Two senior scientists, married, were recently recruited away from here to even bigger deal leadership positions elsewhere. Their move was a surprise to some because this power couple had recently negotiated quite the retention package from our dean– huge new lab space,, independent institute and money to populate it with additional faculty. I don’t fault them for finding a bigger better deal. But what they did to the people left in their labs left many here shaking their heads.
The downtime that comes with such a transition is unsettling to over-achieving scientists, and these two came up with a creative solution to the down-time problem. They decided to keep their lab here going and to make their exact departure date somewhat vague as they set up their new labs. They invited many members of their lab to move to a new time zone, but not surprisingly many chose to stay here.
Well, funny story, it turns out that HR here cannot help find a new position without an end-date given to you by your current boss. So despite knowing their positions were going away, they were prevented from looking for new jobs within the university. Their long-time administrative assistant retired earlier than she had wanted, and thesis defense dates were dragged out.
Instead of helping their students get their thesis defenses scheduled for before their departure, these PI’s told their students that they needed to keep working. Without one more “big paper,” they would not get a good recommendation or a plumb post-doc position. Many of those on their thesis committees felt this tactic was harmful, not helpful to the careers of these students.
I’m sure the departing scientists thought they were doing right by their people. In their, “go big or stay home” glamour psychology, respectable productivity is not really worth much. These folks would have a lot of sympathy for Scott Kern’s “Where’s the Passion?” piece from a few years back… (Recently discovered and refuted via my friend Dr. Isis and partner in crime, Drugmonkey: http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2010/10/05/scott-kerns-message/)
I realize writing this that it’s easy for me to throw stones at the behavior of these more senior scientists. But it got me thinking about my own mentorship, and I’m thinking I need to up my own game. I spend a lot of time these days writing grants, running from meeting to meeting, and driving my kids to different activities. Often times the people in my lab get the short end of the stick. Maybe I’m not behaving “badly,” but I could definitely be a more engaged mentor myself. It seems like deadlines, big papers and prestige demand time and attention…but in the end, it’s who remembers us, our mentees, that define our legacy.