Mentoring trainees on productivity

Dr. Becca asked the following:

what are your thoughts on managing time in lab vs. managing productivity? Still something I’m thinking about as my lab works out its growing pains.

From Reaction Norm had some good things to say in the last post, pointing out that different folks need different guidance.

There is an axis that runs from letting a postdoc (or grad student) entirely alone, telling them you measure only productivity and don’t give a damn about hours they keep to having lab hours and a virtual clock-in system. Neither extreme works well.

My personal preference is go for productivity or output measures and let trainees own the work, own the project and own their time. But that has to be coupled with regular (at least weekly meetings) and sufficient oversight to know when it goes bad (aside: when did “going south” become a metaphor for disaster?).

If a good trainee screws up the productivity, usually one talk will get them back on track. Someone who needs more guidance and can’t keep up with out the externally imposed structure can get all tosky about being held to hours when they are used to setting their own. Rxnm suggests cutting folks like that lose (if they can’t own the project and get it done…), but there needs to be room for learning and being taught how to self-regulate.

And that teaching can get hard. If you have a fair sized lab (more than 3 trainees), you don’t have time to check everyone’s schedule. And I admit at this point in my career, I don’t have the desire to do so. For people like me, it has to be our own self-discipline to keep track of the productivity of everyone, and be good at teaching time management, not just imposing it.

Finally, while working with each individual and setting individual guidelines, there is also a problem in treating people differently. Just like fractious children, postdocs are very good at keeping track of who gets what.  Salary, hours, attention, do not kid yourself, everyone knows what everyone gets.

Hillel is usually a superb guide “Do not unto your neighbor what you would not have him do until you; this is the whole Law; the rest is commentary.”








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