Tuesday, November 20, 2012

PI working hours

One of my colleagues made the following statement today: the PI, they said, should serve as an example to the lab. And thus the PI, at least theoretically, should be the first person to come to the lab in the morning, and the last person to leave it in the evening, thus making students/postdocs stressed, and encouraging them to work better.

It's hard to convey how much I disagree.

First of all, such a PI would not have any normal life outside the lab. And as a person aspiring (maybe delusionally, but that's a separate topic) becoming a PI one day, I don't want to live in the lab. Working a lot, and working after hours is fine. But not too obsessively, you see; not in a robotic fashion. Not just staring into the screen 24/7.

But maybe even more importantly, such a workaholic PI would not be a good example for the younger scientists. When I worked in P&G, the young managers were explicitly told that working long hours is fine, but one should be always aware of the fact that the employees will look at you, and benchmark, and feel bad for leaving the workplace before you. And that they'll just stay there unproductively, for the sake of not making you see them leaving; and they would suffer, and burn out, and start hating their job. Which is not something you want your team members to feel.

So we were told that if we need to regularly work till midnight for some reason or another, it is advisable to find a conference room, and to hide there. Also switching the work instant messenger off. So that no one of your direct reports would know that you are still working.

Because that's the point: while for some people working long hours is a result of their passion, for most of us working long hours is a consequence of bad organization, and bad time-management. The self-perpetuating vicious circle of procrastination. Which is even more painful in science than it is in those more predictable jobs I used to have: it is easier to procrastinate in science, for so many reasons. Because the things you're supposed to do are so much more vague; and because the results are that slow to come; and because you're supposed to think every now and then, which may look superficially similar to day-dreaming...

Anyway. In my opinion, the ideal PI should go home exactly at 5 (or whenever the working hours happen to end). And then secretively work at home if they wish to. And still be productive and successful. Being productive in 8 hours of work per day, weekends excluded, - that's the inspiration, and the model behavior I'd like to see. I really want to believe that it is possible, and I need somebody to demonstrate it to me on a daily basis!

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