Hooray! You’ve set up a lab. You have a scale and everything. Now the applicants are pounding down your door looking forward to helping you get the Nobel Prize. Before you hire the most enthusiastic person with the best grades, be sure you include some questions that could be deal breakers even for the candidates you think are fabulous.

1.     Tell me about your undergrad research project. This is a great open-ended question that helps you quickly determine their level of comfort with what they were doing and how deep they dug into understanding their prior work.

2.     What are your goals for the next five years? That great candidate you found may look great to medical or graduate schools as well. And there’s a solid population of folks who are eager to parlay a few years of lab experience into a foothold for post-graduate education. Many labs make this work extremely well, but others need a longer-term hire. Make sure you have someone who can stay on the same timeline as you.

3.     Tell me about your level of comfort with (human specimens, animals, working with radiation and/or toxins, collecting phone survey data etc.) anything that you may take for granted but is critical for the job. There are great resources for teaching folks the ins and outs of personal protection, data organization and other skills, but you’ll have a whole other problem if they are horrified at the very thought of working with people/mice/specimens.

4.     Which of these skills on your resume are you ready to do immediately with little supervision? If its hard to believe your luck in finding someone capable of performing GC/MS, laser scanning microscopy and electrophysiology in ontogenetically labeled cells, that may be because they have a different idea of “skills” listed on their resume than you do. Make sure they can do the techniques listed rather than just having seen them done. A few methodological questions go a long way to identifying pros from enthusiasts.

5.     Can you travel? While it may be obvious that attending national meetings and presenting your lab’s results is a key feature of the job, don’t forget to ask.

6.     Who can I ask about what it’s like to have you as a supervisor? Being savvy, you surely got letters of recommendation from your candidates bosses, but what is it like to work for this person? The kind of boss they are to undergrads and rotation students in your lab will greatly impact your ability recruit the best labbies and keep them happy.

7.     Why should we hire you? Do they think they are technically amazing, a phenomenal organizer or just can get things done well? Give them a chance to tell you any information that they believe that you need to know.

8.     What do you think would be your greatest attribute in working in a (high paced/detail oriented/large/small….pick your descriptor) lab?

Protip: Send them a copy of your latest article and your lab rules before they get there and ask them if they have any questions about your work or work environment.


Now give yourself a pat on the back and publish some cool stuff with your swell new hire.

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