Saturday, June 29, 2013

Learning how to hire #1: Find your Research Assistant on Craigslist

I need to hire a Research Assistant either with a very specific attitude or set of skills, so I wrote a somewhat detailed job description and hoped for the best. But where to get access to a lot of applicants? My postdoc lab had recently hired an RA, advertised on Craigslist and got 90 applications, but since I was not involved in that hiring and I do not have a big HHMI lab, I was somewhat skeptical of how many people would apply to my lab.

At the same time just advertising on the Jobs listings of my institution may not be enough to reach a wide audience. I perused biotech/science job listings on Craigslist and when I saw that the Library of Congress advertises there I was sold. The listings are sparse, but that may not be a bad thing and there were not any recent academic RA jobs posted. The listing cost $25 which is a pittance compared to what postdoc listings cost on professional organization websites.

Lo and behold I posted the job on Friday afternoon at 5pm and I had more than 100 applications in 3 days with peaks on Monday morning of one application every 20 minutes. After discarding applications from candidates with no experience or qualifications in other fields, I had a pool of a few dozen people who looked interesting. Then, after combing through another 50+ applications from HR, I had multiple candidates with some combination of the required set of skills and experience. We had so many applications we had to shut down the listings after 4 days because going through them all would become unmanageable. Interestingly, the two applicant pools were almost completely separate as only a few people applied through both systems, so Craigslist was great for diversification. In both cases I had more and less experienced applicants and a similar distribution of ages. And now the phone interviews far as I'm concerned, the Craigslist experiment was a success.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Never pay the lab

I am an avid shopper and I love nice things, but as a grad student and postdoc I didn't have much
money, so I've become an expert on where to find the best bargain and how to wait for the things I wanted until I could get the most favorable price. I doubt it's safe to buy lab supplies on eBay (though there are quite a few things available), but in a few months of running a lab I discovered that the "never pay retail" rule is also true for labs.

Every new principal investigator (PI) knows about the new lab discounts you can get from multiple companies, but what I didn't know is that you should never be satisfied with those and that you can get discounts all the time....for almost everything. You just need to ask, and better you need to come armed with quotes from multiple companies and from pricing that was extended to other PIs. I have quite a few friends that have started labs in the past couple of years plus multiple people at my new institution, so I've been collecting quotes and deals from everyone. Then I can go to the different vendors and get quotes and pit them against each other and against the best prices I have heard of. This is time consuming and it is sometimes uncomfortable since you may develop a rapport with certain vendors and you may be genuinely torn between different products, but the dance is worth your time. If a company offers 30% off and you like another product better, you should ask the competing company to extend the same discount. Everything is ridiculously expensive and your start-up money is very precious.

Some things I've learned:
- If you are in the market for a good microscope and have found one you like, ask whether demos are available. Demo microscopes are just lightly used and you can get a better price for what you want or some free bells and whistles which could become handy.

- Always see if you can get free reagents/consumables with your equipment purchase and if you get a $1000 ask for a quote for what you need with the new lab discount and get even more stuff for free.

- Find out if your institution allows you to purchase your fridges and freezer for a regular stores. Best Buy will have freezer for a fraction of the price of big distributors like VWR or Fisher and you can find deli case fridges from restaurant supply stores at half to a third of the price. Google "2 door beverage merchandisers" and you'll see.

- The price of chemicals may vary wildly and one friend recommended to always double check since she level of purity does not necessarily make something more expensive. Companies will make the most requested item the cheapest, so you may be able to get a better purity for a smaller price tag.

- Always always ask for a better discount....and always ask around for what your friends and colleagues are doing. What was the norm in your old lab could be done with alternative approaches that are much cheaper and there may be other things you want to splurge on.

Every little bit counts.