Good afternoon Everyone,
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been busy getting materials and equipment into the lab for the past few months. Now that I’ve got a little bit of the resources together, I’m pursing the next step: getting students started in the lab. This is the component of being a PI and a scientist that is, in my opinion, the most challenging relative to being a grad student and postdoc. As a grad student and as a postdoc, I spent most of my time working in lab on my own individual projects. I did have the good fortune to mentor and train several hardworking undergraduate students over the years. Even with that, however, I didn’t recruit those students myself. Recruiting was always the job of the lab’s PI. Now that I’m the PI, it falls to me to be the one to get researchers into the lab and to enable them to do their research.
When and how do you recruit scientists to work in your lab? The first part of that question is easy: you recruit all the time, as soon as you can. The reality of the situation in academic science is that there are never enough resources to bring on all the people that you’d like to hire. Even at a medium size institution like Seton Hall, I’ve been inundated with emails from all around the world from people looking to pursue Post-Doctoral research. The problem I have is that I don’t have funding to support a Post-Doc on my own. I’m looking into opportunities to collaborate on grants that might open that avenue. For right now, however, I have the challenge of putting together the lab myself. I’m relying on my abilities to identify undergraduate and graduate students who can successfully launch our initial projects.
To that end, as I said before, I think the best student-mentor relationships start with a clear understanding of everyone’s goals and how we want to achieve them. I use a tactic that I picked up from ACS a few years ago which is to give each of my students an Individual Development Plan. I call them Student Personal Strategic Plans (sp)2 plans (a little chemistry joke). I’ve attached a copy of it, feel free to copy and use it ( Student IDP ). My reasoning is that the students who are interested in science and see it as a fit to their future goals will fill it out. The ones who aren’t will likely fall by the wayside and never return it. This document helps me to identify what area of research best fits each individual student. For instance, many of my students are interested in going to med school. I’ve been trying to pair these students up with a project that will allow them to do cell-culture work and therapeutic drug development and potentially working with patient samples. Some students are interested in pure chemistry, so I’m trying to get them started on synthesis projects wherein they can also pick up some knowledge of analytical techniques. Having an understanding right from the start, I believe, is the best way to ensure that everyone is happy and productive.
I haven’t been in the business long enough to know how to correct my mistakes. What should I do if a student is very frustrated and unhappy? I’m sure this is bound to happen at some point. My answer for your right now, and what I hope to do, is to put the student first and make sure that I can help them get to their career goals in whatever what I can. I’ll keep everyone posted on the outcomes of situations like that. Thanks for reading this short post. Next time I’ll be discussing another topic I think should be of interest: what to do on your winter break as the “new guy”…other than celebrate the holidays. I’ll see you all again then!