Tuesday, October 12, 2010

(Tele)Commutative Rings

My current postdoc's wife and child are in a city some 2-3 hours away by car from where my institution is. His wife has a very specialized job and is pretty much tied to that city (or only a couple of other ones in the country), so my postdoc is fairly geographically constrained in all of his academic endeavors.

The setup we have worked out so far is that he is at GMP University about 3 days a week and the rest he telecommutes. This is of course greatly facilitated by the fact that my group does theory/computation. This is his second year with me and he has a pretty generous fellowship, which is an important piece of information because (a) I feel I have less of a proverbial "stick" over him than I would if he had been funded on my grants, (b) he can afford a second residence near GMP University.

How's that been working out so far? I think he has done well for himself; we certainly meet often enough, he participates in group meetings and several task-force smaller meetings, and has had good reserch output so far. But, it he were here more, it would be better for the group as a whole, as I think the students could learn more from him. But, who knows. Maybe not. Overall, he's been doing well.

Today, I had a meeting with one of my students. He is getting married in a few months. His fiance is in a competitive program in the biomedical sciences, in a private school in the same city as my postdoc's family, i.e. 2-3 hours away by car. She works with animals in some Big D00d's lab, so she cannot relocate. You see where this is going.... The student asked if I would be OK with him moving in with his wife in another city a few hours away while continuing his studies.

Perhaps it is now clear what inspired the title above -- how (wedding) rings lead to telecommuting. (I couldn't resist the nerdy pun to commutative rings. I loooove nerdy puns.)

Anyhoo, I am now somewhat torn between wanting to be sympathetic, not wanting to be a softie/pushover (because of course everyone expects me to be sympathetic, possessing a uterus and all), and simply weighing what's best for both the student's and my professional goals.

Whan I started my TT position, I had a difficult two-body situation situation, where my husband and I lived apart for 2 years (I moved away with my then only son, and my husband stayed to work on his degree). I know being apart from one's family can be completely demoralizing for a person and can adversely affect their research productivity. Since the student's wife will be so close, it does make sense to try to enable them to be together.

I honestly think that if I demand that the student be here all the time, he'll be miserable and try to get any chance to go see his wife. If I OK him moving in with his wife, while coming here a few days a week, I think he will be fully focused while here and hopefully grateful enough to put in his best work both here and there. I hear his soon-to-be wife is pretty driven and works long hours, so I am hoping that rubs off on him too! :)

My husband thinks that I am too soft and that as long as I pay the student, I should demand his presence in GMP City. This student is one of the most disciplined and responsive and hard-working ones I have, so I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt that he can keep organized even if not with the group the entire time. I am inclined to offer him a setup where he would be here 3 days a week (subletting from a friend) and the rest with his wife; after 6 months or so, we assess if he continues to progress satisfactorily; if yes, we continue, if not, he has to maintain a greater presence here.

So dear readers, how do you feel about people working for you remotely (obviously in cases where something like this makes sense)? Or perhaps you have been a telecommuter yourself? Do you feel it is overall better for the work/life balance, or just for work, or just for life?

39 comments:

Alex said...

In regard to a theorist being there only 3 days a week, I assume it's only a matter of time before an experimentalist shows up and makes the usual joke about theorists and Wednesday conferences :)

I'm a theorist who gets a lot of creative work done away from the office, so I am tempted to sympathize with the student. However, while I can do a lot of creative work in all sorts of unusual places, I need to intersperse that with scientific conversations, and those are generally facilitated by being physically around other scientists. And, for certain tasks, being in the office imposes a certain discipline.

If you have a collaboration with somebody at the university where your student's wife is studying, I'd say that you should ask the collaborator if he/she can spare a desk for your student. Even if you have the student on some project unrelated to the collaboration, there'd probably be useful scientific conversation.

GMP said...

... I'd say that you should ask the collaborator if he/she can spare a desk for your student. Even if you have the student on some project unrelated to the collaboration, there'd probably be useful scientific conversation.

Alex, this is an excellent idea! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I had a two-body issue for the last three years of graduate school, when my husband lived a 2-hour flight away. We used to visit each other on alternate weekends. When I visited him, I would fly out there Thursday night, and return Monday morning.

Since I did theoretical work, and mostly worked alone, my advisor was generally fine with the arrangement. One thing he demanded though was that I attend the department seminar every week (it was on a Wednesday, so wasn't a problem so long I wasn't gone the whole week.) He would check on my progress often, probably more often than he checked on the other students. :-) We also had a few serious talks when I was getting a little too unfocussed, but at the end things worked out fine.

And of course I still think my advisor is really wonderful. :-)

Anonymous said...

I think given your description of the student, letting him try the three-days-on arrangement for a period of 6 months and then re-evaluating is entirely fair and reasonable.

Another option that some postdocs do at my university do (engaged, and about a 3-4 hour drive apart if no traffic), is they will spend every other week working at the alternating s.o.'s institution. So this means he's here 3/4 of the time, and 1/4 of the time we have an adopted postdoc hanging out. Probably wouldn't work so well in this student's case since his other half works with animals and all, but I thought I would bring it up as an option for academic couple who's research does not tie them to the lab all of the time.

Anonymous said...

I faced a similar situation in grad school after my group moved(also computational/theoretical), but it was a 3 hour flight instead of a drive. Long story short I found another advisor willing to co-advise me after I suggested some collaborations that would be mutually beneficial to both groups, and was permitted to move back to where I wanted to be. I think this resulted in me finishing up quicker than I would have had I stayed and been miserable and was actually helpful in keeping me on task.

My far advisor insisted on me emailing him detailed weekly reports and to visit far university about once a semester and reexamine the issue occasionally. This worked out great, actually, and I liked the weekly reports because it kept me on task and gave me a list of what I had accomplished that week that I could look at later or just to feel like I actually accomplished something.

In this situation it sounds like letting him work at home 2 days a week and reevaluating after a few months is very fair and not at all push-over. If the student is like me he'll work even harder to finish so he can go back to a more normal work life. Maybe since he'll be directly supervised less you can implement a weekly private meeting or report like I had just to keep closer tabs on them.

Alyssa said...

Given your positive description of the student, I would offer him the chance to try it out (I like the idea of giving him a 6 month "trial" period, so that things can be changed if they're not working out).

Times are changing after all - people put more priority on their relationships, and look for jobs that allow them this type of freedom. So, if you can be one of those PIs who is sympathetic but fair in these situations (as long as the person in question can be responsible about it!), you can attract higher caliber students.

Definitely keep us posted on what you decide to do and how it works out!

Namnezia said...

It's a no brainer to me. You should definitely let the student relocate. Otherwise you end up with a disgruntled student, and that means an unproductive student.

Jean Grey said...

Honestly, I tend to lean more toward your husband's reaction, for a few reasons. First, students know what they are signing up for when they enter grad school. It's not all fun and games and sometimes it just plain old sucks to have to make sacrifices for your education, but it's what we do. Second, my previous comment may make me sound like a huge a bitch, but I was in a long distance relationship (east coast/west coast) for three years so I completely understand all that goes along with being in that situation. I also understood that it's just what I had to do in order to simultaneously get a PhD and maintain my relationship.

Having said that, if the student was as good as you describe, I might be inclined to work with him. Your suggestion for the arrangement is reasonable, although I am paranoid (and still a little bit bitchy) so I would make sure that the details were in writing (even if it's just an email).

I do also agree with Alex's suggestion about finding a desk for him at his wife's university. There is something to be said about interacting with other scientists. Both from my own past experiences with computations and from having a computational student in my current lab who almost never came to campus (and eventually left the group), I think it's extremely important for this student's success that he has regular scientific interactions.

structurefunction said...

I agree with Alex on the importance of actually talking to people and being around. One concern is how much overlap there is between telecommuting people -- I'd recommend that everyone in the lab overlap at least 2 (and ideally all 3) of the days that they're present.

Alex said...

Having said that you should try to help him, I want to add a contrary thought: If it doesn't work out scientifically, don't feel guilty about telling him to spend more time in your group. There's a certain amount of PC going around in academic science, about how anything and everything that relates to personal life must be accommodated. In general that's a good thing, but when conflicts exist, well, I'm not saying that personal needs should always yield, but sometimes they should yield. Grad school is (if done right) for the short term, so any personal sacrifice done for grad school should be short-term, not permanent. I'm not in the camp of that cancer researcher who ranted that nobody works weekends, but I am saying that now and then a short-term sacrifice (as opposed to permanent round-the-clock) is probably necessary.

So, if your student should reach a stage where he needs more interaction in your group, don't be afraid to insist that he be there, no matter what people say about balance. You're tenured, you can afford to be politically incorrect now and then.

Besides, you can compensate for your evil: If his wife reaches a stage where she's mostly writing and can do a lot of it remotely, offer her a desk in your group for a few days a week. Or ask a friend doing relevant biology to offer a desk in his/her lab.

rocksinspace said...

I'm currently a telecommuting grad student. Unlike yours I am not a reasonable drive from my grad school (it is in the upper midwest, I'm on East Coast south of the Mason-Dixon). And telecommuting works for my advisor and me both.

I'm in astronomy so all I really need is a computer thankfully and I already have a laptop and an iMac for that complete with IDL licenses of my own. The reason this setup works however is that my advisor is constantly on travel due to various national and international committee obligations. We were already working via email and cell phone when I was a student in residence at University of the Frozen Tundra and it was known that I would reply ASAP to queries.

Initially we started my long distance studentship when I moved to California to get farmed out to another group that had data I wanted and money to pay me (which was something I pursued myself). Then I also got married to someone in California and continued to work there in the second bedroom with my computers until my spouse decided to apply for jobs elsewhere. Now I'm on the East Coast finishing up this year and cranking out the papers while emailing, calling via cell phone and skyping with the advisor.

I think however it highly depends on the student- my advisor has another student in his group who just defended that took a significant time to defense and wasn't really an optimal payoff (zero first author pubs, and was only co-author on one pub in his 8 years in the prog) and then me. Admittedly I'm pushing my sixth year, but I found external funding for awhile, have cranked out the publications (first authored articles #4,5 and 6 are in various states of tidying, article #3 is with the journal and I've been coauthor on a number of other papers) and am just generally more motivated than the other student in my advisor's group. Of course I'm also motivated to get a postdoc at this time since I might want a divorce as well (move to East Coast was not handled well by the spouse. . .I wasn't actually involved in the decision to move which has me hopping mad), so it may also be a question of finding what will light a fire under your student's ass and if it can be done from afar.

Tim said...

if i was your grad student, i wouldn't even have asked you for permission where to spend my private time. I would simply tell you i was moving and either make due on my responsibilities, or quit. You have no business telling him what to do. just make sure he knows his responsibility and let him decide.

Meadow said...

There's a difference between a postdoc and a student as in the student is still learning to do research whereas the postdoc is well ahead in that arena. So it this is a tricky situation.

You could expect the student to be in your university on T/W/Th which is what people do when they live far away. He'll still need to have a place nearby for Tue and Wed night in addition to the family home with his wife. Otherwise he'll spend all his time driving.

And I would say it is your business as the advisor/student relationship is a mentoring one and this is a common problem that needs to be creatively handled.

Anonymous said...

I too think there is a big difference between the postdoc and student stages. I have seen a telecommuting student really flame out, but I could see how it might work for a postdoc. I would explain my reasons to the student, but ultimately tell him that it will be very difficult because there are many more benefits to being around than simply getting the work done (although that is the biggie).

GMP actually didn't say if the student was good (she did say the postdoc was doing well), she only said she hopes the new wife's drive rubs off on the student. To me that's a red flag. Having said that, though, I think you can't really "demand" anything. The student, however, has to be prepared to live with the consequences of whatever he chooses and know that it will be challenging either way.

I think you should (and based on what I've read in your blog, you will) make it VERY clear what the expectations are no matter what the arrangement works out to be.

GMP said...

Thanks everyone for the comments!

Tim -- aren't you a ray of sunshine! :) By all means, it's a free country, the student can move wherever he wants, he does not have to ask my permission. But, he most certainly does need my permission to continue getting paid as RA on my grant or to defend a dissertaion with me as an advisor. So you bet your ass it is my business if he wants to move out of town while remaining a paid RA in my research group.

Alyssa, Namnezia, Jean Grey, Meadow, rocksinspace, structurefucntion, Anons, Alex -- thanks for your comments! I am indeed inclined to working out something with the student where he'd be here 3 days a week (subletting from a friend) so he will have interactions with the group, 1-on-1 meetings with me, participate in group meetings and seminars. And you bet it will be in writing! I am very bureaucratic that way, all impportant things are eventually put in writing.

Alex, you bring up an important point: that sometimes being an advisor means requiring what's best for the student's career even if it's unpopular with the student. (Not unlike parenting.) I have no problem being "evil" as you say if that means ensuring adequate progress, and will let him know unambiguously if the telecommuting thing looks like it's not working.

Several Anons -- please consider delurking in the future! I certainly appreciate your comments and the personal stories you shared. It would be nice not to refer to you as Anon at Hour:Minute...

Anonymous said...

GMP, technically 'lurk' \equiv read without posting at all \neq posting anonymously

Anonymous said...

I agree with your husband. Is it possible for him to stay in your city and visit his wife (or vice versa) over the weekends? That may be the best course of action here.

While I do know a lot of couples who had to deal with two-body problems in grad school, I have never heard of anyone moving off three hours away, unless they were in the final stages -- basically, writing their dissertation. From what you said, that doesn't seem to be the case here, right?

GMP said...

:) Anon at 5:21, totally true. Thanks for catching that (<3 the latex commands! :)
I am sure de-anonymysing (de-anonymyzing?) is not a verb either...

So here goes again: all Anons -- it would be nice not to have to refer to you as Anon at Hour:Minute... I certainly appreciate your comments and the personal stories you shared!

Anon at 6:44, the student has about 2 years left till he graduates. He is done with coursework and well underway on his research. He's at a difficult point in his PhD where he's too far into the program to just quit, while it's too soon to hurry up and finish, or to commit to living long distance till the end. His fiance has about the same time left on her PhD.

pika said...

What about yet another option: that the student and his wife move to somewhere half way between the two workplaces and both commute daily to their respective universities? And maybe take 1 day off per week to work at home?

FrauTech said...

I'm with pika. Why does his wife's job get first priority? 2-3 hours inbetween is a perfect distance to live somewhere halfway. Yes it means they both have long commutes, but aren't researching grad students supposed to be working long hours anyways? 3 days a week is crazy. I'm assuming when you hired the postdoc it was a condition of their working there. You don't have to be "fair" and offer everyone the same thing. Most grad students I knew worked nights and weekends. I know you're theoretical, but that's still a vast amount of free time to leave him with. If his wife works that hard he doesn't need that many days off. I say 4 days a week, suggest they live somewhere inbetween, and indicate you'll be harder on him than you would be on somebody who was in the city b/c that's how it works.

Tim-not sure where you work, but if the grad student is working off of university funding or a grant from GMP I'm pretty sure the PI has a right to dictate what kind of work/workload/schedule will get things done. This isn't "free time" this is most people are there M-F and this student is asking for an exception.

Schlupp said...

Hm, Tim is weird, I was wondering whether he (it?) is a computer script. The pattern of parroting some of the stuff in a post, but missing quite a bit of the meaning seems like these scripts.

Heidi said...

Haha. I do not think Tim is weird at all. In the blogpost nowehere is mentioned that the student wants to have a 3-day workweek. It is only mentioned that this setup has been arranged for another postdoc of GMP and she is now wondering if she has to do the same with this student. But read careful; GMP only mentioned that he is moving that far away. So my question is: did he ask for this setup in the first place?
And read Tim's post more careful as well; he just says that no one has anything to say about his free time, but that he knows his responsibilities, and if he cannot live up to them by moving that far away he would quit.
Is there a problem here that a man is commenting on all these female science blogs? (I saw him commenting on others and getting negative replies). Scientists; just read before you say something negative about another commenter.
But GMP: did the student ask for this setup?

Tim said...

lol.. im not a computer script, im an MD, it's almost the same thing. we just follow directions!

i just felt sorry for the student that has to ask his boss where he can sleep at night...... i would feel really violated if my boss asked me where i lived and did or did not approve..

GMP said...

Pika & FrauTech, thanks for the suggestion. That is indeed an option -- them moving half-way. But geography comes to play here -- I am in a lovely medium size city and the other city (2-3 hrs away) is large. In between, there is no place that I would consider particulary appealing to live (teeny-tiny towns and vast stretches of farm fields). But it is an option...

Heidi, the student asked what we can do so he can continue his work as part of my group as well as move in with his wife. I said we both have to think about possible scenarios and that we will talk more later. He did not come out to request the 3 day week per se.

But the question "what exactly is his responsibility?" and whether he can fulfill it when he moves is a good one: I don't think his primary responsibility is to be in the lab M-F 9-5. There are things he must attend (1-on-1 meetings, small task-force meetings for projects he's on, large group meetings, seminars in mine and two other departments), and he also has to show steady progress on his research. I would say that these are non-negotiable. But then there are aspects that are harder to quantify -- as part of his training, he should interact with the rest of the group and other professors at the university. It's hard to say whether 3 vs 5 days of physical presence significantly alters this aspect.

Schlupp, thanks for the comment!

Tim, no one is forbidding the student to move wherever he wants. But if he worked for a company he would have to either quit or ask for permission to telecommute if he wanted to keep his job and move. In addition to being this students PhD advisor, I am also paying his RA so am de facto his boss so yes he needs to work with me if he wants to both move and keep the job. But I am not going to iterate this again -- I am sure you understand all this perfectly well and are just playing around/pulling our leg a little bit here. :)

Heidi said...

OK, if he did not specifically ask for a setup as your postdoc, I certainly would not offer it to him. As you said, he needs to be there as part of training and all. Interaction, seminars, workdiscussions are all very important to do science. But such a commute is tiring as well. Is there public transport available? Then he could work during the commute.
But there is no way that you have to pay his travelcosts, right? I am from Europe so I do not know what RA is. Anyways, since he is a hardworking and (responsible?) student, I think it will all work out fine. I knew a girl in theoretical science that worked in US but had a bf in London; so she would work one week from London, and the other week she worked in the lab in US. Seems deadly tiring to me but it worked out well. Me, on the other hand cannot imagine such scenario at all, being in a wetlab. It all depends on attitude from both boss and student but every sensible person knows that.

Heidi said...

In other words: let him come up with some solution first.

GMP said...

Heidi, thanks for the comments.

Regarding RA: grad students in the physical sciences in the US typically have either TA's (teaching assistantship) or RA's (research assistantships). A few students have fellowships, from different sources, that pay their tuition and a stipend without requiring them to teach or work for a particular professor.

TA's require that the student be a teaching assistant in some undergraduate course, hold discussions, office hours, proctor exams, perhaps do some grading. They also pay a tuition and give compensation for the teaching. Often, students will TA when they are newbie grad students, but then they find an advisor and switch to RA.

RA's are paid off a professor's grant. RA's pay tuition and compensate you to do research (which you would do for your thesis anyway!). But they tie you to a particular professor and particular project, and sometimes it happens that the prof simply runs out of money.

Tim said...

you misunderstood my meaning, i think. Let me explain:

You don't have to point out you are his boss: i understood that; the fact that you are his boss means that you and he are linked together: at a click of your mouse so to speak, you can fuck this guy up for the rest of his life. He knows this, and therefore when you allow him to know your personal preferences about his free time and living address, you risk that he will be influenced by the power you wield over him. So my advise: speak only of the consequences DURING his work time, and do not try to advise him on decisions he would make for himself if he was not dependent on you.

Schlupp said...

Tim, if you are human, you should take classes on reading comprehension. Adult literacy classes are offered in most places nowadays.

1) The issue is NOT about night time ("sleeping").

2) The issue is NOT about weekends.

3) The issue is NOT about whether the student can fulfill his work duties as currently defined. Currently, they are defined similarly to most people's, i.e., they involve being at the place of employment during working hours.

4) The issue IS about whether the student's work duties, which currently involve being at the place of his employment during working hours, can be modified as a favor for this particular student.

Everyone except you got that, and I thought that a kinder interpretation for your lack of basic reading skills is that you were a programming exercise.

Anonymous said...

Schlupp

What is your problem? I think you are not reading what Tim is pointing at. I think he just means that the student can move 3 hours away, why not. But he is just supposed to be at work, like every one else. If he can't make that, it is up to him to take responsibility and find another job/move out with his wife again and visit her only during weekends.
That is the only thing he is saying. And, as clarified by Heidi's question, the student did not ask for any time off, but just mentioned he will move far away and that this should be discussed. I personally think that he made a commitment to GMP, therefore he should either keep that, which is working as every other normal person is supposed to. And how he manages that with his living far away and his spare time is up to him to decide and nobody else. And if he can't, or won't (meaning he wants a 3 day working week as the other person in the lab), he should find another position.
Now there GMP might still come forward to his needs, as he might be valuable to the lab and so on, by offering him some sort of arrangement. But in principal, it is not her business what he is doing in his spare time or where he is moving to. Her only business is that he does what he is supposed to do, namely what he was hired for and is being paid for.
So, Schlupp, maybe you and Tim can go to a reading course together, although I think you are the only one needing it. Might be a good way to socialize, to see some other human beings, you know, since whatever Tim said has nothing to do with being non-human.

GMP said...

OK, this is getting needlessly ugly. We are all literate adults here, no need to refer each other to remedial reading classes and what not. I think we all understand the situation, it's just that some people (like Tim and Anon 4:28) feel that deciding to move with one's spouse is a personal decision that should not be discussed by one's boss.

I agree with this point regarding many but not all personal aspects -- for instance, a person most certainly should not have to consult their boss on whether to get married, have a kid, or buy a house, or dye their hair, and what not. But this is no longer true if, for instance, you want to date a coworker -- then your work and your boss, like it or not, become part of your personal dating situation.

Also, decoupling of the private from the professional is not always possible when it comes to relocating, and it strongly depends on the type of job. There are jobs where you absolutely have to be physically present at a certain spot to do your job, so moving = quitting/losing job. Therefore, for many people, keeping the job means you live where you must. But for an increasing number of people telecommuting may be a viable option to do the work, but that requires you to work out a telecommuting arrangement with your employer. These arrangements are becoming more and more common.

For someone like my student, it's clear that he cannot decouple his decision to move from his decision to finish graduate school, even if he didn't want to talk to me about it. He either has to give up one or the other, that's certainly a no brainer -- move and quit his PhD, and not move and continue as he has so far. I believe this is what Tim and Anon 4:28 are alluding to. He can freely choose between these two and needn't ask for my opinion.

However, since my student does theory/computation, he is fortunate to have a third option: since he can do some work remotely, he can try to work out a creative solution to utilize this abililty and not have to give up either living with his wife or his PhD. But, that option does require him to talk to me and see if we can come to an arrangement. Schlupp articulated this point very well under 3) & 4) of her comment above.

Thanks everyone for the comments, and please remain civil to other commenters.

Female Computer Scientist said...

Cute geek puns. :) I have a post in the hopper on hold until I have more time, but special pun in there just for you.

I'd be inclined to say give him a shot and see how it goes. Personally I've always preferred employers who treat their employees like an adults until they prove them otherwise, not the other way around. Letting an employee telecommute means: I'm taking a risk on you, but I know you're good and I trust you.

For me personally, an employer putting their trust in me to be a good worker even if I'm telecommuting (or coming in at noon, or whatever), made me happier with them, which made me a more productive employee. I've worked for companies/people that placed huge restrictions on my freedom and micromanaged my time, which had the exact opposite effect of what they wanted.

It's the same in academia. My advisor trusts me, and treats me like a colleague and an adult. And I really appreciate that.

Schlupp said...

Sorry GMP.

However, I would like to explain to anon here what my problem is: I completely understood Tim's point. Which is exactly why I pointed out that said point was besides the topic of the post.

Massimo said...

My group does theoretical work, so for me it is a bit different, in that I need not have labs manned constantly.
Still, if a graduate student or postdoc paid by me came to me and said "Dear PI, for reasons that are none of your business and I am not obliged to disclose, from now on I shall be at the workplace only once a week", my reply would likely be "Very well, dear PD/GS, thank you for letting me know. Please note that, for reasons that are none of your business and I am not obliged to disclose, if you can only be here once a week I am cutting your salary by 80%".
Normally, however, the conversation that takes place is more along the lines "Dear PI, I have the following personal situation (reasonably detailed explanation follows). Is it all right with you if I come to work only once a week for the next umpteen months ?", to which I have always replied "I understand your situation. I frankly think that being here so little is not ideal, for it is my observation that continued presence correlates reasonably well with progress. It is my duty as a responsible PI to share this experience of mine with you, and warn you of the possible consequences. Having said that, if you think you can make it work give it a try, by all means. I am sure you understand that ultimately it is the work that you accomplish that takes you where you want to be, and whether you do that work at home or at the office makes no difference. If you do not accomplish squat, at home or at the office, there is nothing I can do to save your behind -- nope, not even clicking on my mouse will do the trick."

Heidi said...

I am curious. You wrote it becomes your business if colleagues become lovers. What would you do? Can you do something? It can happen sometimes.. And it might improve work, as those 2 will work longer days and so on and so on. And it also can turn nasty if suddenly they break up.
Some companies have policies about that. But also, there you can more easily be replaced to another dept I think than in science. Maybe you can write a post about that? Until how far you think a supervisor (in science) can interfere? I mean, also, some supervisors expect crazy working hours. No holidays. etc. I am just curious about this.

Heidi said...

Sorry, I forgot to mention that I see rather often the following setup: a male PI has his wife employed either as postdoc or technician in his own lab. Especially in US. In such a lab I would not want to work.

Anonymous said...

GMP - delurking here to second Heidi's request about asking you to post sometime on how to handle your lab advisees dating. I'm a new assistant prof and this happened in my fairly small lab recently whereby two of my students have begun dating. I haven't said anything to them and so far no one's work is suffering but the potential for disruption, drama and loss of productivity is worrying.
-southern prof

GMP said...

FCS and Massimo, I completely agree the students are best treated as adults until proven otherwise. I loved my advisor for giving me flexibility and trust, and would like to say that I extend the same to my students.

Schlupp, no worries, and no need to apologize. I agree with you and I think your earlier comment was succinct and right on the money. It's just that, after the comment of Anon Oct 15 at 4:28 PM (who might have been Tim), I had to do something as the things would escalate into ugly... Rest assured that I really really appreciate your input.

Heidi, my philosophy towards work hours is that one needs to put in a reasonable amount of work to get the job done at a reasonable pace. But one also needs to sleep, eat, and hopefully have some semblance of life. I am in the office Monday to Friday 8:30-5 (I have kids in school and daycare, which dictate my office presence). I also work some in the evenings (maybe 2 hrs a night) and over the weekends (3-5 hours a day) but this is all from home (right now, I am correcting an exam and procrastinating by writing this comment). I strongly encourage my students to be at work M-F 9-5, but most are there 10-6 or stay even later (except when we have early meetings). They are not expected to work weekends except when there's a deadline, but I expect them to check email once or twice a day on the weekends -- usually I don't need anything, but sometimes I need them to send me stuff last minute as I am leaving for a conference. Many of my students will come to work for a few hours on the weekend anyway, but it's up to them. As for the holidays, extended weekends or a week here and there is fine to take whenever they want, but they have to tell me they'll be out of town and there may not be any impending deadlines; if they want more than 2 weeks in a stretch (international students do that) I request that it be over the winter when everything closes anyway and not over the summer when it's the most productive research time.

Heidi and southern prof (Yey! Thanks for delurking!), I have no direct experience supervising people who are dating (I suppose because almsot all of my students are male, and mostly straight as far as I know). But I can certainly write a post based on my general philosophy regarding things like that (how much a supervisor can interfere with personal lives), some of the experiences of my close collaborators, and simply open it for discussion. Hopefully we'll hear from some people who did deal with such a situation. Thanks for the idea for a post! I will try to have something up tomorrow (Sunday).

Candid Engineer said...

I think your proposed solution to let him do it for now, and then re-evaluate (given that you say he is a good student) is a good plan.

I do some of my best and most productive work out of the office because people bug the shit out of me at work. Silence = golden.