Demanding PI

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Demanding PI

Postby Bhagya » Wed Dec 29, 2004 1:47 pm

I am a postdoc in Molecular Biology. At the time that my PI interviewd me for this position, I specifically mentioned to him that I will be able to put in only the required 40hrs/week due to family commitments. Now, after a year in his lab, he is "demanding" that I put in more hours into my work and has been indicating that he is not satisfied with my work. I feel that I have accomplished a lot in the last year, especially since I started both my projects "from scratch" with no prior experience in those areas of research. My PI is being unprofessional enough to compare me with a graduate student in the lab who works late and over the weekends.

I would like to find a position elsewhere since the situation is getting quite aggravating but I worry about what kind of reference I will get from my PI. Is it OK not to get a reference from one's post-doc advisor? If not, how do I deal with this situation??


Demanding PI

Postby Kim » Wed Dec 29, 2004 5:50 pm

Most PI are very result oriented. If you do not have results, it does not matter how much time that you have spent. And unfortunately, it is very reasonable for a PI to expect more from a postdoc than from a graduate student. It makes very little difference about your "different" background because you decided to be in his/her lab.

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Demanding PI

Postby Val » Thu Dec 30, 2004 6:08 am

Hi Bhagya,

I had been in your shoes when I was PhD student. Fortunately (or, maybe, unfortunately ?) I avoided to go through a postdoc ('cause not enough of postdoc positions down under). There was a guy, who was chucked out of his job as an editor of "Physics Today" for writing his book where he said that the purpose of putting everyone through the professional school is not as much giving them knowledge as conditioning them. "Apprentices" in law, medicine, and yes, in science, are given a hard time at the boot camp, so that they would be busy with studies and never contemplated to change the less-than-perfect structure of their professional institution. When you know the real agenda of your supervisors (which they do most probably unconcsiously), it is easier to cope with its soul-destroying effects. (Moderators may disagree with the musings above).

As for your particular situation, in Australia it would be OK not to give your last employer's name as a referee. Some people on this forum may add that it is OK to mention at the next job interview that you had problems with your supervisor... as long as it was only once in your career, and every employee in the PI's lab also suffered the same fate. The interviewers will understand you, because your situation is not uncommon.

I would also suggest you to bring the matter in open with your supervsiuor. Tell him that you feel you already learnt the skills in his lab what you came for, and you would like to move on, and ask him if he would give you a good reference for the next postdoc/job. Watch his reaction. He may tell you that giving a good reference is out of question, and thus you will know that you should not mention him as a referee in your CV. He may say it is OK with him that you consider your mission completed at his lab, and that he would give you a good reference. The problem may be that he could be lying. But after so many years with him, you should know what kind of personality he has and if you could trust him.

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Demanding PI

Postby Jai Sohila » Thu Dec 30, 2004 10:17 am

It is not realistic for a post doc to expect to be able to do his job on a 40h/wk basis. Every PI expects their post docs to put in a min of 60 hr/wk, in spite of what they might say in an interview.

You had better get with the program of at least 60 hr/wk or your career is in serious jepardy. Its harsh but reality.
Jai Sohila

Demanding PI

Postby Shehan9762 » Thu Dec 30, 2004 4:19 pm

Hi All,

I agree with what Jai said. I have been working for a young PI for almost 2 years and he post docs of my department rarely work 40 hours per week.
The expectations from my PI have been pretty high.
Apart from working on our own project(s)and producing results, post docs from my lab are also expected to provide supervision to undergraduate students and graduate students. In addition to that, If you count all the seminars and the group meeting(s)you need/want to attend, it is almost impossible to get any productive work done. Therefore, working late and over the weekends are necessary in order to get results, which will generate articles, patents, results for talks...

By definition postdocs are experienced workers and should be able to work more PRODUCTIVELY and more EFFICIENTLY than grad students.

It sounds crazy to work 12 hours a day but that is the way it works. But my advice is that a post doc training is necessary to acquire good experience and extra skills in the area you re working in. However, it should not become an opportunity for your PI to exploit you as "experienced hands". You should be able to get something out of your post doc as much as your PI will be able to get out from you.

Good luck
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Demanding PI

Postby Ken » Thu Dec 30, 2004 5:47 pm

Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine. How can you possibly measure productivity in number of hours? It seems fairly arrogant for one to assume that everyone else works at the same or lower efficiency as oneself.

I've had one of these PIs who wanted 80 hour work weeks. It didn't matter if you were working 80 hours, he just wanted you there 80 hours. What he ended up with was a bunch of grad students and postdocs who did nothing for 14 hours a day (and showed up to do nothing on weekends as well).

I'm in a 40 hour a week lab now, and we are more productive than any 80 hour a week lab. And happier.
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Demanding PI

Postby AL » Fri Dec 31, 2004 11:04 am

Don't waste your time trying to figure out how to convince your PI that you shouldn't have to work more than 40 hours per week. How much you should work is a matter of opinion, and the boss is always right - at least in his own mind! When you are a boss one day, you will appreciate employees who don't distract you with fruitless arguing.

If you have a PhD, this means you are smarter than the average person. You have good problem-solving skills. Your problem here is how to create the impression that you are working 80 hour weeks when in fact you are working only 40 hours per week. (Averaged over the long haul, of course!)

I think you might find that it is relatively easy to achieve this goal.

Your PI isn't watching you every second. Find out when he makes the rounds in the lab (after lunch, before he leaves for the day?) and make sure that you are present at those times. If you are around when he checks, it will appear as though you are working many more hours than you actually are.

Humans are creatures of habit. Observe and record your PI's habits and then adapt to them. Take your vacations and days off when the PI is out of town. Find out what grant applications your PI is working on and when those deadlines are. Make sure that you are in the lab more often right before the deadlines, because that is when the PI is likely to be working long hours himself. So save your 14-hour days for the period right before the PI has to submit his grant proposals. And if you enjoy feeling like a hero, offer to make figures or help write parts of your PI's proposal. Offer to do this a week before the deadline. (But remember that the PI's "real" deadline is usually a week before the funding agency's published deadline because proposals are submitted through your institution's sponsored projects' office and their deadlines are typically earlier.)

Maybe your PI is too smart to fall for these somewhat sneaky strategies. But it would be interesting to give it a try and see what happens, don't you think? Just don't tell anybody what you are doing!

Good luck and stay smart.



Demanding PI

Postby Ken » Fri Dec 31, 2004 2:06 pm

Speaking from experience, the plan of making it look like you are working 80 hours a week is a recipe for miserable unproductiveness.

Don't worry about what your PI says about your hours. Work what you need to work to get your job done. If that isn't good enough, find a new PI. Believe me, PIs who care about your production (and mental health) exist. By the time you are a postdoc you have earned the right to not be treated like a teenager getting around curfew.
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Demanding PI

Postby Paul » Fri Dec 31, 2004 2:59 pm

I think AL is right about knowing some "sneaky strategies"... and what you learn in PostDoc applies to when you are a junior faculty too!

Always go to seminar... always show up at receptions, practice talks, defenses... make sure everyone knows your face.

If your PI tells you that you are not around enough and you are not able to fix that impression, you are going to have trouble on the next level too. Managing your time requires that you know when you need to be around/available for others not just when to maintain your cells and run your next experiment. You are practicing a profession with a career, not hourly labor putting in your time for a paycheck. While nobody should work 60+ hours, you should make sure that the 45 or so hours that you do work are the most valuable use of your time.

So... if you are reading this you are wasting your time? Humm...

Demanding PI

Postby Andrew » Sat Jan 01, 2005 10:49 am

While it is important that you appear to be working hard, it is more important that you actually are working hard. I don't agree that you can't do the job in 40 or so hours a week, but you actually have to be doing work for the 40 or so hours. I've seen postdocs and students that come in at 10 am, take 1.5 - 2 hr lunches, and hang out in a cafe for an hour at 3, take an hour for dinner and stay until 8 pm think that they are working hard. Another person that comes in at 8:30 and leaves at 5:30, breaks only for lunch and spends a minimum amount of time socializing works more hours and will get more done. This is true when you get a real job too.
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