Friday, August 17, 2007

Typical lab dysfunction

Let me paint a picture for you. Yesterday, about 3:30 or so, I was sitting at my desk ordering for the lab when Dr. B. walked up:

"Just to let you know, I won't be here Monday or Tuesday of next week," Dr. B says.

"Ok, thanks for letting me know," I say.

"Actually," he says, " I won't be here tomorrow either. I'm having shoulder surgery tomorrow."

"Oh, I hope everything is ok! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help while you recover," I say.

"Well, I tore several muscles in my shoulder when I fell a few weeks ago. I'll only be in the hospital a few days, so I should be back in lab by next Wednesday," he says.

Umm, ok. General anesthesia, repairing a bunch of torn muscles in his shoulder and chest, and him not being a young guy (he's in his late 60s/early 70s, I think). And he's coming back to work less than a week after surgery? Really?

You know what's weirder? He came by the lab this morning, before his surgery next door at the hospital. Seriously.

I told Ming and Kim that I'm not stopping by the lab on my way to the delivery room, no offense.

The man has this need to be involved in the lab at all times. Funny thing is, even though he's around constantly, he still doesn't really keep up with what's going on in people's projects. He gets very caught up in the minute details, but when we meet to talk about where we are at in the big picture, he acts like he's never heard of half of the experiments you've done. Frustrating. I'd think he was getting a little senile, except that he most definitely is not.

Another sign of the dysfunctional lab came about today. For background, Dr. B's grant was up for renewal last fall. He put it off till January, then March, and at least once since then. He then stepped down as endocrinology chair effective July 1. And the main lab grant ended May 31, 2007, so we're living on what's left. He let Sriram go, but he took Kim on as a fellow in March. He talks to my committee like he plans to stick around, but talks to me like I'm a tight timeline (besides the one for med school return next summer/fall).

That's the background. This morning, Kim was talking to Ossama (who's back in the lab part time), and Ossama said Dr. B told him he's not planning to renew the grant and he's going to retire early next year.

OK. Communication, people. I know we don't have a good track record of it in the lab. Example 1, not knowing Dr. B was getting rid of Sriram until Sriram told Ming on his last day. Example 2, Nadia moving up to a lab space near her husband in another department and Dr. B not telling us until she'd already cleared her desk and bench and moved. Example 3, his decision to step down as chair--he never actually told us, we found out from prospective endocrine fellows who asked us what we thought about it at their interview (and it was the first we heard!). There are many other examples.

But still. I've asked him flat out, for almost a year, how much time I had. I've been asking him even since before I joined the lab almost two years ago. His exact conversation, when asked about his future plans, was that: 1. he had plenty of grants, 2. he was taking on new projects in the lab, 3. he didn't plan to retire for at least 7-10 years, 4. he was in the middle of a large clinical trial and wouldn't move to another university because of it. Those were his exact promises less than two years ago.

Now, I understand things change. I don't begrudge him if he decided to retire early. But for God's sake, when I flat out ask you what is going on (and I do, several times before each committee meeting), don't lie to me! And don't tell Ossama, who is only in the lab for a month or two before going back to residency, and not tell me, Kim, and Ming, who are here full time! That's just rude.

I can't rule out that Ossama got things wrong--he's not the brightest crayon in the box. But we've been feeling like Dr. B's petering out over the last few months. Once he's back from surgery, I think we need to have a lab come-to-Jesus about the way things are going.

For me, it's not the end of the world. I can get some space in another lab for a few months hopefully, finish my experiments, write my paper and dissertation, and go. For Kim and Ming, it's different. Why even take Kim, who is supposed to have a two year lab appointment, if you were planning to leave? And Ming's in the process of applying for citizenship. She can't change her research focus (diabetes) without starting the whole process over, and there isn't any other diabetes researcher at the university with money to take her (as unbelievable as that sounds, it's true, she's looked). So they are seriously screwed. I wish Dr. B would at least have the courtesy to tell us what's up so we could make contingency plans.

This is the feeling I hate. I was totally blindsided when Frank left, but that's pretty typical for faculty moving to other universities. They can't exactly broadcast that they are looking (unless they are so vital to the department that they can risk the backlash). So nobody knows until right before the move happens. Some people are lucky enough to get a few month's notice; some, like me, get a few weeks.

But to retire? There's no harm in putting that out there, especially if you don't plan to renew grants. Just let people know. Especially the people working for you!

It's all a mess. I'm not as freaked as I could be, I guess, just because nothing surprises me anymore. I take that back--I'd probably be surprised if I was actually kept in the loop.

Gotta love the dysfunctional lab. One more reason I am quickly losing interest in ever having a lab of my own.

1 comment:

  1. some day i'll have to tell you the whole story about my lab. trust me, you are not alone in the dysfunction!