Making your postdoc matter: Lessons from P.I.s Kathy Barker firstname.lastname@example.org March 3, 2011
As a scientist, you must be proficient in: • Managing your science: Project choice, funding, colleagues. • Managing yourself: Organization, time, career, personal life. • Managing individuals: communication, teaching, mentoring. • Managing a group: Building a team, maintaining lab morale.
You qualified for your job with one set of skills… But you will keep it with another set of skills…… …Skills you can cultivate now.
What are the most valuable skills you learned in graduate school? • The ability to work productively with difficult people. • The ability to work in a high stress environment. • Persistence. • Circumventing the rules. • The ability and courage to start something without knowing how. Fiske, P. 1997. The skills employers really want. Science’s Next Wave, April 25, pp. 1-4.
Getting tenure/promotion at your institution increases your chances of flourishing in science.
What is in the tenure dossier? • Significant and continuous funding: at least 1 NIH grant and renewal. • Publication of a significant body of research in high-quality journals. • A national/international reputation: scientific presentations, invitations to meetings or seminars, letters from leaders. • Teaching excellence: student and peer assessments. Service: committee work, study section, editorial board. • A self-statement: Accomplishments, and plans.
Use tenure and promotion requirements to build a framework of good habits. • Year 1: Publish… • Year 2: • Year 3: • Year 4: • Year 5: • Year 6:
Year 1….. • Hire a technician. • Set up and organize the laboratory and office. • Do preliminary experiments for an NIH grant and submit a grant by the end of the year. • Define all promotion or tenure requirements. • Find at least one mentor. • Give a departmental seminar. • Submit a manuscript for publication.
Year 2… • Resubmit grant, if necessary. • Take on a student or another technician. • Start teaching and clinical responsibilities. • Committee work- match to your interests. • Submit another manuscript. • Give seminars outside the institution.
Years 3-6… • Seek feedback on tenure likelihood. • Speak at national/international meeting. • Submit a major paper every year. • Write a review article in your field. • Hire/find students and postdoc. • 2nd project and grant.
Be a good colleague- and don’t let yourself get isolated. • Departmental duties with grace. • Attendance and participation in seminars. • Read grants, papers.
It’s all about relationships with: • Top scientists in your field, etc… • Administrators, etc.. • NIH Program officer, journal editors, etc… • Support personnel, journalists, etc…
Be competent with your emotions. • Learn to really take criticism. • Establish trust with predictability. • Assume best intentions. • Understand your baggage.
Establish a lab culture that supports transparent communications, good relationships, clear expectations, etc.
Organize the lab to reflect the philosophical. • The lab manual • Stocks • Ordering • Lab notebooks • Lab jobs. • Meetings. • Authorships.
Make ethics part of your package. Fit specific ethics into your framework. • Be up front about ethics- stress its importance. • Teach ethics by example. • Correct those who are behaving unethically.
Be clear about authorships. • What makes a good paper? • Who writes the paper? • Who handles revisions, letters, resubmissions? • How is authorship decided?
Documentation- the lab notebook. Keeping an organized and clear lab notebook is not optional. The notebook belongs to the lab. It is the P.I.’s responsibility to ensure that notebooks are properly kept and stored.
Organize stocks, ordering, and record keeping. • Computerize reagents, etc. • Require as few entries as possible from any one person. • Have one person responsible for the overall maintenance of logs and orders. • Maintain maintenance!
Don’t be cavalier about safety and compliance. • Have explicit rules about: • Radiation – data sheets, instructions, background information, disposal. • Chemical storage, use, and disposal. • Pathogens, human material, and other biohazards. • Waste disposal. • Emergencies.
Think and talk about funding. • Know your grants and your institution’s rules. • Keep tabs on what is spent. • Teach fiscal awareness in the lab: Involve lab members in grant writing, in monitoring monthly spending, in strategizing funding.
Talk about research. • Formal lab meetings. • Informal lab meetings. • Multi-lab or topic meetings. • One-on on meetings.
Make meetings effective! • Have an agenda- and stick to it. • Set a time limit- and stick to it. • Only invite the necessary. • Encourage participation. • Don’t let conflict get out of hand. • Keep a record and follow up. Teach lab members how to give good presentations.
Journal clubs are an important tool. • To discuss the current and relevant literature. • To teach critical thinking. • To teach the art of giving a presentation. • To establish and maintain the lab culture within science. So don’t leave journal clubs up to chance.
Success will depend more on the people in your lab than on anything or anyone else. • Find the right people • Train them well • Treat them well
A hiring protocol: assessing people skills, technical skills, and motivation. • Solicit applicants: work with HR.. • Read resumes: approve or reject. • Call references: probe. • Interview candidates: listen! • Evaluate candidates. • Offer job to first choice. • Act during the probation period.
Hiring lessons from P.I.s • Call all recommenders.. • Hire for character, not for technical expertise. • Don’t hire people who are self-centered, arrogant, can’t get along with others…. • Use the probation period. • Make good use of the interview. • Follow your gut reaction.
Train new people at the bench. • Most of your investment is in salaries: maximize this. • Put your stamp on the way research is done in your lab. • Things to teach: Everything.
Encourage and reward a culture of collaboration. • Put new people to work with more experienced ones. • Facilitate collaborations outside the lab. • Maintain collaborations with lab members who have left the lab.
Mentoringwill be assumed. • Bench techniques, good science... • Writing a grant, budgets.. • Writing, reviewing manuscripts. • Communication and networking. Anything that helps people become mature scientists is probably useful.
As a P.I.….will you give everyone the same attention? Will you spend more time with the talented, the average, or the struggling? Compact between Postdoctoral Appointees and Their Mentors www.aamc.org/postdoccompact
Formal self-evaluation: How do you think you are doing? (Otteman 2002, Science’s SAGE KE:38, 5.) • Experimental. • Productivity. • Notebook, record keeping, and organization. • Gain of scientific knowledge and critical thinking. • Lab meeting participation. • Lab citizenship. • Communication within the lab, outside the lab, and with the P.I.
Remember that your mentee is NOT a clone of you. Consider pathways and life choices other than your own.
The kindness and wisdom of being caring and critical. • It’s often the best thing you can do for a person. • It is also one of the toughest tasks- it can be extremely intimate. • Follow through- don’t dump and run. Be constructively critical. • Follow up in the long term.
Firing is sometimes necessary…. • Incompetence • Insubordination • Troublemaking • Fraud • Safety
….but must be well thought out. • Know before what makes firing necessary. • Speak with Human Resources (and perhaps the institution’s lawyer) for the specifics of the situation. • Document. • It is a process, not an act.. Warn the person, etc.
Find a way to get help for those who need it. • Health services. • Ombudsman. • Chairperson • Dean. • Personnel office.
Traditions: a chance to refresh the culture together….. Celebrate scientific victories: Paper accepted, grant awarded, thesis defense, good experiments. Celebrate birthdays, holidays. Retreats, happy hours, tutoring, fundraising….
Common lab disputes…or negotiations. • Project problems. • Authorship problems. • Personnel problems. • Personal problems. • Interaction with P.I. Should you intervene?
You have to deal with problems. Very few situations will fix themselves.
How scientific and technical project leaders misread events in project teams. • Unaware of interpersonal conflict in team. • Unaware of personal agendas on part of team members. • Didn’t understand motivations, needs, or expectations of team members. • Didn’t listen carefully in team discussions. • Misread lack of argument as agreement. • Interpreted conflict as unhealthy. (Gemmill and Wilemon, 1997) in Cohen and Cohen, Lab Dynamics: Management Skills for Scientists, 2005
Some ways to deal with conflict: • Avoid it. • Be accommodating. • Take a position. • Consider interests, not issues.
People get angry and confused when they don’t have their expectations met. And yet, most do not make their expectations clear. Many do not even know they have expectations. . Videos at http://grad.msu.edu/conflictresolution/vignette.aspx
Listen and learn. • Learn to listen. • Try to understand. • You don’t have to fill up all silences. • Don’t interrupt. • Avoid preparing what you are going to say while someone is still talking.
“Always” “Never” • “You ….. “ • Bring in older issues. • Bring up character flaws.
Maintain lab morale. • Make the lab feel part of the bigger world of science. • Help each person feel part of the lab: don’t let anyone be marginalized. • Be vigilant about inside and outside influences.