postdocs -- ask your mentor

Bart Janssen bjanssen at
Sat Aug 16 14:14:57 EST 1997

aloisia schmid wrote:

> I know that people have been aware of this, but what this requires is
> telling a
> PI that he is supposed to be successful by doing the work him/herself.
> They are supposed to get grants and also keep publishing in an era
> when
> papers incorporate HUGE volumes of data---stuff that even only 5,6,7
> years
> ago would have filled three or four papers.

Hmm that's actually not my perception.  Sure after a given technique has
become "routine" it no longer warrants a paper in it's own right.  But
in contrast very few papers now constitute a complete body of work, that
is, conception of a hypothesis and testing of that hypothesis to
completion.  Most papers now describe one or two experiments in the
testing of a given hypothesis.  That wasn't always true, my biggest
shock was when I went back and read the Leamlli (sp) paper that first
described SDS PAGE.  I expected a relatively short description of a
novel technique, what I found was a deep intense study of a problem
where the paper was clearly the product of several years of work and the
technique I was looking for was buried in a figure legend almost as an
aside!  So I'd say people today publish less work per paper than they
did back then.


> So are we saying it is time to go back to the PACE of the days when we
> chased butterflies?  Has the PACE we've arrived at made a more
> responsible
> training rate impossible?  If so, how do you institute changes that
> affect
> these kinds of things?

I agree the pace of lab work is very high and the expectation of output
is also very high.  But surely one way of dealing with that is to employ
more researchers?  That is the way other professions deal with
overloaded workers.  Of course could argue that that is what has
happened, more workers, just not more money to pay the salaries.

As an aside I've worked in several labs now and one observation I've
made is that while in general most PIs respect long hours in the lab,
the number of hours in the lab usually bears no relevance to actual
productivity.  I've seen 9-5ers (yes really 9am to 5pm with half an hour
off for lunch and morning and afternoon tea breaks) who really worked
the whole time they were at the bench and their output was as good as
anyone elses in the lab.  You can argue that if they worked longer their
output would be more but in practice the reason they were able to work
properley while they were at work was because they were always fresh and


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