How to Manage People as a New Investigator
We recently hosted three newly independent investigators who run research teams humming with activity and people, who told us what it takes to manage a lab full of humans in all their idiosyncratic glory. Here are their tips:
Defining Expectations and Gathering Feedback
- Define your expectations of your team members and communicate them clearly and consistently.
- Ask your team members (students, post-docs, research assistants, etc.) what their expectations are of YOU.
- Give people responsibility
- Celebrate negative data. Trainees and staff sometimes feel pressure to get the “right” results and celebrating negative data helps to alleviate this pressure.
- Harmonize expectations between employees, grad students, and postdocs; make the playing field as equal as possible given constraints of institutional expectations for different job categories.
- Use feedback, and create the opportunity to receive feedback.
- As a manager, actively seek training in management – be thoughtful concerning your own development as a manager, not just as a scientist.
- Lab and mentorship meetings can be in a group setting on a regular basis so that everyone in the lab/mentees know what everyone else is doing. This also helps learning and cross coverage in the lab. But don’t exclude the one-on-one meeting times with mentees every 1-2 weeks.
- Allow every team member – from students to research staff to trainees – to have their own project.
- While the primary focus of our team is pushing the main projects forward, each person has a small side project that they are working on during their down time. We have students, research staff and trainees who submit abstracts and present at national meetings because of this.
- Explore opportunities for every individual in your team to develop and advance their career, whether they are a postdoc, research analyst, or administrative assistant.
- Encourage camaraderie among the team.
- For example: Buy lunch for everyone once in a while. Our group goes out to lunch every time someone gets a paper accepted – the PI’s treat.
- Make your team members feel valued and respected.
- Lead by example – don’t ask people to do things that you would not be willing to do yourself.
- Involve your team members in decisions that will affect the group at large.
- Put the day to day tasks into context. I often send my grant proposals to my trainees and staff so they understand why I am asking them to do 27 different western blots.
- When on-boarding a new team members, enlist the help of your whole team.
- Keep an ear to the ground for administrative items such as job reclassifications so they are not a surprise to you and your team.
- Remember people are your most valuable resource!
If It Goes Wrong
- When you start to have “trouble” with a team member, document early and document a lot.
- Get HR involved ASAP – they are present to help.
- Mentorship is a two-way street. You need to “reverse mentor” your mentor. Not all mentors are perfect, but nearly all are well-meaning.
- Help your mentor to be her/his best mentor and to set up a productive relationship in a variety of ways:
- Value her/his time.
- Keep a running agenda of items to discuss by email or your next meeting.
- Keep emails short and to the point.
- Not all meetings need to be 30 or 60 minutes. Come prepared to optimize efficiency.
- Sign up for the Harvard Business Review brief tip of the day.
- Check out the Management and Leadership tags at Edge for Scholars
Thanks to Dr. Eric Austin, Dr. Julie Bastarache, and Dr. Christine Lovly for these tips!