10 February 2017

Staying active in the lab and/or field when you’re the boss

For many scientists, there comes a point in their careers where they are not collecting their own data. They supervise students, and the students collect the data, leaving the senior scientist (or, to use grant-speak I hate, the principle investigator or “PI”) to write grant proposals and help draft papers.

I’m a beleiver that senior scientists should have at least one project of their own. One project where they collecting their own data and write it up themselves as first author. I know that this is overly optimistic, and not a lot of people can do this. But even if you don’t have your own project, it’s still valuable to be in the field or in the lab doing something.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the lab collecting data. I’m quite excited by the small amount of data I have so fa.

But the project I’m collecting data for started as an incidental observation last summer. I was helping one of my students on a project, and noticed something interesting. Just happenstance while we were looking at something mostly unrelated.

That incidental observation last summer is probably going yield at least one paper.

No matter how good and dedicated students are, the likelihood that any of them would have noticed what I noticed, and recognized it as interesting, is low.

There are benefits to having experienced observers, and that’s almost always the PI. You transition from lab bench to office desk at your own peril of missing some cool stuff.

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