Saturday, June 30, 2007

An inspector calls

Last week we had a visit from our external evaluation committee. In principle this basically happens every 5 years, although in fact it is a little over 6 years since they last came (just before we arrived). It was interesting to re-read their previous report, to see what had changed in the meantime. That previous visit was their first time - the institute was only set up 5 years before then - so it probably seemed reasonable at that time to give people the benefit of the doubt in view of the difficulties in setting up a major new lab from scratch. But although a few things are better, many are unchanged and some are if anything worse. A significant amount of science has been done in the meantime, but there are some fairly obvious problems with the way things are organised.

In the three days they were here, they had a barrage of presentations from group leaders and programme directors. It was interesting to see all the absentee management suddenly turn up and rush around pretending that they are here all (or even a significant proportion of) the time. The committee didn't actually meet with anyone who really works here as a scientist (at least not in our division, to be fair there are some group leaders in other divisions who don't have full-time jobs elsewhere). We did have the pleasure of a barbecue with them one night, but after the visitors had just had a day packed full of meetings (and with bosses eavesdropping in the background) it wasn't really a conducive atmosphere for full and frank discussions. Not that I have anything to say to them that I would not (have not) said to the lab director, but people suffering under the delusion that they have a viable long-term future here might perhaps have felt a little inhibited. Still, it was useful to take a step back, examine the good things about working here (after 6 years I'm in no hurry to leave, there is lots to like about the freedom and facilities) but realise that problems that have remained for 11 years can no longer be considered teething troubles but are actually "features" of the organisation.

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