Effect Measure

The lab chief

The biggest breakthrough in the treatment of tuberculosis was discovery of the antibiotic, streptomycin. It was isolated on October 19, 1943 by a graduate student, Albert Schatz, working in the laboratory of Selman Waksman. Waksman got the Nobel Prize for this in 1952. Schatz got the shaft. He sued Waksman and Rutgers, to whom he had signed over his discovery on the understanding this would be the best way to make it widely available. He settled out of court. In 1990 Schatz was given official credit. Not the Nobel Prize, but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, too.

Schatz worked under Waksman, who today would be called the lab PI, or Principal Investigator, a designation given to the responsible party on a research grant. Most science graduate students and post docs work in the lab or research group of some PI. The grant pays their salary, equips and supplies the lab and generates the data they use for their dissertations or research paper portfolio. Who your PI is and what kind of person he or she is can make a big difference. I am understating the case.

I’ve been a PI for so long it is easy to lose sight of what it looks like from the other side. Like everything, it seems, there are pluses and minuses. Here are nine different types of PI, as seen by a grad student or post-doc:


Source: From The NIH Catalyst, Volume 3, page 23 via lab of Bruce Donald, Duke


  1. #1 Shalini
    October 21, 2007


  2. #2 Tango
    October 21, 2007

    Nailed it!

  3. #3 herman
    October 21, 2007

    If you want to find the perfect PI, you need to go to WHO laboratories. In the article entitled: Bird Flu Spreads Among Humans–WHO: David Heymann, the WHO assistant director for communicable disease, states there is evidence bird flu has now gone human to human.
    How long does it take for WHO to recognize something they should have recognized last year? Were these people asleep when bird flu clusters developed in Turkey, Indonesia, and other parts of asia? Will tourists continue going to these countries, now that it is admitted bird flu has gone h2h? And when will people realize there is a probable link between TB and Bird Flu? Many Spanish Flu victims in 1918 were also infected with TB. How many people in these Bird Flu clusters also had TB? Is anyone testing these Bird Flu victims for TB?
    And what happens if MDR and XDR TB become an epidemic at the same time a bird flu pandemic develops? Does anybody know or care about this issue? Each year 9 million people develop TB, with 1,500,000 dying of TB. XDR-TB is almost incurable, and it costs a lot of money to treat each patient.
    If an XDR TB epidemic hits the US at the same time a bird flu pandemic arrives, will the US have sufficient money to treat these patients? New York City spent over a billion dollars when XDR-TB hit. How much would it cost if XDR-TB became an epidemic in the entire US? And how many Aids patients would die of this TB?
    And when will people in Indonesia test cats and dogs for bird flu, since there may be other sources of infection, besides birds.
    The fact that Bird Flu has gone human to human, could mean a pandemic will develop soon. The increase in human clusters of infection indicates the danger is getting closer.

  4. #4 revere
    October 21, 2007

    Herman: The reports are from two years ago (the Karo cluster). As for the rest, we are all guessing. What does your comment have to do with the post? Heymann is not a PI.

  5. #5 RPM
    October 21, 2007

    So, revere(s), which PI are you?

  6. #6 revere
    October 21, 2007

    RPM: Well, I’d like to say “None of the above” but I suppose with forced choice I’d like to think I am a cross between Laid Back (except I care about their results) and Science Geek. I don’t know what my students would say and I’m afraid to ask.

  7. #7 M. Randolph Kruger
    October 22, 2007

    Herman-If a person with HIV/AIDS gets BF during a BF or mass outbreak of XDR-TB its very simple. They will die. Plain, hard and cold as it gets. A lot of people with herpes are also going to bite the bullet too. Immunocompromised people could actually spread the diseases faster and more furiously, or so get the Gospel according to Madlock, the local health chief. We are to isolate those more quickly than anyone else. Walking bug bombs waiting to go off. All sorts of opportunistic diseases could take them and infect many as they went.

    Our response if its a mass pandemic of H5 coupled with TB would be the same. Do what we can with what we have. I dont know whether its possible to have both at the same time, probably is. Both will stomp on you like a Transformer bot. The outcomes will not be good for either if it holds its CFR’s or for anyone getting it.

    As for money Herman, they as I understand it will revaluate our gold to the level it will free float at. That will give us capital on the books and several states (Tennessee is one) is already moving towards a six month moratorium in which people can pay only interest on their loans but only up to the 5% mark the second that a state/federal disaster is declared. Banks would be happy, they live for interest anyway. That six month moratorium would be AFTER the declared emergency is over. The start would be the day it is declared. Easier to come up with a couple of hundred in interest than it is with a full boat. 18 months at 5% or 2% above bank to a max of 5%.

    Hey Tennessee got a lot of Katrina victims and that was the next thing out of their bag that they laid on our doorsteps. Banks wouldnt make repair loans as long as the levee’s were in danger.Thats the reason so many had to leave permanently.. They are still in danger. Insurance companies will not insure them. So many declared the bankruptcy and off they had to go. Good plan on the part of our Senate Majority leader to prevent this dog from ever getting to hunt. The state is also going to FORCE them to insure here or they have to leave the very lucrative home and health businesses. You want to play, you gotta pay and they for once will have to pony instead of us.

    The Feds will drop the interest rate to zero or near zero and that will cause a flurry of refinancings for those that are still here. The 1918 flu gave rise to the Roaring 20’s and indeed we would have enough money to take care of it. Our problem though is going to be getting to the end of it. I would grab a credit card and clean it off en toto for purchases during the BF pandemic. If you dont make it, its free money and you might save the rest of your family. Else you make it and then along with everyone else declare a bankruptcy.

    If you ever saw Papillon the movie where Dustin Hoffman played Dega the forger you would understand how it would work. France was a wealthy country in the middle of an upswing economically, Not enough safeguards in place either. Dega started selling worthless bonds that he had printed up and the French also bought into the bonds. Well as all Ponzi’s go the last chair got pulled and the French economy with it. So they defaulted on their own issued bonds. Major upheaval, economic disaster and blomp, a year later they were solvent again. They had a GDP so, they issued more bonds and people bought them and those that lost money on both bonds, well they were screwed.

    But I note a touch urgency in your post Herman. Its understandable. Indonesia is likely going to be gone if a pandemic hits and their hit will be of their own making. We all die Herman. We just want to go peacefully, in our beds and in our sleep. Truth is that I read somewhere that about 85% go messy. I have had just about every chance at dying that there is so I am sure that God is saving me for something ugly and messy. Way I look at that is that I would consider it to be atonement for so many of the bad things I had to do in my past. I will work during panflu or TB-Flu. I might get it, I might not if I am lucky. I will ensure the safety and upkeep of family and a few friends and move around for them in between doing the disaster thing for the government. That way I know they will likely make it. If I dont and they do, its something I can live with.

  8. #8 anon
    October 22, 2007

    he has his own blog, he posts 50 entries per month
    in average since 2004 plus comments.

    He is a big talker.

  9. #9 mknl
    October 22, 2007

    Very funny, but there are good ones out there, too. Of course, if they aren’t deficient, they aren’t funny. But I think it’s important to note that type 10 does exist. He/she is the PI that understands your work and is interested in it, but also allows for your independence. All while footing the bill, yet encouraging you to apply for your own funding. Oh, and miraculously, they get it that life outside the lab matters, too.

  10. #10 revere
    October 22, 2007

    mknl: You are right, and of course I like to think that’s the kind of PI I am (we all think that, I suppose). But I am pretty sure that is the kind of PI most of my departmental colleagues are, too. We talk about it and work at it. But things look very different from our side and we need to keep reminding ourselves of that.

  11. #11 Stephen
    October 22, 2007

    It’s not just academia. I’ve met all those types in business management. Well, except the demigod – though I have encountered managers with the disadvantage of the demigod (you never see them) without any concomitant advantage.

  12. #12 Tasha
    October 22, 2007

    Back in the day I had a PI somewhere between Demi-God and Slave Driver… He was too busy doing his own thing to know or care about what I was doing, but insisted that I be in the lab at least 40 hours a week just because… I didn’t get anything done because I didn’t have anything to do, but if I’d listened to him I also would have never been able to go home. It didn’t make much sense and I didn’t last long in that particular lab.

  13. #13 Jennifer
    October 23, 2007

    Is it just me, or am I the only one who noticed that only one of the nine PIs is depicted as a woman? Is that because women PIs generally defy these depictions? Or because we still aren’t recognized as we should be for being PIs?

  14. #14 revere
    October 23, 2007

    Jennifer: Good point. I don’t know if you are the only one who noticed, but you are the only one to make this comment. And I confess I hadn’t noticed it.

  15. #15 Nat
    October 23, 2007

    I count two women (bottom right corner and left middle row). And I think two others could be classed as androgenous (bottom left corner and top row middle).

New comments have been disabled.