Lab Management 101
July 31, 2009
Janus Professor has an interesting post up in which she expresses concern with the fact that she has been having trouble keeping her emotions in check when interacting with the trainees in her lab:
I have been getting frustrated with my group members lately, and since I have no internal filter, my frustration is narrated to them in real time. Some of the things I say are potentially destructive to our research and to my members’ morale. Even as these words pour out of my mouth, I realize that what I am saying is bad, and I feel guilt. The next time I see the student, I totally reverse course and shower them with praise as I try to put out my flaming guilt. From the students’ point of view, I probably appear to have wild mood swings. Actually, my emotions are pretty constant: CONSTANT FRUSTRATION.
Starting a new laboratory is extremely stressful. You go from being a post-doc in a functioning laboratory to an empty room with nothing happening. Also, by definition the new principal investigator was one of the best, hardest working, most talented trainees among her cohort, and the people who are joining a brand new lab are likely much closer to the mean, if not below it. And if you don’t get things going on a reasonably short time scale, you will crash and burn and fail to establish yourself as a successful independent investigator.
Nevertheless, you absolutely cannot display uncontrollable frustration to your trainees. That is the kiss of death for your entire laboratory.
You need to always maintain a calm and confident demeanor, even when people are fucking up egregiously and you want to wring their necks. You can express dissatisfaction with your trainees, but it must always be in a calm and confident way.
The moment that your trainees begin to think that you are not calm and confident in your expertise and in your ability to make your lab a success, they will lose trust in you as a mentor. And once they lose trust in you, you are completely fucked.
Trainees are like dogs: they can smell fear. If you are afraid of failure, and your trainees smell your fear, you are fucked.