So most people who become junior faculty and set up their own labs have no management experience what-so-ever. Personnel management, resource management… time management – (although we may have the most experience with this last one). You go from one day, running your own project and maybe a rotating student or undergraduate… to running the whole show… with no instruction manual. It’s a little like having a baby- from one day to the next you are gifted with a whole new set of circumstances and you are just supposed to ‘know’ how to work the thing. This can either go ok, or it can go very, very wrong.
Nor do most scientists make an active effort to improve their lab management skills as time goes on- by this I mean doing more than on the job training and following their mentors (lousy in many cases) example. I’m asking myself WHY- when this is such an important part of our job, getting people to stay focused, motivating them, setting an expectation for civilized adult behavior and team work. I know, I know, you are saying that it takes time and effort- but COME ON- the people in your group are your most valuable resource. They do the work, they have to have their heads in the project and rely on each other- they aren’t so focused on all that when there is a whole bunch of drama and other childish nonsense going on between lab members.
I’ve been giving a whole bunch of advice about the job search.. so I thought I would change things up a bit and enter the confessional myself about what I might have done better when starting my lab- especially in the management department… So, here goes, I’m sure this will be humbling. Feel free to join me.
Top things drdrA wishes she had done differently (or could improve in her management style- let’s just stick with personnel for now)
1. Stronger supervision- keep people on track.. and on track with deadlines. I am struggling with how to do this without being a micromanager…. something I hated myself when I was a trainee.
2. Dealing more effectively with different work styles and different personality styles. I have a student who is very type A, and this is tricky to deal with when bench work doesn’t work like the book says it SHOULD. Ironically, I see myself in this student, I’ve been in her shoes… but I still don’t know how to teach her how to deal with this and how to keep her motivated.
3. Not overloading my most senior person in the lab. I have a marvelous postdoc … who am I kidding, she runs the whole place. But, I think I put too much on her in the sense that she does an extraordinary amount of work of her own, and trains everyone else on top of that, always particpates in big joint experiments when they are being done. I need to step in and help the junior graduate student myself, and keep her on the track.
4. Keeping to the invisible ‘professional’ line between myself and my employees. I’m pretty good about not fraternizing with employees (who’s got time?)- but even during the day- there should be no talking with student A about what student B needs to be doing. Should directly tell student B.
5. Setting the best example. I try and try, but always think of ways I could do better. I KNOW that kids learn best by example, grad students are no exception
Ok, I’m sure there are more, but now it’s your turn…