Friday, September 4, 2009

Communication about Lab Direction

I realize PIs have varied management styles. I get along splendidly with my advisor, but there is one area where I feel he could be a bit more helpful. My PI does not discuss overall lab research direction with us, and does not inform us when (or if) he is hiring new people. Actually when I first began my graduate career, the current students in lab had no idea I was coming until I showed up one day in September two years ago (ack!) and joined the group meetings.

During my two years here, there have been three students in lab (small, I know): myself and two PhD students. One PhD student just graduated, and one is hot on the trail of a defense date. I was worried that I would be the only one left in lab this year.

But, it turns out that THREE new students are coming in this fall. Who knew?

One of them is a girl who used to be an undergraduate research assistant in our lab. The PhD student she was working under last spring didn't even know until a couple weeks ago that she was joining us! She will be continuing the work of the PhD she was working under, since he has graduated now.

The second student is only known to us current students by an off-hand reference the PI made one afternoon. We know it's a girl, but we don't know her name because the PI couldn't pronounce it. Thus we assume it's an international student, but who know what she will be working on. She hasn't shown up yet, but I imagine we'll see her pop in soon.

At this point I was really excited that perhaps this coming school year, we would be a lab of all three girls. How awesome would THAT be?

But just last night, I discovered that there will be a third student joining us. Do you know how I found out?

I was at a welcoming event for incoming grad MechE students, dutifully present as I am an officer in the grad student MechE club. As I mingled throughout the evening, I introduced myself yet again to a fresh-faced student, "Hi, I'm Miss Outlier. Are you enjoying yourself this evening?." As pleasantries ensued, I asked a standard question, "Do you know what lab you will be in?" Why yes, the student did. He quite calmly stated he would be working for my very own PI.

Well, news to me!

I said I was pleased to hear that, and looked forward to working together. "And what," I inquired, "do you plan to be working on?" "Solar cells!" he cheerfully replied.

Wait - what?

Our lab has absolutely nothing - nada - zip - to do with solar cells. We don't work with solar cell materials, we don't work with anything applied to solar cells - shoot, our lab is in the basement, we don't even SEE the sun! We work with plastic. We squash, heat, mold, melt, and cool all varieties of PLASTIC. Whither the silicon in that, I ask?

"Are you sure?" I plaintively asked. "Of course," said he, "I'm really interested in the project."

Yeah, you and me both, buddy.

So, we have a new student (male, bugger it.... just kidding, of course) who will be working on an entirely new area of research. This makes me very curious as to what the second girl student will be working on - something else in a new research direction? It's a little disconcerting, and I wish the PI would tell us where we are headed.

How does your PI communicate overall lab business? Does it come up in group meetings? A mass email? Rumors passed around at the water cooler? Not at all?

1 comment:

  1. Wait, now...there are a lot of polymer-based and otherwise organic solar cell materials! (See also: my research)