Disappointment in Science: Do I really have to be the adult in the room?

Jun 12 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Sometimes I am proud of myself, for example, when I don't give in to my childish impulses to sass the department chair from hell during our interminable faculty meetings. It only leads to trouble. But there are other times when it is hard work to Do The Right Thing (as Spike Lee would have it).

As I tweeted yesterday (and got lots of wonderful support - thank you peeps), my competitive renewal (which is I think of a competing continuation, because thats the old name, and I am an old farte) did not get scored. When I was younger, I would have left work then, and gone and  cried or huffed and given vent to my unhappiness. I would have eventually drunk a lot of scotch and eaten a lot of chocolate. Now I have too many people depending on me. . My point in tweeting about this is: it is fucking hard to get funded. Even for the bluehairs.  But responding this way wasn't the hardest thing I've done this week.

We had an animal die in surgery. Not a rodent. A large animal. At the end of a very complex surgery. After 5.5 hrs of work. After more than a week of training. It was my fault, I wasn't paying enough attention to the person paying attention to the vitals. I brushed the tech off and keep going. The person at the vitals thinks it was their fault for not being insistent enough. The post-doc thinks it was their fault for not paying attention to everything, because it is their project. But right after it happened, and we were doing the post with the vet, both the assistant and postdoc looked bad. Green-unhappy-about-to-cry-or-puke bad. I wrenched myself out of my feelings and told both of them to go get a cup of coffee and sit in the courtyard and take a moment. I stayed with the vet, as did the medical students (M1's) who were avid to see the autopsy.

Later both came to me to thank me for responding the way I did. They felt that it was OK to make a mistake (despite my insisting it was my mistake/responsibility as head surgeon for that procedure). They also said they appreciated my response. Do PI's really yell at their trainees and techs when they, the PI, does something wrong? WTF? Anyway, I feel wretched about the animal, depressed about the grant but incredibly good about my team.


11 responses so far

  • dr24hours says:

    I'm sorry for the week you're having. It sounds to me like you handled the situation incredibly well. As a quality engineer, if something like that (well, something analogous) happened in my job, we'd have a sit down root-cause analysis. As they say in my field: mistakes are opportunities to learn. As you say, no point in blaming people. Not even if it *were* someone's egregious mistake. Because systems can be made (almost) mistake proof, and so a mistake is a chance to improve the system.

    Anyway, I hope your fortunes recover rapidly. Thanks for showing the right way to handle adversity.

    • mistressoftheanimals says:

      Oh we did the post on both the animal and the procedures. Immediately with the vet. Later the next day. Changed procedures, discussed (as a group) how to make it better. Learning was rampant.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I agree. It can be hard to be the adult.

    (And it's competing continuation to me too)

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Oh and huffing is never a good solution.

    • mistressoftheanimals says:

      different huffing than what you're thinking. huffing as in huffing and puffing and saying nasty, inappropriate things to people that later will cause to produce abject apologies for wackaloon behavior.

  • becca says:

    What you did was likely helpful to them *beyond* just "not yelling at them". To expect them to e.g. be avid to see the autopsy is also unrealistic. That time to compose oneself is valuable, and it is a rare thing to be offered with no cost (some of us learn, as adults in the room, eventually, to take that time either way. But to have it offered? That is unusual. And good). Animal work carries a psychic strain for many of us, particularly for situations that are new. And, science powers willing, loosing an animal like this will be a rare enough experience that folks may never "get used" to it. To have that be ok is very valuable.

  • Dr Becca says:

    PT, you continue to be a role model and inspiration, seriously. Thank you for sharing.

  • Heavy says:

    That post puts all of my supposedly big issues into perspective. Thank you.

  • katiesci says:

    I think your response was amazing. Sorry about the grant.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Yes. What Dr. Becca said. + you're awesome.

  • […] is whether to go  to a microbrew pub or a wine bar to unwind. We are all exhausted. It has been a very hard set of experiments. Everyone is very tired. Very very tired. This set will be done by Monday. We have 3 weeks before […]

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