Keep your research group and their science healthy

Have a look at this excellent editorial in Nature: Integrity starts with the health of research groups – Funders should force universities to support laboratories’ research health.

I really like the term ‘research health’, which encompasses both technical aspects of doing research right as well as the well-being of researchers.

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Duty Calls, Science

Science is devoid of significant human and social elements, they say I said.

Every citation is a good citation, right? So I was pleased to see that even the little pamphlet I wrote about my lab last year has a couple of citations now (ok, one is a self citation, please don’t tell anyone).

“You are not working for me; I am working with you” is what I said back then.

And my paper got cited here: “Are Leadership and Management Essential for Good Research? An Interview Study of Genetic Researchers” by Alison L. Antes, Adelina Mart and James M. DuBois in the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics.

Leadership in Science – a topic I am definitely interested in.

Let’s see where and how they cite me ..

So exciting!

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“Look at me, I was a terrible supervisor”

“I was a terrible PhD supervisor. Don’t make the same mistakes I did,” writes Sian Townson in the Guardian.

Lots of points I agree with:

Research points to high levels of depression among PhD students.

I am not surprised. This is one of the reasons Cambridge has such an active counseling service and, as far as I can see, there is little stigma attached to using it.

I also share her observation about the lack of training for supervisors:

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Career, Science

Why science needs continuous leadership support

Hello, my fellow PIs, here is a question for you: Did you get trained well for your job?

Silly question, of course you did. Years of study and examinations culminating in a PhD have obviously trained you well in all things science.

But that’s not what I mean. Details of experiments and algorithms –what you learn in a PhD– are only a small part of a PI’s job. Once you start leading a group, the tough nuts to crack are people-problems.

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Career, Science

Managing upwards works! Until it doesn’t

“You are not working for me, I am working with you on your project”

This is one of the first sentences in a document I have written for new starters in my lab. I want to be explicit about the expectations I have of them. And being proactive and independent is very high on my list.

It’s OK to be pushy!

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 21.35.15

I also give all new starters a copy of Kearns and Gardiner’s Nature article The care and maintenance of your adviser:

“Maintaining your adviser means asking for what you need rather than hoping that he or she will know what to provide. …

[A]lthough it is natural to complain about your adviser — and can even be cathartic — it is not enough.

If your adviser is not giving you what you need, you need to go out and get it. “

I think this is very helpful advise for students and postdocs: It is Ok to be pushy!

The way I understand this part of a supervisor-student relationship is: If you need me I’ll help you in all ways I can. But you need to tell me what you need.

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Methods vs Insights #4: The four stages of a project (and the fifth you should avoid)

Methods vs Insights is back. Today with a discussion of general research practice.

Most projects in my lab take years from start to finish. So it is important for me to manage the expectations my students and postdocs may have. Here is a plot I have developed to discuss the different stages of a scientific project with them and to prepare them for what’s ahead.

The four stages of a scientific project: Explore! Dig! Refine! Sell! And the stage you want to avoid: Waste! Plus the prevalent emotion in each stage and the key skill you will need to successfully navigate it. (x-axis it time, y-axis is work you’ve put in.)

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Ignorance is my new comfort zone

Homer Simpson

I recently sat on a grant review panel for the first time. The diversity of topics and projects we had to rank was immense and I felt very ill-equipped to scientifically judge most of the grants, which were not related at all to my own research.

In particular, I was the lead discussant for an obstetrics project that was clearly outside my expertise. So I started my discussion by saying:

“I don’t have a problem being outside my comfort zone, but this one is so far out of it that I can’t even see my comfort zone anymore.”

What I got as an answer, surprised me.

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