"Let me tell you about protein X"

Apr 24 2017 Published by under Academia, ideas, life in the lab, postdoc, science

Years ago I went to our annual PhD retreat and one of PhD students from a different lab presented data from a screen they did. They talked about the model and the screen and just when we thought things were getting excited and they would talk about their findings, they showed data about "protein X". They described some of the features of said protein, but did not want to disclose the name, in fair of getting scooped.

I thought this was overly cautious and unfair to the audience, but the other day I heard an even more striking story of someone who was this vague about their data in a labmeeting of their own lab. For months they presented data without wanting to tell to their lab members the identity of a protein that was at the center of their project. It makes me wonder: is the lack of input you can expect from your lab mates when you hide critical information worth the reduced risk of getting scooped by someone close to you?

6 responses so far

  • Morgan Price says:

    I have heard of PIs setting up within-lab competitions and in that context it might be rational. More likely, both of these scientists are being paranoid.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Morgan Price beat me to it. There are a couple of big shot PIs in my field that are notorious for running their groups like Thunderdome and putting grad. students and postdocs in direct competition with each other. I can't imagine working in such environments, but they definitely exist.

  • Nat says:

    I've heard stories about people locking up their lab notebooks at night and even heard of some people keeping multiple lab notebooks to keep others off their trail.

    Now, given how crappy most academic scientists are about keeping a single notebook, it's hard to imagine them putting the time into two.

    I think a better question is, "how will academic science remove these assholes from its midst?"

  • chall says:

    It wouldn't fly in my old labs, but I chose not to go to one of the high profile labs with the Thunderdome approach. I think this loses a lot of the idea of science and having critical thinking and look at the experiments with open eyes. Then again, if you're in an environment where you can't even tell your lab mates the name or other details of what you're doing, they probably wouldn't listen to ideas and suggestions either. Overall it just sounds more like a less then optimal research environment.

  • ImDrB says:

    Currently have similar situation with PI and grad student within department being unusually inquisitive around my grad students' work. Have removed her as far as possible to separate work area, and refuse to put her work on the common network drive. It's beyond frustrating.

  • Pawel says:

    In my postdoc lab, a fellow student got scooped by a student from the same department after presenting at a retreat, so it's not entirely paranoid .

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