Just how much deference does the boss deserve?

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Just how much deference does the boss deserve?

Postby Nate » Mon Dec 20, 2004 12:46 am

Hi Everyone,

After working for six years with my current PI both as a tech and a graduate student, my boss is reluctant to disclose the details of a letter of recomendation despite excellent performance evalutions (plus a 13,000 pay raise in the last two years). Three years ago he wrote a lukewarm letter that was sent back to me by one of the graduate schools. This letter questioned my productivity by stating that \"Nate needs significant overisght to insure productivity.\" The
rest of the letter was lacking details and was quite a matter of fact.

I am quite sure that he has a vested interested in keeping me here because I have characterized two significant phenotypes in a KO mouse(one of which has been completed and will be submitted to a high impact journal). The other paper will be done in the next six months. I can see 1-2 more papers coming out of this project. Even though the only other grad student and two post docs during last three years don\'t have a publication. Sometimes his expectations are not realistic given the resources.

Can I use performance evalutions and letters from other profesors and post docs in lieu of my PI\'s letter? Would it be wrong to submit an abstract from this paper before being published? What about presenting or discussing unpublished results with
a prospective future lab?

Given the last letter, I am going to be quite firm
about seeing the new letter before it is sent or I will not use it. My point being that the performance evaluations should mimic the letter and the fact why would anyone agree to write a letter that does not help the applicant. I just believe that it is wrong for a PI at a university to use a letter of recommendation as a retention tool.


Just how much deference does the boss deserve?

Postby Nate » Mon Dec 20, 2004 10:55 am


I should clarify that I was able to keep my job at a parttime position as a lab manager while I went to grad school since I was a bit older that the typical grad student. Also I have saved all copies of promotions and evaluations every six months for the last 4 years. He has been quite considerate in allowing me to do this for which I am thankful.

At present, my project has evolved into a question which are not directly related to his grants. There is more opportunity for me to explore questions related to angiogenesis and breast cancer with this mouse.

Recently, I spoke with him about his expectations for a letter and performance evaluations. I asked him if the performance evalutions should mimic the
letter. Perhaps, a mistake by him he replied "if anything there should be greater expectations for a performance evalution." Reluctantly, he verbally agreed to show the letter to me. However, I quite unsure whether he will not follow through.

Also, I must state that his only other grad student finished his thesis last year without a paper after six years (a MD/PhD student). So I want have plan B in case he tries to get out showing that letter to me. John, a formal inquiry is out of question and will cause more problem than I want. I want to stay in the bounds of propriety about this. The question is how will I look to a potential employer if when ask for his letter, I reply " I don't want to jeopardize my current opportunity by asking him for a letter; however, I can provide a letter of rec from other post docs and a research assistant prof. in the lab. Furthermore, I can provide excellent performance evaluations, letters for two promotions, and an abstract of this paper." Even then if that persons calls and my PI uses the "he needs oversight" line. I have addressed his productivity questions especially when I have told
other recommenders the situation and they have agree to play up my productivity as well as his some what unrealistic expectations. They will elaborate on my paper and my project plus how it evolved.

Can someone adress the question of what I can talk about or show to a potential employer especially in light of the fact the mouse is not publicly available? At a recent meeting, I shared a brief description of the phenotype without describing the KO to a PI at Penn, he/she seemed quite interested and offered to review the paper (this PI more published in the field than my PI). Plus I would to network and look at a few of these labs.
I am quite sure her presence would help with the review of the paper but I suspect that my boss would refuse the offer as well as be quite upset with me.

Just how much deference does the boss deserve?

Postby Sean » Mon Dec 20, 2004 11:19 am

You seem to be in a tough spot. However, keep in mind that a graduate student\'s opinion of his/her productivity is often quite different fro that of the PI. Also, the expectations of a PI regarding a graduate student versus a lab manager/technician are very different. Graduate students are expected to show much more get-up-an-go, ingenuity, problem solving, etc... than are technicians.

Regarding discussing the data generated in your PI\'s lab or submitting an abstract on the data without discussing it with the PI first.... You are walking a very fine line here. Releasing data before the PI says so is unethical and in my opinion grounds for instant termination. Don\'t do it. Remember, anything generated in the PI\'s lab is his/her intellectual property. A good PI will be able to make the distinction between something that is clearly the property of one of his/her technicians or students. As long as yo are getting paid by the PI, use the resources of the PI, use laboratory supplies, etc..., the data belongs to the PI.

I suggest that you finish your work in this lab ASAP and move on. It sounds like you are not in a good place for you right now and prolonging your stay will make things worse.

Just how much deference does the boss deserve?

Postby Nate » Mon Dec 20, 2004 11:59 am

Sean, if that is the case how can a student address the question of productivity raised by his PI in a letter by not submitting an abstract or presenting some evidence to counterbalance these concerns? Otherwise, your cv would rather blank if your PI wanted keep all data as being propriety property. I thought the data is if anything is property of the granting agency that supports the

The only way I see out of this is to force him to put it in review and then place an abstract on my cv. This topic falls completely out of his area of expertise and doesn't significantly help the review of his present grants.For this reason, he should care as much about this data as if it was central to the ideas in his grants. Plus, the mouse is not available to the public and will require a rederive which will require my assistance for which I will be in no hurry to do anytime soon until the paper is published. So reproducing these results by another lab will not happen.

I feel quite strongly that it is wrong for a PI to use these concerns and a letter as a tool for retention of students or employees.


Just how much deference does the boss deserve?

Postby MPB » Wed Dec 22, 2004 11:17 pm


First of all, although you may wish to see the contents of a letter of recommendation, the person writing it for you is under no obligation to show it to you. Most people (I believe) would not show a letter of recommendation to the subject of the letter, and would decline to write it if the student or post-doc insisted on reviewing it before it was sent. If you feel that your PI can't write you a decent letter, you should ask someone else to write one. This situation does come up from time to time. It's not something that you would desire, but it's not completely unheard of.

Also, no investigator has the right to unilaterally publish research that is conducted in collaboration with others without their consent. As Sean said, you will devastate your career if you do something like that. Presenting research at a job talk would probably be ok (you have to use your judgement about the sensitivity of the material).

In terms of documenting your productivity, after 6 years, don't you have some publications?

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