You’ve finished your postdoctoral fellowships, your official training period is over and you’ve been hired to head your own laboratory. You are finally the boss! But with this new role comes responsibilities, many of which you may have never done before, and you’re not alone — ScienceCareers.org surveyed principal investigators, postdocs and graduate students and found that 86.6 percent never received formal management training.
Becoming a Ph.D. is mostly about managing your own time. When you are a lab leader, your role is to manage other peoples’ time. Vish Krishnan of the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, explains, “The day-to-day operation of your laboratory will require both a strong leader and an effective manager. Managers are good at doing things right; leaders do the right things.”
Krishnan adds, “The members of your research team, especially postdocs, are highly educated people. The fundamental challenge is to make them want to do what you want to do. Lab leaders who get good research results show planning, structure and synchronization.”
When you were hired by your institution, you were selected for your scientific excellence and your plans to contribute to an important niche. Now, you have to communicate these goals to your team. “Everybody has to be aware what the laboratory is going after,” Krishnan explains. “A laboratory head is good at setting the direction, as well as defining, decomposing and communicating the work clearly.” A productive and stimulating research environment provides the right overlap between individuals. The challenge for you is to divide up the pieces and be able to put them back together.
Take Management Training Courses
To avoid mistakes as young lab leader, Krishnan recommends attending management courses, such as the San Diego laboratory management symposia organized by the San Diego Postdoc Training Consortium. Already in its third year, the workshops provide postdocs and junior faculty a practical guide for managing their research programs while balancing the demands of a new tenure-track position.
The Rady School of Management also has developed a short executive certificate for scientists at the postdoctoral stage. “We talk about ways to align truth-driven scientific matter and economical goals,” Krishnan explains. “Those two forces seem to be at odds. However, many times the reason for high research costs is that people chase something that is not true and keep doing experiments. If you adjust a process at the right end, you will get results faster and cheaper.”
Manage Your Time and Delegate
Time is very important in both the science and business worlds. Do you schedule your day efficiently? People who are most productive in the morning will do most of their intellectual work before lunch and spend the later part of the day in meetings. People who focus better in the afternoon will do the opposite.