Just how competitive can scientists get?

Put yourself in the shoes of a young, hot-shot post-doc who has got several offers for a faculty position, including one from a Great University in your field. Naturally, you are keen on joining GU, except for one small glitch. GU also has a leading senior researcher — a Nobel laureate, no less! — with research interests that overlap yours considerably; the glitch is that this senior researcher is not keen on having you as a colleague. He says so in so many words in his e-mails (doc):

… I am afraid that accommodating your lab would be difficult.

… [As] you are very aware, two competing labs in the same building is something we should avoid by all means. Some people who are promoting your arrival here are ignoring this basic principle, but I don’t believe that they are doing a service to you.

I am sorry, but I have to say to you that at present and under the present circumstances, I do not feel comfortable at all to have you here as a junior faculty colleague. … I am most happy to support you if you and I are going to work with some distance between us.

What would you do? How would you react?

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After thinking this over, do read these two reports in Boston Globe about the sordid saga that played itself out in MIT, involving a star neuroscientist (Alla Karpova) and a Nobel laureate (Susumu Tonegawa). Links via Inside Higher Ed (1, 2).

* * *

Update: Do read the commentary by Janet Stemwedel and Pinko Punko.

* * *

You must read the follow-up post by Janet Stemwedel, who ends her post with: “it may be wise for the tribe of science to look at whether these competitive situations are really the best way to build better scientific knowledge.”

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2 thoughts on “Just how competitive can scientists get?

  1. If I were to “put myself in the shoes of a young, hot-shot post-doc”, I would decline the offer and go for another place to flourish and win a Nobel, provided no ‘raising star’ intervenes in this new place and snatches it away, before it reaches me.

    Thankfully, I am not any “raising star”, but a mere happy cosmic dust.

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