- ability to think of a good problem
- ability to work on it
- ability to recognize a worthwhile result
- ability to make a decision as to when to stop and write up the results
- ability to write adequately
- ability to profit constructively from criticism
- determination to submit the paper to a journal
- persistence in making changes (if necessary as a result of journal action).
I think this multiplicative model becomes even more interesting when you talk about working together with people in a lab. One point is that establishing a lab culture in which everyone pushes each other in all regards is critical and will have huge payoffs. Practically, this means having everyone buy in to what we collectively think of as a worthwhile idea, how we approach execution, how to write, what our standards of rigor are, and sharing stories of rejection and subsequent success through perseverance. This also provides some basis for the disastrous negative consequences of having a toxic person in lab: even if the effects on each other person in the lab in all or even some of these qualities are small, in aggregate, it can have a huge effect.
The other point is delegation strategy. It’s clear that in this model, one must avoid bottlenecks at all costs. This means that if you are unable to do something for reasons of time or otherwise and the person you are working with is also unable to do that task, things are going to get ugly. The most obvious case is that most PIs have only a limited capacity (if any) to actually work on a project. So if a trainee is unable to work on the project, nothing will happen. Next most obvious case is inability to write. If the trainee is unable to write and you as a PI have no time or desire to write, papers will not get written, period. Deciding how much time to invest in developing a trainee’s skills to shore up particular weaknesses is a related but somewhat different matter, and one that I think depends on the context.
This model also maybe provides some basis for the importance of “grit” or resilience or motor or drive or whatever it is you want to call it. These underlie those items on the list that are the hardest to change through mentorship. If someone just doesn’t have an ability to work on a project, then there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. If someone does not have the determination to do all the little things required to finish a project or to stick to it in the face of rejection, it will be hard to make progress, and there’s not much that you can do to alleviate these deficiencies as a mentor. I think many PIs have made this realization, and I have often gotten the advice that the most important thing they look for in a person is enthusiasm and drive. I would add to this being open to reflection and self-improvement. Everything else is just gravy.