Archive for the 'postdocs' category

Insecurity as Motivator

Apr 18 2011 Published by under advising, postdocs

Today's question for discussion is a bit complex, but has some interesting implications (ethical, practical, cosmic).

Imagine that a PI is supervising a postdoc or research scientist who is quite talented and has great expertise, but who tends to lack motivation when it comes to writing papers and proposals. This researcher would be happy just getting data, but, because he/she is not a technician and is in a position that requires writing papers and proposals, the PI has to find ways to help (motivate) the research scientist to write.

Of course, one option in this situation is to not renew the contract and replace the non-writing postdoc with someone who writes, but let's assume that this research scientist has expertise that the PI values and there isn't a large pool of candidates with similar skills. Also, the research scientist is not eager to move on. It is in the interests of both the PI and the research scientist to continue working together.

The research scientist needs to raise at least 25% of their own salary each year from grants, but to get grants, one typically has to write proposals. To get -- and continue to get -- grants, one has to write papers.

Question #1: What to do? Is this a survival-of-the-fittest situation, and the scientist - however talented at some aspects of research - should be cut loose because s/he is not functioning well in all required aspects of the job? Or, because this person has a high level of expertise in particular research applications, should the PI find a way to work with the research scientist anyway, even if it means writing papers and proposals for them? I guess we have to assume that changing the scientist's job title to "technician" isn't feasible in this case.

Now let's assume that the PI figures out a way to cover the research scientist's entire salary for the near future. Telling the research scientist (RS) that these funds exist would relieve the RS of stress and anxiety about their financial situation and job security for a while.

But: telling the RS that these funds exist would completely obliterate any chance that the RS would write any part of their own proposals and papers, and would make it more difficult for the PI to hire additional postdocs because those funds would likely be committed to the non-writing RS. Although the PI doesn't want the RS to live in unnecessary uncertainty about funding, the PI does want the RS to have some motivation to write papers and proposals: for their own career development, for the good of the research group as a whole, and because it is still a part of the RS's job description.

Question #2: Should the PI tell the research scientist about the stable source of funding? Must the PI tell the research scientist? Or is withholding this information justified by the possible benefit it would have of motivating the RS to write?

Perhaps someone who is not functioning well in an essential aspect of their job (in this case, writing) should seek other employment that better fits their abilities, but is there any other way to solve this problem so that this otherwise beneficial collaboration can continue?

Would you tell the research scientist about the new funding, even if the consequences were no papers and no proposals?

Or would you maintain a certain level of insecurity in the hopes it would act as a motivator?


52 responses so far

Half Time

Jan 31 2011 Published by under career issues, postdocs

An early-career reader wonders whether faculty would be receptive to the idea of a half-time postdoc.

For some research projects, I think that a half-time arrangement would work just fine. In fact, I have had part-time (including half-time) postdocs cost-shared with a research facility or with another colleague at a different university. Although these postdocs were full-time researchers, the fact that they didn't spend 100% of their time on research that involved me has not been a problem.

I have not had a half-time postdoc who spent the other half doing something else entirely (e.g., being a half-time so-called stay-at-home-mom or -dad), but I would certainly be willing to work with someone in this type of arrangement. Certain projects would not be suitable for a part-time postdoc of this sort, but many would be.

So, faculty readers who supervise postdocs: What do you think?

Do you, have you, or would you work with a half-time postdoc, even if the other half was not spent on research or other discipline-related work?

19 responses so far