Why Do So Many Graduate Students Quit?

Two different people have recently pointed out this article on the Atlantic to us, adding to our growing list of articles addressing problems in the environments graduate students and academics need to survive in. Burnout, mental health issues, and toxic relationships are but a few of these problems:

“Many students are convinced the doctoral experience sets them up to fail.”

As we develop a new generation of faculty and trainers, as well as department heads, we should ask ourselves: Is this really the type of environment we want to develop our brightest minds in? Is the goal of a university ultimately its research and the funds that it attracts, or to train people to develop the capacity to question and perform successful and independent research?

It’s Never too Late to Choose What’s Best for You

This week, I’m grateful to have been sent an article recently published in Science on a topic that some of us have been discussing quite a lot. Coincidentally, HelloPhD’s podcast for today speaks to the same topic:

Is it too late for me to change labs?

In both situations, the women involved felt burnt-out and unhappy by around the third-year mark of their PhD, a time when more than a few PhD students hit their slumps. Both took the road less traveled: they decided to switch lab environments. And both, believe it or not, are currently successful in their academic careers. More importantly though, they are satisfied and happy.

So for those of you struggling and feeling trapped, know that there’s an alternative to leaving your PhD or sticking it out in a problem lab. Seek out advice and help in switching labs, and don’t think of the years you’ve already spent in your PhD as lost or wasted time, but rather as time you’ve spent training your skills and realizing the things you most certainly don’t want. The age-old cliche of better late than never seems to ring true in this case; if your gut tells you it’s time to seek greener pastures, switching labs to a place that will support your personal and career growth will make all the difference.

Can scientists really have work/life balance?

A recent blog article in Nature raises some good points regarding the age old question of whether or not we as scientists can have a work/life balance, and just what needs to be sacrificed while balancing that equation. While some of the tips author Elisa Lazzari gives might seem like common sense, they are good to keep in mind.

It’s important to address the issue of work/life balance at the cultural level, not just at the individual. Grant agencies and individual group heads must move towards an understanding that investing in happy, well-rested and balanced individuals leads to better science as well. So what do you think: can successful scientists really have a work/life balance? And if so, what are you doing to promote these values at your institute?

The Secret to Being a Better Leader: See and Hear Others

This is an article by Dacher Keltner, one of the founders of the Greater Good Science Center and one of the leading psychologists today who studies emotions such as empathy, compassion, and awe, and the effects they have on individuals and groups.

The article correlates rise to leadership with empathy. Though perhaps it should be taken into account that in our industry, leadership is determined by grants, research, and publications; this correlation between leaders and empathy might not exist in our culture. However, this quote from the article struck me as important:

“Team members led by empathetic managers — who listen, hear, and take in what others think and feel — work in more productive, innovative, and satisfying ways.”

If this also applies to scientists, it is in the best interest of a group, institute, and funding body to promote empathetic PIs and group leaders. But there exists what Dacher calls a power paradox, in which leaders find it harder to be empathetic and can even lose their ability to do so after they’ve gained power. It is interesting to wonder if this also applies in science, and explains some of the bad mentoring stories we’ve heard. We’d love to hear your opinions on the topic in the comment section below.

CV of Failures

While not new, we thought we’d add this article to our collection so that it could be in our repository for others. The Guardian details the story of a Princeton professor who bravely published his CV on twitter with a list of his failures, including positions he didn’t get and papers that got rejected from top journals. We think it’s a refreshing view on the career path of an academic and a move towards breaking the myth that people who make it to the top do so only on a ladder of successes.

Job Stability not an Issue Just in Academic Research

This week’s Science magazine has an interesting piece about job stability in the pharmaceutical industry. It is a story about someone who got laid off in three consecutive jobs in the pharma world which, naturally, makes it sound a lot like someone doing the ‘postdoctoral circuit’ in academia.  The feelings are pretty much the same:

“So, finally, I chose to actively seek a change, and I ultimately moved into project management. The desire for a more stable, or at least more fungible, career was the practical appeal. The professional appeal was the opportunity to interact with and learn from professionals working across the full spectrum of pharmaceutical development, from discovery to brand launch and life cycle management. I enjoy the broad perspective and jack-of-all trades nature of the job, and I hope it will be my last career change.”

This short one is worth the read. As a friend of mine who is very determined to stay in science says, “it is really cold out there too”.

How Good Management Leads to Better Science

I must admit, I had not heard of Daniël Lakens before. He is an assistant professor in applied cognitive psychology at the Eindhoven University of Technology who, aside from his research, is actively engaged with broader issues in science: from statistics to open science, as well as how to implement better reward structures.

He has recently given an interview to the “I Love Experimentation” blog on How good management leads to better science. Though he touches on various points, two things resonated the most with me:

  1.  The importance of managers who understand that good research does not correlate with prestige or the number of publications. In his own words “If you try to improve the way you work, managers need to understand this will come at a cost. Being a highly productive crappy scientist is much easier than being a highly productive good scientist”.
  2. The value of considering problems within a historical context because some of the current ‘crises’ in science are not new and have been around for a long time. A recent Nature article gives a wonderful overview on the history of peer-review that clearly brings Daniël’s point home.

Needless to say, I’m glad I stumbled across his interview earlier this week. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on Daniël here at Labmosphere. If you’re interested, here’s a link to his twitter account.