Top of the PI Wish List: Interpersonal Skills

Making sure people work well together isn't just the right thing to do. It's the moral thing to do.

Richard Gallagher
Jan 31, 2007

When I worked in the lab I was lucky: My coworkers were generally agreeable and often became my close friends, and the lab heads, despite lacking any obvious training, applied plenty of common sense. We worked in a relaxed, low-pressure environment where the human interactions and group dynamics were never sorely tested. I dread to think how we would have coped with the higher stress levels of a competitive situation and a couple of obnoxious coworkers.

The examples in the feature by Kerry Grens give me some idea. Yelling, crying, bullying, skullduggery of all kinds, and an overriding sense of hostility are described. While these may be extreme examples, they are by no means unique. Surprise, surprise: No data are available. But anyone with experience knows that poor interpersonal relationships characterize many, many academic laboratories, and with researchers becoming more and more interdependent and increasingly cutthroat, things are only going...


1. C.M. Cohen, S.L. Cohen, Lab Dynamics: Management Skills for Scientists, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2005. 2. D. Vaughan, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA, University of Chicago Press, 1996. 3. C. Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies, 3rd ed., Princeton University Press, 1999.