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Research ethics survey

Annette C. Hollmann ah690549 at bcm.tmc.edu
Fri Feb 28 17:07:44 EST 1997

In article <33168B3D.7C4F at nospamsalk.edu> forsburg at nospamsalk.edu writes:
>Annette C. Hollmann wrote:
>> I don't think a PI should have the power to force a student to work more
>> hours than required by law because that can have the potential for abuse,
>> and it won't do the student any good. A 40 hour week is mandated by
>> federal law, and the PI cannot forcibly obtain any more. While it may be
>> necessary to work more for success, determining how many "bonus hours" to
>> work should be left up to the student.The PI should appreciate these bonus
>> hours, instead of acting like a bottomless pit and constantly demanding
>> more and more and more. 
>You obviously some history of bad experiences in this regard, and I know 
>how demanding some PIs could be.  We've all heard or experienced the
>slavedriver PI story.  Some PIs do misuse their power over students.
>On the other hand, while there are a few people who can work very 
>efficiently and get it all done in a regular work week, they
>are rare.  Moreover, biological systems don't usually listen to the 

Don't I know it - I do transfections with very persnickety cells, so
persnickety, in fact, that just figuring out the optimal conditions will
probably get me a publication.
I'm pretty darned efficient as well, though, so my PI gets a double bonus.
I have a computer program on my trusty old IIci that can intercalate my
experiments. I have done up to 5 experiments simultaneously (and didn't
goof up any, either).

>This is not a 9-5, weekends-free profession.  Getting a PhD isnt a job.
>If being a student were like having a job, the pay would be a lot 
>better.  This should not be a surprise to anyone.  If you go to 
>graduate school, you must be prepared to work hard.  My technician
>has a 40 hour week.  My students don't.  It's no different
>for me as a PI.  Certainly I work more than 40hrs/wk, and
>I'm not threatening my employer with Federal law.  If I don't work hard,
>I won't get grants or publish papers, my contract won't be renewed 
>and I'll be out on my ear.  That's real life.  No one said it was fair.

It's not really the 40 hours a week, it's who decides how much overtime is 
enough. I call it overtime even though it really isn't so that when
someone tells me that doing my best isn't good enough, I can maintain my
sanity by remembering that I'm usually working the equivalent of 1.5 or 2
real jobs. Anybody who calls me lazy doesn't have his head on right.
 If your student was working his ... off and your
tech continually berated him for not working hard enough, wouldn't he have
the right to be just a little annoyed at the tech? Now, if the student
were working 60 hours, and you, working 80 hours, set him straight, that
would be completely different. You would be leading by example, and doing
more than your fair share.

>Look at it from the other side for a minute.  Say you are a PI
>struggling to keep your grants going, and your grants pay your
>students and you.  You are doing competitive science, because most 
>science these days is competitive.  You have a student who 
>announces that she isnt going to work more than 40 hours per week,
>because she wants her weekends free "for a life".  
>Her project starts to fall behind.  It's an important part of
>your research program, and if she doesnt put in the hours, she
>and you will be scooped by your competitor, and your grant renewal
> (which pays both of you) will be endangered.
>What do you do? 
>Do you want to keep paying this student for the 7 or 8 years it
>will take her to get her PhD?  Or would you rather be paying the
>young tiger who puts her all into it, and gets out in 4 years?  

The point here isn't the 40 hours, but the falling behind.
I would look at two things:
what was attempted, and what was accomplished.
If not enough was attempted, the student would have 3 choices:
get more efficient
work more hours
take a masters and become a tech

If a lot was attempted, but nothing was accomplished, I would take a look
at the project. There could be technical issues that need to be addressed.
As long as a weekly report hit my desk with sufficient work, I wouldn't
come down on the student.
I will probably need 7 years to finish because I had some projects crash
and burn. I came in with this rep of being incredibly brilliant, so I got
the tough projects. I was in my 4th year by the time I got a project that
I could get to work, and it took me another 1.5 years to get the crucial
first step, at which others had tried and failed. Along the way, even
though I did not get any publications yet, other people in the lab were
able to use the assays and techniques I developed. I'll get a few papers,
but they'll all come in one single traffic jam of data. That's just the
nature of my project.

>It's so easy to miss the other side of this equation, which usually
>devolves into a "them" versus "us". 
>-- susan, who used to be one of "us" but now is one of "them".

There doesn't have to be an "us" and "them" division as long as we all
treat each other as decent human beings and lead by example.
If you want to get more data faster, don't order the student around "I
want x,y,and z on my desk on Monday. Have a nice weekend". Instead, ask "I
wonder what would happen if you did this experiment..." The natural
curiosity of the student will take care of the rest.


-> gotta switch programs and stack up my experiments for the next month:-)

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