Many graduate students will one day go on to be professors in their own right. Gaining knowledge in the realm of teaching can be acquired through classes and overall graduate school experience. However, one skill that graduate students may not acquire during their studies is the ability to manage a successful lab. The Department of Microbiology and Immunology’s Professor George O’Toole discussed some helpful points related to lab management as a part of the “Becoming a Faculty Member” series on January 25.
Professor O’Toole made the comparison that “running a lab is like running a small business.” The revenue is your grant money, your products are papers, posters, and seminars, and it is important that your employees are happy. He stressed that in managing a successful lab, you need successful people. Don’t be afraid to choose students who will work well with your teaching and management style and that you know will be successful under your guidance. If conflict should arise or a student is not accomplishing what you think he or she should be, it is wise to clearly go over your lab expectations with that student and discuss how he or she can improve his or her performance to meet those expectations. Obtaining constant feedback from your students helps to improve your management of their graduate student careers.
Professor O’Toole warned seminar attendees that it is necessary to seek out training in lab management. There are no formal training courses, nor will someone explicitly sit you down and advise you on how to accomplish this task. He remarked that he was fortunate to have both graduate and postdoctoral advisors who taught him about lab management, but this is hardly the case for everyone. Professor O’Toole advised attendees to use their experiences now as graduate students to start planning how they would run their labs in the future. It is never too early to start thinking about the details—taking note of good and bad management strategies now will aid you in making better decisions later on.
Professor O’Toole finished his talk by emphasizing the importance of seeking help when it’s needed. He stressed how important it is to ask for advice as a young professor. Colleagues, as well as those in human resources and other university support services, can help you in managing your lab or even in writing grants to run a successful lab. You do not have to try to attempt a new and somewhat scary feat on your own; you just have to know how to ask for help!
by Molly Croteau