Does it matter to your P.I. what you did this weekend?
A few weeks ago, I used this photo in a talk at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. These are very exciting times at UAMS, capped by the recent dedication of their Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute tower. I had a lovely visit with pharmaceutical chemists, neurobiologists, clinical pharmacologists, and young exciting researchers and educators across the College. I also found that, despite the August heat, Little Rock is an enjoyable, medium-sized city with great cultural amenities and an excellent quality of life.
However, my only previous experience with the Arkansas River that runs through the state capital had been way upstream at the headwaters just outside of Leadville, Colorado. This picture shows yours truly as a young assistant professor and some of our lab group taking a midweek day off to enjoy that season’s snowcap runoff.
My thoughts returned to this photo last week at the MEDI Lunch-and-Learn session on Chemical & Pharma Blogging led last week by C&EN’s Carmen Drahl at the national ACS meeting in Boston, nicely liveblogged here by Lisa Jarvis. In my inaugural post last week, I noted with joy the chance to sit present and field questions together with Derek Lowe (In the Pipeline), Ed Silverman (Pharmalot), and Michael Tarselli of Scripps Florida.During the discussion, a women asked a question about the wisdom of blogging as a Ph.D. trainee as her forward-thinking institution asked her to launch a blog to chronicle the graduate student experience. I applauded the idea but recommended blogging under a pseudonym and writing more broadly on the experience rather than specific interactions with individuals in the work environment.
But some in the audience and on the panel noted that mentors might object to such activities saying that every moment spent on another activity is a moment that could be spent in the laboratory.
I called that hogwash, stating that we lab heads have no business in the personal lives of our trainees and their choice of hobbies – hiking, softball, music – on their own time (so long as they aren’t writing online about my shortcomings as a P.I.).
But much chuckling and groaning ensued, with my compatriot, Derek Lowe, noting that his major professor routinely stuck his nose into any penchant for non-lab activities.
I’m sorry, my friends, but this is nuts.
Yes, I realize we work in a competitive business and that many laboratories operate 24/7 with many trainees working 70 or more hours per week.
But I don’t think that is healthy.
Everyone needs time away from the lab – not just to deal with personal or family needs but to simply rejuvenate and relax the mind.
I encourage all trainees to pick one non-lab vocation to stick with during their scientific training. Mine was playing music (loudly and badly). My first graduate student was a rock-climber. My first technician who was preparing for a Ph.D. program coached youth soccer.
I will submit further that time away from the lab is important for mental health and actually improves productivity and morale.
I know that my view is not popular among my contemporaries. But you can still put in a few hours on Saturday morning, perhaps start some cultures on a Sunday night, and still have a great weekend. I have absolutely no business in dictating the private time of anyone in the lab.
If the work gets done to everyone’s satisfaction and everyone is putting in a robust effort during the week, weekend fun – yes, fun, I daresay – is good for all.
And as for the slackers above? The ones that were mine include a tenured associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, a new assistant professor of surgery, a Stanford Ph.D. grad, and someone who chose to use their career to raise a family and contribute to scientific awareness in their community.
No Nobel Prize for me. But that’s okay.
How about you?