Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Serenity Now!

Recently, I went from sharing an office with an insanely disgruntled grad student to sharing an office with an over-emotional post-doc (OEP) and all I can say is, I want the disgruntled grad student back.

OEP is working on a project that includes elements that are out of Magnum, PI’s (and the rest of the labs) expertise. However, I happen to know a shit-ton about this subject and as a result, I am the go-to person. In general, I don't mind this. I think part of working in a lab includes passing down knowledge and assisting your fellow lab mates. I draw the line at hand-holding.

At first, I tried to help. I explained concepts, techniques and went out of my way to make sure OEP knew where to look for information, and fielded numerous questions. This area was unfamiliar territory for OEP and I was happy to help. After a while, I expected OEP to take charge of the project and use me for troubleshooting or discussing data. I am willing to help, but the person I am helping needs to help themselves as well. Unfortunately, it seems like I am basically steering the project and I am wondering if OEP can function as an independent researcher.

I am constantly called on to look at data, explain data, explain what experiments to do next, etc. When I ask basic questions about results, I don’t get answers, I get blank stares. When I inquire about reading into certain topics I get answers like, “I didn’t know I should look at that.” When I ask, what are the limitations of this program or technique you are using, I get more blank stares. In a nutshell, OEP seems clueless.

Now, I would imagine that not having a clue is frustrating and I assume that this is why OEP breaks down in tears every other week. I am sympathetic, but to a point. I don't want to come to work and deal with someone crying or complaining about how they should just give up. It's exhausting and not to sound like a bitch, but I really don't have time for this. I've actually got my own projects to work on.

Am I being to hard on OEP? Maybe. When I started in this lab, I didn't know what the fuck I was doing, but I learned. I read many papers, I researched protocols, techniques, machines and brushed up on my biochemistry (big time). And yes, I asked my lab mates and Magnum, PI questions, but no one was holding my hand telling me what to do.

I'm at a loss as to what I should do. I don't even know that there is anything I can do. There really isn't anyone else in the lab that can help OEP. I don't want OEP to fail, but I am not willing to sacrifice half my time to steer another project and pick up the pieces every other week.


chall said...

it's hard to find a middle ground. One way you say you don't want to be the one who doesn't help PEO so they fail, the other says "think about me and my work".

I think you might need to sit down and talk to them and explain "I don't have time to do both" OR - which might be an alternative - is to look into where on the paper you'd be?! And if you get name on the paper, would that make you more interested in helping?

Key thing though, imho, is that you need to say to yourself that maybe PEO is slower than you, not grasping it and maybe you would've done a better job and faster - however, you need to think about your research and in the end, if they can't do the job they have to make it work. you can't make their research work for them. They need to get onboard or get off, neither has to do with you. (As you said, reading up on your own, thinking and trying... It sounds like the easy way is to ask you all the time, and since you are a nice person you answer?!)

Harsh but true.

my disclaimer would be that I've spent too much time helping others with their stuff, missing to work on my own as much, and getting screwed in then end (mainly emotionally but also time wise). So I might be a bit weary about helping ppl who really don't want help but rather someone who does the work for them. for free. Ok, maybe i'm a bit bitter ;) but I at least know it....

chall said...

...do I win the longest comment and disclaimer award too

Hermitage said...

OEP is a goddamn postdoc. If he/she is utterly incapable of grasping a new concept without your sitting down and drawing a goddamn picturebook to get them through it all they deserve to fail. You're a resource, not a life-support jacket, they should know better.

Micro Dr. O said...

At some point you gotta cut the cord - even if it feels a bit bitchy. I myself am a bit chicken shit about this kind of thing, so I'd probably start wearing headphones and pretend to not hear when OEP talked. Of course, just telling him/her that you don't have time would also work. No matter what, don't let OEP take over your ability to get your stuff done.

Anonymous said...

From reading your blog, it seems to me you need to come down from that ego cloud of yours...

Girlpostdoc said...

You could always direct her to Magnum PI saying something like, well "I think you should consult your supervisor they'll probably know better than I would." And then maybe the PI might understand the situation better.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the Hermitage. OEP needs to sack up. What are the odds that well-intentioned hand holding got him/her through his/her PhD and into a postdoc he/she can't handle. Any takers?

(And yeah I did assume it was a female until I went back and checked what you wrote, but that's probably because boys don't cry...)

microbiologist xx said...

chall - I think I'll get an acknowledgement at best since I am not actually doing the experiments for the paper. I am trying to to give OEP the benefit of the doubt, something I would not have done 5 years ago. I've been avoiding a conversation b/c I tend to be very blunt and I don't want to OEP cry. I think I need to make sure I am well-rested and not annoyed myself before i speak to OEP.
Regarding the disclaimer: This is certainly a situation I want to avoid. I do not want to spend so much time helping someone else that I dig a huge hole for myself. I think I see that down the road and that just adds to my frustration. And, yes, you win the prize! :)

Hermitage - I agree. I don't know if they deserve to fail, but that is exactly what is going to happen if they don't find some way to get it together.

Micro Dr. O - You're right. I don't know if I am having a hard time cutting the cord b/c I feel like my PI needs me to help her or because OEP seems so miserable and I don't want to add to the problems. I'm going to let them know that I do not have time to be doing this every other day, but that maybe once a week, we could discuss things. Maybe this would force OEP to do more things on their own.

Anon 7:24 - Thanks for the advice.

GPD - The thing is, he'll just end up bringing my in to his office with OEP b/c he knows this shit is what I wrote my dissertation on. It's an odd project for this lab.

Anon 3:57 - This certainly would not be the first person I've seen get a PhD when really they were just a glorified technician, guided through every aspect of their project and never thinking for themselves. In some cases this has been the students fault, in other cases it's been due to an overbearing PI. It seems that OEPs grad advisor was very controlling, so maybe they weren't given the opportunity to work independently.
I would probably assume the same thing regarding gender. Usually it is the women that cry. However, my grad advisor made at least three guys cry.

microbiologist xx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Candid Engineer said...

The good news here is that you share an office with *1* other person. I share an office with 20.

You need to be honest. Have a frank discussion with her where you tell her that you don't mind pointing her in the right direction from time to time, but you have your own project to work on, and that it's really up to her to make the right moves on her own project.

chall said...

yey - I win prize ;)

To be honest though, depending on how much she depends on you - I don't think "ackowledgement" is in order. I think if you help her analyse, teach her how to set up experiements etc ... and she looks for input from you, as well as from PI, you fill the requirements for "intellectually contributed to the article" and therefore as an author.

If you don't want to be on it, that's one thing, but imho the intellectual and practical feedback and help with experiments and anlyses are what a paper consists of, as well as the actual experiments.

Bori said...

I feel with you. I was at "home office" today because sometimes I can not hear myself think in our office (and obviously I can not complain because most of the people are talking science anyway).
So thanks god for remote desktop. :-D
About your office-buddy, would it make sense to suggest some kind of "question hours" (for lack of a better word)? i.e. You can help with discussions every Tues and Thurs afternoon- but s/he should leave you in peace (unless in emergency) the rest of the time. I'm almost sure this would not function in my case, but if you are different hierarchical levels- it should be possible.
Alternatively (and probably a less bitchy option than showing authority)- throw a fit one time in the same manner, reverse the ball and see how that goes.
Good luck.

Anonymous said...

OEP needs to get the fuck out of postdocing now.

Anonymous said...

That was tideliar BTW