Kathy Barker, Ph.D.
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Good afternoon, I'd like to welcome you to the Stop Putting Out Fires, secret to the well managed lab workshop and I'm really delighted to introduce you to Cathy Barker. Dr. Cathy Barker has a PhD in microbiology and has been a bench scientist for many years, was at Rockefeller University and is now a writer in science and is doing a lot of interesting work in writing for science journals and Next Wave, I think you've worked for Cathy and done many interesting things? She published At the Helm, a laboratory navigator which we have given out. This book is fantastic; if you don't have it in your lab you should have it in your lab. We've given it to many, many post docs and recommended it to many faculty. So it's well worth purchasing. Cathy was here about a year and a half ago doing a lab management workshop for us and has since been around the country really, giving this program. So she is full of great tips about how to manage a lab. We talked about whether we should give you a break in the middle and decided to go straight through so you could finish a little earlier and then you could have a chance to ask questions and talk to Cathy at the end. So, Cathy.
Good afternoon, I'm gonna start right with the acknowledgements and just say I want to thank Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory crest because when I was running a lab and had this idea to write a book. It was really, really wonderful and they were very helpful. One of the several places that are now running courses to try to teach people to be lab managers, and I've participated in some of those. One is Howard, Hughes, and Burrow's welcome trust which ran a course for their fellows several years ago. Another one is the teaching survival skills ethics workshop which is run through the neurology department at the University of Pittsburgh. But I mostly want to thank patients, scientists, and colleagues because although I ran my own lab, most of this is from extensive interviews with people across the country and people were exceedingly generous with their time. Many people spoke for hours. We agreed that everybody would remain anonymous so I could speak openly and is really all this is putting together a lot of input from a lot of different people.
I think when people first start a lab the first thing that they think when they're faced with all the tasks they have, is I was trained to do everything but run a lab. Which in a way seems true, you got your job because of your technical expertise but now you're expected to manage people and funds. So what is a good lab? What are we aiming for when we run a good lab? And the first thing is that the science be solid, the second is that the head of the lab view as successful or looks as if you're going to be successful. You see, the people in the lab are happy and usually you would identify that the lab has an identifiable personality, it has a culture that makes it attractive. But you can't forget when you're running a lab that it actually is a business. Just as in a business that you need a product, good timing, adequate capital, people resources, effective management. The running of a lab is very much the same thing. You need to have at the top of everything very good science, you need to be politically savvy, you have to have funding through grants, you have to have good lab members, and you have to have you who will be the leader of this group.
And actually you are very well trained to be a leader in science. You did do more than do good science. Through the course of doing a dissertation or doing a post doc, you learned how to organize and analyze data to prioritize, you became organized, your resilience certainly with buffering the ups and downs, you have honesty and integrity, you've got some communication skills because you did manage to present your research and to communicate it to a committee, and you've got scientific know how. And when people go back and look at what were the most valuable things that you learned in graduate school, it turns out not to be the technical expertise but the ability to work productively with different people, the ability to work in a high stress environment, persistence, the ability to circumvent the rules, and the ability and courage to start something without knowing why, a kind of gut instinct. So those are the things that are more valuable and not just your hands on scientific knowledge when you're running the lab.
Everything is connected that you do, yourself, in order to run a lab you've got to be well connected with yourself and manage yourself. It's the first thing, in order to be a leader you've got to know how to organize your time, your career, and you personal life fall together. You've got to manage your science, you've got to pick a good project, you've got to get funding for it, you've got to interact with your colleagues, you've got to manage the individuals in your lab and have one on one communication with them to mentor them and to teach them, and you also have to build a group. You've got to work with the whole dynamic of those individuals now and make a team within your lab, which is another difficult skill. And the first thing in all this is to know yourself. When you're running a lab, you've gotta know a great deal about yourself, perhaps more than you've ever wanted to sit down and think about. You've got to know what the goals of your lab are and what motivates you. Are you in it because you like to work with people or are you in it because you really just like finding answers in science or some combination of these things?
You should know a bit about yourself, what kind of leader are you likely to be? Do you feel comfortable being a leader? Would you rather have equal relationships with people or do you like to be the boss of people and envision yourself being a boss? You should know what values are important to you. Do you treasure a hard work ethic; is it creativity that you like? Is it the way you want your work to be, those things that are important to you like integrity, honesty, great communication? This is gonna be the framework of your lab culture because what you want to do is within your personality, set up a culture for how you set your lab up so that all the little rules and everything become part of the bigger whole, makes it much easier to run things if you start that from the beginning. No matter how many seminars you go to or books you read, whatever you do you have to do within your own style. Every person is different and people are gonna have different strengths, so you can never run a lab the way someone tells you to run a lab. You've got to do it within your own personality, what's gonna work best. So think about the things, about your personality that will help you to run a lab.
You should know whether you think you'll be more effective at the bench or at a desk. Where would you rather be? What do you like, the interacting with people, the thinking and the ideas, or the actual bench work. What are you motivated by in science? Getting papers or getting the answers, getting promotions? How do you like to make decisions? Do you like to make fast decisions, very intuitive decisions, or do you like to think things out very, very carefully and talk to other people and collaborate along the way? Another big thing, a big difference in people is do you like details or not like details? Some people are just inherently micro managers, some people can't stand those small details and would be happy to have someone else do it. Do you work better with peers, bosses, or subordinates? Many people work very well with their bosses but actually it's their subordinates that are gonna have more to do with their future and they don't know how to work with those, or the opposite. And then also do you actually even like people? Sometimes you're running a lab and you don't like people and you can work with this.
So just because you don't like people doesn't mean you can't be a fair boss and a good leader. And when you first get to a place, you want to find a mentor. If you're starting a new job find a mentor, find a couple of them. And you've got to be very, you don't want to get isolated especially when you start a new job and you're working really hard, it's very easy to become isolated and just work alone and not talk to anybody and that's death. You can't let yourself be isolated so, even just for that get out there and find some mentors and you're probably gonna need scientific mentors, people that will help you with your research, mentors that will help you with dealing with institutional politics, and personal mentors; people that teach you how to merge your work and your home life. But you've got to be absolute proactive in getting the help you need. There may be a program, there may not be a program but you're the one that has to go out and get the help for yourself if it's not made available to you. And it's probably very, very hard these days to find one mentor who will take over every aspect of your career; someone that you could talk about your profession as well as your personal life.
So it's more likely that you're gonna have to cobble together a bunch of mentors that can help you with different things along your career. And some of these things that you may want to go people with specific questions are, are things like getting tenor, different procedures and experiments especially when you're changing fields, how to hire and fire people, how you manage people all together, it's really, that's one of the hardest things is to manage the people in your lab. Political insights into what it really takes say, to get tenor within your department and not just what's written on paper but the rules that everybody knows are there but nobody has written down for you, how to teach, how to manage time, and how to integrate your work and home life. And at different stages in your career you'll need help in these different things, so you've got to go out and find the person that can help you with these things. And don't forget to study your role models because you do get your job with the ones that have skills but your success comes with your people management skills, with your organizational skills, with your resilience.
So look at that people, see how they run their labs, and see what lessons you can take from them. So don't just pick someone by default, pick someone very carefully who has the time, does the kind of science, and runs things the way you would like to do it; something that works with your personality. And remember, even when you've found a role model, that's not you. So you can't copy everything, every little thing that that person does may be different when you do it, so pick and choose what things you think will work for you. And all along the way you cannot run on default. If you don't plan, you won't get there. You have to have a plan, you can't just go to a place and expect that you'll follow a certain path and you'll arrive at success. You've got to be extremely proactive. You've got to think five years ahead and that's a rolling five years. So when you get there, think five years ahead. The next month you're thinking five years and one month ahead, you're always thinking where you'll be in five years. The first thing like a business is to have a kind of mission statement. Maybe something that explains what it is that you want to do, you want to learn everything about a particular cascade or you want to cure a disease, or you want to work with colleagues in a great environment.
Think of what it is that underlies how you're running your lab. And you want to make a plan, a five year plan for say, your career, whether you'd like tenor, whether you'd like to move to industry, whether you'd like to leave science, and for your particular project in your lab. If you're staying there, where would your lab be in five years? Would you be applying for another grant? Do you think you'll be moving on to another topic? And at this time as at all times, you have to think of your other five year plan which is where you want to be personally. From financially, personally, socially, because when you're very busy it's tempting to put off the future but there will be absolutely no time in your career where the earth opens up and now you have time for a personal life. If you don't decide that something is a priority and carve out the time, you'll never, never get it. So right away, incorporate that into your whole view of where you want to be in five years or ten years or twenty years. So with all these lofty goals, it comes right down to what you do day by day.
Everyday for that day and for the future you have to know how to make a plan, you have to know how to prioritize all the things that you have to do, and then you have to just go and do it. One thing that helps is when you first go to a new place, is to always be working within your promotion requirements because survival, you can live if you don't have tenor but survival at your institution is going to mean getting tenor. Your whole path will be helped if you do get tenor, get the promotion that you need. So you should plan your tenor attack early. And so think about what is in your tenor docia? In six years after you go to a place, what is it that people will expect from you in order to get promoted? And promotion requirements are very different from institution to institution but there are some similarities. You have to have evidence of funding, usually an NIH grant and not private grants, you have to have published in high quality journals and here are the number of publications expected is very institution and departmental dependent. You have to have evidence of a reputation that you've been invited to meetings that you may be invited to give reviews.
You need to show that you can teach as far as evaluations from classes and at many places now in mentoring, you have to have evidence of your service such as committee work at your place, and your own self statement showing what your plans are and where you're going to fit into that institution or department in several years. People want to know that they're getting a good colleague. And you want to work within your tenor strategy. Tenor is not an enemy on the side that you're fighting in order to do your research. It actually goes hand in hand. Satisfying your tenor requirements will usually satisfy what it means to be successful in research. So you use that tenor pathway to form a framework for yourself as you're going along. So for example you're one on the road to tenor promotion, when you get to a new place you want to hire a technician, you want to set up and organize your lab and office, you want to absolutely finish writing up all your post doc work if you haven't, probably a real mistake to come with it. You should be doing preliminary experiments for an NIH grant if you don't have it already.
You should at that point immediately look at your tenor requirements and talk to someone about how you're gonna get there, don't wait a few years to do that, know what all your requirements are right away, try to find a mentor, give a department seminar even if you're not invited try to make sure you give a seminar because again, you don't want to get isolated. You want to be connected to the people in your department. You should be submitting at the end of the year, submitting a manuscript for publication and by the end of the year you should be submitting a grant. So this is almost impossible and it actually just gets worse or harder. So you really have to be organized to go along this pathway. So for year two, you're constantly ramping up. So in year two if you haven't gotten a grant you're gonna have to resubmit the grant. At this time you may want to take on a student or technician, a lot of places will protect you from teaching and clinical responsibilities for the first year but usually at year two you might have to now start adding teaching and clinical responsibilities to this.
You probably will want to submit another manuscript if you want to get to six or seven papers at the end of six years. You want to start giving seminars outside the institution and this is something else you have to be proactive in because when you're just setting up your career, people aren't going to be banging at your door to ask you to give talks. So call a friend, say I'm in your area can I come and give a talk there? Once you're there, call someone else up in the area and say I'm in the area can I come give a talk? You're gonna have to promote yourself to go and give talks. And you want to start doing committee work but try to match it to what your interests are. If you're doing animal research, maybe that's the kind of committee you want to get yourself on or the IRB committee. At this time you may want to hire a good post doc but this is something that you'll have to think about very carefully because post docs have an agenda very similar to yours and you don't want to take one on too early. Year's three to six are just more of this ramping up, you want to at this point find out if you're likely to get tenor.
You don't want to wait until year six to find out that you're not gonna be wanted there and you now have a good indication halfway through whether you're gonna get it. You wanted to have ramped yourself up to speaking at a national meeting, you should be submitting a paper, this is a time that you might be thinking of starting a second project or grant, running a new grant. And that's another thing people say that sometimes if you wait too long, you get too afraid. So although it seems when you're just starting and you don't even have tenor yet, you don't want to take on another project, it doesn't get easier, to switch fields or to try something new. This is a time you might want to try that. And along the way as well to satisfy your tenor requirements, you want to be a good colleague because one of the things that people want from you is to know that you're a good colleague, that you're gonna be supportive, that you can integrate with other people in the department and that you're gonna give something to those students and trainees in the department.
So don't shy on your departmental duties, don't take everything on, don't say yes to everything because you want to carry favor, but you are gonna have to do some kind of institutional duties or some kind of department duties. Go to seminars, go to other people's seminars, participate in a seminar, be an active presence in teaching and going to seminars in the department. Success is going to depend on your productivity. This is from Sandy Schmidt, a wonderful equation showing that productivity is proportional to time; time some factor K where K is your effectiveness. So you could see that as you increase your effectiveness, you are gonna decrease, it's gonna make you more successful and it's gonna decrease the amount of time you need to spend on something. So you can get more done and this is where you maybe fit a personal in and if you become more effective at work, you got more chance of actually fitting in some time for family and hobbies. And one thing you have to keep in your head all the time, is you're kind of self evaluating day by day is being busy is not the same as being productive. It's very easy to get into a whirl of activity and when you actually sit and think about it, you're going nowhere, you're doing things but they're not moving you ahead on the path.
This is from Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People and a lot of these business books have one kernel and I think this is a good book with a very good kernel and that this man breaks down all sorts of things that you have to do and the things that are important or not important, urgent or not urgent. And what you want to do is to try and being doing as many important things as you can be. So unimportant things are things like interruptions, things that because of deadlines you've squeezed yourself into a corner, real busy work kind of things that don't help your career. You want to be doing the important things and where you really want to get to is the important and non urgent things. This is a place where you could be creative. So you're trying to eliminate as many small, urgent, putting out fire kind of things as you can by doing them in a timely fashion to get yourself into the important, not urgent box too where you have time to sit and talk to people, develop a new idea, read a book. You really want to dispatch unimportant things quickly.
You've gotta really learn to prioritize quickly and then deal with things very, very quickly. So most people will want to use some sort of daytime or some sort of note taking to start the day by prioritizing, divided things into tasks and don't make yourself impossible lists that make you depressed at the end of the day because you never can fulfill them. You'll get pretty good at learning how much you can do and setting practical chunks for yourself to do every day. So for example, in dealing with paper, with all paper that crosses your desk you have four choices: toss it, you either want to get rid of it, you know you're not going to that seminar so get rid of the seminar announcement, don't keep it there, you don't get any moral currency for keeping it on your desk, file it if it's really important a paper or something like that. Deal with it, pick up the phone and do what the papers asking you to do or have a very, very small pile of things that you're gonna file to deal with later, a very small pile. And the idea is you don't do anything twice, it's hard enough to do it the first time, don't do it two times, don't keep going through that same pile of things you have to come back to over and over again, doing three of them and then piling it up.
Same thing with the telephone, for some people doing call backs that are regular time works. They know they're gonna come into work, sit down, and between 8 and 9 they're gonna make all their phone calls and they won't go near the phone the rest of the day. For other people, the best thing is to do is to deal with it as things come up. That's the kind of thing you work out within your personality. For many people it does work not to pick up a ringing phone because then you're slave to the phone, so instead they may have a cell phone for personal calls or something when there's things that they feel like they have to pick up, they can pick up, but let the voicemail or the answering machine pick up the other messages and then handle them at one time in a day. An email is a big trap, maybe because it's on a machine don't be fooled by email. That's probably the worst place for people who are sitting at a computer and they feel as if they're doing something very, very productive but you're not. It starts out doing some kind of scientific thing in email and you're soon drifting to answering old graduate friends' about what you're doing. So be very careful when you're doing email. And you want to streamline your email the same way you do with your letters.
Emails become really the way people handle a lot of correspondence now. So you have to treat it as seriously as you do written documents. So set up filters to screen out unwanted mail, you can have boxes where you put work mail versus home mail and you promise yourself you're not gonna deal with any personal mail while you're at work. You want to keep your inbox small. Again, with the same idea going through a pile of paper, don't have an inbox that's so big that you have to keep scrolling through your inbox to try to find out what you're gonna do that day and what you're gonna answer. Maybe once a week or every two weeks, every 3 days, go through your inbox and make it invisible again, small. Deal with the things that are there. Save important outgoing mail because that is your documentation, it's something you're missing with letters. Keep a hard copy of those critical hard mails and don't forget to back up your email and it's usually done within a department but it may not be and you need to back up that because sometimes that's the only record of some really important transactions. And use your out of the office messages if you go away.
And one thing that's quite cool that you do with those is to give yourself a kind of mini sabbatical. And people depend on you to answer email messages, but if you were to write to them and say you're gonna be away for a week, that you'll come back to it, gives yourself a little bit of space to stay away from email and get a lot of other things done. Perfectionism is a trait that's usually associated with being a very good trait and a lot of scientists are perfectionists, it kind of breeds for that kind of thing. And there's a very good side to being a perfectionist, you have a great attention to detail, great follow through, keeping grants perfect, but there's a very bad side to it. One, that you can get very obsessive about something and actually not move forward. It tends to make you very rough on other people because you expect them to come up to your own way of dealing with stuff. But the worse thing is perfectionism is actually a form of procrastination. It doesn't seem so because again, it seems very high and moral but it can be a way of delaying getting the actual work done. And there's about as many ways to procrastinate as there are people. Everyone has a different way, everyone probably has multiple ways at different times in order to procrastinate.
It's what you're fighting all the time, is that tendency to not get stuff done. And some of the ways that people do this are always wanting to be perfect, the perfectionist, some people just take details and they will just not get to something because they don't want to deal with the details just the big picture, some people hate the idea of change, and some people actually get kind of passive aggressive like why should I do that? I feel like I'm being forced into it. I think that the pattern that most people have is to feel that they're motivated by crisis. People will save everything till the last minute, come at the deadline, they'll rationalize saying I can only really get it done when I have a burst of adrenaline, and it's probably not true. The truth is you probably could get a lot more done if you weren't waiting till the last minute and gave yourself a chance to pass the paper out for more people to read, you gave yourself a chance to think better. So try not to let yourself just be motivated by crisis and pile things up. You also want to learn to delegate. It's a hard thing to delegate especially if you are a micro manager but it will save you an awful lot of time when you learn to do that, and it trains people because you're really not in the business just to do stuff yourself, you are training other scientists so delegating as much as you can, say to have someone help you write a grant section, help you have people review a paper, will really help cut down on your time as well as train the people in your lab.
As you're doing all this, all these small things will build up to a lab culture. You want to build a framework that supports the values that you've decided are important for you and for your lab. So the first thing is that for most people you want to have good science. That's the most important thing underlying everything; you need to have good science and good research. You want to establish a work ethic and you do that a lot by example because you can't come in 9 to 4 and expect everybody else to work 16 hours. You really set up your work ethic. Things change as your lab gets older. When you first start out, you're the one that has to demonstrate what your work ethic is. You want to have transparent communication, you don't want to be hiding things telling some people some things and some people others, you don't want people to have to scrutinize. The truth should be right out for them. You want to instill integrity and integrity is not just not cheating on experiments, but it's in the little things you do day by day, person to person. You also want to build trusts of predictability. You want people to know who you are, to know how you're gonna act, to know that you're stable, and that you have a certain personality.
And you want to make the lab a home away from home because most people spend more time in the lab than they do at home so you want to make that a welcoming place for people. You do want to avoid a party lab, some people go to far and the lab becomes this wild party place where all the students want to come and work in that lab and nothing's getting done. So you can't make it too much of a home. So when you're physically organizing the lab, you actually want the physical to reflect the philosophical. You're organizing the lab to get work done, to get good creative work done and to help people as much as possible. You're not organizing the lab to organize the lab, it's for a reason. So things that will help you organize the lab are having a lab manual for the lab, having a system for stocks, for ordering, for how you keep lab notebooks, jobs, meetings, authorship's, these are things that are done in a lab and each one of them you should have a way of doing them that you can make clear to people. So a lab manual is something you can have online, it's a great thing to hand to a new person, something where you have done your lab policies, information for newcomers and you don't keep explaining the same thing, reinventing the wheel every time someone new comes.
Contact information, your basic lab protocols that there's probably some protocols that every lab has that everybody will have to do, and your safety rules. And your lab policies are anything that's important. There's gonna be institutional policies, department policies and people get a separate book, but you'll have your own policies. Something like attendance, vacations, and time expectations. If that's not important to you fine, but what you don't want to do is have it be important to you, you not tell someone, and then you get angry at someone because they took a 2 week vacation and you didn't want them to. So if you've got something that bothers you or something you feel should be, let people know because they're trying to please you, you've got to give them the chance to know what it is that you expect. Other policies are lab jobs that could be rotated. Most labs will have jobs that they pass through and that could be part of your philosophy. Everybody needs to be responsible for things; everybody needs to learn to work every piece of equipment. Rules for common areas; what your idea of courtesy is and how you keep something, how everybody contributes to keep a common area clean. What your rules are for attending and presenting at meetings.
What your rules are for lab notebooks. You may have rules for phone and computer use again, this may seem trivial to you fine, if you don't have a rule about it that's okay but don't hit someone on the head because they did something you found was wrong but you didn't tell them before hand. You want to tell people how they're gonna be evaluated. Here they are, how is their progress gonna be judged? How are you gonna interact with them and judge their progress? And authorship's, because the way authorship's are decided is a key thing, it sets the tone to a lab. Through all of this you want to make ethics part of the package and part of what you're talking to people about. Be right up front about the fact that you consider ethics to be important and ethical behavior to be important. Do it, teach it by example, teach it verbally, you've got to, if you see people in the lab behaving badly towards someone else you've got to correct it, you can't just sit back and say well they'll figure it out; then your tacitly approving this so if you see people doing things that you don't approve of, step forward and interact. You want to be very, very clear about authorship's and this is not just when people come to the lab, but actually when people are interviewing. This is part of your lab persona so when you're talking to people about coming to the lab, let them know how you deal with authorship's in your lab.
And some of the issues are: when does the paper get written? Who's gonna decide? Is the PI gonna decide, do you write up the project whenever you feel ready? Who writes it? There are not a whole lot of labs where the PI writes the paper say, for students, but not for post docs. You may have your own way of doing that. Who handles all the revisions and the letters and the recent submissions? Are you gonna delegate that or are you gonna do that yourself? And how is authorship even decided? The authorship issue is something that actually is being decided institution to institution and often journal by journal, a lot of places and journals now have their own policies. This is a suggestive list of policies from this scientist a couple of years ago. This has been taken up by several journals, said all those who contributed to a study would decide at the end of the study who gets authorship, the authorship's would go in order, in declining order, of contribution to this and that includes collaborators who would be considered among the authors. Other contributing authors who have not done say, a certain percent, but if you've judged 10 percent, would be listed in the acknowledgements and people who had been contributing anything would not be listed either as authors or the acknowledgements and that the individual contributions would actually be attached to the article.
So and so did this assay, so and so contributed this, so it's very clear that there's not honorary authorships that everybody contributed to this actual paper. And then all places are now requiring that one or more authors be prepared to act as the guaranteer for the whole thing. Someone who could speak about the whole thing. It doesn't mean that person knows every single detail, but someone has to overall have the feeling for the whole paper, not just be a small cog that presented all of this. Often now that's the corresponding author. So the corresponding author isn't just someone that passes out the papers to other people who want it, it's someone that is the overall guaranteer for the work so it's actually a very serious responsibility. And you're gonna have your own policies so there's gonna be journal policies, institutional policies, and you'll have your own policies in the lab. And some of these are, some of the issues are for example, what will you do if a first author leaves the lab before the paper's written up? This is very common, someone is a student, they leave to do a post doc, and they haven't finished the work. What are you gonna do? A lot of the time it just languishes, the paper doesn't get written maybe for years and finally someone writes it. You can have a policy. So one policy for example, might be if a person leaves a lab and doesn't do it within 6 months the second author writes the paper and becomes first author.
This is tough but this is important, you've got to do something so that you don't have these papers going because that's your career on the line and the career of all the other people on the paper as well. You should have a policy about whether technicians get authorships. Some places say no, most places people feel that if a technician did the work they should be an author as well as anybody else. Are you the only author? I think first author papers are going away but being a first author really implies something that probably isn't true, that there's very few people that did everything by themselves, nobody's helped. Another question is when do you sacrifice the authorship of your people? And I think the answer is probably almost never. You don't want to for your own political gain, to let one of the people in the lab who really worked hard on this paper give up first authorship so you can give this to someone else so you get some kind of favor. You want to be really careful not to do that kind of thing, you've got to be very, very trustworthy to the people in your lab, especially around authorships which are so important to people. You're gonna have a policy, this is harder to say to someone when they're there, but as you go along with time people will need help on writing papers and it is one of the hardest things to do is to know when you've packaged up something to write for a paper, what kind of journal do you submit it to? You'll probably be going to your own mentors to try to get help on this as well.
This is an ongoing problem, but people don't know anything. There's a lot of new people when you first start out, they don't know where to begin, what is a paper, that they need help in outlining it, doing a first draft, you've gotta help them deal with writer's block. You're gonna have to help yourself deal with writer's block but you're also gonna have to help the people in your lab deal with this, how to be motivated when you really don't want to do it. You've got to show people how to edit, you've got to demonstrate to people how you get done on time, to give it to other people to read, and then how you deal with those comments without having your ego offended, how you submit the paper, how you respond to the viewers, these are all very technical issues; some are very ego driven issues and you've got to help people along the way with this in your lab. When you're thinking about what works for stocks, ordering, and record keeping, the main thing that works is requiring as little as possible from everybody. Nobody wants to sit at the computer writing a million entries every time they take a little bit of a stock file. So make it as easy as possible for everyone. One thing that often works is to have one person responsible for overall maintenance of the logs.
If you're lucky to get a person like that, things will generally go much smoother. But this is something else you should start up right away, when it's just you and one person in a lab it seems really silly to be setting up the system but it's amazing how quickly the freezer becomes filled with vials that nobody knows the purpose of anymore, so try to get yourself organized as soon as you can so you don't keep thinking about it every year. A good thing is to computerize your lab creations and people do this in any number of ways. Some people just use a spreadsheet or a word processing program, there's actually very, very specialized software that sits on top of Access for FileMaker Pro. So FileMaker Pro I think is the thing I see most people in labs using to keep their reagents organized but there is specialized software by companies that sits on top of that, that already has the names of the reagents down, things like that that you can use. And don't be casual about safety, there's a macho thing often times in labs where you're not supposed to worry about safety issues but this really sends the wrong message to people in your lab, it tells them that you don't care.
So you've got to show people that you're worried about their safety. You should have very explicit rules about radiation, about pathogens, waste disposal, what's gonna with children in the lab if people bring their kids in on weekends, what to do in an emergency, where to keep chemicals. And also the other side of this besides showing people that you care, is that you can be shut down. Compliance is really, really important and following these rules is important so you can't always be putting it down in front of your people saying, oh those stupid sheets. You've gotta show them that these sheets have to be done, get them done, get them done away with, it's a good thing. And you want to talk about money. A lot of people who are running labs come from the successful lab, it's very large, lots of money, and they never had to worry about it. But it's really not good training to do that. You want people to know what's going on. That's part of doing good research is coping with the money problems, getting money, spending money, it's really important so teach fiscal awareness in the lab and people again, will do this a different way; saying they have a rule that anybody can order anything they want if it's under a hundred dollars and then they approve it, or it's gotta funnel through one person and that person switches.
There's any number of ways you can do it but don't just let money get spent without you keeping track of it and without letting people know what they spent. It's really good for people to know what they spend. And this is part of a larger issue in that you do want research to drive your funding, not the other way around. You want to think of money but you want to think of the money you need to do the work, you don't want to fit your work into the money that you have. And the laboratory notebook; notebooks are not journals, they are not personal property, the laboratory notebook belongs to the people in the lab and keeping a good one isn't optional. This is not just for fraud things, for copyright things, but you need, it helps people to think. A good notebook helps people to think and it's your responsibility as a lab head to make sure that they do keep a good notebook. Don't feel like you're invading someone's privacy by looking at their notebook and saying, you know this is the format we need to have. Give people the format right out and tell them what you expect about the lab. A couple of things people do keep lab notebooks in different ways, but a couple of things are becoming more and more common. It should be bound, it should be done in ink, some people require that it's signed and dated everyday, some companies actually lock the notebooks up every night.
They shouldn't use blank spaces, you shouldn't modify, any changes you make should be very obvious, you want to explain any special terms you do use because people will be coming back to these notebooks after you have left. It's also very good to require people to have a table of contents to keep attached and somehow with the book, record lab meeting discussions. This becomes important for patents, that if an idea comes up, people are keeping track of where they thought of something and what they first did about that, it's really good stuff for patents so use the book to think, to work through why you did something, what you though about it. You as a lab head will have to track the notebooks and you have to keep them and they say to keep them for 7 years but no one I've known has ever thrown one away, they usually stay around forever but you've got to keep those safe, you do have to keep the notebooks. You want to make all your meetings effective. For every meeting that you have you want to have an agenda, whether if there's 30 people or one on one, know why you're having a meeting because the more effective you make meetings, the more people will trust you to come, that you'll get work done, they can get back to their life afterwards. If you've got a time limit, stick to it and you're that one that has to make people stick to it. Only invite people relative to the meeting.
You don't want to bring people in because you want to show them what you're doing. Bring people that are important to the meeting, that will contribute and that's all. Encourage participation; a very important thing in science is participation. So letting people in your lab sit there meeting after meeting and never say something, you've gotta find a way to bring them in and to ask questions, to make a format where everybody has to present and ask questions so that they can get used to answering in a lab. If there's a conflict you have to stop it, don't let it get out of hand. Either help deal with it or put it off to another time with just the parties involved. As you're going summarize frequently, as you're going with the meeting people forget, it doesn't hurt to hear things. So a couple of times keep track of the meeting by summarizing where you are and where you want to go. Have someone keep a record if it's not you, and most importantly follow up. A lot of times people can have the same meeting about the same issues over and over again because there's no follow up, you just keep redoing the same meetings. So when you have a meeting, know what everybody's gonna do and follow up to make sure that people do what they say they're gonna do at the meeting.
No matter where you are, you'll have research lab meetings and you want to have these even at the beginning, even when you first start with you and a technician you want to have a way to have research lab meetings somehow. They'll be formal lab meetings; usually these are departmental where people learn to give a good polished meeting. You'll have informal meetings, things that will be just in your lab. When you're new again, with two people you don't have that critical mass that makes a meeting exciting so you may want to have a multi lab meeting. When you first get somewhere, have a meeting with someone else who's working on a similar topic in the department, just so you have enough people you can actually get some discussion and some criticism and some excitement going. And you want to teach lab members to give a good presentation, you're not going to be able to do all these things again, you're playing to your strengths but people don't know how to give presentations. So don't just let them fall by the way side, you can help them along. First of all, make your expectations clear about what you want from a meeting, when someone first comes to the lab.
Help people work on the content before their first presentation in particular, and make, nothing is too small. If you want to comment on the slides, that you can't read the type face, that the illustrations aren't appropriate, do that it all helps, anything you can help. Have a new person practice the talk for you, it's time consuming but it pays off really well and especially for someone whose language is not English, who's original language. Help that person a lot, it takes a lot of nerve to give a talk in another language, help them perhaps memorize the talk the first talk. Help them; make sure the content is down so that it's understandable. And also teach people how to answer questions, having a kind of practice session maybe within your lab or just with you and how you filled questions, that's a way of teaching another skill that's going to be very important. And journal clubs are also an important tool. Many people say as soon as I start my lab, I'm gonna stop journal clubs, I hated them. But journal clubs are really, really important tool. They are very useful to discuss the current literature and as you go along this becomes more important because a lot of PI's find that that's the only place where they get to hear the current literature is from the people in the lab telling them what it is, they're not reading as much.
It helps to teach critical thinking, it teaches you how to give a presentation and it's really important to keep the lab culture together, and is if you're not, at a great place like M. D. Anderson, it doesn't matter so much, but you can have people in really isolated places and having good journal clubs helps to bring them into the sort of family of science, to teach them what it is people do and how they can get there. It helps ramp them up to actually doing it themselves. And again, you have to teach people how to give a journal club. It's not something that's very obvious. You want to show them most importantly, how to choose a solid paper. It really doesn't usually work for people to pick whatever is interesting. You want to have a good paper to show people how good science is and then criticize it. It's very easy to criticize a terrible paper so try to show someone how to pick a good paper, what makes a good paper. For most journal clubs you want people to summarize that, discuss it in detail, go through figure by figure, tell the strengths and the flaws, discuss the presentation, then to predict the next step.
This is what helps people's critical thinking, and this is an important place where integrity comes in. Because what you don't want to do, while on one hand you're trying to build a kind of core culture that's based around the work but you don't want to do it at the expense of other labs by dumping another lab, say a competitor, just writing off anything they do as just being nasty. That's really unethical. If you have a competitor, teach people how to think critically about that and not to dismiss somebody's paper because of where they work, either the good or the bad. You also want to have one on one meetings. These are really, really important, they sometimes need as much preparation as a big lab meeting. So lab members will work with your communication style, you're teaching them how to talk but listen to people and be prepared to, even on a one to one meeting, be prepared to listen and modulate how you talk to people and take these meetings very, very seriously. If you've said to someone, let's meet after lunch, meet with them. That's not a small thing to people, especially in the lab where you hold the power.
So treat those meetings very, very seriously. And through this all, through the good and the bad, a lot of this is communication; a lot of this is about the relationships you build. Both the pleasures of science and the things that are difficult, it's about the relationships you build as people, whether it's getting a job, collaborating, getting people to do what you want in your lab, or working with bosses, hiring people, it's all about the one on one relationships you'll develop with everyone. Now relationships are not just about the people in your lab, they should extend to everyone. For one, especially the support people around you. It's people that do everything, it's people at the cafeteria, who open the doors, who do the trash, who wash the dishes, all these people are working with you and you should acknowledge them and thank them when it's appropriate. You should work with your NIH program officer. NIH has people trained to work with you about where you should put a grant, what your strengths and weaknesses are, people that will direct you to the appropriate study session. It's not sort of sleazing up to people to do it, this is what their job is.
So work with the people in NIH, talk to them and ask them for advice and you can actually establish a really nice relationship where people will call you up and say, I heard there's a new grant thing offered and I think it'd be really good if you'd put in for it. So have that kind of relationship with people. I mean the chairperson in your department is obvious because you know you want tenor, you know you want to advance, but actually that person probably has a lot of information that could help you. You would really be helped by a collegial relationship. The same thing with the top scientists in your field. Not only does it help you, it also helps your science, it's what makes things fun is to have relationships with people. So within your style, establish trust. Always working within you, no matter what kind of stall you have you want to be clear about things, you want to be predictable, and you want to do what you say you're gonna do. You want to make communication an important part of your culture so what do you communicate?
And the answer's probably just about everything. Anything you could communicate to people about how you do science will help them do science, so results of your grants, what people said about your funding, how you made a decision, anything you can do to communicate to people. You could do this in any kind of way, in conversation. Some people will go to a meeting and come back and email the people in the lab what the best thing at the meeting was. And anything you could use to tell people about science is great. Do it always and there's some things you shouldn't communicate. The main thing is sometimes your feelings, especially about other people in the lab. So you don't ever want to get to a place where you're communicating something about one person, a lab to another, or where some people get information from you and not others. This is the biggest thing that divides a lab when there's this sort of a cohort of people who are privy to your thoughts and other aren't. This can be pretty tough. And you teach communication different ways; you teach it by example, by communicating, you teach it in meetings, you teach it one on one, and you teach in the larger world of science by introducing people to other people, by letting them watch how you interact with other people. And you always want to point out the unobvious things to people.
There's a lot of things that you've gathered over the years that seem very obvious to you that actually aren't obvious at all. Point them out, so that there are a lot of rules that are not obvious. Some rules are true and should be. For example, that the more research you do, research is experiments plus the papers, just doing the experiments is not enough, you've got to write the papers in order to progress in research. People can get very tied into doing experiments, forget that they need to write those papers, they're just so wrapped up in the results. Some rules are true and they shouldn't be. For example, the fact that you always need preliminary data for proposals is true, but you shouldn't. Some ideas you don't actually have the data for before it's an idea, but that doesn't effectively work. Some things are not true but should be, a good teaching is essential for promotion. It's still right now you don't get rewarded that much in most cases for a good teaching, although it should be and people need to know that because when they're actually trying for something they need to know what the wait will be on the different things that they do. And managing is negotiation. You're always gonna be a negotiate and so for every negotiation whether it's a meeting, a one on one, an important meeting, you have as much information on hand as you can.
Know why you're there, know what you're willing to give, be able to try to listen to the other person. It's an adversarial world so people become opponents but they're not meaning to be opponents, so try to understand why they are saying what they're saying. And so when you're setting up the framework for the lab, you have the daily problem that you're setting up this kind of framework and so through this you want to be treating everyone the same. You're setting up a framework with the presumption that you've got core values, that they're being sent into the lab the same way; but at the same time you get individuals. So while you're setting up this way of treating everyone the same, you have to be able to accommodate differences because people have a lot of different backgrounds, they communicate in different ways, they work in different ways, and you're always going to be walking a line between treating everyone the same, and making allowances for differences. And these differences are another way of saying conflicts, so you're always gonna be in conflict in a way. It's not always bad, it's conflict, it's just everything is not the same, you have different results, you have different people, so you're gonna have them in meetings with your results, with scientists, with your own people, with bosses, so you've gotta learn that conflict isn't bad.
You can't get your stomach all in a knot every time you have a conflict with someone. Even if by personality you don't enjoy conflict, you can't let that weigh on you, it will be there, you can't avoid it. And it's not all bad, it's mostly not bad. And you cannot allow yourself or the people in your lab to get marginalized. So again, this is why you have a mentor, this is why you want to get out there and start giving seminars, because you can't let yourself work alone. There are very, very few people that can do effective work alone. You need other people, it's fun and you need them to progress in science. But you can't let other people in your lab be marginalized and this can happen in a lot of ways. So don't have overt favorites. You're gonna like some people more than others, that's natural, there's gonna be some people that you talk to and you just take off and you love speaking with some people you like personally but you have to be really careful not to let that run the lab when you have a favorite or not. You've got to really watch your own behavior on this and watch your lab member's behavior on marginalization. And people get marginalized for all sorts of reasons; it's not just a culture, a race, or a gender. There's a lot of labs where for example, people get marginalized because of parents.
Where the head of the lab is young and he comes in and works from noon to midnight, maybe to 2 or 3 in the morning, you may have a parent that can only work 9 to 5 and very gradually, even if that person is getting his work done as everybody else, they could be edged out of the lab where people start to think, well they're not working as hard as me and just sticking them off of any kind of lab business. On the other hand, it can go the other way too. They've been lab heads who have children, they allow people to take off for any kind of child related thing, that's a very noble thing to do but they look down on people taking time off just to go rafting down a river. That's considered trivial, so when someone takes a vacation off, they can sort of out them and start cutting them off from communication. So marginalization can happen in really, really subtle ways as well as very overt and horrible ways. You have to think about whether you are going to mentor the people in your lab. It is assumed that as a lab head you will to some extent be mentoring the people in the lab. But to what extent is that? To what extent, overall what are you doing for individuals?
So mentoring the talented people in your lab is going to be easy, people that come and need very little help from you, advice, that's satisfying, rewarding, and it's very, very easy. And people will tend to cater to superstars, they come in, they may spend all their time with someone that's doing well and leave the people that aren't doing well by the wayside to kind of drift away. Of course other people go the opposite and that's something you have to think about, some people will spend all their time with the people doing badly and not spend any time with the people that are doing well, figuring they don't need it. You're gonna have to find your own way to deal with this. What people have found is that they make a decision about the ability of each person and mentor that person to their ability, to where they think people will be. So some people they will promote more because they think they can go further. It's always a tough issue where someone may feel someone's getting more attention, so try not to give less attention to someone but you'll probably give a different kind of content of mentoring to each person. You also have to think about whether you'll be able to give advice to people who are not bound for research.
A lot of people now are entering other professions from research, going into other things, and you may not like that, you may think its fine. If you can't give advice to people like that and you're sure to have some, you should know whom you can send that person to so they can get advice on a non research career. You want to be careful with mentoring, it's a very close relationship and you want to be careful with your emotions because no matter what you think, you may not be hierarchical, you may believe in equal sharing of power, equal sharing of responsibility, but it's not an equal relationship, you're the head of the lab. So no matter how equal you're thinking you are in your head, the truth is you have people's careers in your hand, you have too much power over them to have an equal relationship and you're the one that has to keep that in mind. It's very hard to be best friends with everyone. There really are some people that can do this, there are some people that go in there, they go out with the students, they believe completely in equality and it works. But it doesn't work completely for a lot of people.
It's very hard to maintain that line between being a friend and being friendly. For one, it's hard to be best friends with everyone because you run out of time. It may work when you have 2 people in your lab or when you have 15 people in your lab you can't be everybody's good friend. You're the one that sets the style of interaction. You can't let someone else set it for you. You're the one that has to kind of have an idea beforehand, an idea that evolves as you go about how you're gonna deal with people, just what level you want to set it. And there's other ways of being too intimate. It's not just getting personal and knowing about someone's love life for example, or their family life; getting angry is a big way of intimacy that people often blow in a lab. You don't want to be unprofessional with your anger, if you have the blow out at the wrong time you could end up with no students for the next 2 years because no one wants to deal with someone who's out of control. So you've got to be very, very professional with your anger. Avoid outbursts, don't have outbursts.
You can do this, you can get angry but really unless it's truly appropriate, someone's really done something horrible, don't have outbursts, don't have personal attacks on people, don't complain about one to another, and certainly don't make passive aggressive remarks on the side about people in the lab. If you have a problem with someone, take them aside and deal with them immediately, straightforwardly, don't do passive aggressive stuff on people and don't be unpredictable. You may feel moody and stuff but your people rely on you to carry them through the hard times, so you're the one that really has to be the most stable. You want to motivate the people in the lab to do good science and that's hard because you don't want people in there that aren't motivated. In fact that's probably one of the main things you're looking for, but yet your job isn't a way to motivate each person. And to what extent you're gonna do that is part of your personal philosophy, so you're the one though that probably will if not motivate in a big way, because hopefully that comes within each person; you're the one who has to motivate them in actual things in order to attain their goals.
You're the one that may have to push them to write a paper, give a talk, or to do a certain thing, to network when they don't want to network because they're shy. You're the one that has to motivate them and show them why you need to do these certain things. Basically you can't deeply motivate someone who isn't motivated but you provide the conditions for a motivated person to work. You provide the conditions to help move people into being motivated. But you can't actually take over someone's life and motivate them if they're not motivated. There's something people are always looking for, I think the more creative people you have the more problems you're gonna have; the less straightforward it is but the more interesting. And one fun thing is this idea of latent inhibition which is the capacity to screen from your awareness things that you previously decided were irrelevant. They find one of the highest correlates with creativity is people that can do that. Three weeks ago the result and experiment showed that this was not happening, so they screened that result out, it became background. But another set of experiments it is very important, so creative people tend to, they can look at the same kind of data in a different environment and tell what's important or not in the big picture.
The creative character is a tough one, again to work with. Hopefully you're a creative character, but it's someone who likes complexity and tries to simplify; someone who tends to be independent and questions assumptions. This could be someone hard to have in your lab, not everybody's ego could handle this so if you want creative people you gotta be prepared to perhaps, give a little bit of your ego and have some of your expectations thrown to the ground. A lot of creative people are unconventional and always looking for meaning and have a real openness to new ways to seeing. So in addition to having people like that in your lab, it's also a good way to try to be to keep looking at different things in different ways. And you are also responsible for maintaining a lab moral, that's one of the main reasons you're there. You've got a group of people who don't have the big picture; they don't understand that after a paper is rejected it's not the end of the world. You're the one that provides the kind of bigger picture to get people over the smaller hump. And you've got to, even when you don't have a crisis, you're the one that has to make the lab feel part of the bigger world.
That's more important in a smaller place where people don't have people from all over the world coming to speak to them and giving them talks, they're training to be scientists and they have no real feel for that. So your job is to try to show those people that they can get to that same place that they are actually scientists even if they are in a place like that. You've got to help each person feel part of it, not just the lab feel part of it, but help each person feel, talking about being marginalized, make sure no one's marginalized and people work together as closely as possible. And you want to be very vigilant about inside and outside influences. There are times, say in a company, where things are going bad and everyone feels a little down. You're the one that has to get people through that and talk them through it. And I think science has in past, I think it is changing selective for people that didn't tend to want to communicate very much, perhaps it did select for people that were happier with numbers and figures and experiments than people that wanted to deal with people.
But it is different now, you do have to deal with people and one thing that will help is doing a bit of small talk. I mean, small talk is not unimportant. It really helps to bridge the gap to people, it helps show them that you care about them, it gives people time to talk about stuff before they get into the harder stuff. And a lot of scientists may have a family event where they have people's lab members there; I think a common thing is many people find it impossible to talk about something other than science. So then they go up to a spouse and say, what do you do? And the spouse says I'm a teacher and they go oh. And you can actually find it within yourself to ask one or two questions. Just one or two, just to show some kind of interest. Do you like it? Even if you're not a chatterer or talk particularly like people, just showing a little bit of interest through a couple of questions can be really helpful to make a person and their family feel as if they've been welcomed, as if they've been seen, that you're looking at them, you understand them.
So try, no matter how hard your work ethic is, try to use traditions and celebrations in the lab to try to bring people together. So an obvious thing is to celebrate your scientific victories, when everybody has a thesis defense, if you've published a paper, you get a grant; have a party, have some coffee, go out for a meal. Retreats are a good thing. If you don't have the money to go away, have an all day retreat where no one does experiments and everybody spends time presenting papers and talking, you could do that anywhere. You may find that there's other things that can pull your lab together like having a project, a fund raising project for breast cancer or something, a run, a tutoring project in the schools, there's a lot of things you could do, just something outside the lab to remind people that you are working together and that you are individuals. When it comes time to getting the people in your lab, one thing that's really important to remember, I think the biggest lesson people learn the hard way is that bad people are much worse than no people. It's better to have no one else in your lab than one person because one person can actually ruin the entire lab for you and make our entire life miserable forever and doom your career.
So success will depend more on the people in your laboratory than in anyone else. So instead of trying to please and understand bosses, really what you have to understand is the people in your lab and the dynamic of the people in your lab. Once your lab is successful you get a ton of people. But when you're first starting out you don't have very much to work with usually, so you're gonna have to have a different approach when you first start out to try to get people to come to your lab. So don't fill the lab with bodies, don't see these empty lab benches so they've got a grant and just get people in. You have to be very, very selective and try to make sure to the best of your ability that the people you get are what you need. The main thing you may find is that not experienced technicians are the ones that are not tied to your career. Students may be more selective about wanting to go to someone that's already world renowned and a technician is not. A good technician will come and work for someone that's gonna give them a good job and someone they can work with. So try to get a good technician that you could work with who can be the one of the foundations of your lab when you first start.
Good students will take time, it's very hard to have a student when you're first starting but that's probably the greatest thing that brings an influx of enthusiasm to the lab, are those students. So it's a lot of work but it's usually worth it. And the post docs are more adept but you really; post docs do have their own agendas. Just the time when you're establishing your individuality and your own research, trying to be separate from your mentor, a post doc is coming in thinking ahead to where they want to be. So you don't want to take a post doc who has something he wants to do, you need a post doc to do what you need to do in order to advance your own careers. So you have to be very careful about taking a post doc, even when offered when you first start out because it could be bad for him and bad for you. To find the right people, you're gonna have to know what you need but be flexible especially in the beginning. It's not as if most people are gonna have 50 people to interview, so you have to know what it is that you will accept and not accept. What are the qualities that are most important to you that no matter how few people you have, you're not gonna cross that line?
So you should have an idea in your hand about that. Personality type, characteristics, training, you always want to work with human resources. When you're first starting to think of it, they can tell you where to go for people that can help you do pre interviewing. Many of them are trained in how to deal with people and to know things about people, how to read a recommendation for example. So work with human resources no matter what, even if you know someone that you want to hire, work with human resources. You're gonna need your own hiring protocol. Your system may have one, your institution, but you want to have things, some sort of objective process that you can use to try to compare one person to another. And you also, as part of hiring is firing. So usually there's a probation period. Another mistake people make is not firing during their probation period. You could hire someone and find out it's not working and after 3 months you say, no it's not working I'll give her some more time. Usually after a few months if it's not working and you really know it's not working, it's time to move them because it becomes in some places actually, impossible to fire someone; you can't do it.
So if you have a real problem with someone and you recognize that right away, you need to deal with right away. So here's an idea of your own hiring protocol, which is pretty similar even for a department. You want to solicit applicants, working with human resources, you'll read the resumes, you'll approve or reject them, you want to call references - approve or reject them, interview candidates, evaluate candidates, and offer the job to the first choice. So going through that process, the main lesson for many PI's are the first and most abused thing that people don't do is to call all recommendees. Make sure you get recommendations from people, call everybody because people lie. You know about those recommendations that are very tepid, you know how to read between the lies. People don't say a lot of things that are wrong, sometimes it's because they want the person out of their lab and so they're gonna write a nice recommendation. There was actually a big case in the University Washington Seattle where they're trying to get someone out of the department, wrote them a glowing recommendation even though he was looking up guns on the internet, people were terrified, keeping their doors locked, he ended up killing himself and his advisor.
People knew this was going on but they wrote him a glowing recommendation because they wanted him out. So people will write good recommendations but most people will not lie on the phone. I've heard this isn't true in business and business will lie on the phone too. But scientists don't lie on the phone for some reason, so if you get a recommendation and say, would you hire this person again? Did they come on time? Or ask whatever questions are important, usually you get the truth. So always call no matter how glowing or how dug the recommendation is, call and talk to each person. You also want to hire for character, not for technical expertise. When you're first starting it's really tempting to get someone that can do this one assay, you feel like you can get off the ground running, you start doing it, great. But in the end anybody smart can learn how to do an assay. So you want to hire for character, you want to hire for people with good work ethic, people who are motivated, people who are bright and not someone that knows just how to do one thing with their hands.
You don't want to hire people who are self centered or arrogant. Sometimes it seems that someone is a certain amount of smart, you're willing to accept a certain amount of arrogance but it almost always blows up in your face. Someone who comes in like that, who won't work with someone, can be a real cause of trouble in your lab no matter how bright they are. If you have someone that won't share their expertise, they won't share their results, they could be really, really bad in the lab. So when you're asking questions of recommendation, you're asking interview, you're trying to find out if that person can get along with someone; and that really, really is vitally important. Try not to talk so much during interviews. People want to tend to reinforce their own first impression. Someone comes in you decided in the first couple seconds that you like them or not like them and you actually tailor all your questions and your interpretation of all the responses to reinforce what you've decided already. Try not to do that, it's hard not to.
But let people talk, often times instead of you asking a directed question where it's obvious what answer you want to get, just let people go on about it. You don't have to fill every gap with silence, it isn't a date, it's a thing to try to understand how somebody thinks. So don't try to entertain them, let them talk and try to understand them. And don't forget to follow your guy reaction, you have a process and you're trying to be objective but in the end you want to follow your gut feeling which is the ability to recognize patterns that are too small and too minute for you actually to put into words but as you talk to people you're getting signals about what will work and what won't. So if you've got a gut feeling that on paper everything looks good but you've got a gut feeling it's saying, nah I just don't like it, I just don't like it. Try to figure out why you have that gut feeling and don't just discard it because it doesn't make sense on paper. Somethings happening and you need to figure that out. When you're interviewing as well as when people in your lab, you want to make all your expectations clear. So when you're talking to people let them know what your goals are for each person, let them know how they're gonna be evaluated, tell them what the culture of the lab is like.
That's part of the process, when you're interviewing people, they're also interviewing you. And what you don't want is someone to come who is mismatched to your culture. So you want to make as clear as possible what it is you think, how you're gonna run a lab, and what that person's life is gonna be like when they come to the lab. When new people come, you want to integrate them into the lab immediately. Another common thing is someone comes to the lab and they show up and they've got to go and clear out a desk and pack off all the old reagents and they feel very unwelcome and it's just kind of nice when someone new comes to the lab, start right away to integrate them into the lab. Set the scene for how you expect to be interacting, introduce them to people, introduce them in the lab maybe in the department, have a desk ready, it's actually kind of humiliating to have to come and clean someone's old stuff. Have a place for somebody so they feel welcome. Give them a copy of the lab manual with protocols, give them all the information they need on how they need to get a key, how they need to arrange computer use, library news, and try to give time to discuss the project. It kind of reinforces again, the idea that you're here for the science first.
So make that important even if they're not gonna do work, sit down and some time on the first day or very soon as you can to discuss what work that person is gonna do. While you're hiring people, do remember that you are your best resource. So don't leave your bench too soon, again it's more important that you work alone even at your bench than to hire people who are gonna take your time and not produce for you. So don't leave the bench too soon, if you stay in the lab and be able to pass on your technical expertise and it also gives you a chance to watch people, watch the interactions, understand what issues are important to your people. It's much better than being sealed off in your office away from everything where nothing seems to matter. And you want to train each person at the bench because if you look at where your grant money goes, most of it goes to salaries, the great proportion of it goes to salaries, where something nobody would get a centrifuge and just leave it in the corner unoiled and unmaintained, people get new people and just leave them to sort of flop around and survive how they may.
So when new people come in you want to, if you just want to look at it from the money point of view besides what they need, you want to train people so they do work the way that you'd like. So people need to be trained in everything, especially a new person comes to the lab, it's a whole new culture, it's completely unobvious so show people how to find and use a protocol, things like that are not obvious to people, how to read through to see what's missing, how to obtain what's needed, where you get the reagents, what's important to order, what not to order, how do you record the results, how do you interpret the results? All of the parts of the experiment are all things that you could teach people to do in the way that you want them to be done. So for each experiment you also need to go once you've gotten past the preliminary part, you want to show them how much the experiment gets redone. That's something that's very different in lab to lab, in system to system. Do you expect things to be done 3 times? Do you expect things to be done 10 times?
Tell people how many times you expect it to be done and why. Show people how to troubleshoot. You're trying to teach them to be scientists so don't just take over and do things when they go wrong. Show people how you deal with things that aren't right, when things don't work the way you want. You want to explain the safety issues involved in the experiment and you want to show people what's common to that experiment and what's common to all experiments. That's also not very clear to new people; what things will they always have to do, what things they can discard when they move to another system. And when you're teaching each person, don't just spout, each person is gonna be listening to you in a different way so if you really want people to listen to you you've got to be very aware of the different learning styles that people have. Some people need to hear you, they're hearing every word you say and it's clicking. Some people need to watch, they're only gonna learn when they watch you do the experiment and they could follow.
Some need to do it, some will not be able to do the experiment on what you say no matter what they see until they get their hands on, it's not gonna click in their head. Some will go one step at a time, they've got to build up from very small steps to big and some need the global picture with everything filled in. You'll find that out as you talk to people, you could ask people. How do you want this explained? Work with people to try to explain things so you can make your teaching as effective as possible. You want to teach collaboration. People don't necessarily know how to work with other people. It's hard to know how to do that so one thing as your lab starts to get bigger, when new people come in put them to work with more experienced people. But you've got to modulate this; you've got to make sure that the person that you put to work isn't taking advantage of that person. You want to make sure that the new person isn't taking advantage of the older person getting a lot done. You've got to look over the collaboration and make sure, give tips on how to work so that both people are making out from this. You've got to facilitate collaborations outside the lab.
As people get more experience and want to work with people outside the lab, you really need to step in and make sure when someone's say, gets into a collaboration that they're not being taken advantage of, that it's a really good collaboration, that they're not using your reagents for something that they'll never get any credit for. You've got to modulate that and not, you're trying to teach people to be independent but at the same time you've got to give them some feedback and what's working, what's not working. And it's also nice within your lab to maintain collaborations with people that have left. It's makes a lovely network and it makes a good feeling in a family, it's really wonderful for people in a lab when they can meet older people who have come back and you're still willing to pass on techniques, perhaps people can go and work in another person's lab back and forth. If you can get into a position where you can collaborate with people who have left your lab instead of competing with them, that's a really nice thing. And you want to be able to evaluate lab members' performances towards their goals.
Evaluation's important, you don't want to drop them into a sink where they're trying to figure out by your mood and by your grunts to an experiment whether or not you thing they're doing well. You want to be able to very clearly evaluate people. And you're gonna do that day by day as you're walking past, looking at data, you do it at research seminars, you do it at formal seminars, some places will require a formal interview, a formal evaluation, a lot of people are doing their self evaluations. Yes, whether it's formal or informal a good thing to do is to the self evaluations where you go to people and you ask them first to evaluate how they think they're doing. Ask the people to go through and ask them the questions and then come down and sit down and look at the answer. You want to be able, what you're trying to assess is whether they actually have good goals, whether they're working for the goals, whether they think that you together are effective, whether the lab is effective, where they're learning creative thinking, so ask them how they're doing.
Have a list, one of the handouts I gave you was a list that one woman scientist has made that she gives to people, 5 or 6 page evaluation that each person does themselves and they go through the answers. Ask people how they think they're doing experimentally. Ask them how they thing their productivity is doing. Rather than just checking, ask them how they think they're keeping their notebook, how do you think you're keeping your data? Ask people in a form do they think they've gained scientific knowledge and critical judgement? Are they participating in lab meetings? Do they want to participate more? Are they good citizens? And do they talk to people within the lab and without the lab? These are all the parts of the scientist, it's not just your research project, are you getting ahead in research; but it's all these other intangibles and science that will help people. So ask for an evaluation on that as well. And as for meeting, you want to follow up on all evaluations. Don't just tell someone that you feel as if they're lacking in record keeping and then not check up on them until the next time you have a meeting, when you again tell them that they're lacking in record keeping or they say it.
So if someone is having trouble with that, follow up, show them how to do it, and help move on. Sometimes you're gonna have to ease people out of the lab and the main feeling people have is I wish I'd done it sooner. And this can happen for a few reasons. It's actually a very kind thing if you could be critical in that kind of way. Some people, it's really tough but if you do it and you help someone and don't just jump and run and expect them to pick up on it and to leave happily. For example, someone may need to leave a lab; you may find that they're not very good at doing academic research. If you can help them and you feel that they're unhappy and they don't know why, if you can help them do that and be very critical about what they're doing and offer them help for some other paths, that's the most wonderful thing. Not that you'll won't be met with horrible resistance sometimes, not that the person will go along with it. And again, they have to decide their own future in that kind of way. But if you can give your honest opinion and help them find another way, that's the most wonderful thing you could do as a lab head and a mentor.
Sometimes it's not a case of just a bad fit, sometimes you overtly have to fire someone which is pretty horrible. And there's some really clear reasons why you may have to do this sometimes; complete incompetence, actually this is not always so clear, it's very hard to define incompetence and institution will have its own way. Insubordination when someone's not listening to you at all, not following any rules. People were trouble making, causing trouble within the lab, among personnel. Fraud is probably an obvious although it's still not always that easy to fire someone even in the case of fraud. And safety issues because safety issues may seem minor but they're not minor to other people whose health is at stake. So no matter what the firing issue, it has to be well though out. No one's going to be able to get angry at someone and say you're fired. That almost doesn't exist anymore so when you feel that someone's moving towards a path where you may have to fire them, you should speak with human resources immediately to find out what's necessary to fire someone, to find out if they think it is necessary to fire someone.
So know what it takes to fire someone, what makes it necessary and then start to document. You should keep very careful records of someone when you're having your problem. Hopefully you're keeping records anyway of lab meetings, of talks that you're having with people so you can update people on their progress and refer to things. But it becomes really important to document when you think you have a problem. The person should always be warned first. No one should really be fired except for something absolutely outrageous, without some kind of warning. So you should be working with personnel in human resources to give the person a warning and a chance to correct it. You first want to try to make things better and you give the person the chance before you do that. If it becomes more serious you may have to talk to the institution's lawyer and human resources will advice you about that. When it comes time to the actual thing, you may be able to get human resources to work with you on that. If you do it, do it by script, have an idea about what you're gonna say because it's very hard to do.
So you want to know what you're gonna say and when you decided to fire, when you decide to have that conversation, when you're really having it don't be talked out of it. When you get to that point, there's also someone that told me about a person, she said the firing just didn't take. She fired someone and the next day he was just back at the bench. So he had to go through the whole thing again, so firing is very tricky, people sometimes will refuse to hear what you're saying. It can be very hard. And you're always gonna have lab disputes, this is not a firing thing but there's always gonna be disputes in your lab. They're gonna be disputes about, and they're not all bad. They're not all nasty. They'll be disputes about projects, disputes about who should be a first author, people will bring their personal problems to the lab as well as having problems with other people in the lab. And a lot of the times the problems in the lab are where all the disputes are because of you, it's the interaction of the person or the lab with you that causes the trouble. So especially if you're at the bench is one reason why you don't want to get isolated in your lab.
You want to be very aware of what's going on in the lab. Be aware of the sort of power, who holds the power in the lab? Because a lot of times lab heads tend to reinforce what's happening in the lab anyway. The lab will also reinforce with the lab person things. So this is one way how people get marginalized or how they lose power or influences is because everyone starts reinforcing each other. So look around and see among the lab members who has respect. Who is the person people look for, who's considered important? Is there somebody that everyone considers to be smart or not smart? Some people will always be assumed to take a background role. You want to work with these things, notice how people are treating each other and step in if you need to step in. If somebody is treating someone in the lab as if that person were not smart and is never gonna be successful there's something wrong there, you don't want to just reinforce this and let this go on. Step in and see if the person needs more help, do things to try to change people's mind about this. And one thing is, you have to fix the problems.
There's almost nothing that's gonna go away by itself. Once you have a conflict they almost always tend to escalate, maybe they get solved when someone leaves down the road but usually that's a long time, it takes a long time. So if you see a problem it's better to step in right away even if it's uncomfortable than just sit back and expect it just to blow over. You should definitely intervene; immediate suggestions that you should intervene is when the physical or mental health of any person in the lab is at stake. So this is usually a mental health issue, if you see someone who is becoming depressed which is not an uncommon thing to do, you should step in and this is very hard because especially if you have the kind of relationship where you've not been very personal with people, where you're friendly but not a friend it's very hard to step in on something like this but yet you have to. You can't let the person drift away into something, you can't them perhaps yourself but you can refer them to somebody to talk to. But don't ignore the problem if it's happening, don't wait for someone else in the lab or a family member to do it.
You should be the one to step in and help direct the person to the place where they can get help. If there's a dispute in the lab, something that has nothing to do with you but it's affecting other people's ability to do research, it's causing a bad vibe, you should step in. You could step in and you probably have this serious problem when there's a power struggle that puts your leadership into jeopardy. This will usually happen a little later as you start to get post docs or these people get better, they may have reasons for not wanting to listen to you and you can't allow that to happen. Not listening to you is different than having an exchange of ideas or bringing people into decision making. You need to have people listening to you. Whenever the team work is constrained, when people aren't working together anymore where they did, you've got to step in. And whenever the social atmosphere is bad, you do want to step in and do something about it. There is gonna be sometimes where everybody's not always completely jovial and you've got to be around to decided when it is that you actually need to intervene.
A lot of these problems you can't solve yourself. When you have problem with somebody who's really jeopardizing things in the lab, someone who's breaking safety issues, sometimes you can't fix it all. You should try to talk to the person first, but sometimes you'll need to go to human resources. There's some problems where you'll need to go to the chair person or you refer the person to the post doc office or above man, or a graduate student office. There are other offices and places that could be mediators or could deal with somebody's personal problems, especially between you and the person that you may not be able to do yourself. And you want to vigilant in all that and look out for signs of a lab that's going bad. Sometimes one person can start the ball rolling so that the whole lab starts to get a really bad atmosphere. You can kind of notice that, you'll look around and you'll see that there's a certain loss of personnel. Maybe you had 10 people and you didn't really pay attention and you have 7 people, you don't pay attention a little more you've got 5 people.
Something's happening if you're numbers are suddenly falling off. When people start ignoring safety rules, it seems like a minor thing but suddenly everybody starts not handing in the radiation slips or something, there's something going on, some kind of vibe happening where people are not cooperating. When people stop coming to lab meetings, when they don't keep their deadlines, when you see people not hanging out or socializing where they once did, and when they're signs of discrimination of one person against another, you've got to watch out that your whole lab hasn't gone bad. And you'll have different respect just when you're looking at a bad lab. Lab members are going to notice that perhaps that you're not around. Often times the reason a lab's going bad is because of the PI. Maybe the PI's traveling too much at too early a stage in lab life and it gets set up for really bad atmosphere in the lab or people feel why bother. So what lab members may be looking around and seeing the PI's not around, no one's having any success, no one's talking to me, we're doing uninteresting things, the boss plays favorites, no one's helping me.
So you've got to look at that and try to figure out if it's an individual's problem or they feel things are too hard, they feel isolated, try to find out why people individually are feeling bad and why the whole dynamic is going bad. Can the lab be saved? Yes it can but only by you. You're the person that has to step in and do it. So you first of all have to look and see if it is the science. Is your science good? You can really start doing very boring science where you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you've lost your creativity or you've lost your drive and everybody else can feel that. If you're disillusioned you're gonna pass it on to everybody else. So first look at your signs and make sure you're still doing good science. See if it's the lab members, if it's an individual. Sometimes it's one person who's having a personal problem maybe some of the lab, maybe not but starts the whole ball rolling towards nobody cooperating with each other. And mostly look at yourself. Are you depressed or unpredictable? Are you the one with the problem that's coming in and is dumping on everyone and giving everyone a hard time so they feel really terrible?
Are you pushing too hard or pushing too little? See how your interaction is with everyone and see if that's the cause of what's going on. And if you want to know what each person needs to be happy, you can ask them. It's not a stupid question, find out when someone seems to be unhappy, ask them what it would take to make a better workplace for them and what would make them happy. And then surveys when people look at the reasons why people stay at a job, because keeping good personnel is one of the main things that you do want to do, is to keep those good people there. Out of 20 things, number one career growth right down to cutting edge technology. This is all in the handouts as well. There's over 90 percent of the people will have either reason 1, 2, or 3 as their main reasons for staying in a place. The reasons why people stay in a place is because they're gonna learn and their career will grow because it's exciting work and it's a challenge and because it's meaningful work and they're making a contribution. I think you're lucky in science and medicine that you kind of have that motivation there in the beginning to help people, so right away people do want to stay but ask them what individual things they need.
Is it more independence? Is it more free time? Is it a different project? Find out what each person needs. And watch out for research burn out. Research burn out does not necessarily happen after 20 years. It can happen after 2 months and it can happen to new people in the lab. There's 2 main reasons why people do have burnout. One is a misalignment with the lab or the institutional culture. You come in and you believe that teaching is vitally important and seminars should be lively and the rest of the department has given up and they don't care about students. If you come to a place that's misaligned with what your own feelings are, you're gonna spend all your energy fighting it and probably not going anywhere. You may be the kind of personality that can make small changes and you're happy with doing those small changes to try to change the culture of the department. You may not have the personality for that. You may tend to just get burned out because you blow up, try to fix things, nothing happens, and you just become completely disillusioned. So watch out to make sure that you do fit in, in a way with the ideals and the core values of the rest of your department and institution. And kind of connected to that, is having a lack of control or effectiveness.
If you feel that no one in your lab is listening to you, if not being aligned with the culture might mean that above you no one's listening to you. You may also have a problem with no one in your lab will listen to you, feeling like you're not connecting there. When you don't have control over your own life, when you feel as if someone is making all your decisions, you can burn out really, really quickly. Most people come into this so they can be independent and finding that taken away from you is very disheartening. And the same of the people in your lab, so make sure that you're not taking that away from the people in the lab causing them to burn out because you're not allowing them the freedom to do things that they need to do. And as you go along things will change after you have a lab. So after you've been there for a few years you're gonna start to understand what you get pleasure from more than you did in the beginning. At first you probably just thought I want to be in this because of the research, but after a while you can see that you have different needs that are being satisfied and not satisfied. One of these is for power because there is power in the job and you may find that you're desire to influence people and to move a group is stronger than you thought it was.
You my find it less important, so you're gonna have a change in your relationship with your power. You may find that you have a change in what your achievement levels are, that before your achievement levels, set a goal and to achieve it, you may find that becomes less important to you, your own individual goals are not as important. You may find that affiliation is another thing that may change. Your affiliation is how you work with people and your need to maintain good relationships with people. You may not have thought that is important, that may become more important to you, you may find that you don't care if you have any friends or coworkers and you really want to achieve and do good work. But likely as you go along the way, you're gonna find that you've changed over the years than from what you started. So you kind of let your style evolve with the lab, as you start up with a 5 year program that's why you always have to be looking 5 years ahead, because you're gonna change, because the lab that you start out with is totally different than the lab it will be in 5 years or 10 years or 10 years and 2 months. And you have to be able to recognize that and cope with that. So for example, a big lab and a small lab, most people want to have a big lab.
They look towards having a big lab but the way you run a big lab is completely different than the way you have a small lab and your style may work with one but not the other. The small lab, you have time to talk to everybody, to listen to everybody, to understand each project. When you get a big lab you may not be able to do that. It may not be that much fun and you may find it really, really difficult to keep up with 10 people, you may just not have it in you to deal with a big lab. And your style will have to change; you can't talk to 10 people the same way you talk to 2 people. So you will have to change in order to do that or to change your lab but you have to recognize that. You're gonna have more competent personnel, if your science is going well you're gonna have more competent people, more skilled people coming and wanting to work with you. And that sounds great but you actually can get a lot more work done, but it's a difference on your ego. Where you were the big boss, the person that knew everything, you may be very comfortable in that role of being the kind of big chief that's pronouncing to everybody.
You may find it hard to deal with the people that are coming and perhaps knowing more than you do. It's not that easy for some personalities to share the creativity in the lab. You're gonna find that another thing is micro managers; when you start out and you're a micro manager that may work really well with a lab of students. Perhaps you're in a place where students, you could work with people, you're writing their papers, you're directing the research, and that's great but if you're still a micro manager when you have a lab with post docs you're likely to have trouble. There aren't too many post docs that may want to come and be micromanaged. So you'll have to change your style if you're gonna add that kind of personnel on. And people are gonna leave and that's what you're going towards. You're going towards training people, it's a great thing when someone first gets their degree or someone moves on to a job but a lot of people find they feel betrayed. Here they've put 5 years into someone and just when that person is starting to produce, they leave and some people find it hard to deal with that.
As you get older some people find it hard to deal with the idea of not being first author anymore. You get so used to being the person that's sort of accomplished all that and suddenly when you got people in your lab that aren't dependent. Sometimes it's hard to cut off from that, it's not the way you see yourself. You're gonna change in your idea of what failure and success is. A lot of things will change in that you're working tenor say, tenor is your success, tenor is your goal, when you achieve tenor you feel that you'll be there. But the day after tenor is no different than the day before. It's so you may find flattened by the things that you once thought were wonderful, the successes that you once thought aren't what rewards you anymore. What most people find in their satisfaction fulfillment, what does change the most, is where first people start out with very academic and very scientific goals in mind, but what makes most people happy is in the end and the people I've talked to in the labs is how they dealt with people. So the greatest satisfaction is training people and seeing the people that you've trained go out there and have their own jobs and continue to interact with them.
That's seems to be the most sustaining thing for people. Those interactions with the people in your lab. And through all those books I just want to suggest one book that I thought was very nice reading for dealing with a group of people. This is called Shackleton's Way, whose an explorer who many think that because he was raised without a father and among women, he tended to have more emotional intelligence than a lot of men at the time. But he had a team of people trapped in the Antarctic for months and month and months and didn't lose one person. One of the reasons was he very carefully assessed each person, didn't make one move without assessing how the personalities would go together. So if someone who as gonna off on a boat for 5 weeks, he mixed and matched certain personalities to make the group work well, he was very attentive to each individual and how the whole thing would work as a group and it's thought that that's the only way he got people through all the crisis that they faced, by being a good leader. So it's a fun book to read. And I just want to thank you and say good luck because everything you do is gonna be in your own way. You could hear as much advice as you want, you can read as many books as you want but you still will have to do it your own way. Thank you.
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