It has been about two years since I started my new position as a principal investigator (PI) at Clinical Department in R1 University. Year 2 has been a challenge, but for different reasons than Year 1. While the lessons from Year 1 remain relevant, Year 2 has yielded additional knowledge and insight. As always these days, n=me.

Use your faculty mentoring committee: It is one thing to assemble a faculty mentoring committee and another thing entirely to use it effectively. I have been remiss this year in utilizing the expert panel of mentors I have assembled. Much like graduate school, I am worried they will tell me my progress has been slow (I know) and I need grants and papers (yes, I know). But, much like in graduate school, this is a necessary conversation. Moreover, my committee members are there to support and facilitate my progress through the Promotion and Tenure process. It is unwise to skip these meetings that address every point of my tenure application.  

Pay it forward: I have benefited from some stellar mentorship throughout my early career. Part of the reason I started blogging at Edge for Scholars was to pass along my experiences in career development award writing, the academic job market, and the life of a new PI. This is the year I started paying it forward in earnest, actively seeking out opportunities to peer mentor new faculty and postdocs. Be the mentor you had or be the mentor you needed. But be a mentor.

Use that network: This has been the year my network has really started playing a role in my career development.  I spent last year attending new meetings and expanding my network, building up my laboratory website, and investing in my career with both time and money. This year, that investment is starting to pay off with new opportunities for myself and my trainees. Not sure where to start? Here are some easy steps to take towards building a national reputation.

Plan ahead: I thought I was busy in Year 1. I was even busier in Year 2. Work on managing your time and being efficient in the time you allocate to tasks. This continues to be a struggle for me and it was particularly obvious during teaching in the spring semester. Year 2 was the first time I taught an undergraduate level course. It was a lot of work and came at a particularly busy time in the laboratory. I do not think I was prepared for the hours of preparation teaching these lectures would require. Do not underestimate this time or you, like me, will only do lecture preparation for weeks. The same is true for grant writing. Break up grants into smaller pieces and work on them in smaller chunks over a longer time period (excellent tips here). This will keep your productivity up on other tasks.

Protect your time: One of the continuing themes of this new PI journey is protecting your time and filling it with valuable things. Progress on your own projects, managing your research team, and writing grants are all valuable. Service on committees and administrative tasks (like updating the department website), while also important, are less important than successfully launching your career. In the words of my mentors, when it comes to service in the pre-tenure years, do the minimum required. Help others (with their permission) protect their time too. While external requests for manuscript and grant reviews this year were manageable, this was the year of a hundred new funding sources with a thousand new grants. I was very tempted to write many of them, but there is not enough time to write them all, and saying “yes” to these grants meant saying “no” to other grants and opportunities. Protect your time and be picky in which grants you choose to write.

That is a wrap on Year 2! In Year 3, I have my three-year review. Fingers crossed this year will include the laboratory’s first papers, grants, and trainee fellowships. Stay tuned for more tales!

 

Did I miss an important point? Do you have questions or concerns about the post? Or perhaps an anecdote to contribute! Feel free to send some electrons my way in the comments, via Twitter @PipetteProtag, or through traditional electronic mail pipette.protagonist@gmail.com

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2 Comments

Great post, I have read via most of what your written and is great advice. Was looking for an opinion on the following: I just finished my year 1/4 of my K and was planning on submitting an R01 in Feb 2020 (next year) and waiting to hear on a R03 and submitting an R21 next month so things have been going well. So a small bomb shell:
My primary mentor whose lab I am in just annouced she is leaving for another institute on the west coast. She leaves in May so I have few more months. I own all the main equipment relevant to my work so it is not a death blow. Leaving my current shop is out of the question (family, my clinical appt, etc) so I have to find a new mentor and lab space by the end of this academic year. My department is suppotive and will help with this but ultimately it falls on me to figure this out. Here is one possible solution:
Right down the hall is a professor who has one active R01 and is winding down. He has like 15 benches collecting dust with minimal staff still doing some work. From a physical space issue it is likely he will let me take over a few benches so I can continue my work. From a mentorship issue I think he could be good, he does work that is related to what I do (would also learn new skills) but is at the tailend of his career. I do feel like I need at least couple years of mentorship to try to get that first R01 and lab. I think this would be the path of least resistent but not sure if any other ideas? 
My current mentor wants me to go out with her but it is not remotely feasible so that is not an option. I am not sure if she would be as motivated to help me find a solution?

It sounds like working with the PI next door might be a great opportunity for both of you (assuming he agrees). Given your situation, I would likely pursue that option since leaving with your present mentor is not an option based on your situation (although it is generous for her to want to bring you). Even though your potential mentor is winding down, he will still have plenty of insight into the grant writing process, particularly since he works in a related field. Maybe this will even be an opportunity to write more grants together? Finally, keep in mind that having more than one mentor is wise, as one person is unlikely to satisfy all of your mentorship needs. Good luck navigating this process!

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