Debbie Knight

The list

In observation on December 30, 2011 at 10:46 am

Like Santa, I have a naughty and nice list – only this one is for researchers: ones I would love to work for and ones you couldn’t pay me enough money to work for.

Today, I bumped into a woman who used to work in a lab that offered a service for fee. What that means is Muna’s lab would cut out tiny areas from a thin section of human tissue using a laser for researchers for a certain amount of money. This helps make an extremely expensive piece of equipment a little more affordable for university labs.

The technique she performed is called laser capture microscopic dissection and it takes time to cut enough tissue for analysis in the lab. In my case, I wanted the cells inside blood vessels (easy part) as well as cells that were in certain areas of the tissue (hard part).

The problem was that this technique, once mastered, became boring and tedious for her. She clearly was not happy doing this sort of work.

So, I was glad to hear she is working in a different lab, doing regular lab work which varies on a daily basis. She seems much happier. And that’s good.

When she told me she now works for Dr. B, my heart sank.  I personally would never work for this researcher because of what I’ve heard from people who worked with and around him. But she says it’s much better working for him than her boss in her previous lab, so I guess it’s all relative.

That got me to thinking. Over the years, I have kept a mental list of university researchers I would love to work for (if I needed to find another position) and an extremely long list of researchers I would never work for.

So just how does a researcher get on my “never work for” list?

It’s from my own observations. And it’s from the stories I hear from graduate students, research associates, and other professors. For example, a researcher be a really nice person but expects his lab personnel to put in 12-hour days. I’m not afraid of putting in long days, but I don’t want it to be the norm and I would like it to be voluntary rather than mandatory.

It could be that the researcher does not treat his lab personnel well – like yelling at them or pitting people against one another in an effort to increase productivity.

It could be the researcher has a huge lab – I prefer a smaller lab where it feels more like a family than a factory.

These are just a few examples as to how a researcher gets on that list.

And, of course, I compare all researchers to my current and former bosses – all were great guys to work for.

In the case of Dr. B, he falls into the “mean to his peeps” category. So I was a little surprised that Muna said working with him was an improvement. (I didn’t ask her how he treats her – I didn’t want to disenchant her.)

And although her old boss (Dr. S) was on my “I don’t think I want to work for this guy” list, her assessment has put him squarely on the “never work for” list – especially if she considers Dr. B (already on the list) an improvement.

I’m just beginning to re-assess my mental lists because I may have to look for another position by the end of 2012 when the lab’s funding runs out. That is, unless we secure more grant funding – something that’s not so easy and definitely not guaranteed these days.

But for now, I’ll be happy for Muna. Happy that she found a research position she can be excited about.

Congrats, Muna! And good luck with your research project!


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