Friday, September 25, 2009

How much to delegate? How to supervise?

I can do so much more when I delegate! But I can't delegate it all...

This year I have a work-study student assigned to me to help set up labs, demos, organize, etc. Whew. So helpful. I think that I have mentioned that she's pretty good and can construct decent results from relatively vague ideas. I had her set up a complicated lab, and didn't check it until a few moments before class. Apparently there are limits to her ability to construct good results from my vague instructions. A few things were not as I expected. I cannot, then, as I dream, just wave my hand and have it be so. Looks like I need to do some of the work.

Likewise, I have hired a housekeeper thanks in part to a suggestion from Michelle. Again, she is trustworthy. Our schedules don't really overlap that well, so I leave her notes and she uses the hidden key. There are also limits to her ability to turn my instructions into reality. For example, she carefully folded all our diapers, just the wrong way. If you'll pardon the pun, this isn't about being anal. They only fit into the covers one way. And if you have a very quick squirmy baby up high on a changing table, than it needs to be all within reach and ready. But how would I have expected that I needed to explain that to her?

I have gotten in such a mode lately, feeling very busy, that I look at people this way:

Come in, listen carefully, follow my instructions, and then report back to me that is is correct. Now go.

I'm exaggerating a bit, but I have been feeling this way since I have been supervising people more. Teaching is not that same as supervising, and even if you are a good teacher, that doesn't make you a good supervisor. This is particularly true of my research students. They need special encouragement and care, because this is their first research experience. If I treat them like mere machines, they'll hate it. And that does Science no good in the end. So *ohm, ohm* I need to chill on the busy-ness enough to make sure I am not just barking orders at people and disposing of them. There has to be a way to avoid unnecessary chatter from chatterers while still treating everyone like a human... Hmm... any ideas???


  1. My best supervisors have been able to tell me what they needed to have done without being unnecessarily picky about the way things get done. For example: "find a way to describe these two large data sets using a few numbers." They have also given me enough information so I can make reasonable decisions, usually by telling me why a certain task needs to be accomplished. The people I have not enjoyed working for just give me small steps to do without telling me the big picture (like "run this analysis with a=.05, a=.01, and a=.001") which means I don't know why I'm doing what I'm doing, it's boring, and I can't troubleshoot if I run into a problem. In this situation, if I do try to troubleshoot I am just as likely to go in the completely wrong direction as I am to go in a direction that would come closer to solving the problem, which just makes me frustrated with the whole progress.

  2. Thanks, OverEngineered. That helps me keep perspective.