Intellectual Bends & Communication – PIs, Research Assistants, and Projects

intellectual bends

Know who you are as a PI and know who you are as a researcher/ assistant. Both parties should know how best they work and should inform each other of this. If one or neither of you are clear on this when you start a project, be sure to document how you work, how you work best, and what works for you so that you can state this in your next research project. Knowing how you work best, being able to articulate it, and discuss it with your student/ PI is a good thing.

At the beginning stages of a research project, and pretty much throughout the life of a research project, no one knows where things might go. Your project might be a resounding success, or one of many steps to enlightenment. It’s a journey of discoveries in many ways, both personally and professionally. So a good framework of certainty for this uncertainty can be how you and your team work. Both together and as individuals.

For example:

  1. Do you prefer daily or weekly meetings for updates?
  2. What time do you get in or really start getting work done?
  3. Do you work best early in the morning, or later in the evenings, or at nights?
  4. Are you expected to be in the lab everyday all the time or can you work away from the lab?
  5. How will you contact each other in case you need to? – Phone? Email? Telepathy?
  6. How do you best communicate – via email, telephone, or face-to-face meetings?

How best you communicate is an important point! Believe me! Email is the default mode of communication for most people today. This however gives rise to terrible miscommunications. I would recommend all meetings happen either by Skype or face to face. A quick email to ask a question is fine, but anything beyond that, meet face to face.

I have noticed that in a research project, especially where the PI is not working on the project directly, communication can make or break the project and the people working on it. The PI/ professor has not one fucking clue what’s happening or what needs to be done, so they assume you have been twiddling your thumbs or are incompetent. They are clueless about all that is involved administratively and otherwise for the project. I have also noticed that students/ researchers are so far down the tunnel, having to remember every single step and mistake that it can be frustrating. Especially when you have so much shit to do. I suggest having meetings often that are simply for updating your PI. Nothing else!

Meeting agenda:

  • Updating professor on the project
  • Issues/ challenges and problems encountered
  • Next steps

My reason for putting the discussion of problems separate is because sometimes professors may try to help you address problems while you are updating them, and they are really guessing here. Your work on the project may have placed you ahead of the problem and possible solutions that you tried and failed. By updating your PI on the project and introducing the problems you have encountered and solutions you have tried, you have imparted your knowledge with your PI, and have put them in the position of ASKING if you have attempted A, B, C or D, instead of assuming that you haven’t. It also gives them time to get their head in the game.

Remember, the point of your meetings are to meet each other half-way. You have to come up from the depths of the waters of knowledge to meet him/ her, and s/he has to dive down from the surface of knowledge to meet you. Going down too quickly or coming up too quickly is beneficial to neither. We don’t want to get intellectual bends do we?

Another point on communication – beware of the emails you send to others. I have seen TERRIBLE emails from PIs and professors to their students that just make you cringe. Do not get pulled down into that trench. DO NOT REPLY TO EMAILS THAT UPSET YOU. Ask to meet and speak in person. Some people are terrible human beings and having a PhD does not change that. Preserve who you are and don’t play their nasty games. They sometimes knowingly (or unknowingly) are trying to just fuck with you, and fuck with your mind. Do not let them. The PhD process is fucking hard, the job of your PI is not to make things hard for you or make you learn how hard life is by fucking you over. It is not.

  • Learn who you are
  • Communicate that to your PI/ student and your team so everyone works at their optimum, and
  • Don’t get Intellectual Bends