So this topic is a continuation (somewhat) from the last post on generational management strategies. Just to re-iterate,pretty much, ignore the generational divide. Focus on the individual management in order to reach the team goals. Well, this one addresses some of the plaguing issues that I’ve come across with some P.I.’s, that I’ve worked with. They believe that some of the younger students aren’t motivated to do the work. Then to top it off, what little work they actually do accomplish,they expect more recognition. Well, if you recap some of the work of Dorsey (last post), he does recognize this trend. Already many in the business world have spoken about this same issue.  Gen Y/ Millennials seem to be self-centered, or privileged.  So what is one to do about these motivational lulls?

Well, I’m not going to dispute the evidence or trends, but I want to draw a correlation to the motivating factors, or the driving factors within individuals.  Gen Y may have been born in a time where everybody gets an award for submitting a science fair project, or in a time where grades were only given “pass/fail” (the highly disputed, “if you get into that school, it’s difficult to flunk out” educational training).  Find commonality within people’s driving forces. If there is a genuine interest in the science, then that needs to be cultivated and focused on.

Management must focus on cultivating young talent. For example, a young grad student, that we work with, hated his project and wanted to get onto another high profile project. He believed it would be better for his graduate career.  In four weeks, he already felt that that the current experimental project wasn’t really working well for him.  He hated cloning, and he wasn’t seeing enough success.

If you were his mentoring P.I., what would you tell this student?  Do you think that he should “suck it up”, and do the work. Well, yes,… and no. Unfortunately, against my advise, the P.I. put the student on the more demanding project. I recommended that the PI not completely cater to the student’s motive, but that of their drive. The student was worried more about the “high profile” image of the project, rather than the discovery process. The work of scientific discovery is the lessons.  They are there to learn how to do science. This is the process.

Sure bet projects are much more suited for grad students. They’ll learn the experimental design process.  The actual success of smaller projects are more motivating than the failure of larger riskier projects, which should be reserved for postdocs or seasoned scientists. The reason why the P.I. didn’t take my advise was because he didn’t want to squelch the student’s “passion”. Well, the idea of passion is great, but what is really their “passion”? The glory and praise? Or the scientific discovery? Passion is rather difficult to measure and may often be misconstrued.

so-good-they-cant-ignoreCal Newport, author and a millennial, makes an observation worth taking note of. “Follow your passion” was a point that Gen Y is trying to do which has been hammered into their psyche long before Steve Jobs’ commencement address to the Standford Graduating class. Unfortunately, the path to that passion is paved with a lot of hard work and strife. Newport states that this quest for “passion” has done a dis-service to his current generation, which has made it their mantra. Many don’t realize, or are educated on the process for which passion develops from.

Processes are never glamorized in popular culture, or the media any more. For those who are members of Gen X, and Baby Boomers will remember the A-Team. This early 80s TV show illustrated the hard work that it took to develop end products. For example, when the team would built the cool truck that blasted through the bad guys walls, they would show the work that went into developing it. We were enamored with the cool wrecking machine and wanted to build one of our own. Most often we fail to see the long hard work put into building the products.  In the TV show, this was usually illustrated in the video montage set to the back drop of some 80s glam rock band; BA Barakus hauling heavy steal from the junk yard, Faceman welding in extreme heat, or Murdock constantly electrocuting himself on the wiring.

We have to teach the love of the process, and what we can learn from those lessons. These are the “passion” that we should be encouraging and pursuing. Carol Dweck, psychologist and author of Mindset, illustrates the importance of teaching a ‘growth mindset’ amongst our students. If we only focus on the end result of the discovery and the publications, we end up loosing the students’ dedication to the hard work it takes to push through these difficult challenges. Newport and Dweck talk about this being the actual source of the elusive “passion”. I always say, science is hard, why make it harder?  We should cherish the journey and the hard work that is put into those discoveries.

showposterTV shows like, How It’s Made is a healthy perspective to the intense work, dedication, and engineering feat that it takes to build the most complex (a sky scrapper) or even the seemingly simple products (a cookie).  Showing the how must be emphasized, rather than just the what.
The repetition of experiments is boring and mundane, and isn’t glamorous.  I guess this is why there’s not a whole lot of popular movies made about management. (hmmm…maybe I should? Dilbert?) So this is where having a key management strategy can help. A combination of brainstorming, design process and systematic “do-analyze-record” steps can give more concrete measurements that can be comfortably checked off during the process. From this record keeping, this will enable the team to remain on course toward the agreed upon goal, which is set by the student and his/her PI. The key word is record. Recording this can give a more concrete understanding of the path and show that progress is being fulfilled. The student will learn to appreciate the work that he/she is putting in and then their passion will take hold.  This will also allow the PI to be reassured of their correct trajectory and of their own training method. This basic management strategy can drive the shared passion between any generations.