Thursday, June 5, 2008

PhD does not equal Manager

Several of the PIs in our department have had some serious personnel issues. The subject came up today, so I thought I would blog about it.

First I want to start with a couple of incidents.

Incident 1: At the time, my lab was next door to a yeast lab. Yeast Grad. Student drops an open centrifuge tube on the floor, the contents are lost and YGS cannot do the planned experiment. (I did not witness this part of the story, but I did witness the next part.) YGS throws remaining culture onto the floor and then throws a 250mL flask full of culture against the wall yeast lab shares with my lab. YGS then starts SCREAMING at YGS#2 and the technician. A half a minute later YGS throws a stool across the room. This prompts the technician to grab his backpack and quickly exit the yeast lab. YGS turns focus to YGS#2 (the only remaining occupant) and starts screaming really awful, rediculous crap. YGS is yelling so loud that you can hear everything several labs down.
My first urge was to see how it played out, but decided it would be better to pull yeast PI out of a med micro lab. At this point I figure the incident is over, but I was wrong. YGS starts screaming at YPI, ultimately blaming YPI for everything.
Meanwhile, the rest of the department slowly migrated to the scene. What happened to YGS you ask? YGS was asked to go home for the rest of the day. A couple years later YGS ripped a cabinet door off its tracks when a new lab member, YGS#3, said something sarcastic to YGS. There was some more yelling, but my lab had moved and I did not hear or see anything. What happened to YGS? Nothing, instead YGS#3 was told to go home and take a week off, YGS went back to work. Ultimately the entire lab ended up walking on egg shells until YGS graduated.

Incident 2 (which is much shorter):
The Grad student in a different lab screams at coworkers on a regular basis, refuses to share lab equipment and hides reagents, supplies and small equipment from the other lab members. This went on for years, until the yeller/hoarder graduated. Needless to say it was a miserable situation.

The thing is, having a PhD does not mean you automatically know how to manage people who work for you. In these cases absolutely nothing was done and everyone involved suffered. Furthermore, the crazy grad student is likely to repeat the behavior in the next lab.
In a business setting, the person throwing the stool or screaming at the people trying to use "their" copy machine would be fired, forced to see a counselor or required to take anger management classes. You can't really fire a grad student, but it seems like something should be done, especially if the incidents tend to repeat themselves.

I don't particularly want to add extra course work to any grad. student, but I would have no problem with replacing the required ethics class with a management class.


Anonymous said...

"Loose cannon" should be lock up in mental institution.

Anonymous said...

I have had my own bad experience with a PI (principal investigator). One day, during lab meeting, he up and fires 3 of his six grad students in front of everyone. No warning, no "you need to shape up or you are out." The next day, he asked all three grad students back.