Friday, April 19, 2013

What is your obligation as a PI?

Say you’re a PI of medium sized lab (or any size, it really doesn’t matter for this question) and you get an offer from a non-academic place to go work there. It’s very tempting because they pay tons of money, and with the difficult time getting grants that sounds like sweet music to your ears. So you take the job, which means your techs, grad students and post-docs don’t have a PI anymore. 

What is your obligation here? The grad students will be taken over by other PIs because the school promised them continuous funding (although it will cost them extra time), but what about the techs and the post-docs? Officially, of course, you probably owe them nothing (or do you?), but in reality what would you do? Do you try to make sure they get somewhere or is that not your problem?

Of course, this is an entirely hypothetical situation. I just wanted to talk about something else than the Boston Marathon bomber for a change.


  1. Interesting question. I thought getting up and moving to another city was bad - as I have heard several of my friends have experienced with their supervisors. This is a whole other level. Will be interested to see what others say. I feel like significant support and as early notification as possible would be the very least. Helping to explore options with close collaborators could work (in some situations)...

  2. Officially, of course, you probably owe them nothing (or do you?), but in reality what would you do?
    It's not that simple and it can happen that even if you do want to help them, you can't - I've been on the other side of this as a PI who moved internationally to another university. At my old university all my grants were automatically stopped with the date of my departure, since the funding agencies did not allow them to be transferred to anyone else at the old university, nor would they allow me to take them along. So the money went back to the funding agencies and there was no choice for me as a PI to do anything, in particular for those postdocs who were not geographically not mobile (one postdoc came with me to the new country).

  3. I thought that once you were a PI you were allowed to screw people over with impunity?

  4. I was a postdoc in a lab when the PI retired. Three techs and six postdocs were thrown onto the job market simultaneously. It really sucked because the PI had expended all political goodwill at the institution and no one was willing to take on any of his employees. The institution even fought to prevent the senior postdoc from being supported for extra years on the PI's grant, even though that course would cost the institution some overhead.

    Ideally the PI should work somewhat to provide some positive outcome for the employees. I believe that taking on a student or postdoctoral fellow is a mutual contract; the PI owes the postdoc some level of effort to achieve a successful training experience.