The difference between a supportive and unsupportive manager/PI

I'm beginning to realize more and more that whether your manager or PI is helpful and goes the extra mile for you can make a HUGE difference for your everyday happiness and the advancement of your career. The other day I heard the following story of an industry scientist (paraphrased by me and changed some details to ensure anonymity):

"I recently received the feedback that I need to be more visible and impactful within the company in order to be able to keep my job and be eligible for any type of promotion. I want to be impactful, but I feel that I rarely get the opportunity: when I make slides for a presentation, my manager is the person who presents them. And when I ask them about this, they replied that they also need to work on being impactful to those higher up. On the other hand, my manager says that they want to help me, but I don't see how they do this. What can I do?"

I think that this is a clear example of having a manager who does not have much space to give you the things that you need to advance your career. I've been in that situation when I did a short post-doc with a PI who was only a few years more senior than me. While I saw PIs around me give their post-docs the option of co-supervision of PhD students or a co-PI position on grants*, or even 'just' the opportunity to meet collaborators and give talks, this person did not seem to have the ability or willingness to do that, or was still very busy getting those things for themselves. Perhaps it sounds entitled to want these things from a manager or PI, but I've seen around me how these seemingly little things can have a big effect on where you take your career.

It seems like this industry scientist is in the same situation: the manager and the scientist are not very far apart in seniority and the fact that the manager is busy getting the same things as the industry scientist within the same company makes it difficult for them to help the scientist advance.

So what can this industry scientist do? In the situation where they asked for advice, the following suggestions were given: find a mentor/coach other than your manager to help you with certain aspects, be more vocal about what you've accomplished and ask your manager to present your own work instead of having them present it for you.


*I can hear my US-readers think: you're supposed to show independence from your PI, which is true, but here it seems inevitable to have a period as senior post-doc when you're trying to become independent but here there is often no funding nor TT positions to be able to do that.

5 responses so far

  • David says:

    Not sure if it's an option for your industry scientist, but maybe they can branch out into something that is different than what the manager focuses on. In my lab, we have 3 scientists with little separating us in terms of seniority. While we overlap on most things, we each have one or two unique things for which we are the go to person. It has helped resolve some of the tension. Granted, we still run into problems where we have a really cool project that everyone wants to be tied to (and the work is split fairly evenly).

    One little thing, maybe the boss would agree to label the presentation as prepared by industry scientist. It's not as good as presenting, but at least their name starts to get out there.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Yes those are definitely good suggestions. A person IRL even suggested to send slides as PDF with their name on it so that if anyone wants to edit they need to go through them.

  • Anonymous says:

    "Perhaps it sounds entitled to want these things from a manager or PI, but I've seen around me how these seemingly little things can have a big effect on where you take your career."

    Maybe I'm an entitled bitch, too, but I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting these things. And you're absolutely right, they can have a *huge* impact on your career.

    Unfortunately, there's not much you can do when your superior (whether in Academia or industry) won't or can't give you these things. That person will never put your best interests ahead of theirs. So the only option is to find yourself another manager/mentor. Perhaps the industry scientist can remain at the company but transfer to another dept. or work on another project? Biding your time and hoping that things will change and/or resolve themselves is a risky option that I don't recommend.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Good to hear that others feel the same way. And I think you might be right recommending to switch to somewhere else instead of waiting for things to get better...

  • […] Very often when I talk to people about how to advance my career, their advice is: "Be visible!". This is also the advice that people around me are getting. […]

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