Repost: Graphic Fridays: Lab Productivity

Aug 30 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I'm reposting this from a little more than a year ago. If there's one thing I've learned in the last 5 years, it's that building a lab to where you want it to be takes WAAAAAAAY longer than you think when you start off. This leads to all sorts of panicy thoughts along the way about being behind and not getting things out fast enough, etc. Last year I kinda felt like we were making good progress. This year it has gotten better. Hopefully next year we'll be exceeding my expectations, I don't know. But it's important for junior people to realize that they're not the only people feeling like they aren't where they need to be fast enough.

If you are like me, you either walked into your new lab as a PI, or plan to do so, ready to roll. There is a lot that needs to get done, but how long could it take, right?

Chances are, if you got a PI job, that you did a postdoc in a lab that was running full steam. I did both previous stops in labs of assistant professors who made tenure while I was there. In both cases, the labs were established enough to be just gaining a reputation for themselves, but hadn't fully broken through yet. By the time I left each, the story was different and each one had expanded significantly.

At the time it never occurred to me to consider the early days of each lab, but thinking back, each took some time to get established. However, walking into my own lab I assumed that in a year or two I would be DOING ALL TEH SCIENCE!!!!

Hhahahaha, yeaaahhhh. About that....

I'm sure there are people who do magic in a year or two and crap nature papers like they have some sort of scientific dysentery. Good for them. But for the rest of us, a lab is built in small steps with the occasional home run and the more than occasional strike out. It is torturous at times and progress seems glacial because you always feel like you are behind. But at some point (different for everyone) you can look back and surprise yourself at the progress you have made.

8 responses so far

  • RP says:

    "crap nature papers like they have some sort of scientific dysentery"

    Awesome analogy!

  • Mac says:

    Thanks for this! Good to know the bumps are normal.

  • Jordan says:

    Thanks for posting this. Really picked up on a day when I was feeling discouraged.

  • Nice post!

    One small piece of advice for both new hires and administrators who negotiate with them. It's related to your "ZOMG: Teaching kills!" shown in year 1-2.

    Many times people negotiate year 0-1 to be free of teaching. But I advise instead to teach year 0-1 and negotiate instead that year 1-2 be free of teaching.

    Year 0-1 is usually lost in terms of research anyhow, with ordering stuff, recruiting and hiring undergrads/grads/tech -- whatever you can afford. So get the teaching done right away, and also recruit some terrific motivated undergrads in your first courses.

    Then, year 1-2 can be really productive!

  • Dave says:

    I like this post a lot.

  • Julian Frost says:

    I noticed something. When you look at the "Expected" and "Realised" at the top left, the graph key looks like the depressed face, or -_-.
    I can't be the only one who noticed.

  • drtheron says:

    I love a good graph.

  • […] start-up – Getting a lab running is not an easy or fast task for anyone and I haven’t even had to think about hiring in the way I would if I was starting a lab somewhere […]

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