I'm a graduate student in an R1 university. I wanted to share my experiences to determine if what I'm observing is a problem everywhere or if it is specific to my university.
Don't get me wrong, my department has many intelligent people and is often underrated. However many people barely scrape by doing a minimal amount of research and hardly showing up. Some people shock me when they pass their oral exams or get a PhD when they can't explain LeChatelier's principle. I have a hard time thinking that such people would pass an oral at MIT or Caltech. However this isn't my concern; perhaps I underestimate them and should get off my high horse. What grinds my gears is how these people perform in the lab and affect my research
What I see is a general lack of regard for safety and a lack of respect for instrumentation/apparatus that many people use. Pulling solvent into vacuum pumps (and not changing pump oil), clutter everywhere, furtive use of instrumentation by people who know that they don't know what they're doing and who do not own the instrument, huge scale-ups (for example involving liters of bromine and no headspace in the flask), things of that nature. Oh, and a large proportion of Chinese students who don't understand English and will tell you they understand everything you say, then break stuff. I really don't mind explaining something twice-I don't understand what their deal is. The best part is that if you bring it up during group meeting or send out a mass email describing how not to screw up the glovebox, everyone nods and agrees, then nothing changes the next day. I'm not saying I'm perfect or have an immaculate hood, but I do try to be very respectful and careful if I am using someone else's instrument for example.
My point here is that there is clearly a lack of leadership in my lab, but my lab has too many people and I have too much research to do for me to try to improve things. As much as I have tried, it really isn't my job or in my authority to manage them. I can't wait to get into industry where if people do this kind of crap, they're fired.I remember making the exact same complaints in graduate school. What I find most remarkable about this post (which is not a unique complaint) is a similar post by someone in a very different field:
Over the last eight months, I have led a company in Afghanistan to conduct various engineer missions. An active-duty company deployed on its own to fall under a National Guard battalion under an active-duty engineer brigade.
...The lesson that I learned relating to the aforementioned comments is this: We are a bureaucratic organization with rules, regulations, and doctrine that are sound and have been well researched, but we continue to flounder due to the lacking personalities and void of accountability. Understanding the art and science of warfare is enforced in schools, not in our formations....
...My personal battle has been with peers on battalion and brigade staffs. When I do not receive the information that I require, I demand it as it is required for success. The demanding is my unraveling. I have found myself in a pitched battle with officers junior to me calling me "bro," saying that I do not have tact, and then going to tell their respective commander that I do not play nice. I didn't know that I had to play nice. I thought I was selected as a commander to achieve a mission within my higher commander's intent....
...Perhaps this is why the top percentage is leaving the military. Not spouse careers, salary, benefits, upward mobility, or awards. Existing with other peers who do one-third the amount of significant output may be the real factor. At least that is my factor.Perhaps it's my lot in life to bounce around non-elite institutions of various sizes, but it seems to me that most organizations in this country muddle through and most have their malcontents and incompetents. Some companies do their best to weed them out, but that takes time and effort and judging who "isn't meeting expectations" is a hard science at best.
Organizations that are truly excellent from top-to-bottom are probably few and far between (no matter the size.) I wonder if I'm being overly pessimistic. Readers?