Friday, April 26, 2013

What’s in it for me?

My PI got me involved in a collaboration with people who want to do something that I know how to do (and my PI doesn’t really). So I’m helping them as much as I can. Not only do I give them advice, I also help them with practical work because that lab currently consists of only the PI and a technician who works hir ass off for the PI. The PI is pretty pushy and often only asks things at the last minute, so this collaboration has been a good exercise in trying to protect my personal boundaries (read: I’ve been annoyed to no end by all the last-minute requests). 

What I’m not really sure about in these kinds of situations is when you ask what’s in it for you? I asked my PI and he was like:” Yeah of course you’ll be a co-author on their paper.” But so far, we’re gathering preliminary data for a grant, and with the current size of this PI’s lab it might take a while before this turns into a paper.

So how does one go about this? Do you trust that this PI will remember that I helped hir when ze writes the paper years from now? Or do you just ask (or even email so that you have it in writing):”What’s in it for me?”


  1. Probably best to ask sooner rather than later. Instead of asking what you will get, make it about what level of work they are requesting. Would you like me to be an author or an acknowledgment?

    1. Thanks, that's a really good way of asking it I think! Hadn't thought about putting it that way.

  2. 1. Get it in writing (email)
    2. Set limits on time and contribution (can be renegotiated later)
    3. If someone is being pushy or not respecting you or your time, push back firmly. You owe them nothing.

    You have all the leverage: experienced PD with needed skill >> new PI with no people.

    1. Thanks for your comment. This person is not at all a new PI. Ze is a friend of my PI and pretty senior but currently without people in the lab (I'm guessing due to funding). I'm pushing back a lot (which makes me sound like a whiny person I guess), but this person just has a strong way of asking for things. And since my PI is a friend I feel kind of on my own here.

  3. First, talk to your PI. He needs a heads up & won't like being blindsided. "I need to go talk to because I'm not entirely comfortable with this project and my efforts". If your PI has your back, include him in the meeting, if you like. But not critical. Remember your PI is scoring big off you in this situation.

    Go to other PI. Say "I am really glad to help you out on this interesting project, but I am concerned about my time and the energy I need to put into my own project. Could we clarify what you want from me, and what I can expect in return?" Direct counts. If you get some run-around, go back to your PI and explain in more detail why you don't want to do this. A good mentor would have protecting you at the top of the list.

    As always, be polite and calm.

    Do not expect good things to just flow your way. Neither your or the other PI may be malevolent, they may just not be thinking about your best interests or what you need.

    Finally, while it is good & honorable to think about the long suffering tech, that is not your responsibility, nor necessarily within your grasp to fix.


  4. Don't waste your time on it unless your interested in networking with the other lab. It's likely only political and will never give you any scientific benefit.

  5. My postdoc was in a similar situation. He was pushed around by another PI, I intervened a few times, the other PI was all like "why are you sending me these testy emails, you are being difficult." The postdoc said he didn't mind, hoping to get coauthorship on a high impact paper. He sure did, but he's third author on this paper and it took way more bamboozling by both the other PI and the other PI's various minions; overall, it was a ton of work and a ton of annoyance, I don't think it was worth that 3rd authorship. Instead, my postdoc should have, as I told him many times, spent all that time and energy on his first-author papers that are now quite delayed.

    Your PI should have your back. Talk to him openly.