Saturday, April 13, 2013

More advice to a young investigator: lab management tips

As I was preparing to start this new adventure of running a lab, I have been collecting more and moretips post has been very popular, I thought I'd follow up with some of the new advice I have received.
advice from senior investigators, and since the previous

1) DON'T BE A PERFECTIONIST:  To get your first grants you need to show productivity and you just need to publish nice solid papers. Do not hold on to a project until you think it's perfect because it may slow you down too much. In the race against the tenure clock, this may be a good thing to remember.

2) DON'T BE AFRAID TO BRANCH OUT TO FIELDS YOU DO NOT KNOW: I have already talked about the fear of branching out to a new field and I received this piece of advice right when I was afraid. You have no idea what your career path is going to be like and you never know when the next cool project in the lab is coming from. It could be a conversation over drinks at a conference or just because you want to do things with a friend. You prospective and your expertise may just provide the fresh set of eyes the new field needs.

In addition to the more philosophical scientific suggestions, I also received several practical tips, which are really important as I am thinking whom to hire and how to manage money.

3) WHEN YOU INTERVIEW LISTEN TO YOUR GUTS AND WATCH FOR RED FLAGS: Everyone has heard about the tech or postdoc from Hell, the person who can sink tens of thousand of dollars of reagents in a dead end project, or the person who disrupts the mojo in the lab so badly to make everyone upset. Nobody has a sure fire method to avoid finding yourself in that type of situation, but paying close attention to the red flags during the interview and bringing in as many senior and trusted people as possible to judge the candidate can help. And in addition,

4) ALWAYS CHECK REFERENCES BY PHONE: References are very important and they can tell you a lot about a person. Though I've only hired a few people in my life, I have always had very informative conversation with the referees and have made hiring decisions based on their opinion. So I was not surprised when I was getting this type of advice over and over again. Some people will be very candid and give you a prospective on the applicant you could not get any other way.

5) PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO YOUR NIH EFFORT: This is a very technical one and may only be applicable if you have a career development award, but you have to be very careful of what the restrictions are on your NIH effort. It does not make sense to spend a lot of time and sweat to apply for a lot of NIH grants, if you cannot actually spare the necessary effort, since you may have to give up the grant or part of the grant. You have to figure out with your budget people and if necessary with your Program Officer what you can and cannot do even before you apply.

6) BE WARY OF LARGE SALARIES and 7) HIRE A GOOD LAB MANAGER: Two contrasting schools of thought. Should you or should you not blow a large amount of your personnel budget on a good lab manager. Everyone who went that route absolutely swears by it saying that it was the best thing they ever did. People who did not hire a lab manager, seem perfectly happy and said they like having the extra money. What is a new PI to do?


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