I'm 14 carat......want to look good for the PI, mmm

Have you ever been in a lab with a golden-child trainee?

Was it you?

61 responses so far

  • Yes, I have, more than once. No, it was not me. I found it was important and helpful to recognize that the golden-child is its own worse enemy. If you ignore it, it eventually goes away.

  • imager says:

    Excuse my ignorance - but what is a "golden-child trainee"?

  • The Other Dave says:

    Yea, she was female, and the male married-with-children PI was banging her. It was pretty obvious to everyone in the lab. She got lead authorship on things done mostly by the tech or new grad students, and co-authorship on everything else whether she was a significant contributor or not. She stayed for a postdoc and now has a non tenure track faculty position in the same department. The PI is quite successful.

    I know of another successful male PI that had a favorite female postdoc. He got her pregnant.

  • Michael says:

    To me, that describes the trainee who can do no wrong, who is admired and loved by everyone based on real or perceived talent and/or accomplishments. I don't think it necessarily generates bad lab dynamics. People like this (assuming they aren't jerks) can be good role models for incoming students or postdocs.

  • drugmonkey says:

    What about resentment from peers who think the PI isn't even handed?

  • Michael says:

    I think there is a fine line. There will be a bit of favoritism (first authorship on a high-profile review, talk at a GRC), but if it's done in moderation, it should not cause resentment.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Given the stakes you don't think that *any* perception of favoritism causes resentment?

  • DJMH says:

    Have been both Golden Child and Ugly Step-sister, in different labs. If the favoritism isn't pronounced, I don't think it engenders a lot of resentment, but if the favored trainee gets disproportionate PI attention, new lab goodies, authorships, etc, it creates an unhappy dynamic for everyone else.

    I think this holds true even if the Golden Child is scientifically meritorious, not like TOD's example. Steep hierarchy and favoritism makes for a bad environment. Modest extra boosts, like writing a review, are seen more equitably as rewards for good work.

  • Michael says:

    I think the lesson here is (or should be) that if you do well you reap (well-deserved) rewards. Again, I am assuming here the golden child status is based on true accomplishments. I think it’s really tough to maintain a completely egalitarian system and it sends the wrong message.

  • sel says:

    Red-headed stepchild, here. I was pretty much ignored.

  • zb says:

    Yes, and, I think I've been that golden child sometimes -- based on achievements, and though I won't dismiss my own skills and effort, I would say the achievements were also based on "luck" (i.e. a project that I happened to be working on taking off effectively, which included my work, but also happened to include being on the right track, which could not necessarily have been predicted independently of actually starting on it).

    It will cause some resentment in a group, but it's also unavoidable, if one is not going to pretend that everyone is contributing equally (when they're not).

    As well, when one has been a golden child, one might reap benefits that outlast the accomplishment (but, the resentment can mean that the demands are higher, too).

    Oh, and women who are golden -- deserved or otherwise -- always generate low level rumors that they are sleeping with the boss; so I'd hope no one would say that without pretty strong evidence. I experienced such, and know that I was as far from sleeping with the boss as could be.

  • House of Mind says:

    Yes. It wasn't me at the beginning but there was a switch (based on funding/accomplishments). Advisor was female.

  • banditokat says:

    zb - Gross. Just gross. Vomit inducing purely catty gross. This is right up there with 'well, some people say XX people aren't qualified and shouldn't be here'.

    No....you just said it. And it's wrong and obnoxious, offensive and just stop. Eww.

  • banditokat says:

    Other Dave....you need to meet the hundreds of female scientists who have been harassed because men who are in power think they are fair game. Your stories may be true to your experience but they make my life fucking difficult as does your single sided version of women's training. Gross.

  • Selerax says:

    Yes, I've seen it.

    No, it wasn't me.

    Yes, it was entirely deserved given the results they got. It's not even about hard work or smarts - some people just make everything look easy, and you can't even hate them because they tend to be the nicest people around.

    (Contrasting memories of the super-smart, super-hard-working post-doc who had spent about 4 years in the lab without being able to publish anything, ending up with a minor paper... *shudder*)

    Also, in one case it was a girl, and No, there wasn't even the slightest hint that she banged the PI. And that was in France.

  • Namnezia says:

    I don't know if I've ever been a golden child but I've certainly have had a couple come through my lab. Although I try hard not to express favoritism it sometimes hard not to if you have one highly productive person who gets shit done and one who is just a dud. Obviously you try and support both, but lab folks who are bringing me data regularly (good or bad, as long as its something), talking about new ideas, helping out others, etc are going to get more attention from me as the PI than those who don't engage. And they are going to be assigned more interesting projects/opportunities than those who refuse to be productive. Does this create resentment? Maybe. Does this make me a bad PI/mentor? Probably. Does it help advance the science we're working on? For sure.

  • jmz4 says:

    RE the original posts questions:
    No and no (cause negative data counts too). My current PI is extremely egalitarian, and takes great pains to do so, which has actually engendered some resentment in its own way (e.g. limiting salaries off fellowships to keep pay equal for all the trainees). My previous PI didn't play favorites, but there were people that were just better at getting him on board with their ideas and projects.

    "Does it help advance the science we're working on? For sure."
    -This is also the only thing that really matters. Giving the most interesting projects to the most capable people isn't favoritism.

    As far as being a mentor goes, your responsibility is to put a reasonable amount of time in training them, and give them a shot at a good project. If, after that, they don't have the aptitude or the inclination for bench science, your responsibility is to sit down and tell them this, in the most constructive way possible, and help outline their options.

  • Dr24 says:

    I was the golden boy and a good thing too. I was such a fuck up that if I hadn't been I'd never have gotten my degree.

  • DJMH says:

    The overlap of "golden child" with "sleeping with the boss" illustrates just how much of a boost being a "golden child" (even without...benefits) can be. Very strong favoritism is invariably resented, even if the trainee in question is not thought to be sleeping with the boss.

  • I-75 Scientist says:

    My experience is a lot like Namnezia describes, although I was the "Golden child". And I too think a lot of it has to do with actions in the work environment, i.e. was more willing to engage with PI, work with other departments, get stuff done that was asked. Part of that was due to success in getting fellowships (although when others in the lab don't even apply that makes an even bigger difference), and good timing in taking over a project that was taking off. It definitely created more opportunities in terms of being brought in on collaborations, attending extra meetings and networking.

    Downside is it also create a chasm in the lab at times. There was some resentment between other people.
    But I got to see a hell of lot more of PI life, and discussions about running labs than others. Spent a lot more time crafting grants than just editing/providing data. Hopefully it has some career payoff.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Namnezia is absolutely spot on about the effect getting shit done has on the PI. I may not have been a golden child during training in the largest lab I was ever in as a trainee, but I was on the upper side of the PI's opinion chart. Getting stuff done with regularity was, I think, a bit part of this. Now as a PI, I feel the same dynamics from the other side.

    There is, perhaps, a takeaway mentoring lesson here for postdocs and grad students. Sure, there are many things that are not in your control when it comes to progress in the lab. But there are things that are in your control that contribute to the PI thinking you have it going on. Perfect data are not needed. But coming back next week, next month with something solved, something advanced, etc goes a long way.

  • DJMH says:

    And a takeaway mentoring lesson for PIs, too: even if you have a favorite, monitor how much you show it.

  • becca says:

    Yes, I've seen it.
    No, it was not me.

    Yes, it caused women to be sexually harassed by someone who should have been fired after the *first* time it happened, but the PI was too busy getting grants off of the trainee's ideas to consider firing him.

  • Luminiferous aether says:

    I am male and I have been the GC in one of the labs that I trained in. Consistent with some of the comments here, my GCness had everything to do with my focus, initiative, hard work and ability to get back up even if I failed occasionally. While I did sense minor resentment once in a while, I also received comments from my junior colleagues telling me that I was an inspiration to them. Perhaps it helped that I was nice to everyone and didn't act like a privileged dicke.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And a takeaway mentoring lesson for PIs, too: even if you have a favorite, monitor how much you show it.

    Amen.

  • eeke says:

    I was in a lab that suffered the aftermath of a goldenchild. GC was so because he generated data that "fit" with the PI's expected results. Several of us found that said data was irreproducible. An "erratum" came out of that (not a full retraction, though it should have been). Many of us quit the lab, or eventually moved on elsewhere, and the PI continued his association with GC. Not all GC's are deserving and some can be downright destructive.

  • DM says:

    Yeah, I wasn't thinking about the Golden Child who is a science faker. Definitely a sub-species.

  • Busy says:

    Again, I am assuming here the golden child status is based on true accomplishments.

    Around my neck of the woods the GC tends to be fully earned... I think it is a intra-department cultural thing. There's lots of money available to any one who shows prowess, so GCs show themselves pretty quickly and often there's room for more than one per lab.

  • jmz4 says:

    So no one is going to comment on how/why DM dropped a Selena Gomez reference? We're just taking that in stride?

  • Parklife says:

    Given the collossal disparity in likelihood between a female trainee being harassed by her PI and sleeping with him to get ahead, it's worth considering how productive it is to cherry pick the stories we bring up to perpetuate lurid speculation. Moreover, I question just how sure one can be about what's really going on.

  • I-75 Scientist says:

    Yeah, I've got 3 daughters between 10-16 who love pop music. That stuff is just the constant background of my life.

  • Geo says:

    The way this question is phrased, it appears to refer to cheap jewelry work worn by a student.

  • Amboceptor says:

    Lab next door, and it was the 0pposite of sleeping with the boss. Boss was a cool guy who went out to bars, student was a cool guy who went out to bars. Other student was a woman mostly interested in her pets. Cool guy student was always going on trips instead of doing labwork (it was a monkey lab, apparently it's easy to get the techs who actually work with the monkeys to do everything and then you get credit for it) and actually made miscalculations that led to 2 dead monkeys (which I understand is like 2000 dead mice).

  • Amboceptor says:

    By "was always going on trips" I mean "boss paid for him to go to lots of conferences, to help him network".

  • Namnezia says:

    I never understood those PIs that go out drinking on a regular basis with some of their trainees. It sets up weird dynamics for those lab members who don't like to go drink/socialize with their PIs. I understand doing this occasionally and including the whole lab, but this buddy-buddy thing seems wrong to me and sets the wrong tone. I guess had I been single and without kids when I was starting my faculty job I might feel differently about this.

  • Namnezia says:

    *(meaning that I would have more time to socialize, not that I would hit on my trainees)

  • DM says:

    jmz4- I was wondering when someone was going to catch that.

    Nam- agreed. Careful with the bar-buddying stuff. Avoid if possible.

  • Laffer says:

    I think GC classification is inevitable. There are just some students who are hard-working and smart which in the right environment leads to shit-getting-done.

    In my department, these students are very easy to identify and they become not just GC of their labs, but of the entire department. No funny business required. Scientists are just gossipy and word (good and bad) gets around pretty fast.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I tend to think of GC status as entailing some degree of favoritism. As in the GC may be super awesome and productive but they still get slightly more than has been earned, compared with the rest of the group. And after even a little bit of time it becomes difficult to disentangle the accomplishment from the bennies/privileges.

  • Alfred Wallace says:

    "As in the GC may be super awesome and productive but they still get slightly more than has been earned, compared with the rest of the group. And after even a little bit of time it becomes difficult to disentangle the accomplishment from the bennies/privileges."

    This.
    The GCs that I have seen seemed always in the upper quartile in terms of intelligence, engagement etc. However, you would often find a student with matching abilities, but with less luck in their projects.

  • qaz says:

    It is really really important to separate a student getting extra benefits because they are enormously productive or becoming a critical part of the lab (because they are making certain techniques work) or doing other work-related and scientific things from a student getting extra benefits because they are consorting with the PI (whether bar-buddying or sleeping with). These are not equivalent situations. Not at all.

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    @qaz - if the former is the GoldenChild, then what would you call the latter? SugarBaby?

  • DJMH says:

    But it doesn't have to derive from the student's questionable behavior in any respect. Sometimes, two equivalent (ish) students have different status in the lab because one of them just "clicks" better with the PI. Then that student (or postdoc) tends to get more attention, more requests to help review manuscripts, more "let's talk over this interesting question together," etc. And for the other trainee, it can really sting.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    GC was so because he generated data that "fit" with the PI's expected results

    I've seen one of those. The insidious thing is, you don't have to go as far as provable fraud to do that sh*t. Just being careless, or not being skeptical and examining your apparently great result for possible sources of error, can be enough. If the PI isn't supplying the skepticism, than everyone who does second guess themselves when they think they've found a glamworthy result ends up looking bad by comparison. At least until the time comes to climb down from a big claim based on shoddy work...

  • MoBio says:

    Late reply to original question:

    Never thought of myself as a 'golden child' (I have the spittle still on the lapel of an old shirt from a cussing out I got from my mentor) and don't think I was ever perceived as one. Certainly given my lack of success as a student and postdoc there would have been no reason to rank me as 'golden'. Nor have I been a 'golden' faculty member --two former chairs nicely suggested I 'leave the department'.

    I've never actually had a 'golden' trainee but given that I have a big lab there is inevitably a spectrum in terms of how much time I can spend with each one. Do my best to be equitable but being fallible likely fall short.

    Of course they are all 'above average'.

  • Busy says:

    In my department, these students are very easy to identify and they become not just GC of their labs, but of the entire department. No funny business required. Scientists are just gossipy and word (good and bad) gets around pretty fast.

    This.

    I've seen abuses elsewhere (supervisor sleeping with GC/GC is a brown-noser) , but I have also seen sour grapes from under-performing students complaining about truly deserving GCs.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @banditokat (and others): I absolutely agree that the boss' behavior in my examples was gross. But it's even worse than that. Examples like those break the system for everyone else. When it comes to special treatment, if you're a guy everyone assumes you deserve it. If you're a girl, people wonder whether you're blowing the PI. It's not fair.

    And yea I know that the way I wrote that presupposes that the PI is male. Also not fair.

    That said, I was at a bar one night during SfN and saw a female PI pressuring her lab members --including a new grad student that she clearly had the hots for -- to get drunk with her. Super awkward.

  • . says:

    within my experience, there have been GCs, but they got there by outworking the other students. All trainees can work harder/smarter and if they choose not to... well unfortunately the immature ones look for someone else to blame (i.e., the PI or the GC) rather than admitting that it was their own actions and choices that lead to their outcome.
    Most extreme example I know of was a sour grapes response of scientific fraud against GC and PI. Fortunately it was readily investigated and dismissed but stressed out the lab for some time.

  • damit says:

    I had a golden child.

    And she was a female, and no I was not sleeping with her. Nor do I want to or did it ever enter into my mind.

    Thankfully, of all the hateful crap a minority of my trainees have tried to project on me.....they could not go there. When I was confronted with charges of favoritism...I could say, well she is in the lab all the time, reads more than you, and is just wicked smart.

    She was golden because she was great and worked way harder than anyone I ever trained. And thought hard about her project and brought new ideas and pushed me to think in new ways.

    And she has done great in her postdoc, with a great advisor who again I cannot imagine she'd be sleeping with....she is just that great. And soon she'll be a PI.

    And I hope she gets students as great as her.

    So there.

  • Alfred Wallace says:

    @damit

    I totally believe you that she was that great, as such overachievers are a rare but regular occurrence. Good for you and good for her.
    Problem is if she had been a not completely "deserving" GC, you would sound exactly the same.

    " And soon she'll be a PI."

    Sometimes I wonder whether those are to some degree self-fulfilling prophecies.
    I have in my environment a true star PhD, a real 1%er. Probably he will make it anyway, but the fact that everybody is convinced that he will make it and advertises him as such will with no doubt help him along the way.

    After all, there is nothing wrong with awarding capable people, but we should be aware that the reward vs capability probably becomes at one point non-linear.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And, AW, worry about how someone similarly capable who just didn't catch everyone's eye for some reason (i.e. Not good old traditionally looking straight abled young white male) might not have a fair chance if only the 1% can succeed.

  • gmp says:

    That said, I was at a bar one night during SfN and saw a female PI pressuring her lab members --including a new grad student that she clearly had the hots for -- to get drunk with her.

    @TOD, WTF? This is gross. And how is it clear the PI had the hots for a new grad student? And all these PI's supposedly sleeping with female students? WTF x2? What kind of world do guys you live in? And blech.
    This crap is totally unheard of in my neck of the woods. Maybe people just gossip less.

  • The Other Dave says:

    "And how is it clear the PI had the hots for a new grad student? "

    She was drunk. Her hands were all over him. He didn't really reciprocate, but didn't run either. What was he supposed to do? She obviously had one of those labs where she rules by force of personality.

    My friends and family in business describe sexual harassment there too. I guess it's everywhere. Still, it seems shocking when supposedly highly intelligent enlightened people are involved.

    You know that grad student-now-nontenuretrack faculty that was banging the PI that I mentioned earlier? A faculty friend and I tried to explain to her once that the situation was not appropriate and that she was being taken advantage of. She got mad told us to mind out own business and told her PI boyfriend. That same faculty friend recalls when a grad student at another place brought charges of sexual harassment against a faculty member and it ruined that grad student's career.

    So my attitude is: Fuck it. People are grownups. It's their own damn business whether to be idiots with each other or not.

  • DJMH says:

    " we should be aware that the reward vs capability probably becomes at one point non-linear"

    I think this is the crux of the issue. GCs often are very good, but it doesn't mean they deserve the disproportionate attention they often get, relative to other folks in lab.

  • damit says:

    Wow.

    So basically any really good female trainee with a male boss is suspected of doing the PI?

    Don't get me wrong...I've seen stuff too, including with someone DM lionizes here from time to time.

    But is isn't normal, and maybe I am naive, but I think it's rare.

  • The Other Dave says:

    "So basically any really good female trainee with a male boss is suspected of doing the PI?"

    That's one of the problems.

    The whole premise of DM's post is that the 'golden child' may or may not be perceived as deserving.

    I try hard to show no favoritism as PI, and a golden rule in my career is to absolutely never ever talk about a lab member with another lab member. The PI who was banging his grad student used to talk about other lab members in private all the time. It creeped me out even when I was his favorite person and special confidante, because I knew at some point eventually he'd be talking about me.

  • MoBio says:

    @TOD

    You said: " Still, it seems shocking when supposedly highly intelligent enlightened people are involved."

    So the premise is that highly intelligent are also 'enlightened'--too funny for words. I'm reminded that intelligence is simply one vector of our persona and have met/interacted with so many folks who are 'highly intelligent' but are not close to being humane.

    I'm actually more shocked when I meet someone who is 'highly intelligent' and who has a modicum of human decency.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ouch MoBio.

  • The Other Dave says:

    I said: "Still, it seems shocking when supposedly highly intelligent enlightened people are involved."

    @MoBio: "So the premise is that highly intelligent are also 'enlightened'"

    Nope. Those were two independent adjectives, same as if I were referring to a 'purple spotted hippo'. Not all purple hippos are spotted, right?

    In other words, I (somewhat) agree with you.

  • MoBio says:

    @TOD:

    When you find "highly enlightened" people please let us/me know.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @MoBio: Besides me?

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