Sunday, May 05, 2019

"you're not a scientist, you don't have a PhD"

Ego getting in the way of making a good team. Ego ruining a good working team.

Everyone who has been in the science field for a certain time know when you meet new people in the field that there is a lot of questions about where everyone fit in and what roles everyone plays in these new teams and collaborations we do.

It's the newly hired person who thinks that "everyone in the labs who is involved with a paper gets on the authorship list". It's the newly minted PhD who know finally (?) feels secure that they have proved themselves explaining "I'm a real scientist now that I have the PhD title". It's the intern who spends three months in the lab washing dishes and cleaning up animal carcasses and studies for their MCAT since they are going into MedSchool and thinks that will give them power. It's the old technician who has seen numerous postdocs crash and burn with the thought that they are the special one who will change P&R while the technician has the ear of the PI.

And then there is that special person who takes it one step further and speaks up and tells people "you are not a real scientist since you don't have PhD" to their face.

And the kicker is that they don't seem to understand why it's offensive and making it impossible to work as a team. Never mind that they are wrong, oh so wrong they are. And that it is such a naive comment to make, and makes you look so small and misinformed. To disregard experience and the work that so many hand and heads in the lab contribute to. That science (STEM and biology is what I'm mainly talking about now since I'm mentioning lab work) is a team effort. That even if there is one PI seeing the bigger picture, writing grants, there is a lot of hands and thoughts and details getting in the way of the ego.... and that scientists come in different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, titles and knowledge areas.

It's similar to an old saying I had told to me in the scout movement and by military leaders in my leadership trainings;  "You're not a leader because you have a title. You're a leader because people follow you since they believe and trust you".

It's also called "if you have to call out in the room "I'm the boss/captain so you have to do what I say", your leadership is on the weakest ground/first step in the staircase of hierarchy and you don't have much in the long run. Authority is the position, that doesn't mean leadership which lies in the character of the person.

It's especially important if you are coming in new to a job, and your title is lab manager or lab supervisor - both titles that vary depending on where the job is, sometimes this requires a PhD, sometimes it doesn't. Whatever the requirements though, I would highly recommend a period of "look, see and gather information about the team" before making any big claims and statements. (Needless to say, I would never state anything as silly as "real scientist needs a PhD".) I would build confidence and trust with the new colleagues and lab members, as much or more as with the PI of the lab. Why?

It's a team sport this game we call science. The PI is the Captain/QB/Skipper/Coach depending on which sport we refer to and the rest of the lab take up various positions and depending on the time of the game, are of various importance at that specific time. An experienced lab technician who has been with the PI for a long time? Yep, crucial to the play. And, like a dishwasher (hello my old job) is key to get tables turned around fast in a restaurant to earn the money for the servers and seaters, someone to keep lab wear clean and sterile, changing animal cages, making regular solutions the same old reliable way are the backbone of repeatable, good and solid science.

And the absolute in the lab it trust. Trust that you know what you are doing at the bench. That you know when to ask for help. And that you realize that certain people in the lab know different things, and that the strength is in those differences and match ups. As long as you can make them all work together, towards a common goal, making al of them feel important and seen in their positions. That's a true leader, and something to strive for.