Not that Kind of Year: Tales of Year 2 as a New PI
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 firstname.lastname@example.org