Massimo Boninsegni at Exponential Book says that when it comes to choosing a lab group with which to work, bigger doesn't always mean better. Although exceedingly large research groups "can make for an exciting and stimulating environment in which to work and grow scientifically," Boninsegni says that "there is such a thing as too large a group." For each discipline, he says, there is an approximate "optimal" lab size, "beyond which productivity ... no longer grows proportionally to the monetary investment, and even the effectiveness [of the lab] as a training and educational venue decreases." Once a lab has grown too large, he says, each individual actually interacts less frequently with the group's PI. In addition, members of overly large lab groups can begin to feel like "one of the many" as there are "almost always several researchers of comparable seniority, with similar skills and expertise," Boninsegni says. On top of it all, he says, individual contributions are more likely to "end up buried in the greater effort of the team as a whole," making it difficult for any one researcher to "carve a niche" or "make a name for oneself." In Boninsegni's experience, the benefits of working with a smaller group have been tangible — "interacting with a PI who may not be running equally grandiose an effort, but has more time, is more personally involved in the research, and with whom an advisee can enjoy a more regular, deeper and meaningful interaction ... makes it easier to strike a proper balance between original work, and contribution to an existing research effort," he says.
Bigger Not Always Better
Nov 09, 2010