What Makes A Successful Lab

Jan 27 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Lots of people have posted on this. If I wasn't such a lazy git, I'd find the links and add them. But... that can certainly happen in the future.

Meantime, two junior colleagues have come to me and asked the same question. One explicitly and one not so explicitly: why is everyone in your lab as happy as they are? That's not to say my lab is a barrel of laughs, and everyone gets all the chocolate they want all the time. But I do put high value on my lab being A Good Place To Work. How?

I doubt I can answer this in one post. AND... I would appreciate the usual suspects weighing in with their perceptions. But, here goes, first pass:

My peeps are happy because my lab is good place to work. It is a place of respect. I have never yelled at anyone in this lab (the last time I yelled at someone was so damn traumatic for me, I vowed I would never get to that place again. It was years ago, and besides the wanker is dead). I do not tolerate anyone else yelling. Respect is not just refraining from bad behavior, but also seeing people as what they are and what their limits/goals/pluses are.

For example, lots of experiments are team efforts. Yes, everyone needs to be there at 8am start for surgery. But when its over, everyone can have an hour for lunch. Go away and de-compress. Yes, you are a night person, and you want to do the 2am feedings? Fine. But then, also, you do not have to show up for 8am surgery. If there is weekend duty - would you rather do sat and sun once a month, or sat twice a month? A fundamental for me, which took a while, is to realize that the folks who work in my lab Are Not Me. And they don't necessarily want to grow up to be me.

Now, I have never had any faculty person disagree with this (oh, yes, I love yelling at my peeps. Of COURSE I see my trainees as individuals). But there is many a slip 'twixt cup and lip. Or worse... the junior faculty so frazzled and frizzled and stressed out over tenure that they don't see what they are doing. Or postdocs, so stressed over getting a job that they treat the techs and students like stepping stones.  I know, in one case, of someone who sees themselves as a pillar of personnel virtue, yet their tech hates them. This person was in my office twice a week before tenure time, totally freaking out. I finally threw them out and said go have a beer and think about the children in Africa. It helped, a bit, but they could never keep a tech.

Just keep clicking your heels together (obscure reference that your grandfather would get) and saying "a happy lab is a productive lab".



5 responses so far

  • Sam says:

    I use the phrase "A happy lab is a productive lab." all the time.

    I have a massive chocolate drawer in my office. That and unlimited k-cups. My deal is " I give you caffeine, you give me data."

    I don't understand how adults yell at each other over work things. Come look at my computer soon. I thought about how frazzled PIs are and, having worked for History's Greatest Monster (Science Division - I imagine this is a multi-way tie) I did not want to yell at people because I was stressed. My rules since I got a big boy job are Don't be an asshole (this is what is taped under my computer monitor) and Don't get mad at someone for doing their job. (oversight people, etc.)

    • potnia theron says:

      Don't be an asshole is just good advice in general.

    • M says:

      Two years ago I got a door frame pull up bar for my students for Christmas. It has gotten a lot of use. I also brought in my old dart board and darts from grad school to use in the student office since I wasn't using it at home. This also got some serious use. I considered getting them a Keurig this past Christmas, but they just drink SO MUCH coffee that supplying K-cups would be a huge expense. And they're all pretty cheap, so I don't think they would want to buy them themselves. They currently brew several huge pots of cheap coffee per day. So while I love the idea of getting them something like this, I don't know if it's in the cards. Maybe I'll do something like this with a different group in the future...

  • Former Technician says:

    I have had many an overblown ego yell at me. It is driving me out of laboratory science. Just because I don't have a PhD does not make me an idiot without valid input. Unfortunately, the school/division that I am in only values those with MDs or PhDs. The rest of us are throw away employees.

    The funding situation in the past decade has made it so people stay in unpleasant situations. I no longer can.

Leave a Reply