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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline

« Actually, It's Everything Else That's Off-Topic | Main | Pharma Flock Begins Migration »

October 26, 2004

It's All Local, All Right

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Posted by Derek

OK, enough politics for a little while. We're going to be soaking in the stuff for at least a week, and for God's sake I hope it's not longer than that.

I should qualify that. I'll take a break from national politics, but the day-to-day kind is always with us. You're going to have politics as long as you have people. Now, over the years, I've met a few folks who went into research because they thought they were going into an area where they could avoid the all the politicking. Hah! As you can imagine, they were rudely dunked in the cold pond of reality.

No, scientific research is as political as the next field, and a minimum amount of skill at the game is probably necessary for any kind of happy career. Even if you're generating world-class academic science, you need to know how to make the most effective use of your discoveries. Do you collaborate with others in the field, compete cheerfully with them, or treat them as bitter rivals? How long do you keep new results to yourself to flesh things out, and when do you finally publish (or patent?) And then what journal do you send this great work to? Which speaking invitations do you accept? These decisions all matter.

And if you're turning out great work in industry, you need to make sure that you're getting proper credit for it. Believe me, there's no clearer example of nature abhoring a vacuum then when it comes time to claim credit for good results. If you don't step up, someone else will. There are people who live for such opportunities.

Another example of industrial politics comes when you have to keep everyone together on a big project. There are bound to be people in some of your subgroups (chemistry, biology, pharmacokinetics, in vivo, toxicology, etc.) who are going to feel slighted if they think another area is getting an easier ride. You have to find a way to reward the right people and spur the laggards without making them spend their time fighting back at you.

So there's plenty of maneuvering in industry, and the situation in academia is, if anything, even worse. No one seems to be sure about who said it first, but the standard observation is that the disputes in academia are so bitter because the stakes are so small. (Mind you, I'm not sure that this theory holds water when you're talking about people pulling in seven-figure grants with whacking big overhead allowances in them.)

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