Posted in PhD life, politics, Tips
In science the dilemma of either cooperating or competing is everywhere. The situation is never black or white and depends on the discipline. In this post I will limit myself to the typical small-science group model: one group leader, one or two postdocs and a number – typically between 4 and 6, of PhD students.
All the group member are under pressure. PhD students have to finish their thesis in time, with preferably a couple of first-author articles in glossy magazines.
On the level of PhD students there is already possibly competition if the work of PhD students overlap either with respect to subject or when equipment is shared.
The postdoc’s first aim is to get at some academic place a tenure track position. He needs papers. The PhD students might not want him on their papers, or the other way around.
And then the group leader. He is competing all the way. With other group leaders. Both locally and internationally. He wants to be promoted to full professorship. His ambition is an endowed chair. Or an invitation to become a full professor at a renowned institute. Or he just wants a higher salary.
The subject of this post is to discuss how a group leaders present the group he leads to the outside world in general and in particular to his competitors. Let us call the scientist Mary Johnson leading a group called Nano Biodevices based at the University of California Santa Barbara. How should she refer to this group:
- My group
- Our group
- The Johnson group
When I listen to US scientists, it is quite clear. They will talk about “my group”, “my lab”, “my postdoc” and “my PhD student”. When non-scientists hear this possessive scientist talking they might think that slavery is not yet abolished in science. Anyway Mary will talk about “my group”.
It is clear that if Mary would refer to the group as “The Johnson group” she should go in therapy.
Some of the “my group” group leaders do not realize that they use this terminology. However others, specially those at famous institutes were postdoc candidates and candidates for PD positions are lining up, consider their group members as a disposable workforce. The scientific results of the whole group should be attributed solely to the leader of “my group”.
In my opinion the act of group leaders referring to their group as “my group” is an insult to all group members. As far as I know I have never did it. I will refer to the group of which I am the group leader as to ”our group”. Sounds so much better and so much closer to the truth.
Other people talking referring to the group
During conference presentations speakers might want to refer to results obtained by the group Nano Biodevices. Problem of course is that these hyped-up names are not useful in a scientific discussion. Referring to the group as “Mary Johson’s group” is a practice I do not like that. I think “the group of Mary Johnson” is slightly better. Even better is “the UCSB group”.
If you have choice between various groups to join, check if you can find out how they refer to the group they are leading. This observation might help you in making the choice.