Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The control of your PI

The other day I talked to another post-doc who is in hir fifth year and about to leave the lab. Hir parents are visiting soon and ze asked hir PI to take a couple days off. The PI told hir no and said that ze could take 2 days, but only if it were a Friday and a Monday, in order not to disrupt hir experiments. This post-doc left the office feeling angry and sad. The next day ze asked again because hir parents had already booked their flight tickets to come visit. The PI agreed this time but only under the condition that ze would work 2 extra weekend days to make up for this time off, and if ze wouldn’t get data on those weekend days ze would have to come again on another weekend day. Did I already mention that this post-doc has a small child and would this way miss a couple of weekend days with hir child?
I think this type of control by a PI is quite ridiculous and does not add to the productivity of this post-doc or the entire lab. On the other hand, I also don’t understand why this post-doc puts up with this especially when ze is about to leave this lab. 

There are other PIs that are on the other side of the spectrum and leave everybody extremely free to do whatever they want.

What are your thoughts on the appropriate level of control a PI should exert over his or her lab members?


  1. I only care about (reasonable) productivity, not what hours people put in. Everyone works differently and is efficient on different hours. I like to see trainees around during some normal hours (i.e., I prefer people don't flip their schedule and go nocturnal) for informal chats and touching base on stuff, but otherwise I don't care what hours you put in.

    That said, if someone is not getting shit done for an extended period of time, we're going to have to talk.

  2. I think this is party a field dependent thing. Setting specific hours for me doesn't even make sense. My work can be done at all hours and doesn't involve these sort so weeks long time points. An hour here, an hour there, it's pretty flexible. PI doesn't care as long as I'm above some threshold of productivity.

  3. I agree.

    I'm used to a hands-off, 'do whatever they want' type of PI. Besides, the research I'm involved in often requires odd late nights and weekends in the lab anyway, so it's reasonable for our grad students and postdocs not to be on campus during normal weekday hours or to occasionally take a long weekend at their own discretion. As long as the work gets done, it's all fine by our PI.

    For a postdoc who already has a Ph.D. and a family, the level of control you describe doesn't just sound ridiculous and unfair, it's also patronizing and disrespectful.

  4. Honestly, the PI's behavior is just egging on your postdoc friend to disobey anyway. If your friend takes the days off anyway, is the PI going to fire hir? The PI won't get hir data either way.

  5. This phenomenon is really only dependent on the personality profile of the PI that can be summarized in: The PI is likely to be a controlling jerk. The best thing you can do is avoiding to work for such an individual if you don't like the feeling of being controlled.

    Unfortunately, there is not much one can do about this once your are in the situation as you can't really change the person's character. Resistance behavior might result in a more severe crisis than pretending to play along. So depends what kind of risk your colleague wants to take at the end of the post-doc.

    In her situation, she'll probalby cooperate as much as she can as she depends on references from the PI. At any rate, she needs to make sure to get at least the most critical things done before leaving, not for the PI but for herself and her own future. As she know already that she's leaving soon, I would recommend to focus on 'the light at the end of the tunnel'. Don't waist too much energy on the issue.

  6. I do not quite understand. Doesn't your friend have some paid vacation or something? Or is it something they tried to arrange on top of the vacation days?