Scientific Project “Ownership”

There is a discussion going on right now at the Scientopia Guest Blogge concerning the practicalities and ethics of what a post-doc mentor and the post-doc should respectively continue to work on after the post-doc leaves the mentor’s lab and starts her own independent lab. The basic question being addressed is the nature of the “deal” that should be struck defining the scope of work the mentor should “allow” the post-doc “take” to her new lab, and the scope of work mentor should forgo in her own lab to “allow” the post-doc room to build her own new program.

Personally, I find the entire uncritical discussion of such “deals” to be distasteful and counter to the entire ethic of science as a human enterprise. It’s nothing but a clusterfuck of idiocy from a bunch of delusional egomaniacs who see themselves as feudal lords instead of scientists.

Other than the potential issue of taking credit for something you didn’t have any role in, this whole “carving up the territory” shitte is absolutely ridiculous. Because a mentor and post-doc can do all the negotiating and deal-making they want, but they can’t prevent a third fucken party from eating both their lunches.

When I left my post-doc mentor’s lab, the only deal we made was to agree that making deals is disgusting and pointless, and to keep each other in the loop going forward about what we were each doing. As soon as I left she shifted his entire operation to work in the exact same general area as the ground-breaking work I did in her lab, and I obviously started my own lab in that exact same area. You know what happened?

The first publication that we each published not together was, indeed, reporting essentially the same finding (although the quality of data from my lab was better and the scope more comprehensive, and we published in a much better journal than she did). But after that, we naturally moved in different directions, because no two scientists see things the same way or have the same temperament.


  1. says

    I agree with you CPP, but for a different reason. Forget “deals”, if the person applying for a TT job can’t come up with their own ideas, then they really shouldn’t be applying for a TT position in the first place. And who would even want to compete against their established advisors over the same ideas(who have the resources already in place)? When I was going through the process, spent a most of my time thinking about what new direction to take. Then I checked with my advisors to make sure they weren’t planning on going in the same direction. In fact, I was a bit nervous that they would just take my idea.

    If the argument is that a field is so competitive that there is no room for going in a new direction, that should be a hint as well that it’s probably not a good idea to try to wedge yourself in as a new TT person. I hate nothing more than new TT folks coming from an annointed PIs lab and doing essentially the exact same thing and getting funded for it because they already have several years worth of preliminary data and only safe research is getting funded these days by everyone except DARPA. Although from that point of view, that’s why these “deals” get made, people are disproportionately hired from mega labs, and the vicious cycle of funding boring research gets perpetuated.


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