Scientific labs are like black boxes. You rarely get a glimpse how someone else has organised their group, what strategies they use to manage their team and how they keep everyone motivated.
This is why I think the PloS Comp Bio Collection “About My Lab” is a great resource.
The collection ‘About My Lab’ was launched with the mission to share knowledge about lab organization and scientific management. Each Perspective article represents an interview with a Principal Investigator, who shares his or her experience of running a lab by discussing selected topics in an informal and personal style. By creating this collection at PLOS Computational Biology, a journal committed to open knowledge, the collection editors hope to create a dialog through which we all can learn from each other.
I feel very honoured they asked me to contribute and my article just came out yesterday. It’s called `You are not working for me; I am working with you.’
It wasn’t an interview, though. I had to write the whole thing myself. Here are the first few paragraphs, you can read the rest on at the PLOS Comp Bio webpage.
Since 2009, I have led a cancer research group at the University of Cambridge; the current group includes ten scientists (five postdocs, five PhD students). In the following, I will share with you some of the lessons I learned over the years and some of the leadership strategies that work well for me. Key topics will be the integration of new lab members and the communication in the lab (in particular, how to make expectations explicit).
How the Lab Started
One of the papers that impressed me most as a PhD student was Eran Segal’s paper on module networks in yeast . When I prepared to start my own lab, at the end of my postdoc in 2008, I realised there had been almost no follow-up, and certainly nothing in cancer research. What an opportunity, I thought! So I wrote up a series of projects, which could easily have kept two postdocs busy for three years, on how to extend module networks and use them for data integration in cancer genomics. It was a great plan. Then I went to Intelligent Systems in Molecular Biology (ISMB) 2009 and heard Daphne Koller’s keynote. What a shocker—point by point, I could tick things off of my to-do list. Not only had Daphne’s lab thought of all my ideas for module networks, but they had implemented, tested, and improved them, and the papers had already begun to be published . Well, I thought, at least they are not doing this in the field of cancer. But then I saw one of Dana Pe’er’s publications , which killed my research program for good. I could have added some marginal improvements, sure, but that wouldn’t have been too exciting. So more than a year into my Principal Investigator (PI) position, I stood there empty-handed, without much of an idea what to do next. I had hit the ground, but I wasn’t running. What rescued me was the people in my group.