Yeah. So, this happened. FML

May 18 2012 Published by under exhaustion, venting

I sit in my office, alternatively staring at my computer screen, drinking coffee, and typing in bursts. I'm a little sleepy and highly caffeinated. My office is attached to my lab, and the door is open. Because I am an accessible fucking PI. There is a little knock on the door...but it is not anyone from my lab. It is a postdoc from another lab. Here is the exchange (not verbatim):

Me: Hi.

pd: Hi.

Me: What's up?

pd: Soooo...I am trying to do an experiment that is tangentially related to things that people in your lab do. With a reagent that you have used.

Me: OK. I used the reagent basically the same way that was published by Other Lab.

pd: I used it in a totally different way, and I'm confused about why it didn't work.

Me: But...that reagent won't even work for the experiment you want to do. That reagent detects process A, but you are trying to look at process B.

pd: Huh. what reagent should i use?

Me: [blink]

pd: [stares]

Me: I don't know. I have never tried to study process B. Maybe you should ask the other people in your own lab that study B.


Please explain to me the following: Why? What have I done wrong? Am I too nice? Is that why it should be my job to help postdocs from other fucking labs? AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHH.

Please, students and postdocs of the world. Try to think about what you are saying when you interact with faculty members, especially those that are not actually your mentor. I actually like chatting about your project. But throw me a bone here. It is not my job to do your work for you. I know that perhaps most folks don't know that the next NIH deadline is June 5. That will not stop me from being even more cranky about this interaction because I'm in the midst of grant writing.

Get off my lawn.

that is all

18 responses so far

  • Please get out of my fucking office unless you are bringing beer, brownies, or possibly, coffee.

    • gerty-z says:

      Perhaps we should make a sign with this sentiment for our office door. Or print it on small projectiles that we can "distribute" as needed.

  • I actually like chatting about your project. But throw me a bone here. It is not my job to do your work for you.

    You are being way too harsh. Most people are nowhere near as smart or thorough as you are, including both this post-doc and her mentor. The vast majority of people--including scientists--are essentially incapable of thinking things through.

    • gerty-z says:

      This is probably true. I actually try very hard to be accessible to all the trainees in our dept. But this was certainly a frustrating exchange, in part because I feel like I am always answering remedial questions from this particular person. I suspect, though, that I was more easily frustrated because of my current elevated stress levels.

  • Yoder says:

    What Comradde PhysioProffe said. Seriously, I cannot imagine having that kind of conversation with a PI from another lab.

  • Anon says:

    Really, maybe pd is just socially inept and tried to have a sciency chat with you, maybe with the vague idea that it could spark a collaboration? Maybe pd is trying to solve the problem for a while already, and someone said "maybe other people working with it know more?". Or, his/her mentor is useless and pd tried to find someone else, as the usual advice is often to find someone who does not work directly with you?
    Granted, very clumsy try, but probably with good intentions. No reason to be harsh. Have a heart for the socially clumsy people of this world 😉

    • gerty-z says:

      Point well taken. I know that this person probably didn't realize that I am in the midst of grant-and-other-deadline craziness. That is why I am venting OTI instead of IRL 🙂

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    I have PIs from other labs that I just chat with for the sake of chatting, but only those that have actively encouraged me to do so. If I'm going to consult on experimentation I'm sure to know as much as possible so I have intelligent questions or at least identified explicitly where the confusion lies before I bother them. Sadly I'm the exception rather than the rule.

    I think the issue lies in the way incoming postdocs were educated. My generation was always told what they needed to know to pass the test and to ignore anything that won't be even if it is relevant. Grad schools aren't always great at breaking the habit because as long as you are producing publishable data no one cares whether you are just following a protocol rather than understanding your methodology. Sometimes it's only when you have to troubleshoot that it becomes an issue and oftentimes the person in question has no idea how to do that without someone flat out telling them.

    • gerty-z says:

      My MO when chatting with other students and postdocs (which I really do enjoy!) is generally to guide rather than answer. So it was pretty normal that when I was interacting with this pd that I suggested inroads into the literature instead of just saying what the answer is. Hopefully this will eventually help folks learn how to find the information they need from primary sources instead of through me. Because, hey, it is probably not a good idea to trust my recall of some method if your research depends on it!

    • Dev says:

      Maybe that PD comes from a theoretical background or training, and that would make a difference when reading or interpreting published experimental data or methods.

      I have seen it.

  • minion says:

    First up, good luck with the NIH deadline and getting everything you need done on time :). As a minion at the bottom of the food chain, sometimes I really *do* wish that PIs would put up a HUGE sign on their door/emails/whatever saying warning me about grant writing season. It turns otherwise lovely people (=people prepared to feign interest in my insignificant projects) into scary fire-breathing dragons. Hard to know when to take it personally (did I just make an incredibly mistake, even for a grad?), when to brush it off as them having a bad day (I know if my supervisor hasn't slept for more than 6hrs that it's definitely him, not me) or when to realise that maybe my question isn't stupid, but really needs to be timed at a time when otherwise-lovely-people-aren't-fire-breathing-dragons.

  • becca says:

    ALL PIs need a "grantwriting in progress, approach with caution" poster with a grumpy dragon on it.

    • gerty-z says:

      This is an excellent idea. I might make one of these before I start writing the next round application!

    • Hermitage says:

      Ye olde advisor did have a bigass sign that was basically 'getting the $$$ for you bishes, knock for non-emergencies and you will be incinerated'*. That and his secretary was right outside his door and would be all like 'you want to pull back a nub' if some numnut tried to knock on his door, despite the sign. I see nothing wrong with telling people to fuck off when you are fundraising for your lab.

      *It was more polite than that, but that was effectively the message.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    I probably would have had the same reaction-and I don't have a June 5 grant deadline.

    Part of it is that PD was completely unprepared for this conversation. Don't people care about looking stupid anymore? Also, some folks don't take into account that you are actually not there for the sole purpose of answering their questions.....

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