I saw this great tweet today from @Holz_lab:
When PI proposes an experiment, don’t jump on it right away. High chance they’ll change something upon pondering #protip
— Marina Holz (@Holz_lab)
It’s so important for students/postdocs to develop a filter of their own. If you don’t immediately pursue the newest idea, you have an opportunity to decide which ideas are best and should be pursued first. For example, if you have a list of 15 experiments and chose to pursue the best 2-3, you’ll probably feel fairly confident that you’re not wasting your time. In contrast, if you have one idea and plow forward with that, it may not end up being the best use of your time.
Currently, most of my newish lab still tends to jump down the rabbit hole of each experiment I suggest and I do end up making tweaks (large and small) to the ideas or the prioritization. To avoid excessive and frustrating redirection, I try to avoid thinking out loud and hold back thoughts that are tangential. But thinking out loud is a very useful exercise and tangential thoughts might provide interesting new leads. A more open dialogue about good (and bad) ideas is important. This is the messy business of science and getting clear thinking to emerge from the mess is an important skill that should be cultivated.
PIs may differ in how they expect you deal with their suggestions. However, regardless of your PIs mentoring style, developing your own filter for important experiments will serve you well throughout your scientific career. Write down all the ideas. Reorder them to let the best ideas rise to the top. Be prepared to defend your thinking to your PI who may agree or try to convince you otherwise. Think about how every new suggestion fits into your existing prioritization scheme before touching hand to glove. This will boost your confidence in your chosen experiments, increase your independence and reduce your frustration with PIs who seem to always move the goalposts.