Saturday, June 6, 2020

Realities of management style

(From Baran lab grad students, opinions entirely our own and may not reflect Phil or Scripps)

I was very proud of Phil & Donna, and the Scripps community today, for their thoughtful counterpoint to the alarming recently-published essay about the field of organic synthesis. It makes me happy to see my mentors stand up for what's right.

And so, I was a bit startled, and more than a bit upset, when my inbox started filling with notes making accusations that this thoughtful counter-essay amounted to nothing more than 'hypocrisy.'

A verbatim text message I received: "How can a slave-driver like Phil Baran be hypocritical enough to condemn slave-driving in an essay, while simultaneously doing exactly that in his own lab?"

This kills me, because it's so far from the truth. Openflask was created to give behind the scenes into our lab, so here it is: Our lab is a pretty nice, chill place to work. We're not slave driven. We work hard when we feel like it, and slack off when we feel like it.

Don't believe me? Here are some emails from the boss (highlighting my own for emphasis):

Was the lab always like this? Probably not. Does it mean we're "going soft?" Almost certainly. Do we still seem to be cranking out papers, and having a happy, healthy time doing so? Yup. I'll take the softness.

As it turns out, I know Phil will too:


  1. I appreciate seeing this post! Can imagine how receiving emails worded like that must feel. This might be going soft - I call it "winning"

  2. This is so weird.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internet... former lab members of the author of the 'alarming essay' come to his defense (true story).

    Guess whose lab seems to be more diverse..

  3. There is no need to defend your boss. Because you are not allowed to be in the lab, there is nothing he could do about, but writing a nice email to everyone in his lab. When you are in the system, you cannot see how wrong it could be until you graduate and get to the real world. There is no doubt that he is a great scientist. However, everyone knows that he is also a "slave driver". As such, it is pathetic that he even wrote this essay. I believe that it is good that he receives these messages. It could be a good wakeup call for him. We will all see how he changes from here.

  4. (current baran grad student commenting here)

    1. Scripps is open, and we're allowed to work. Not to mention that 1 of these 2 emails was send a year before the pandemic.

    2. I had lunch with Phil today. He asked me if I was planning to work this afternoon. I said, 'No, I'm going to go fly a paraglider instead.' He said, "Oh, ok.' I had a nice afternoon flying my paraglider. I'm not worried that Phil is mad at me. This is a weekday, in the day time. Much less could I ever imagine being forced to spend my saturday night in the hood.

    3. Out of 15 current grad students, I know at least 4 spent significant time in industry before coming to Scripps. We are not naive to what the "real world" looks like (and frankly saying so comes off a little patronizing). Several of us gave up (multi-)6 figure salaries to come here, because we like the science. Do I work more in grad school than I did at an industry job? Yeah, by choice. Are there individuals in the lab who work less than I did in industry? Also yeah. They aren't thrown out or punished.

    We're supposed to be data-driven scientists, and data-driven approaches should be applied to management/leadership. I'm certainly not afraid to say there's a problem when there is one. But basing analysis of an individual's management style on hearsay seems a little unscientific, doesn't it?

  5. Hey there, current baran student, former multi-6-figure salaryist.

    Just letting you know this is not making it any less weird.