not all my days are bad ones), the worst part is feeling like I can't think.

Can't focus on making decisions about what to do next. Can't remember anything. Might be constantly repeating myself (I think I've blogged about this before...?).

I really HATE the feeling when someone is asking me something, and I know I did the experiment (or tried to), or read something relevant somewhere, but the details are just out of reach. And scientists being as they are, they won't take my word for it unless I can provide sufficient detail that I sound like I have enough expertise (or you know, a PhD).

Then, when I can't make decisions, I fall into these patterns of asking other people for advice (see under: blog comments).

This includes talking to my PI, who knows nothing about my project and more often than not, steers me into doing experiments that waste time, money, energy, and are totally uninformative and ultimately, unpublishable.

So the hardest part of my job, even when I am fully functional, is not choosing my own direction so much as (1) talking my PI out of stupid pointless or expensive time-wasters; (2) persuading my PI that I know what I'm doing and (3) that it's worth the investment. Because given the lack of mentoring, pretty much the only reason I'm still in this lab is to get my experiments paid for.

Having said that, arguing persuasively does not come naturally to me (case in point: blog comments). But it's especially fucking hard, I'm learning, when you're depressed.

So I end up feeling like I'm depressed because my PI is dragging me down.

So here's my analogy: it's like having an angry zombie chained to your leg. I'm trying to move forward with this huge weight to carry, while simultaneously making sure it doesn't bite off my head. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to cure this zombie and turn it back into a person, but until I can cut the chain, I'm stuck with it getting in my way.


It's possible, as my therapist pointed out, that I actually did get some good career advice from someone somewhere along the way, but in my depressed state I was unable to recognize it and instead fell into the same old patterns that my fucked-up family made me think were going to lead to success.

And maybe it's just the depression talking when I feel like I've been arguing as hard as I can for years. Reading books about how to argue more effectively. Taking classes on negotiating. And yet, I'm pretty sure that my PI is like most PIs (and parents): just not hearing me.


I was talking to a former alum from our lab the other day, and got some advice that absolutely will not work for me. NO, I will not wear cutesy clothes and try to charm my way into getting what I want from the PI. NO, I do not know how to "manipulate back" my manipulative PI. NO, standing my ground has NOT worked and has only led to enormous backlash, resentment, and my PI flat-out avoiding me and refusing to read my manuscripts. NO, I can't talk to my PI about my depression, because acknowledging any kind of emotional anything is deemed as a weakness, not a strength.

What has worked is also depressing: playing into my PI's comfort with the female stereotype by letting myself be steered right into the pitfalls.

In other words, I am "mentoring up" in the sense of trying to help my PI learn the hard way.

I am playing dumb. I am playing passive. And it is working better than anything else has, except that it's taking fucking forever.

And the truth is, because I'm already depressed, I don't have the energy or creativity to come up with a better plan right now.

So what I really resent is when other PIs assume that my situation is entirely my own fault for not having tried, you know, arguing. It's so frustrating, I just have to laugh.

And I really resent that if my PI chooses to say that I am lazy and "difficult", everyone will most likely believe it. The only way I could have effectively countered that argument would be a High Enough Impact Paper to show that while my PI might be unappreciative, I am at least highly accomplished.

Except for the part where everyone seems oblivious to the fact that the first hurdle in getting your work shown to the world is: your own PI.

So yeah, I'm depressed about all of that. And despite what many of you write about how I should get out ASAP, leaving the lab empty-handed will definitely not cure my depression anytime soon.

So what could my PI do? (for Drugmonkey, and those of you who might be wondering):

1. Recognize that the problem is at least partly you.

Yes, your trainees are younger. Yes, we have things to learn from your experience and yes, you take care of us in ways we probably won't fully appreciate unless we eventually have our own labs.

However, we do have unique insight. We do a lot of things you probably don't know how to do. We don't feel appreciated most of the time, and we don't feel encouraged.

Maybe you could encourage us, maybe you could take our word for it one time in ten.

Maybe you could ask for outside help when you're in over your head. Indeed, you could at least admit it when you're in over your head, instead of trying so hard to pretend like you know it all already. We don't, but you don't either, and we know it.

2. Pretend like we're in this together.

My PI does this sometimes, and I do find it oddly comforting, even knowing that it doesn't actually help in any real-world sense. At the end of the day, I'm the one who has to make my projects work.

But psychologically, it does help to think that it doesn't all fall on my shoulders, or that at least someone is standing beside me making sure I won't drop the ball.

3. Show, don't tell.

Lead by example. Don't be a fucking hypocrite. Don't tell us to do things you criticize in other people's papers when you see it presented in journal club. Don't just assume we respect you because of some hierarchical bullshit tradition.

We want to genuinely respect you for your integrity. We want you to be a role model.

Be a good one.

4. Listen.

One thing that stood out to me on my graduate school interviews years ago was how little any of the PIs asked me. I thought it was an interview, so they would ask questions and want me to do some talking.

No, what they wanted to do was talk at me. And I am pretty good at listening, so of course I got offers everywhere that I "interviewed". Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I "visited". I was never interviewed any of these places (maybe if they had realized who I am and how I think, I wouldn't have gotten in!).

So yes, out of necessity PIs are great at talking about their work. But when it comes to mentoring, listening is the number one tool you need.

I don't need you to listen to me talk about my emotional state. I need you to listen to me about my work. I need you to LISTEN TO ME ABOUT MY WORK. I need you to LISTEN TO ME ABOUT MY WORK.

Well anyway. I said it.

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