>who should you hire?

May 21 2010 Published by under hiring, lab management

> This is NOT a post about the postdoc vs. tech debate, which I've run across a lot (so many places that I'm not going to try to find all the links. Sorry).

I'm in a kind of weird place. I know that starting up a lab is basically like starting a business. But my "training" to date is how to do science. Benchwork. But now, I have run a lab. That means I need to hire people, motivate them to do good work, get money (always), manage a budget, etc, etc, etc.  Not to mention navigate the politics of my new department without any of the backstory. I know this everyone that has started up a lab has been in this same place. But that doesn't make it less weird for me.

Today, I am thinking about hiring. I need to hire people. Good people. Fast. This has been on my mind for a while, as I try to figure out how I'm going to do everything that I'm getting money to do. I'm lucky to already have cash, but I've started to realize that there is no way that I can turn that cash into science (papers, talks, etc.) that will leverage more cash unless there are some peeps in the lab. Right now, my lab space is empty, save for a few dust bunnies. Holy crap.

Today, I got an email from someone that wants to join the lab. This would be my first lab peep! But I'm conflicted. I've heard over and over about how important the first person is to get your lab group going in the right direction. I know the person that contacted me. We have friends in common and have hung out some. This person got a PhD from someone that I really respect and worked on a pretty difficult problem. All great so far, right? Here's the hitch: this person has NO INTEREST  in staying in science. A gig in my lab is a 1-2 year job to get some cash while searching for a "real" career.

Am I insane for considering taking this person on? I mean, of course I will have a frank (off the record) conversation with the former grad advisor. But if it goes how I think it will this is going to be a really tough decision. On one hand, this could be a super opportunity for me to take advantage of someone with skills that would be AWESOME to have in the lab. But, the whole situation could go to shit. Then I will have to fire the first person that I hired, which, in addition to being a sort of sucky thing to have to do will also end up messing with my relationships with our shared friend.

I am going to have to talk this out with a lot of people. But seriously, if there is anyone listening here I would hearing your views/comments.

7 responses so far

  • BugDoc says:

    >That's a difficult problem. I have had several postdocs that fit this phenotype and they all came incredibly highly recommended. However, what I found was that these particular fellows came in, worked 8-5 M-F and squeezed out 1 expt/day if I was lucky. They were extremely smart and capable, but had low motivation because ultimately their careers did not depend on whether or not they had publications, since they weren't interested in academia or industry as it turned out. In contrast, my postdocs who have been interested in academic jobs have worked consistently and productively to ensure their success.I personally encourage postdocs to look at many different career options, but I try to emphasize when I interview them that regardless of their career interests, I expect the highest level of motivation and work ethic. I think that's what you have to explicitly ask the references: about work ethic, independence and productivity.

  • Gerty-Z says:

    >Thanks, BugDoc. The more I've been poking around, the more uncomfortable I am feeling about this situation. I think that means it is probably not the right thing for me at this point. The first person in the lab is too important, from what I hear.

  • GMP (GeekMommyProf) says:

    >That is true, but my first couple were also duds. You will get used to firing people (sounds cruel, but that's life). Good luck!

  • New Asst. Prof. says:

    >The first person has been so critical for me, and I well understand your hesitancy about this one. FWIW, I opted for a tech with aspirations to pursue a PhD. True, she's leaving in a month to start that program. But, it's in my department and in the time she's been with me she's worked her butt off, doing considerably more than 1 expt/day and actually stopping to *think* about what she's doing. I'll be very lucky to get her back as my first PhD student :-).

  • Anonymous says:

    >My first PD was the exact same type: from a great lab, really good PhD project results, convinced they were going to industry. I hired them, and it worked out great. They still did tons of lab work, plus they also did lots of budgeting help, student training, lab management stuff, because they knew this would look good on a resume for a "real" job. Also, PD's searching for academic jobs takes ALOT of time. They are pretty worthless in the lab once they start interviewing, but you still have to pay them. So I think industry-bound PD's can be great, as long as they're serious about the science and have stellar recs.

  • prodigal academic says:

    >Just caught up with your previous posts--great blog, btw!I have an all student lab right now--2 PhDs, 3 undergrads. Looks like I will likely get 2-3 more PhD students this fall. I understand that biotech labs are different--it is more common to have lab techs than in my field. I went with students vs postdocs because I figured that I would have to do a lot of training, and I would get more bang for my buck with students. The initial experiments they did were relatively straightforward, so they have been pretty productive (we have a paper out for review now). I also found that my first two students are AMAZING. They are both top students who were really interested in my research directions and felt that they could put more of their own stamp on things starting fresh in a new lab.In terms of your dilemma, at National Lab, I hired several short term lab techs who were interested in "trying out" research. They were mostly looking for a decent paycheck while they figured out what to do next. The ones that had good references all worked out great. A hard worker is a hard worker, even if he/she doesn't plan on staying long term.

  • Thinkerbell says:

    >I would think someone who knows what they are doing (and it sounds like the person you have there does), i.e. someone who's experienced, and who comes with great references is going to be a major time-saver and will get you off to a flying start. So what if they leave in a couple of years? In the mean time they will have helped you onto a kick-ass trajectory and they won't want to take anything with them to their own lab. I would want to make sure that the references were superb, but other than that... it sounds like you would hire a great independent bench-scientist which would save you from trainingtime.

Leave a Reply