Administrators who won't give up their labs are hurting themselves and their students
No, Holden, there is no leader (with due apologies to Francis Church ;)
Dear Professor Thorp,
Tangential as it may very well be, if I may, I am trigger-sensitive to the sound of leader. Simply put, is it not, mildly-stated, a confabulation?
At the risk of sounding whataboutist, we have brains, not one, but way too many to count, none of which seem to have a leader neuron, so to speak, and yet they work and continue to work well.
Is leader yet another subversive construct by the self-anointed intellectuals, hell-bent on holding hostage the subaltern in a state of make-believe purgatory of waiting, all waiting for some vaguely visualized something (or not even a thing anymore), with no positive properties, an ill-conceived other, not-them, notwithstanding their selves that are there to do all that needs to be done for them, a so-called leader to deliver.
Why do collectives of individuals, now baptized mass (note the implicit degradation of an individual to mass defined by indistinguishability, by the negation of all that is definitive of personhood), need a leader to lead them, when we a have a brain (e.g., my brain, if none else), which as a society of neurons (I hope Minsky doesn't sue me ;) that seems to be working well, with no leader neuron leading the way?
Leadership is about stories, about peddling narratives (descriptions are too difficult for their puny brains; cf. Gardner).
Please allow me to close with my Professor F. William Lawvere's abstraction of the workings of societies, with specific reference to the place of individual in the space of their of societies:
Individuals do not set the course of events; it is the social force.
Thank you very much for your patient reading!
"And it’s a massive injustice to the laboratory trainees who deserve excellent mentorship."
nicely stated, Holden 🙏🏼
i appreciate your insider perspective.
Marc’s extensive connections throughout academia and industry helped his trainees in their achieving their career goals far more than his day to day absence hurt them. If I was as fortunate as Marc I’d probably do the same thing. I care way more about about training more scientists than publishing flawless papers. Plus its insanely expensive living in the Bay area and Manhattan. Non-admin positions dont pay enough to meet cost of living there. But the science community is probably the best in the world. So once again his trainees get a big boost.
I've been reading the Stanford Daily's investigative report into this. I'm getting the impression that they cleared him too quickly. For instance, they wouldn't guarantee anonymity to witnesses. For low level lab personnel and researchers, it could ruin their careers if they're exposed. Everyone needs to read Stanford Daily's series on this. They deserve a pulitzer.
This is an important point.
Some of my colleagues close their labs when taking major leadership positions, and others do not. Closing the lab - especially for significant leadership positions - is clearly correct.
But even further - leading a group of 100 scientists turns the head of lab into a management position. (I think at Rockefeller/Genentech MTL's number was even larger than that.) Authorship and responsibility for research accuracy should fall to the inidivudals who actually do the work, and who can check the work in detail. It is enough to acknowledge the management.
The rationale I've heard is that it's good for administrators to keep a toe dipped into research--but this certainly centers the prospective admin over anyone it would affect!
Exhibit A: Michael I. Kotlikoff, V.M.D., Ph.D., former Dean of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, who is currently PROVOST for the entire university
From his bio:
“His laboratory is internationally recognized in cell signaling and heart repair and was continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for over 35 years, including during his tenure as dean and provost.”
Now I was never a successful enough scientist to be fortunate to receive major NIH funding, but I imagine it is quite demanding, and it seems like either (1) he is a figurehead in the lab which is run independently by a chain of junior faculty, post-docs, and PhD students, or (2) he is not spending enough time in the challenging administrative roles he’s been given.
Both options are bad. #1 is a slap in the face to all of the young hungry faculty who get declined for funding because “they don’t have a track record of successful funding.” #2 is a recipe for poor institutional governance.