Lab rats no longer play when the cat’s gone away


Cats let lab rats play

The best and most fun part about being a research scientist is getting results, making sense of them and adding your new-found knowledge to the pool of scientific understanding. Some might consider something else more fun – like, anything else – but this is my driving force. This is also why I can’t leave the lab for a life of a research manager.

I recently got a taste of managerial life when my boss was off swanning around on leave for a couple of months while the rest of us mere lab rats spread his work load amongst ourselves. It was so much less fun than lab work.

First there was the research project coordination. This was kind of fun. In a way. I was in charge of chasing collaborations with internal and external research groups, keeping tabs on existing projects and attempting to engage other groups in new and improved project ideas.

This also meant chasing funding. Funding applications are fun in much the same way that all-night road works are enjoyable to listen to. And have the same effect on your mood. I have experience in both in recent weeks. In the beginning there is the promise of something new and interesting that could be undertaken. In the end there is just frustration, jarred nerves and exhaustion.

Then there were the mysterious internal processes that were never explained until after I had done something the wrong way. What I thought were very straightforward processes of knowledge dissemination required many rounds of hitherto unheard of approval from people I didn’t know were even interested in the project. This must have been taught somewhere along the managerial succession line and assumed to be common knowledge. Which presumably works well until a lab rat steps into that position all of a sudden.

Finally, and this is the killer, there was the administrative report writing. Wave upon wave of updates and reports that need to be written for everyone from line managers all the way up to the board and the funding body. And never in the same format. Each wanted the report in a slightly different way. This meant hours of non-lab work work and non-academic paper writing writing, which, as a research scientist, made no sense.

For all the trial and tribulations of lab work, the painful, horrible days of accidently spilling something and subsequently having to redo several weeks-worth of work, as well as the carefully planned and executed experiments that for no particular reason just don’t work, it is still so much more enjoyable and rewarding than management.

My boss has now returned to much fanfare and rejoicing. He has again shouldered the managerial burden and we lab rats are free to play in the lab, making data and writing academic papers just as it should be.


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