5 Comments

  1. The lab I did my PhD in worked from systems biology principles and involved collaboration between the theoreticians and the biologists. I can see now that the attitude and dynamic of assuming the other group had it easy and were lazy so-and-sos you describe here contributed significantly to the dysfunction in the group.

    The theoreticians/mathematicians who did the modelling for us biologists were always asking us why we hadn’t done “simple” experiment xyz? or worse, demanding that we perform it asap, without any understanding of the biological work involved. Needless to say, that “quick experiment” would in fact most likely take months, if not constitute a whole separate PhD thesis! Consequently, that idea would bite the dust. But the biologists were seen to be making excuses.

    The biologists were meanwhile reliant on the mathematicians to turn our work into theoretical models. There was more than one occassion when a mathematician’s work outright contradicted the biological finding, or missed a basic biological principle, and the mathematician would go away assuming the biologist was wrong! Dysfunctional and unproductive to say the least!

    Finally, the theoreticians were also supposed to provide better software for the time-consuming data analysis bottleneck that is still a major problem in the project. Improvements were so slow in coming that I never used a version of the software that made it out of beta phase. The bitterness on the part of the biologists about this, directed at both the PIs (management) who had no clue how much of a productivity issue it was*, and the theoreticians who hadn’t done any of the requested work, and so were clearly useless, lazy, incompetent and arrogant to boot, didn’t help matters.

    An understanding on both sides that none of the work is easy might have helped quite a lot.

    *Not the only significant management failure on the wider project. Sigh.

    September 18, 2014
    Reply
    • Melanie said:

      I’ve seen similar dynamics far too many places. It is rare to find a multidisciplinary team with really good communication and teamwork- and even once you find it, keeping that team culture requires active commitment from everyone on the team. But it is sort of magic to work on a team like that. You accomplish things that seemed impossible.

      September 19, 2014
      Reply
      • I look forward to the day when I get the chance to work in a functioning team! I’ve seen glimpses of it in artificial career/personal development situations but never where it mattered. Otoh, being 25 with precious little experience outside academia, that’s not a great surprise.

        September 20, 2014
        Reply
  2. TodayWendy said:

    The flip side of assuming that your part is easy, is understanding what your collaborators mean when they tell you something is “easy”. I find that communicating with people in different disciplines is an acquired skill, just knowing what information is assumed and what isn’t can be a major headache. I suppose this is less of a problem in industry where you’ve at least got managers in place, but in academia there is often a pretty big gap with no one trying to bridge it. I sometimes daydream about starting a consulting company that just provides management for large multi-disciplinary multi-centre projects. Big problem is that I really don’t like spending all my time talking to people. I like getting in there and getting my hands dirty.

    September 21, 2014
    Reply
    • Melanie said:

      Oh, it is still a problem in industry! I joke that a lot of what I do is translation, but that is true- different fields have different terms, and different assumptions, and different operating cultures. If you want people from those different fields to work well together someone has to do the work of helping them learn how to communicate effectively with each other. This is particularly true if your team has “newbies” who haven’t done a cross-disciplinary project before.

      I’d absolutely love to help out academic projects, too, but there is a lot of work to do to even convince people that they need help.

      September 21, 2014
      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *