Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science.
[D]ifferent philosophies of training can be effective for different trainees. —Alice
Q: I recently became a faculty member at a great institution. A faculty member in another department runs a very large laboratory. Several of his trainees have asked me for supplies, which I was happy to provide. But I have found that this other laboratory offers very routine training: The trainees are being used as hands and are not learning to be effective investigators. Should I do something about this?
—D.H. Newbie, Vancouver, Canada
A: Every principal investigator has an obligation to provide her or his trainees with sound mentorship; treating them as a pair of hands is, unfortunately, all too common. But there are reasons you shouldn’t interfere. First, if the other faculty member runs a very large laboratory, he’s probably tenured and influential within the institution, while you, apparently, are a newbie. That is not a fight you should be picking.
While the situation is troubling to you, different philosophies of training can be effective for different trainees. I have seen some very successful trainees from a highly structured laboratory and others from a seemingly chaotic, nondirected laboratory. (This is why every trainee should carefully consider the fit before joining a lab.) You should trust that those who joined the larger lab chose carefully and consciously; it’s possible that that the scientific reputation and influence of this seemingly uncaring adviser will translate into excellent career opportunities down the line. Some of trainees may have chosen poorly, but many probably chose the lab because they thought they could thrive there.
Still, if they approach you in the future about changing laboratory affiliations, don’t hesitate to let the brightest ones know that you have great projects and money to support trainees, assuming that’s true.