Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Life with Multiple Bosses and Multiple Meetings

Coming from the math world, the term "PI" didn't really have much meaning aside from "has a grant." Mathematicians lack a herd instinct, and most "investigators" tend to act as individuals and not form into stable groups. New Job, on the other hand, is brimming with PIs. The grant I'm employed by has a "lead PI" and four "co-PIs."
The Lead PI
When I talk about my job, this is one of the bosses who tends to come up in the conversation. I describe him as the "big ideas boss." He has a lot of really interesting ideas but is often unable to follow-through on them. Sometimes because he's too busy. Sometimes because the ideas are too big to tackle right now. They are often really great ideas, and when they actually happen (like the eight-figure grant I'm employed by) they're pretty awesome. But the big ideas tend to be bigger than the available resources to actually make them happen. He has declared that we shall meet on the second Tuesday of the month. Sometimes when he books travel (and he travels a lot) he forgets to tell us that the meeting is cancelled. The meetings tend to have ad hoc agendas.

Co-PI #1
This is my direct supervisor and the guy who stole me away from the math department. His skill at handling details and getting things done is a perfect complement to the lead PI's big ideas. His other skills include masterful delegation and staff development. He also has political savvy to make sure that everything is presented in the best light. He's not at our group meetings because he teaches a class 35 miles away during the time that our meetings happen.

Co-PI #2
The numbering of the rest of the PIs is somewhat arbitrary. I don't interact with most of the rest of them, so I'll use geography as a metric. Co-PI #2 is very amusing but does not intend to be. Sometimes I wonder if some facets of his personality are because he is short. Since everyone is usually sitting down at meetings, I didn't realize how short he is until recently. He seems to be one of those smart people who has a low threshold for frustration. He has an opinion about every single facet of the project. He shares these at meetings. As of the last meeting he didn't even have an account on the machine.

Co-PI #3
Have I even met him? Maybe back in March? Don't know. Sometimes he calls in to the group meeting. He's in charge of a part of the project that is the most glaring of the unfinished items. Once this part is done, there will be a big change in the way that work gets done. Why is this still unfinished? When will it be finished? What do they have in mind? Let's have a meeting and find out! I suspect that I may end up getting sucked into organizing much of the user-facing part of this part of the project. Co-PI has a plan for the technical side of things and an in-depth knowledge of the protocols and software involved. Putting everything together in a way that makes sense? I haven't seen much yet on that front. Maybe we can see more... at a meeting!

Co-PI #4
Yes, I definitely met him at the big meeting back in March, and he calls in regularly to our meetings. His part of the project seems to be going OK and seems to be properly delegated to a minion who now writes back to emails. Well, there may be a bit of passive-aggressive stonewalling about installing The Competing Software, but I believe that people with a vested interest in getting The Competing Software running may have been given the go-ahead to install it themselves.

Mathematicians also tend to be allergic to meetings. That's the other thing that I notice in this job: working with groups of people seems to spawn meetings at an alarming rate. I now attend more meetings in a month than I used to attend in an entire year in the math department.