01 December 2011
By Blanka Sengerová
When the cat is away, the mouse are at play, so the saying goes.
The thing is, when the mice need to be productive themselves (who is going to eat the cheese and bits of food instead of them?!) they're just shooting themselves in the foot because they'll just have to catch up on their job anyway.
Mice and cats aside, we were talking about this in two different contexts in the lab. Firstly, the public sector strike. OK, researchers may have been eligible to be on strike (and we did get an email asking us to fill in a 'pay reduction' form to have 1/345 of annual salary taken off if we were on strike) but what would have been the point? No one would have noticed (it's not like the intellectual level of the country goes down when researchers are on strike!) and you would have just had to catch up on the work you missed the next day. You would be mostly inconveniencing yourself.
The second point, and the one that mostly relates to the cats and mice in the introduction, is about the labs that suddenly become deserted when the boss is at a conference/holiday/away. I have to say that this has never been the case in any labs I have worked in (phew!) but I know of labs where this sort of thing does occur, to a greater or lesser extent. In my view, the PhD students and postdocs are shooting themselves in the foot - whilst they may enjoy a slightly easier week when the boss is away they're going to have to be catching up on a lot of work beyond that. But I also think that it is a bad reflection on the PI - if his/her group see him this way, then surely it can't reflect well on them as a manager.
Have you experienced PIs who have had such an effect on their groups? How do you deal with it when you are in such a group? How do you encourage others in the group to change their attitudes towards their own work and do you need to?