Archive for the 'lab management' category

Recruit and retain

Jul 07 2012 Published by under lab management, queer

One of the things that I struggle with as a new PI is recruiting the right people into my lab. I have been very lucky to get some excellent students, but it can be harder for new Asst. Prof.'s to get good postdocs. Recruiting and managing people is one of the biggest part of this job, IME. And it is scary! What if you recruit the wrong people? Yesterday on twitter, @drew_lab, who just opened last week (CONGRATS!) posed an important question:

I want to set up a lab that is both supportive of, and welcoming for, all kinds of diversity. Anyone have tips on how to recruit and retain?

I think that there is no doubt the Drew Lab is going to be an awesome place to work. Lab diversity is something that I have thought about quite a bit. I would love to hear what kind of tips you have to offer for the Drew Lab and me! I was specifically asked by the leader of the Drew Lab, @labroides, if it was OK for a straight man to put a rainbow sticker on his laptop* to show he was supportive of queer folk. In our conversation he even said he was not interested in a "straight but not narrow" version,

"I feel like it's saying I support gay rights, but please don't think of me as gay. As if that would be a bad thing."

I totally agree. All I can say is HOORAY for allies and increased visibility. RAINBOW STICKERS FOR EVERYONE!

Please, if you have other tips that can shape lab culture to be welcoming of diversity (in all its forms) please share in the comments 🙂


*this fantastic idea was put forward by Daniel at Grains of Sand, and included in the DiS Pride Carnival

11 responses so far

GOOOOOOO Labbies!!

Background info: I played a lot of sports as a youngster, but I was never a cheerleader.

One of the crazy things you have to learn to do when you start up a lab is figure out how to keep people motivated and productive. I am certainly not an expert in this area, and I'm sure that I have made some real mistakes. But, the general approach I have been using is to try to emulate some of the great mentors that I have had. Many of these were not ever my actual lab PI, but they are folks that I have talked to about mentoring and lab management or witnessed vicariously through friends that were in their lab.

So, what did I learn that I am trying to use in my own lab? Well, (obv) everyone is different, so you can't have the same mentoring relationship with all the peeps. But in general, I try to be a cheerleader. This was explicit advice from one of my most-trusted mentoring mentors. I give advice, and try to nudge folks to do what I want. But often I just try to encourage the peeps if they are having difficulty nailing down an experimental result, finishing a fellowship application, or whatever. Because sometimes doing science is hard. It can be discouraging, particularly as a new student. I have good students in my lab. They are smart and work hard. Most of the time I just have to cheer and stay out of the way. This does NOT mean that I am not critical with the folks in my lab. If you fuck up, you'll know. We have discussions on areas in which they need more work. But this is all in the realm of constructive criticism.

I was thinking about this recently because of an interesting interaction I had when I was talking to another Asst. Prof I had called to get a reference for someone that had applied to be a postdoc in my lab. This was the second person I had talked to on the phone about Dr. PD App, and everyone was very enthusiastic. But I was asking open-ended questions and trying to see if there were any red flags (or strengths/weaknesses that I should know about if s/he was in my lab). In the course of this discussion, Asst. Prof mentioned was talking about how independent Dr. PD App was and how s/he had never needed a lot of "cheerleading". This was meant as a compliment to indicate that they were very self-motivated and persistent even when shit didn't go their way. Fair enough-score 1 for Dr. PD App! What was surprising is that Asst. Prof went on to lament about how many of his students did need cheerleading and how this was one of the most exhausting and irritating parts of his new job as the head of a lab.

I totally agree that learning to manage people in the lab can be overwhelming. But..."irritating"? Not so much. I rely on the folks in my lab to be productive so that I can write papers and grants and get tenure. In return, they get an education and a chance to develop as a young scientist. Sure, I didn't have any formal management training before I moved from the bench into the office. It is a lot of work (and pressure), but it is also rewarding. I guess I didn't really mind taking on the role as lab cheerleader.

What do you think - is cheerleading is part of being a good mentor?



12 responses so far

I haz indirects, and so can you!

Jul 11 2011 Published by under academia, jr faculty, lab management, on the job training

This post was inspired by BiochemBelle, who started a discussion on the Twitterz the other day about indirects. One of the things that you get to do (a lot) as a new PI is fucking with accounting deal with your lab budgets. This means that you will learn all sorts of uninteresting things about how the money gets spent. Here is (to the best of my knowledge) how indirects work.

Indirects are the money that your institution uses to "support" your grant.  I don't really know what this money is supposed to do, but I assume that it helps pay the rent, keep the AC running and the lights on, and other shit like that. Indirect rates are negotiated by each institution with the granting agencies. But, since every grant given to a specific MRU I really don't know who is negotiating with who. But whatever, I digress.

Indirects are charged to your grant based on what you use the money for. For most NIH grants, you are awarded a sum of money, the direct costs, and the university gets their indirects on top of that amount. The direct costs are the money that your lab actually gets to spend on salaries, supplies and equipment. If your indirect rate is 50% and you get a grant for $100,000 (direct), the institute will actually get $150K (yes, the numbers were chosen for easy math). Your lab spends 100K, MRU takes $50K. Win-win. But, SOME agencies (and even some NIH grants-like the K99/R00) award TOTAL costs. This means that if you get a $100K grant, MRU takes 50K and you get 50K direct. See, that is a lot different! So, make sure you know if you have been awarded TOTAL costs or DIRECT costs.

Indirect rates can vary a lot. The lowest I've heard is around 50%, the highest can be over 100%. YOU READ THAT RIGHT. There are institutions in which if you get awarded a 100K total costs grant that you will have to pay the institute indirects from another source. How cool is that?

There are some other awesome subtleties. For instance, you do not pay indirect costs for equipment. At least at my MRU, equipment is anything that is not a consumable, is expected to last the duration of the grant and costs more than 5K. Most everything else is supplies or salaries, and is charged overhead. There are also crazy rules about office supplies, computers and software that I don't understand yet. So I'm not going to try to explain it. It is an advanced accounting maneuver.

Another interesting tidbit: if you buy equipment off an NIH grant and then you leave to go somewhere else you may be able to take your equipment with you. HOWEVER, if you use your startup funds then it is the property of the MRU and you could be forced to leave it behind. I know that none of us n00bs on the TT want to think we will have to go on the job market again soon, but still. Now you know.

There you go, a primer for indirects. Please not that this is based on my experience at my MRU. YMMV. I hope you took notes. This WILL be on the exam.


Leave your answers in the comments. Don't bother showing your work. Nothing matters except the correct answer.

Practice Question 1: you want to buy a box of pipet tips for your lab, which costs $10. Your indirect rate is 70%. How much do you pay in indirects?

Practice Question 2: you also wanted to buy a pipeting robot (those exist, right? please tell me those exist) that costs $10K. Your indirect rate is 70%. How much do you pay in indirects?

52 responses so far

Happy Friday!

May 13 2011 Published by under awesomeness, hiring, lab management

Jeebus I'm tired. Nothing even happened this week that should justify this level of exhaustion. But srsly, it was all I could do to stay awake at my desk today. But whatever.

Today was a happy day for me, even though my paper did get rejected (fuckers. But really, I'm over it). Because today I learned that another grad student will be joining my group!!!


So, for those keeping track I have now recruited TWO awesome students! I am not exaggerating when I say that these are two of the best students in our program this year. They work hard, read a lot, are enthusiastic and super motivated. They were recruited by some established, respected labs, but they chose me. So this summer I will go to the Big Meeting in my field with two students in tow. I'm so freaking excited!!

Of course now I feel even more pressure to bring in some more research money. Sigh.

6 responses so far

>underpants gnomes

May 30 2010 Published by under jr faculty, lab management

>My favorite South Park episode of all time, bar none, is the one featuring the underpants gnomes in season 2. There are many reasons that this episode appeals to me, but right now I'm thinking about the business management aspect. For those that haven't seen/don't remember this episode, the boys end up learning about running a business from some gnomes that steal underpants (phase 1: steal underpants, phase 2: ?, phase 3: profit!).

I'm writing grants again tonight, and it has been sinking in that, as a new PI, I am going to be running a business. Phase 1: get money, phase 2: make "science", phase 3: profit! (get more $). I need to get WAY more organized with my accounting. I have some really great spreadsheets that a friend of mine put together to manage lab finances (this person was in business before heading off to grad school). But somehow, keeping these up to date always gets knocked off the priority list.

I really have to get better at this. I'm spending money to get the lab functional, but I need to get on top of things before they are out of control. I really don't want to be that PI that ends up firing a tech because all of the sudden I get a call that our money is gone. Not only that, but better managing of phase 1 will only help with phase 2 and 3, right? Obviously you are not trained to run a lab when you are a postdoc-but it is really clear that right now I need to reorganize my priority list, stat!

2 responses so far

>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