Friday, January 4, 2013

Words of wisdom for 2013: lab management tips

Boston fireworks
I thought I'd start the New Year with a collection of advice I have collected over the past few months. Every time I talk to a senior PI at work or at a conference or even at random dinner parties I ask for some words of wisdom, so here it goes.

1) HIRE SLOWLY. This seems to be the first and most common advice. Don't feel lonely in your empty lab and go hire the first person you can find. The first few hires determine the efficiency and the culture of the lab and the wrong people can sink a lot of money and ruin the energy.

2) HIRE PASSIONATE PEOPLE is a corollary to the first rule. In addition to having a good work ethics, the new hires must be passionate about science or if they are not already scientists, at least be passionate about something so that you can drive their passion for science. Non motivated employees are less productive, while passionate employees will be able to also drive others.

3) YOUR HIRES ARE NOT YOU. This is another very common advice. You cannot expect the same drive, passion and knowledge from everyone you hire. They don't know what you know and they are not supposed to. They may not think like you and have different learning processes. You have to learn to undestand other people's strengths and weakenesses and harness different ways of thinking to spur innovation.

4) COLLABORATE A LOT AND COLLABORATE WISELY. You are small and cannot do as much as you could in the big lab where you might have done your postdoc. Create a network of chosen people you can work with. Good collaborations may be hard to come by, but can be very productive and mean the difference in the level of publication. Budget a lot of time at the beginning to start and manage collaborations.

5) DON'T SAY "NO" FOR THE FIRST 2 YEARS, THEN START SAYING "NO". At first you have to accept every invitation to speak, to write something or to participate in your field because you need to establish yourself and get people to know you. Then after a couple of years you can start saying "No".

6) ENJOY THE START-UP WHILE IT LASTS. or 7) SAVE SOME OF YOUR START-UP FOR A RAINY DAY. #6 and 7 are in stark opposition and I'm not sure which one to pick. I've talked to people who have spent like crazy in the first few years to generate a lot of high profile data and others who have saved part of their start-up funds for 20 years to tie them over in a funding drought. Both approaches make sense and I guess it's like investing and you need to figure out how risk-averse you are.

These are the highlights for now and I will post more once I have new ones (here).

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