Two myths I used to believe

Myth # 1. All scientists are brilliant or even clever or competent

If you grow up in a developing country where only way to “experience” science is through old books and occasional science journals published in English, you could easily start to imagine that people with a pipette in their hands who are working in the bio-hoods, with the richly stocked lab shelves in the background, are all professionals, basically geniuses in their field, especially if they are working in countries like USA (since you constantly hear that science awards, like Nobel Prize, are given to scientists for discoveries carried out in the USA).

You read or watch on TV the young people in the lab coats discussing how they love and enjoy doing science and how they want to make the difference. You actually believe that it is true until….

Until you end up as a postdoc yourself in a science lab in one of the most prestigious academic centers. Suddenly you realize you have no idea why some of the members of the lab have chosen to be here in the first place. They do not participate in science discussions, journal clubs, seminars or ask any questions. You wonder if they are capable of scientific reasoning and rationalization. Maybe not. They are just sitting there and after 5:00 pm leave for home. Nothing related to science excites them. And without excitement and true interest in experimental results, it is absolutely impossible for someone to do a 12 hour workday. Why are they occupying positions that could go to persons who at least are eager and excited about science?

I do not believe anymore that if someone is working in a science lab, even in the best labs, that they are smart, bright or even clever or competent. I do not believe in CV/Resumes either. I do not believe in personal interviews because it never works.

I only believe in how a person describes what he/she has done. In my experience people with a genuine interest in their science work have a wider vocabulary describing their own work and frequently use synonyms to easily adapt to the level of their audience, in contrast to people who are in science from reasons other than science itself.

Myth # 2. Private sector is more efficient than Government

I remember when I was working in the academic environment (that was a part of federal government), we had one scientist who joined the lab from the industry (one of the biotech company). He used to mention that he become disillusioned about the biotech industry since it allowed too much wastefulness. He was telling us how many of the company’s employees were not doing anything all day long, spending all of their time in the tea room in idle conversation with colleagues. Honestly, I did not believe him then. I was asking how come a private company was tolerating such behavior, did the company not care about its employees’ productivity? Why would the company keep such people? He would just laugh at me and tell that the company knew about these people but was doing nothing.

Now I know that he was absolutely correct. There is no difference between private, governmental or academic efficiency in science. Every lab has people who do nothing and this is tolerated. If you ask me why it is the case, I have no idea. I just know that it is true. It appears that majority of people prefer to pretend rather than have a constructive confrontation with their bosses, employees or colleagues. Many times, employers compensate the lack of productivity from such “do nothing” employees by dumping extra burden on other employees or hiring more people. Of course, in the long run, this will not work. No wonder that the company the guy came from to our lab does not exist anymore.

posted by David Usharauli

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