Principal Investigators’ pathway to positive prominence and status associated with path-breaking research can lead to many positive outcomes, from talent and potential branding for the institution to an influx of money, at times, lots of it from various research foundations, industry sponsors, or government sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Those that are the recipient of such public grants often hold esteemed positions at prominent academic medical centers and research institutes. To operate successfully in high-up places requires a lot of what’s known as “emotional intelligence.” TrialSite reminds all that the importance of this attribute in leadership cannot be understated—that is, the ability to not only perceive and understand one’s own emotions but also manage them ongoing for the benefit of all involved. An important characteristic, given the power dynamics, ego-centric conflict, and high stake politics and power games common in the academy. An unfortunate and yet underrecognized reality is that at least some star scientific and medical talent, like any other fields, demonstrate low levels of emotional intelligence indicating a higher probability that they’ll end up in compromising positions, such as the type recently reported by Jocelyn Kaiser at Science. In this case, what’s often ultimately caused by a lack of critical emotional maturity leads to an “eye-opening” level of behavior that can land even the most cherished, star Principal Investigators (PI) in hot water, or worse. The NIH recently reported that since 2018 there have been over 300 complaints of sexual and other harassment charges against PIs, leading to the removal of 75 of them from their NIH-based research grants. Prior to 2018, no PI had ever lost a grant due to harassment but with the advent of the #MeTooSTEM movement, NIH opened up a complaint process for those that believe they’ve been targeted or harassed in some way. Nearly 70% of these complaints involve sexual harassment allegations, leading to the removal of 54 PIs from NIH-funded research.
That’s far too many sexual harassment complaints, for starters. The line is clear in a work environment, regardless of who you are. Often married with children, PIs work long hours and struggle to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Moreover, they’re involved with all sorts of projects, committees, and even startup ventures initiated to monetize and commercialize their patented breakthroughs.
They face what some have described as some of the worst organizational politics known to humanity—where the knives are pulled out over a conflict over simple ideas as opposed to financial gain as would be the case in the corporate world of politics. Once a PI’s received a sum of money, the thrill of the accomplishment along with the sense of high confidence, sense of self-worth, and even feelings of power are not uncommon for at least some PIs. In some cases, these PIs are venerated, wielding considerable clout in their organization while ultimately facing a growing number of professional and personal challenges. The breaking point often is on the job, in this case in the heat of the movement at the academic research center.
Perhaps moving forward, emotional intelligence benchmarks could also be considered for individuals that will be awarded considerable monies from public institutions?
Call to Action: Read about the harassment issues in Science.