Paranoid Collaborators

Mar 10 2015 Published by under Careerism

Something on the Twitts drew my eye.

We all exist, as scientists, in different mindsets when it comes to sharing our ideas and our various works-in-progress.

Some of this is a reflection of external reality. Scooping (i.e., someone else publishing a given finding before your lab can do so) is a real issue for some people. It affects their career advances and ability to win grants to sustain those careers. For other people, scooping matters less. It may be that one works in a field that is sparsely populated or with models that very few, if any, other labs can deploy. It may be that a research project that is beat to the punch is still publishable in a journal of about the same stature as it would have been published without the "scoop" from another lab. etc.

Some of this is a reflection of unwarranted internal paranoia on the part of the individual scientist.

Good luck changing that with logic and facts.

My suggestion for dealing with collaborators is to try to get a feel for their level of paranoia about this sort of thing in advance. For the worst ones, it doesn't take much inquiry to figure this out. Then, you have choices.

You can simply not work with this person (again). This is perfectly valid. Life is short, etc.

If you do choose to work with them, do so with your head up. Expect them to behave in a paranoid fashion and be unwilling for you to present preliminary work at meetings, to be unwilling to share ideas with other people and to be generally secretive (even within your collaboration).

Don't take it personally. Get what you need from them without being sucked into their vortex of paranoia.

This will make your dealings with them much less annoying.

13 responses so far

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    In what alternative universe does a post-doc get to "say no" to the PI about something like that?

  • drugmonkey says:

    i interpreted that as "program director", not "post doc". maybe I am wrong.

  • physioprof says:

    Same question.

  • Susan says:

    The first tweet makes me think PD=postdoc. The context is then that the PD is ghost-writing ("true lead") the grant. When that PD expresses a fear of idea-stealing, maybe what the PD really means is fear of independence-stealing. And that the PD's ideas and work that generated the grant will end up "stolen" as well, so recognition-stealing. A 7th year PD who has the skill to be ghost-writing has good reason for those concerns.

  • Crystalclear says:

    If this is an NIH or NSF grant then anybody could request it under the Freedom of Information Act. Without asking for permission from anybody.

  • Arlenna says:

    i think it's project director--in those multi-PI proposals, the lead PI often is called Project Director PD/PI

  • Jonathan says:

    When I was a postdoc, my PI was collaborating with a few other labs on a COBRE (one of those package deals from NIH they used to give out). We generated the preliminary data for the subunit we'd be funded by, which was going to be Co-PI'd by a researcher who was the pet of a center director (and the overall head of the COBRE - still with me?).

    COBRE didn't get funded, so my boss repackaged his bit as an R01. And it got rejected by the study section for containing the same preliminary data that our so-called collaborators decided was now apparently theirs (yes, they sent in an R01 at the same time using the same data). Then, the fuckstick who stole our data had the temerity to accuse me (me! the postdoc!) of being a plagiarizer to anyone who would listen at that year's ATVB meeting.

    I also got scooped on my first postdoc when the collaborators who gave us the mice we used for our athero model did the same experiments in a different background (Apoe rather than LDLR), therefore making our manuscript derivative and a much harder one to get published.

    Fuck science, fuck science thieves, I hope they all die in a fire.

  • jmz4 says:

    A grad student was telling me the other day how in her department, one of her boss's colleagues just took a figure out of her thesis proposal and put it in a grant on a related subject. Boss didn't want to fight it because the guy runs the center she's a part of.
    That's a "you can get jail time from the NIH" type of offense, right?

  • drugmonkey says:

    apparently the original comment meant "postdoc".

  • drugmonkey says:

    jmz4- I doubt jail time but could be the basis of a scientific misconduct finding, sure.

  • E rook says:

    This is negation 101. Need more info. Why doesn't the PD want to share the grant? Why does close colleague want to see it? Maybe they want to see structural info and rhetorical devices but the PD want super novel idea or bit of data to be secret. Surely both people can get what they want here, it'll be a little more work than sending of an attachment. You can send a redacted version that the PD signs off on, and give her credit for the intellectual contributions. Then thank her for being a collegial professional and remind her how important the relationship is, etc etc.

  • E rook says:

    Darn tablet.... "Negotiation" not negation.

  • Anonydoc says:

    True moment from my faculty interview at an R1:
    Postdoc, to Chair: "I don't want to share my K99 with another lab in this department."
    Chair, to me (after Post-doc has left): "Anonydoc, do you share your K99 if people ask?"
    Me: "Sure, to anyone who wants it. Because first of all, I'm too far ahead; and second of all, if they do try to compete with me, I will *crush* them."

    Chair laughed pretty hard, though I didn't get the job.

    What both Susan and E-rook said--this is an opportunity for the PI to work with the post-doc on weighing concerns of competition vs being known as a good colleague, and come to some middle ground.

Leave a Reply