March 23, 2001

Krebs tells scientists to learn 'language of leadership'

Despite a perception of conflicting objectives, scientists must be responsive to management if they want to seek funding, said Martha Krebs, director of the California NanoSystems Institute and former director of DOE’s Office of Science. Krebs spoke last week as part of Women’s History Month celebration sponsored by the Lab Women’s Association.

Krebs’ talk, "Managing Science: Oxy-moron or Real Life," focused on the differences between the "languages" of leadership, administration and management, and how they all relate to the business of actual science.

"The institutional health of the scientific community depends on us learning each other’s ‘languages,’ " said Krebs.

She also remarked that in her experience, "There is typically deep ambivalence to management here at LLNL."

Krebs spoke of leadership being "crucial at the team level," for optimum outcome in the scientific community. But once past the working level, she noted, the communication lines can become blurred.

Often, working scientists do not realize the amount of support that goes into their work, Krebs said. "In a typical university or DOE lab environment, there are 2,000 to 10,000 people, with only about a third of those actually involved in research and development."

Such large numbers of working scientists must be well supported administratively if they are to be able to do their jobs. They need support such as food, security, payroll, machine shops and community information.

"The administration level is where management truly becomes an issue," said Krebs. "You must be able to think about the whole process, and not just let people go about doing their own thing. Scientists cannot provide their own security, their own paycheck, etc."

Management at this level "takes on a whole different character" from working science. No one administrator, she said, can direct all the support and all the science.

Moving up the scientific leadership ladder, Krebs reached the rung of policy. "Policy has really evolved over the last few years from setting missions to requiring accountability," she said, and noted the increasing accountability in such areas as ethics, human subjects, health and safety. Such accountability often leads to the paper trail that can clog effective communication lines in scientific institutions, Krebs said.

To be certain the lines stay open, she encouraged all institutions to maintain personal contact with the policy makers in Washington, D.C.

"It is so important that labs continuously send their people to Washington," she emphasized. "Policy, on the national or local level, is a continuing process. It doesn’t just get set once and then it’s over. Constant communication is the only way for institutions to make sure their science gets done."

Krebs encouraged scientists to communicate openly and often to influence policy locally, through management and local politicians. "Politics plays at every level," she stated. "Sometimes it’s ‘small p,’ sometimes it’s ‘capital P,’ but it’s there from the actual work environment through the administration and all the way to the mission level."

Krebs concluded her talk in the theme of Women’s History Month with some personal reflections on being a woman in science. "When I go to work, I think about the problems at hand, not necessarily about being a woman. Unfortunately, when I walk into a room of scientists and I’m not the only woman, it is so unusual that I do stop and think about it."
On the influence of women on the necessary communications for successful scientific institutions, Krebs quoted author Carol Gilligan’s idea that " ‘Institutions must be built with care and love, not just an autonomous life of work.’"

"Women have the talent, training and inclination to make a difference in building strong institutes and strong science," she concluded.