Shifting strategy

Aug 12 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

I think it's time for me to change how I approach managing the lab personnel and I am trying to determine the best middle ground between keeping an eye on how things are going and not breathing down people's necks. Previous to now I have kept things very informal and basically checked in with people when I happened to have questions or had them come to me for the same. However, I have another grad student starting in a couple of weeks, at least one undergrad for the fall and a post-doc coming in on a project I am a co-PI on. On top of tat, I am available less because of the writing I have lined up for the fall. There is the potential for people to start falling through the cracks, and I can't afford that right now.

What I think makes the most sense is to block out an hour at some regular interval and have 15 or 20 minutes for each student to come in and informally chat about where they are at and where they are headed. I think this would give me a better sense of on-going problems in the lab and how each student is progressing. The question, however, is what is the interval in between meetings? My initial thought was a week, but that seems like a really short time period if we're going to discuss data and progress. Two weeks? Perhaps that would be better. I think once a month is too long and leaves the potential for things to really slide in between meetings.

While I am not trying to clamp down on the lab and micromanage, I want to establish a regular meeting time before there are issues that need to be dealt with so a mechanism is already in pace. I would rather not manage in a reactionary fashion, but keep dialog open and head things off before the are problematic. It's a fine line between proactively keeping things on the right track and making people feel like you are watching over them.

12 responses so far

  • MGS says:

    My previous PI had everyone send in a weekly email to her and the entire group listing out what they've done that week and what their plan is for the future. She would email back if she had a comment or question, but mostly we just knew that she read them when she had a chance and that no news was good news. It was helpful to see what everyone else was working on, and it was especially helpful to review my own work each week and see what all I had done. It turned out to be a great tool for me to organize my goals and projects, and to make sure I was keeping up good progress. Because my PI knew what I was up to from the status emails I rarely met with her. Some others in our group were not such independent workers and they met with her more often-- once a week, or twice a month, depending on the individual. We also had weekly meetings with the whole group together but I didn't think they were necessary.

  • Liz says:

    I'm a phd student working in a lab of ~15 students/postdocs. I have a regular meeting time with my PI and the amount he meets with individuals varies based on the stage we are at. When I was in my first year, we'd meet basically every week to make sure things were on track, now that i'm a few years in we officially meet every 2 weeks (but due to his traveling, meetings,etc, its usually a bit less frequenly than that), and postdocs meet even less frequently. Two weeks is a good amount of time IMO where students feel like they are getting guidance but have enough time to drum up some data between meetings

  • Arlenna says:

    I started having lab meeting once a week right away, even when there were just four of us and before people even had anything to tell me about. It's been really helpful for building our lab culture: we do journal clubs alternating with research presentations, and early on we just did "go around the table" updates. The students are getting used to how to explain their information to me and each other, and get lots of practice giving talks which they are all appreciating a lot.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I still want to meet with the lab people. The group is not so big that I can depend on a hierarchy to keep things running. Perhaps a hybrid approach would work where one meeting is with indivduals, then two weeks later we meet as a group. That way people stay in the loop about what others are up to, but also don't need to be bored every two weeks with the minutiae of everybody's work. Arlenna, we have two journal clubs that we attaend as a lab already, so it would be redundant to add that to the lab meetings in this case, I think.

  • Arlenna says:

    Whoa, yeah that would be way too many journal clubs. I bet hybrid is good. One important part of meeting at least biweekly is for them, rather than for you: it establishes their sense of accountability on a timeline so they know they need to have something to tell you about. Even for long-term experiments it's still a good pattern for them to get into.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    We do joint lab meetings with another lab that consists of lab presentation and journal club. But we also sit down one day a week to a round table and eat lunch together with just my lab. We discuss our internal lab issues, what we are each up to (informally, usually under 5 or 6 minutes), heresy, and other institutional BS.

  • madscientist says:

    This is a really good discussion. At one point in the last year or so, I was "in charge" of about 7 grad students. I set aside Tuesday mornings and had them all come in at 30 minute intervals for 3.5 hours. It was a killer. But, I really felt like once a week was what was needed, so I could keep up with what they were doing. Many times, students would come in and say that they had been working on the same thing all week and that not much had changed, except this little thing, and I would say "fantastic!" And that would be the end of the meeting. I would say that 1/2 the student meetings that I had were very good, since they had lost their way or were stuck on a problem or something like that.The main problem with every other week is that people tend to forget. Especially when you travel once or twice. Is this the week we are supposed to meet? I don't know..... If you have a meeting every week, it doesn't have to be more than 5 minutes, but it does have to occur.I like the idea of having individual meetings one week and group meetings the next week.We typically have student meetings were a super-set of students gets together and discusses their current research in ~2-5 minutes. Then a student will give a 20 minute talk and we will ask them questions or give them feedback on the presentation (especially if there is a meeting like AGU coming up...) These meetings are good in someways and bad in other ways. The senior students don't seem to want to participate anymore, since they are "too busy" and already know how to give their spiel on their research. We are trying to figure out how to modify the format so people like it more.

  • tideliar says:

    excellent discussion

  • DamnGoodTechnician says:

    Our lab (3 people) doesn't meet as a group that often - in fact, hardly ever. We do all meet with our PI approximately weekly to discuss what we've been up to and what we plan to do in the coming week. Additionally, whenever we come up with new data, we email it to the PI in powerpoint format - one slide with experimental design & rationale (just a paragraph with bullet points), and one slide with the figure. This makes it massively easier for her to put together presentations, which (I think) she does a lot lot lot more of than an assistant professor of a similar age.I kinda feel like this strategy might be a little heavy-handed for the experience level of people in the group (me, a postdoc & a PhD-technician), but it's not so overbearing that everyone bitches about it.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Well, after some thought about it, I think I'm going to try planned meetings every two weeks, alternating between indivdual meetings and full meetings. In addition to that, I'm going to leave the hour meeting block open on "off" weeks for discussion if anyone is having a problem. I think that will also allow for weekly meetings with new students and undergrads. We'll see how it goes. If it turns out to be unmanagable because people forget, etc., we'll try something else.

  • Professor in Training says:

    Sorry for the late response ... vacations and all that fun stuff.As a grad student, I used to meet with my advisor once a week and he also tried to organize weekly lab meetings but with most of us TA-ing and having all sorts of time-dependent experiments, the meetings were often shifted to monthly. He had half hour meetings scheduled with all of his grad students each week that were supposed to be mandatory but I was the only one that turned up on a regular basis. Even though I worked relatively autonomously and didn't need to be micromanaged, I found the meetings helpful in forcing me to organize my stuff and my thoughts. Often I had nothing new to show him so we would sit and chat about life.

  • Parechoase says:

    I second what Liz said, if you do not have post docs or more senior people to keep an eye on projects and technique on a more regular basis, once a week seems best. One thing to keep in mind is that it can be rather spirit crushing when your manager forgets what has been going on. It can rarely hurt to keep notes on these meets.

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