We work more efficiently and are more creatively when we are happy. This is well known by psychologists studying productivity in the workplace across a wide range of jobs. The well-being of lab members must be a priority for PIs, who should devote important efforts to make research labs places where everyone can work in the best conditions possible while at the same time enjoying doing science. There is no unique path to achieve this but putting yourself in the situation of the others; being kind; banning all forms of harassment and discrimination within the lab; being sensitive when it comes to dealing with personal, family and health situations; and carefully listening to lab members regarding any matter related to their work can substantially improve the well-being of lab members. It is important to let your lab members know that you care about them and that you are here to listen to and to help them to overcome any issues that may negatively affect their work.
As PIs, we should not strictly control lab members’ schedules, and we should be flexible regarding their working preferences. Some people prefer to come early in the morning to have the afternoons free, whereas others prefer to do the opposite. Sometimes, it is more effective to stay at home when analyzing data and writing or to reconcile work and family obligations. PIs should facilitate these arrangements, because scientists should be evaluated by the outcome of their work rather than by the time they spend in their workplace (which for many researchers can be any spot with a computer and an internet connection). As Gandalf the Grey says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”, and it is the responsibility of lab members to use their working time wisely and to do whatever best works for them. Of course, when applying this rule, we must also keep in mind both differences among disciplines and the particular challenges faced by each lab. For example, graduate students and postdocs can work on an individual programming project or on the writing of a manuscript at home if they are more productive, but this may not work in collaborative projects requiring teammates to coordinate schedules.
From my experience, offering lab members this flexibility works very well for most people; it also helps graduate students and postdocs to learn how to manage their time effectively, something very important given the multiple tasks they will have to do when and if they become PIs. It must also be noted that offering lab members flexibility to set their own schedules does not remove our obligations as PIs to properly supervise them. We must hold periodic meetings with lab members to check the progress of their work. This is also very important to let them know that we care and are on top of what they do, as well as to discuss solutions when problems arise or when expectations are not met. Not doing so is indeed a source of frustration, particularly for graduate students.
Psychologists are well aware of the multiple benefits of being grateful. This not only has very positive knock-on effects on the work and personal well-being of lab members but also helps to build confidence and compromise among them. Showing our gratitude to lab members is important because their work, from the accounting done by administrative assistants to the data gathered by technicians or the writing of manuscripts by graduate students or postdocs, is crucial to ensure the smooth running of a research group. PIs can also show lab members how important their work is by providing rapid feedback to their requests, questions, and manuscript drafts. This is something that they really appreciate, particularly graduate students and postdocs, and contributes to boosting their motivation. Although at particularly busy periods it may not be possible to provide quick feedback to the request of lab members, trying to do so should always be our priority as PIs.
It is not uncommon to find labs with clearly established hierarchies and “top-down” approaches, particularly when it comes to the treatment of graduate students and technicians. Such an approach promotes toxic relationships and limits the capacity of lab members to think critically. As PIs, we must have the vision, set the research priorities for our labs, and have the last say on multiple matters. However, treating lab members as mere executors of our instructions rather than as colleagues that have an informed opinion about the work they do (and hence about how to improve it!) is a huge lost opportunity. We must listen to and take the opinion and advice of technicians, graduate students, and postdocs very seriously and often discuss with them ideas for projects and papers, lab procedures, and day-to-day issues affecting their work and well-being.
For this rule to work, PIs must also learn to delegate important work. Doing so relieves PIs of extra duties that other lab members can do more efficiently, such as doing chemical analyses on the lab or filling administrative forms. It also motivates lab members to become more engaged with lab projects and overall research objectives, thus contributing to teambuilding.
Create a collaborative environment within your lab
Collaboration is a cornerstone of current scientific practice that allows scientists to tackle ambitious, expensive, or multidisciplinary projects not amenable to a single lab. Doing science as a collective endeavour also brings multiple opportunities for learning and professional development, particularly for early career researchers. Therefore, as PIs, we must actively practice and foster collaborations within our labs, which also helps lab members to get along better with each other (something very important to maintain a happy and productive lab!). These collaborations also help to foster long-term relationships that can also be very fruitful for their professional development. Within-lab collaborations can be nurtured by setting up common lab projects, encouraging meetings and discussions involving all lab members, providing time and resources to develop side projects and/or ideas coming from them, conducting retreats and regular meetings outside the lab, and facilitating interactions between graduate students and postdocs. Establishing priorities and identifying needs in advance, knowing how to organize the work of everyone, and being gentle in the way we ask for help when needed also contribute to setting up effective collaborations within our labs.
Creating a collaborative, rather than competitive, environment within research labs not only helps everyone pull in the same direction but also fosters the motivation, productivity, and creativity of lab members. This also prepares them to set up collaborations with colleagues from other institutions, which are also very important for their career development.
A key rule we must follow as PIs is not to compare our lab members to one another or with ourselves when we were students and/or postdocs. Comparing lab members will often result in increased stress and/or anxiety levels, reducing their performance and capabilities. Every person is different, and, as PIs, we should never forget that our major role as mentors is to foster everyone’s capabilities and help them to fulfill their potential and professional ambitions. Therefore, we should make every effort to identify these goals and to support them by choosing appropriate projects and forging the right contacts. We must keep in mind that our objective as PIs is to help our lab members reach as far as they can and/or want, not as far as we want.
Respect working hours, public holidays, and vacations
Working rules commonly in place in labs around the world often mean that academics work all day long, on weekends, and even during holidays. The stress associated with this excessive work without a life outside the lab is one of the main reasons behind the increase in mental problems in academia, particularly among early career researchers and young PIs. This also has many other deleterious effects on the health and well-being of researchers. Therefore, PIs should not expect lab members to work beyond normal hours, during weekends, and on holidays. We all face moments (e.g., deadlines for grant submissions, setup of large experiments, field campaigns) in which we must work hard. But this should be the exception, not the rule. Doing so is unsustainable in the long-term and contributes to generating expectations about the research environment that are neither realistic for many people nor desirable and/or healthy for the whole scientific community.
This rule can be seen as contradictory by junior PIs or those who are running labs that are short of labor and other resources, who are struggling with keeping a lab funded, or who are worried about tenure or establishing their reputation. We must also keep in mind the large differences that exist between different countries and cultures about what constitutes a “normal” working week, the length of annual holidays, and the pressures induced by the requirements to getting a job or being promoted. But even in these cases, it is important to remember that our working conditions are regulated by law and our contracts, and that working for long hours is not a sine qua non condition for being successful as a scientist (something that is intimately linked to our personal life), as multiple examples from around the world illustrate.
Despite the importance of this rule for maintaining healthier research labs, as PIs we should also respect those lab members who choose to work for long hours because they feel that they must do so to be more productive, to secure a position in science, or because they have the ambition or the desire to be so. In the end, this is part of their freedom and autonomy (things are seen very differently from a permanent and/or well-established position) and we cannot forget that scientific productivity is important for the future career prospects of PhD students and postdocs. But at the same time, we should discourage these habits and advise them about the long-term ill effects that they may have on their health and well-being.
To gain the maximum benefit from this rule, PIs must also openly discuss and share with all lab members resources and experiences and/or tips to work more efficiently so they can maximize their productivity within normal working hours to avoid the need to work beyond them.
We all have either experienced or heard about PIs who dictate authorship inclusion or order, or who insist on being authors on every paper produced by lab members, regardless of their contribution. This practice only benefits those in power, discourages effective collaborations, impedes the productivity and creativity of lab members, and fosters frustration and distrust among non-PIs. Therefore, it should be abolished. As PIs, we must openly discuss coauthorship issues with our lab members and train them on the importance of carefully evaluating the merits of coauthors before submitting publications. Failing to include meritorious coauthors or including undeserving coauthors can easily lead to frustrations and misunderstandings that must be avoided.
There are multiple ways we can give proper credit to PIs, including involving technicians in publications when they have contributed to them, leaving “senior” (e.g., last author) positions to postdocs when they had the idea of the study and are not first authors, declining authorship in articles in which we did not participate, and acknowledging in talks with colleagues, seminars, and scientific meetings the intellectual authorship of publications or ideas coming from our lab members.
Active scientists face rejection of their papers, grants, and job applications continuously, no matter what their career stage and status are. Focusing on success while living under continuous rejection may put more pressure on the work of our graduate students and postdocs, increasing their frustration and anxiety levels when their articles or applications are rejected. And although rejection always hurts, scientists must embrace it as another (and important) part of their job. Initiatives to normalize rejection include the building of “a CV of failures” (see for a great example), talking openly and sharing our experiences about rejection, and discussing with lab members the potential reasons for a particular rejection and how to avoid it the next time. Showing our lab members that rejection is the rule, rather than the exception, will help them to navigate the turbulent waters of research, reduce the prevalence of the “impostor syndrome”, and boost their self-confidence. And because successes are not so common, they must be properly celebrated when they happen. Fortunately, this is a usual practice in many labs that also contributes to the establishment of fruitful personal and professional interactions between lab members.
Promote the professional development of your lab members
There is no single way this rule can be put into practice, because it may vary markedly among fields, countries, cultures, and personal situations. However, getting informed and openly discussing with lab members the pros and cons of all possible career options can help to do so. PIs should also allow time and resources (whenever available) to allow those lab members wishing to continue with a career in science to get trained in critical aspects of this job, such as experimental design, statistical analyses, and scientific writing. In addition, PIs should facilitate that graduate students and postdocs develop their own network of contacts, something that can be fostered by attending scientific meetings, by conducting research stays in other labs, and by participating in networks of scientists and specialist groups within scientific societies. Finally, PIs should also allow graduate students and postdocs to supervise BSc and MSc theses, respectively, on their own or under PI cosupervision, and offer postdocs the possibility of cosupervising new PhD students. By doing so, graduate students and postdocs acquire key experience on how to supervise the work of students, a critical task in academia; students get another view and critical inputs that end up improving their training and work; and PIs can have more time to do other important day-to-day issues that are needed to run a research lab. Furthermore, this action also effectively contributes to fostering collaborations and personal relationships between lab members.
Montreal has a unique combination of attractions, cafés, and landmarks. The city’s lifestyle of art, culture, festivals and the love of the outdoors make it a wonderful place to live. Lest we forget that bowling is at the core of daily life of a Montreal resident.
Professional & Personal Development
Congratulations to Maitri Modi on her protocol presentation, on October 17, 2019.
Measuring Patient-Centred Care: Reliability & Validity of Patient Assessment of Chronic Illness Care (PACIC)
We took some time celebrate the #littlethings
Wishing you all the best Fatima Amari!
How adorable is that cake !!!
Did you know that opinion leaders and knowledge brokers are ‘insider’ agents performing ‘capacity builder’ and ‘information manager’ roles in KT?
Dina and Rehab presenting their poster at the Rehabilitation Scientific Day 2019 by CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.
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