Most of the time on the blog I get to address maybe a tenth of an argument; on a good day it maybe sneaks all the way up to a quarter. This works because for the most part the rest of the issues are assumed to be out there in the commentariat and readership. I assume I get into issues that are at least partially familiar to my readers. Over time, with multiple posts, a topic may be more or less covered, especially if other blogs are talking about the same issues from other perspectives.
At times however, I can get to assuming a little too much about the breadth of an argument space. One of these areas is when I knock on the whiny, disgruntled postdoc perspective. My blindspot is that I usually feel that postdocs (particularly the blogosphere variety) are bright and reasonable assertive people who have no trouble standing up for their rights and indeed are a little over the top with self-interest. So my comments on issues such as authorship and the ownership of data generated in the lab trend toward asserting the unique position of the PI as the ultimate decider of disputes, too bad.
I recently had reason to consider my positions in the context of cultures less familiar to me in which it is rumored/stereotyped/perhaps true that submission to authority is a little bit more pronounced than in a typical postdoc of my acquaintance. If such individuals exist, my prior words might be taken in an unintended way.
Over the past couple of days I'd been seeing a bit of traffic on two older posts coming from this page. It appears to be written mostly in Chinese, however the referred hits are coming from all over the globe. A rough translation provided by an acquaintance of mine suggests that this is probably an anonymous forum for Chinese ex-pat scientists, likely at the trainee level. This particular discussion seems to be about a person complaining about his/her PI altering an authorship order without notice. A reply apparently says "this is the way it is all over, the PI is the boss, deal" and then comments 5 and 10 (thanks for the links 'mingcanada') point the discussion to a post on scientific careerism and one repost of an old one on postdocs' understanding of the job of being an assistant professor. This last one was very well received when originally posted, let me tell you.
My concern here is that my assertions of the unique role of the PI in making the ultimate decisions with respect to publication and authorship can be misinterpreted as too absolute. I am not for one minute suggesting that postdocs should just suck it up in a clearly unfair and exploitative situation. PIs can be and are in fact bad actors. In some cases. These are, I assert, a minority. It oftens seems that postdocs think that ALL PIs are exploitative and are holding them down unfairly and unjustifiably. Not so, which explains some of my attitude in prior posts.
In any case, I do (hopefully) always make clear that the postdoc should always advocate for their own position, if it is justifiable. If you think you deserve that first authorship, make the case to the PI on the merits. If you want to take an area of work with you when you leave, again, make the case. Assertively and repeatedly if you have to. Do recognize that there is a line, however. There are valid competing interests and perspectives on ownership, contribution and rights. In short, try to be reasonable about it when things don't go your way.
I am most emphatically not suggesting that trainees should just do whatever the PI wants, unchallenged at all times. Indeed this is a recipe for scientific disaster, in my view. It is the responsibility of the postdocs to debate, argue and persuade the PI...this is what science is all about. I think we do a reasonable job at inculcating this behavior in US graduate programs, going by the trainees I've run across in my day. From my own training stages on forward. It may even be the case that this career selects for a certain independent, irreverent, authority disrespecting type. In the US anyway.
But suppose other cultures inculcate or select for different values? At the extreme one might imagine a culture in which all the trainees just do whatever Dr. Big says at all times. Maybe seek as hard as possible to deliver what it is assumed Dr. Big "wants" at all times. What if that is assumed to be "Result X" instead of "the results of the experiment done the right way, regardless of Dr. Big's hypothesis"?
This is a cartoonish example, perhaps. Some of my correspondents and agents and yes, my own experiences, suggest that there are going to be individuals who trend in this direction. With an unfamiliar level of respect for the authoritah of the PI. How to mentor such a person? How to change an established culture of putting the PI on a pedestal?