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Research ethics survey

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Fri Feb 28 18:18:45 EST 1997

In article <33168B3D.7C4F at nospamsalk.edu>,
S L Forsburg  <forsburg at nospamsalk.edu> wrote:
>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 


I agree with both of you.  I am still a postdoc, but it's possible I 
will be a PI someday (or maybe not).  I really appreciate Annette's 
pointing out the physical constraints on working hard.  That's something
that I think gets ignored a lot, in favor of the notion that the
ability to work hard is mostly determined by mental state and effort
of will.  Like Annette, I'm also kind of a "middle of the roader."
I can work 60-70 hour weeks and still maintain my sanity, but more than
that sends me into a physical and emotional tailspin.  I've tried the
"just throw more hours down the black hole through sheer effort of will" 
approach to working harder, and I believe that if I
do that again, my PI would have to come visit me in the hospital, and
there wouldn't be any data to speak of.

I don't blame PI's for the pressure, and I don't think it's fair to
frame it in an "us" vs. "them" way.  This kind of pressure affects all
of us.  I also have to say that I haven't experienced direct pressure
to work harder from any PI's that I've had.  My impression is that while
there are some slavedrivers, they are pretty easy to spot (and not
always by their superior publication record) and avoid.  Most PI's I have
known (and all that I have worked for) have reasonable expectations, at
least by Susan's (and my) standards (as I said, I think we feel pretty
similarly on this).

I agree with Annette's suggestion that if one has limitations like
these, one should adjust one's career expectations accordingly.  But
it's difficult when what one really enjoys (and is good at) 
is creative work, to try to "adjust one's expectations" because
the prevailing attitudes are still, if you don't work hard "enough" 
(whatever "enough" is, and the definition of "enough" is getting more
and more insane), it's due to laziness or some kind of character
defect.  Rather than blaming PI's, I think what's required is more
awareness on everybody's part of the physical limitations of biological
systems (including, and especially, our own!)

Tigers need sleep too.


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