We're a little crazy, about science!

On having two PI’s

My two PI’s, a comedy/drama TV show I want to make one day which just happens to be based on my life. Yep, for those who are unaware I have a dual appointment in a hospital where I do a lot of my research. It’s amazing and it really makes me excited to focus more on the clinical side of things, but it means that I have not just one, but two PI’s and that isn’t a bad thing! It’s just a bit of work and can feel like being caught in the middle.

Well I did this yesterday, but why not. I’m a third year PhD candidate in neuroengineering. I have a BS and MS in mechanical engineering and when I’m not blogging or trying to manage my mental health, I spend my time trying to figure out what changes occur with neural signaling when there is a spinal cord injury. The answers may help people with spinal cord injury recover and could be used to better diagnose and treat spinal cord injury. Since my work involves working with a clinical population, I have a collaborative fellowship between my university and a local research hospital. Since the appointment is between two sites, I have two PI’s that I report to and work with, the first I call my main-PI and he’s in charge of my school side and the other I call my Co-PI who is in charge of his own research lab at the hospital.

Since the hospital is not an accredited school I cannot get my PhD through my Co-PI’s lab alone and because ideally I would be working with a clinical population I cannot get the research done solely through the school. The caveat being I could technically shift my focus slightly and get the work done without the hospital component, but it wouldn’t be quite in the same scope as what I want to be doing. Basically the arrangement is mutually beneficial for my two PI’s and is my preferred way of getting my degree done.

Having two PI’s is a lot like having two bosses, okay it’s almost exactly like having two bosses. The difference is that instead of both bosses working for the same company they work for two different companies that don’t exactly compete, but don’t have a whole lot of incentive to work together outside of the stuff you’re doing. You can imagine how that might not end well if everyone is not on good terms and how things can be rocky even if everyone is on the best of terms.

The problem is too many hands in the cookie jar. Both my main-PI and Co-PI are in charge, so in the technical sense they are equals. In theory they would make joint decisions based on what they thought would be best for my career, my work, and just me in general. Praxis is a pain though! The reality is more like my main-PI, who is used to being in charge and the sole decision maker has trouble collaborating with my Co-PI and because my Co-PI is not at an accredited college there is little to no power on his end to effect change because my main-PI is the one in charge of my degree.

So far things have been okay, mostly. There has been a few times where they really did get into some arguments that I thought could end the arrangement (like this one) and with the formal agreement ending in just a few short months it’s up to them (jointly) to extend it. Both PI’s are incredibly professional so thankfully I’m only hearing the behind the scenes stuff after the fact and there is a good chance that my fellowship will be extended and I can continue doing the work in both the university setting and the clinical setting.

Overall I’m glad I have two PI’s. I learn a lot from both and like I mentioned yesterday (here), my main-PI is established, while my Co-PI is just starting. It’s great for me because I get the benefits from both PI’s and where they are in their careers. My Co-PI has taught me a lot and I will be forever grateful. My main-PI has worked hard to get me funding, find cool opportunities for me (like this!), and helped me navigate getting into the program last minute. Actually, that’s a whole other story I’m not sure I ever told, maybe this summer I will since it’s interesting.

The downside to having two PI’s are that you get twice the drama. Okay, it’s not drama exactly, some of it is for sure, but it’s more the stress of trying to collaborate. Think of it like a group project where you’re in charge for years and suddenly you find yourself with someone who is also in charge. It’s a tough transition for anyone, so I’m thankful my main-PI has enough experience to handle it well.

I wouldn’t change a thing about this, okay maybe they could get along better, but really that’s just life. The dual appointment has been amazing for me both career-wise and education-wise. It also gives me plenty to write about, so I can’t complain too much.


2 responses

  1. Good stuff 🙂 keep it up!!

    Liked by 1 person

    May 29, 2021 at 2:44 am

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