Creativity, Science

Welcome to the ivory tower


janelia farm

How to build a great research environment?

According to a recent article in Nature the HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus is a success story. How did they get there?

When planning Janelia Farm some years ago, the current director Gerald Rubin went to his friends in other top-notch research institutes for inspiration and asked them for the recipe for scientific creativity and success:

“The answers from all these places were surprisingly consistent, [Rubin] says.

Research groups were small, which promoted communication and mentoring.

Group leaders were active bench scientists, not administrators or fund-raisers.

Research was funded from within, so there was no need to chase grants.

And no one got tenure, so that researchers could rotate through and ideas could stay fresh.”

Janelia Farm seems to be quite similar to my own home institute, the CRI: both institutes were founded just 5 years ago, both institutes have ~20 groupleaders and a total of ~400 employees, and both institutes publish well. And comparing Rubin’s list to how life at CRI is, I see even more overlap.

We are a core-funded institute and even though we have a tenure option, all senior groupleaders are still evaluated every 5 years (as they are in Janelia Farm).

At CRI we might need to cut the head-count for senior groupleaders, though, so they have more time again to swing the pipettes themselves. But then again: My own junior group with its head-count limit of 5 (plus me) is close to the Janelia Farm ideal. But even so, I have a pretty hard time trying to do active research myself. (Am I blogging too much?)

How do the Janelia Farm PIs do it? It would be interesting to learn how much time they spend at the bench or working with data, and how much time they spend directing the research of their postdocs.

And I don’t know what my bosses think of this quote from one of the Janelia Farm PIs:

“All the resources you need, and no pressure to publish.”

I’m sure, this is where the similarities end.

Florian

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