Eric Wieschaus — Running a Lab

LC: I heard somewhere that you still do lab work. Do you go into the lab primarily because it’s where your passion lies and you get to see the data, or is there a scientific benefit to the work being done because you’re contributing to the work. Do you think it’s important for professors to engage in that way? 

EFW: Different people are going to have different styles and different skills. And I admire people who can run labs with 20 people and retain some level of productivity, but they spend most of their time running the lab. And it’s not just that I dislike people and dislike working with people and like sitting at the microscope doing experiments. It’s not just that. There are things that I want to do, and there are things that I think I can do better than anybody else in the world. And I want to do them. 

The other thing is I run a lab so I have lots of smart people around me all the time and they’re doing other things, and in part they should develop who they are as scientists. Frankly the real productivity in my lab comes from most of those people. It reflects certain things that I bring. And when I look at papers and I can say I did this figure and I did that figure, but it’s true that what’s produced comes in part because I’m a lab administrator and I run things. 

I just never found a way of translating all of my scientific desires and all of what I would like to establish into the activities of my graduate students and postdocs, partially because you’re so conscious of what they want to do. And you’re conscious of the world the way it is now, so your job in running a lab is to take care of them and position them to where they’re going to be productive scientists. And that means to a certain extent that what you want to get done may not get done unless you do it yourself. 

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