Passing on the Torch [Sharing research-related matters before moving out] — R Voice

Passing on the Torch [Sharing research-related matters before moving out]

Raj sundaram
Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
edited June 24 in R Voice

Came across this really interesting article on "passing on the torch". While death is a more extreme scenario, people move labs/institutions/countries all the time. As researchers, it is routine - we all have taken the torch from someone and/or passed on the torch to another person. The torch = data, know-how, records, equipment, etc.

Would love to know your experiences about this.

(1) When you moved from one lab to another, how did you share your data/results/know-how/aspects related to equipment/funding/contracts to someone stepping in to continue the project you are leaving? Did you pre-arrange/talk about potential co-authorships/co-inventorships, etc. on papers/patents? What has been your overall experience with "moving"? How did you prepare?

(2) What has been your experience - as someone taking over from a person who is moving?

(3) As in the article - have you ever considered "planned" for moving (or even death)? 😉 What are your opinions/views on this....



  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 581 admin
    edited June 25

    @Raj sundaram thanks for sharing this article. When I started reading it, I was concerned that it might be a little too morbid for me, but as I read more and more, I started seeing that even though the content was making me uncomfortable, the authors had very valid points.

    Although I'm not involved in research, the article still got me thinking about my own work and how much of it is person-dependent and if there's something I can do to streamline a process or task for someone else to take over, if the situation calls for it. While thinking of taking time off, I'm sure the first thought for a lot of us is "But, then who will do X? They've never done it before? They wouldn't know how." Clearly, this shouldn't be the case and (death aside), the article does a great job of suggesting how such a situation can be avoided.

    On some level, I was also amazed by the level of commitment these researchers have towards their work and the steps they're taking to ensure that the research moves forward even if they can't to be part of it. I agree with you that although the untimely passing of a PI is a worst-case scenario here, the back-up measures they've been taking could prove useful in several other cases such as someone taking ill, or deciding to go on sabbatical, parental leave, or simply taking some time off because their mind and body requires it.

    I'm curious to know if they also discussed the emotional toll on the group, in such an event. And if they've also planned for allowances like slower pace, people taking their time to get adjusted to the new role while also dealing with a loss, a pause on the project until everyone is feeling like they can work again, etc. I realize this wasn't the crux of the article but would be interesting to find out, don't you think?

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited June 27

    @Andrea Hayward

    Haha! Yes - illness/people taking breaks - parental leave/moving to a different workplace. I think the same issue remains. Also - yes, the issue is shared whether it is research or not...

    However, unlike other offices - research is a mishmash of centralization and decentralization. And lots of black-box areas! 🙄

    Sorry, if the article distubed you in anyway with its morbid premise.

    (In my opinion, contemplating on one's own mortality gives life a new meaning. Accepting one's own mortality is probably the most freeing experience one can have to live fully! 😂)

    Perhaps, I was impressed with this article simply because it resonated with the person I am. I prepare for the worst. Perhaps, because through 12 years of schooling (+ 3 years of undergraduate education) - year after year - had to be prepared for floods every single rainy season that coincided with exams. It was an experience where flood waters threatened to invade or actually invaded our home, there were week long black outs and unstable power for months, food and water shortages, sanitation issues - ranging to days/weeks sometimes months. Had to wade or swim chest deep (often infested) waters day after day for weeks to get an education. Plus life - with all the country hopping and varied experiences with people - have made me this way.

    So - I essentially consider various outcomes in various scenarios and prepare for the worst. This kind of thinking, although often dubbed "boring" and "negative" - usually ends up saving ass (my own and that of others) and is very effective in predicting and mitigating effects of things going absolutely wrong.

    About practicalities of when people leave (death or otherwise) -

    One issue is lot of know-how and details of experimental protocols are lost when people move and some one else takes over. Often those who take-over cant reproduce the previous person's results - casting doubts on data (and induces contemplations on whether there was fraud). This is a huge issue with experimental sciences. One way out is to make and leave video protocol records. And make sure that there is an in-person know-how transfer. But it hasnt taken off widely....

    My rule in my team is everyone knows all protocols throughout, and have carried out all experimental protocols by themselves at least once, and know the caveats (why things dont work) and trouble shooting methods.

    The emotional toll in case of bereavement - being a bit insensitive (rather battle hardened), I didnt think of this dimension seriously enough! Also, because I am always thinking about and preparing for practicalities - what to do if I or XYZ dies. Sounds horrible - but true.

    But great that you pointed out. It is an essential point to be taken into account.

    Sheryl Sandberg's Option B was an interesting read in this regard.

    [Absolutely detested "Lean In" with its upper middle class privileged psuedo-feminism].

    But her words in Option B after facing a difficult life situation with emotional stakes (sudden death of her spouse, which millions of other people face routinely without the resources she has at her disposal) - were more humane...

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 581 admin

    @Raj sundaram it's always a pleasure to see your name pop-up in my notifications. For me, it's a sign that I'm about to either learn something new, explore something through a perspective different than my own, or have a good couple of laughs! And you never ever disappoint! 🤗

    I am very sorry to hear about the extremely difficult life circumstances you've described above. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to stay focused, much less motivated while going through such an ordeal. 😔 But thank you so much for taking the time to explain this to me. It has surely helped me further understand your tendency to prepare for the worst and widen the aspects in which I respect and appreciate this line of thinking. 🙂

    I found this to be particularly interesting and hadn't considered it at all. Thanks for bringing this to my attention - "Often those who take-over cant reproduce the previous person's results - casting doubts on data (and induces contemplations on whether there was fraud). This is a huge issue with experimental sciences." I really like how your team is tackling this challenge! I sincerely hope that more labs and research groups are actively thinking about this and exploring the best way for them to prepare for such a situation.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 5

    @Andrea Hayward

    I believe observing one's actions/reactions/responses to difficult life circumstances, anonymity, power and privelege can teach a lot about ourselves/people - the good, bad and the ugly. 😊

    I too hope labs with a flow of populations (interns, Ph.D students, postdocs) think better about smooth know-how/data/knowledge transfer. 🙂