Surviving pre-tenure: The People

Jul 14 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In many ways, it's almost pointless to talk about all the other aspects of pre-tenure if you can't get good people in your lab. The best laid plans are simply a terrible lab dynamic away from being burnt to the ground.

This is a bit of a catch 22, because it is hard to recruit until you get established and hard to get established until you have some good people in the lab. Some will have the name of their institution or the prominence of their particular program to help them out here, but if you're direct-recruiting you have a lot of work to do here. You need to be proactive.

Reach out to colleagues. Seriously. Every year for the first couple of years here I emailed a dozen or so colleagues asking them if they knew of any undergrads or finishing MS students that they think would be a good fit for my lab. It didn't always work out that the student was interested, but it got the ball rolling and put some applications on my radar when it came time to look over the pool.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have had mostly excellent trainees in the lab. I had some terrific students sent my way who laid the groundwork for the lab's identity and put us in a position to make a mark. It's not a stretch to say that they played a significant role in me getting tenure, but I always kept in mind that they were taking more of a chance on me than I was on them. Could I get the funding for their project to be successful? Could I keep them paid every semester and summer? Could I get them to conference to talk about their work? Would I have connections to be able to introduce them to the people they should be talking to?

All of these things matter. Not every trainee will have thought that through before accepting a position in your pre-tenure lab, but it's worth keeping in mind yourself as you recruit. There's no question you'll be spending more time looking for that "diamond in the rough" than your more established colleagues, but the time spent pays off in enormous ways when it works out.

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