Archive for: December, 2015

The New PI Goldfish

Dec 18 2015 Published by under [Education&Careers]

There's lots of ways to start a new lab. Some, however, have proven more successful over time than others. Whereas the responsibilities of different new PIs are wide ranging, most include advancing a research program. How does one do that?

I am a huge fan of taking a diverse approach to one's research question. My lab has had success working across different system and focusing on a couple of main questions, who's trajectories may be headed in distant or similar directions at any one time. I think the key to surviving in a time of tight budgets is flexibility and locking into a single question/system is unlikely to make that simple. Obviously many people find success going down a single rabbit hole, but I don't think I would be as effective at that.

With that said, the new PI cannot chase research projects like butterflies in a garden if the hope is to build a program that will attract external funding. You have two resources as a new PI that you must invest very wisely: Time and Money. They are finite and wasting either has far greater consequences for you that it does for your senior colleagues.

Really cool opportunities will come up all the time. Your ability to discern which ones are worth your resources, and particularly how much of your resources, will play a large part in whether your research program takes off or sputters. As tempting as it is to chase down everything that comes along, spreading yourself too thin is a bad trap to fall into.

Identify your bread and butter and invest heavily in that. Cultivate side projects that you contribute to, but don't do the heavy lifting for. Your grant writing and paper writing should mainly concentrate on advancing your core, with minor contributions to side things. The bar for funding, WRT preliminary data and proof that you know what you're doing is too high to mess around. If your goal is an externally funded research program, having initial focus is fairly critical, before you broaden your scope.

3 responses so far

Considering the fame of potential advisors?

Dec 02 2015 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In the context of the three most important questions on should ask when choosing a postdoc, came this:

Ok. I get this. But damn if this isn't bad for science. We complain about the homogeneity of academic science. There are large fields where the Academic Tree of Life looks more like a bush, with a few central hubs (almost always older white men). We complain about science too often being a "who you know" game, despite claims of a meritocracy. And the reason all this is an issue is precisely encapsulated above.

Was your advisor famous enough to turn some heads in a search committee? On a funding panel? Are you one of the chosen, or just someone doing science for people who have to work to get their papers in the upper tier journals?

From the selfish perspective of a student who might benefit from such career advantages, I recognize the utility here. But this kind of thing is as corrosive as the Glam Mag Game. Doing great science and learning new tools (Matt's other two suggestions) should be the most critical pieces of the puzzle. Unfortunately, like the Glam Mag Game, individual decisions and motives drive a behavior that is bad for the overall endeavor.

15 responses so far