Friday, July 28, 2006

Just how competitive can scientists get?

Put yourself in the shoes of a young, hot-shot post-doc who has got several offers for a faculty position, including one from a Great University in your field. Naturally, you are keen on joining GU, except for one small glitch. GU also has a leading senior researcher -- a Nobel laureate, no less! -- with research interests that overlap yours considerably; the glitch is that this senior researcher is not keen on having you as a colleague. He says so in so many words in his e-mails (doc):

... I am afraid that accommodating your lab would be difficult.

... [As] you are very aware, two competing labs in the same building is something we should avoid by all means. Some people who are promoting your arrival here are ignoring this basic principle, but I don't believe that they are doing a service to you.

I am sorry, but I have to say to you that at present and under the present circumstances, I do not feel comfortable at all to have you here as a junior faculty colleague. ... I am most happy to support you if you and I are going to work with some distance between us.

What would you do? How would you react?

* * *

After thinking this over, do read these two reports in Boston Globe about the sordid saga that played itself out in MIT, involving a star neuroscientist (Alla Karpova) and a Nobel laureate (Susumu Tonegawa). Links via Inside Higher Ed (1, 2).

* * *

Cross-posted at nanopolitan 2.0


  1. Anonymous said...

    If I were to "put myself in the shoes of a young, hot-shot post-doc", I would decline the offer and go for another place to flourish and win a Nobel, provided no 'raising star' intervenes in this new place and snatches it away, before it reaches me.

    Thankfully, I am not any "raising star", but a mere happy cosmic dust.

  2. Anonymous said...

    When I had a job offer from a certain
    `prestigious' Institute in the country
    and was thinking about accepting it,
    one of my would-be colleagues told me
    that I had got this offer (and others?)
    by fooling people. Needless to say,
    after having accepting the offer and
    having becoming colleagues, our
    interaction has been less than cordial
    and frosty.

  3. Anonymous said...

    The whole episode reminded me the words of Prof E.C.G Sudarshn

    "International science is not a monarchy nor a democracy; rather, it is reminiscent of a more primitive social organisation of the era of robber barons."

    Source: A lecture in September 1973 at the IISc, titled "In Search of Perspective: An Attempt at Self-Assessment,"