3 Steps To Build Empathy in Your Research Lab

My grandfather died three days ago. Through the fog of grief and heartache, one thing has stood out to me, empathy. Especially at work, the outpouring of support and understanding from my coworkers, bosses, and direct supports has been a light in the dark. Their support made me realize how crucial empathy is and how quickly a relationship can be soured when empathy is lacking. If empathy is lacking on an entire team, disaster. So how can we promote empathy on our teams and in our labs? 3 steps, listen, question, and take action.

Listen

When someone is talking, how often do you truly listen? Taking in their words, hearing the meaning, without typing on a keyboard, thinking of your own answer, or distracted by your to do list? Being mindful and present when someone else is speaking is difficult, in the lab we often have so many distractions. However, listening is a key component of empathy. We need to know what the other person is feeling or thinking in order to empathize with them. Listening also validates the other person and makes them feel heard. It opens you both up for honest communication.

Question

Follow up the listening with a relevant and pointed question about the what the person just told you. This demonstrates that you truly listened and that you are invested in what they have to say. Lecturing them, changing the subject, or talking about your similar experience moves the focus of the conversation away from the person and on to you. This can interrupt the other person feeling your empathy. To ensure the other person feels your empathy, keep the focus on them. Ask them about how they are feeling, what they are thinking of doing next, or if they need support. Asking relevant questions shows that the speaker’s words didn’t go in one ear and out the other.

Take Action

You’ve listened, you’ve questioned, now you need to take action. Empathy with out action is indifference. Even worse, it can be disingenuous, which destroys trust and causes other problems. Often something actionable will come up in your questions. Perhaps the person asked for some time off, a re-assignment, or maybe they just needed to feel heard. If an action doesn’t come up, ask directly, “I hear you and deeply empathize. What can I do to help?” Then work with the person to make that action happen. Sometimes the action may not be plausible, but just asking can lead to changes and a positive impact.

How many times have each of us wanted to be heard? To have some ask how we are or how they can help? The desire for empathy is universal. It can improve work environments and relationships, leading to increased productivity. Additionally, empathy can be practiced by anyone and anyone can make an impact in the lab. It’s not just up to the PI or the post-doc. Any member of the lab can improve the lab by listening, questioning, and taking action. If we want our labs to be happier, more supportive, and more productive, then practicing empathy is one way to make it happen.


Have you had moments where an empathetic person made a big impact in your lab or in your life? I’d like to hear about it in the comments.

Photo credit to geralt found on pixabay.com.

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Set and Manage Expectations To Improve Your Lab

While interviewing for graduate school, the joke went something like this, “Check for cots in the lab. Lets you know if people spend all night in the lab!” While the response is usually laughter, toxic labs and unreasonable expectations are a real possibility. It also brings to the forefront a serious question, what are the expectations in a lab? As the PI, it is imperative that you set these communications early and communicate them clearly. Doing so will benefit you, your students, and your lab as a whole.

Expectation setting is a fundamental part of leading a group. It lets everyone know what the standards and norms are that will govern behavior. If these standards and norms are violated, then punishment or reprimanding is expected. Fulfilling these expectations would then beget reward and promotion. When expectations are not set, this can lead to issues with enforcing wanted behavior and overall decline in productivity. Labs are groups of people working together towards research goals. Setting expectations will benefit any PI leading a lab.

When setting expectations, write them down. Turn the expectations into a written document that is available for lab members to reference at any time. Make sure to give a copy to any new member and review it during meetings. This constant reinforcement allows for the expectations to become norms and enforced by the group behavior. Additionally, writing the expectations down and making them a constant part of lab culture makes discipline easier. If a student does not meet those expectations, the conversation can refer to the document instead of a distantly remembered conversation. This will also provide you, the PI, with increased integrity since the expectations were set and there was follow through. Accountability goes both ways! As the professor or PI, you are the leader and you must model the behavior and meet all expectations you set out. Otherwise the members of your lab will lose trust in you, which makes leadership incredibly difficult.

Some of the things. to include in expectations are work hours, reports, and availability away from work. It is important to respect the limitations of a graduate students schedule, along with department guidelines and labor laws. demanding more hours of research than is possible or legal for a student to give is a quick way to burnout and legal trouble. Another expectation is software accounts and use for the lab such as Slack or Asana. Do you expect students or post-docs to always be available? Establishing these expectations will avoid miscommunication and frustration.

Expectations should be communicated up front. As early as possible. If a student is not willing to meet your expectations, wouldn’t you want to know before you spend time and resources training them? As a PI, one of the biggest keys to success is getting the right people in your lab. Making sure that your expectations and the prospective recruit are a match is a big step in the right direction. Write your expectations down, communicate early and often, then follow through. Your research, your lab, and your students will flourish because of it.


What are the expectations in your lab? Have you ever heard of some outlandish expectations? What happened as a result? I’m interested in learning from your experience.

Photo credit to geralt found on pixabay.com.

Mastering Out Is An Option

Mastering out of a Ph.D. program is an option. I’ll say it again for the people in the back.

Mastering out is an option!

The pressure for a grad student to complete their Ph.D. program is severe. The professor feels it, from their department to their tenure package. The student feels it, from peers, department, professor, and fear of quitting. Graduating early with a master’s degree is frowned upon. Even the term “mastering out” hits a particular nerve. Cop out, drop out, wash out, mastering out, they all have the same connotation – quitting.

Mastering out needs to be put into perspective. If we take an all or nothing approach, the student will either get a Ph.D. or quit the program entirely. Mastering out is a middle road, a third path that has many of the benefits of a Ph.D., for the student and professor. For example, the professor graduates a student, gains research data, and possibly even a publication. The student completes a degree, gains research experience, and can find a new more suitable path. This can often lead to happier students, happier PIs, and a relaxing of tensions in the lab.

Bringing up mastering out with a student will be difficult. It requires some hard truth that no one involved may be ready to face. Ignoring the truth of a struggling student is worse. If the conversation comes up naturally, or there is huge resistance, get outside assistance either way. Advisors within the college can relieve some of the burden. Additionally, therapy is an amazing tool to rely on for challenging decision making. Getting outside help will also bring a sense of objectiveness and fairness to the process, diminishing the role emotion can play.

Once you have that outside support, charting a path forward is the next step. Different departments will have varying requirements for finishing a master’s degree. There are also thesis and non-thesis options. The decision is a collaborative process, with the student’s needs at the center. If it is additional course work, a master’s thesis, or merely a capstone project, figuring out the path forward is crucial.

Celebrate when the degree is complete. Even if it is not a Ph.D., a master’s is still a huge achievement, representing a massive investment. Going to commencement, where the professor can formally hood the student is a huge part in recognizing this achievement. It is also a moment of closure, ending what can be an emotional and difficult journey. Mastering out is a respectable choice that needs to loose the negative connotation. It is still a success for the student, the professor, and the school.


I write this post from the heart. I mastered out of my Ph.D. program in Pharmaceutical Sciences at Oregon State University. I am thankful that my PI spoke up and got the outside assistance we both needed. To this day, I think it was one of the hardest but best decisions I have ever made. It took a village, including the dean, the chair, the academic advisor, my PI, me, and the most amazing therapist in the world, to make it happen. I hope that this post opens up mastering out as an option for struggling students and their hard-pressed professors. Get help, chart a path, and celebrate the success.


Do you have a mastering out story? I’d like to hear about it in the comments. What was your experience like?

Photo credit to TinTin12 on pixabay.com.

3 Benefits Of Social Media For Your Lab’s Recruitment

Social media is an excellent tool for labs to increase outreach and collaboration opportunities. While social media can carry risks, the positive impact of social media is hard to out weigh. What I want to focus on in this post, is how social media can positively affect your lab’s recruitment.

Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great used coined the phrase, “Getting the right people on the bus“. The idea is that the people working with you are going to make or break your success. Anyone who has worked in a lab know this is especially true with research. Demanding application processes, restriction on funding, and specialized research foci can make the pool of potential lab members exceedingly small. One way to grow the pool of applicants is to use social media. By using the platforms effectively, your lab becomes more visible, you can reach potential recruits with similar research interests, and you can let everyone know that you are looking for a new lab member.

Visibility of your lab is a big benefit. If people don’t know your lab exists, then it is difficult to recruit. Social media is a way to get your lab out there and attract attention. Using LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook allows for you to share posts, information, or recent publications. The next time your lab celebrates a publication, post about it. By interacting on these platforms, you can reach people directly and you improve the chances of people finding your through a Google search. The people you reach on social media can also be more diverse than those reached through traditional channels. If you want someone other than white cis hetero males, then social media is a way to reach them.

By posting about your lab and research on social media, you can also begin to attract others with similar interests. Instead of a push strategy, where new recruits are pushed to you through the college application system, you can pull new recruits to you, by interacting with them on social media. Once you have established a presence on social media, try to think about what research projects you want to work on next. Start posting about those topics, including sharing papers and engaging with others who work in a similar vein. If you can find a “one to many relationship”, such as a group or association on that topic, engage with them. Your one post to a group can be seen by more people than an untargeted post. Build a community and conversations, this will attract attention and your next recruits.

Once you have a social media presence and have developed a conversation around certain topics, the next step is to let people know you are looking. Back to that push vs. pull idea, this is all about pulling in the people you want. Don’t let happen stance or luck of the college application system determine the possible recruits to your lab. Let people know you want to expand your lab! Otherwise they have to guess, using publications and funding information. Take the guess work out of it, by directly speaking to the large and suitable pool of people you’ve built up on social media.

Finding the right people for your lab is a huge part of future success. Social media can help you connect with more people that share your interests and let them know you are recruiting. Having a larger pool of possible recruits improves your chances of finding new lab members that can make a big impact. It can also be a tool to address diversity and equity, as social media can help remove some barriers and biases that are inherent in the academic recruiting process. Get the right people in the lab and make that next scientific discovery.


What has your experience been with college recruitment? Have you used social media to find your next student or post doc? Let me know in the comments below, I want to hear about your experiences.

Photo credit to emilijae found on pixabay.com.

How To Get In To Grad School for a Research Degree

The process for getting into grad school seems straight forward. Submit your application and those with the best applications get picked. Reality is less objective. Applications that meet the minimum requirements are put in front of the professors. The professors then speak up on who they want. That’s who gets letters of acceptance. So the trick? You need to make sure there is a professor at the table who wants you.

Below are the steps to make that happen.

The first step is figuring out what you want to do.

Not what you like to read about, or learn about, but what type of research activities you want to do. They are not the same. For example, biosynthesis papers include compound characterization, synthesis pathways, and compound isolation. However, biosynthesis research includes mixing a lot of LB agar, pouring a lot of plates, and developing a habit of spraying everything in 70% ethanol. Oh and dishwashing. A lot of dishwashing. Another way to approach it, what activities can you do, day in and day out, without losing your motivation or sanity?

Identify papers published on this topic. List the PIs.

Find as many papers as you can. Make sure the Methods section is filled with activities that you can do on a daily basis. Now, who are the authors on that paper? Especially, the author listed last. The last author position is reserved for the researcher who’s money or lab was primarily used to conduct the research. These are the principle investigators (PIs) that run labs and are the primary target of your “get into grad school” efforts. Make a list of the PIs that you want to target.

Now, we are going to take a look at your list of PIs and start to whittle it down. There are four things that will impact your ability to become a part of a PI’s lab. While looking through your list, research the following:

Has the PI produced recent publications?

Take a look at the list of papers you pulled. What was the date of the most recent publication? The most recent three publications? If the most recent paper was more than three years ago, that is a red flag. This shows that the PI may have moved away from this direction of research. This means their ongoing research may no longer match your interests. Thus, the PI wouldn’t pick you during the admission process.

Does the PI have funding for a new student?

This is a large obstacle. If a PI doesn’t have money to pay a student directly, there are ways around it, but that means any position available in the lab will be a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA). Which means you will have to teach classes throughout your time in grad school. This is a good thing if you want to teach after you get your degree, but teaching will not get you any closer to your degree. Time spent away from research means more time till you graduate. Thus, if you want to get through your degree in less than 6 or 7 years, the PI you want to work for needs to have funding. Funding also provides stability to the lab, ensuring that the lab won’t close during your degree. You can determine if a PI has funding based on their university bios, the number and frequency of papers they publish, and funding award notifications. There are also online tools that can help figure this out. The way you can think about it is this, the more money the PI has, the quicker you will get through your degree.

Does the PI have space for a new student?

For many admission decisions, it can be a question of physical space available. Some labs are full and there is no more work stations for a new student. Physical limitations are difficult to overcome and are often not solved until the lab can get additional funding and move to a larger space. Figuring out if the PI has space for you requires asking the PI directly. If the PI recently received a grant and has several recent publications, odds are yes, they will have space. You won’t know until you ask.

Does the PI want to bring on a new student?

Sometimes it happens that the PI doesn’t want a new student. Due to whatever circumstances the PI is experiencing, they may just not want a student. If that is the case, there is very little you can do to get in to the lab. This can be due to tenure position, personal factors, or they may be in the middle of moving their lab to another university. Whatever the reason, be courteous. You never know when the PI may crop up again in your career.

After researching, take action.

Look at the PIs still on your list. Locate their website, university bio, or social media. Reach out to them stating who you are and they you are interested in being a part of their lab. Ask relevant questions about their research and start a dialogue. Ask if they are interested in bringing on new students, do they have the space and desire? Ask if you could set up a video or phone call. If you can, ask for a visit, or take a tour, and get to know the department leaders. Don’t hesitate to ask, the worst that can happen is you receive a no or are ignored. All of this effort is to build relationships and become know to the PI and the department. That way, when your application is up, the PI will say, “I want this one.”

Last Thoughts

The goal is to convince a professor that you are the next student that will help them achieve their research goals. Show them that you are interested and invested in the research and want to make a difference in the lab. Focus on the goals of the lab, how you can be a part of pursuing those goals, and how the lab will help you reach your own goals. Build that relationship with the PI so the PI becomes your advocate during the application process and the grueling years of work ahead.


This is the number one question I answer to grad school hopefuls. What was your graduate admission process like? What helped you land a spot? If you are a professor, what do you look for during the admission process? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit to geralt found on pixabay.com.

5 Reasons Your Academic Lab Is a Small Business and Should Be Treated That Way

The way we thank about academic lab management is wrong. Academic labs are like small businesses, but we only thinking of them as publication machines. Researchers are expected to be highly successful business people on top of solving the world’s mysteries. Researchers constantly juggle research activities with business activities. Step into any lab however, and business activities are hardly addressed. Our academic labs suffer as a result as this unseen work goes unsupported.

1. Academic Labs Provide A Product and A Service

The products are publications and the service is education to undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students. These products and services are integral to the academic initiation’s goals and bottom line. For principle investigators, the demands of these two competing things becomes a razors edge when tenure and grant applications loom. Yet PIs are expected to walk that edge perfectly on top of everything else in and out of this list. One slip in either direction imperils the lab and the researcher’s career.

2. Academic Labs Manage Human Resources

In order for a professor to achieve tenure at their institution, they must successfully mentor and graduate students. Additionally, if the professor wants grow the lab and address more lines of research, more students and post-docs must be brought into the lab. Recruitment, retainment, and management of all the people – that’s called human resource management in any business setting. It should be called that in labs too, with the proper support and training provided.

3. Academic Labs Manage Supplies and Operations

Part of managing a lab is making sure all of the supplies are needed to get the research activities done. From pipet tips to motion platforms, all forms of research require inputs. In many businesses and corporations, there are entire departments that handle this. Additionally, there is the managing of the research itself. In business, operations management is described as the activities to make an organization as efficient as possible. With multiple research projects, limited space, and a constant quest for accuracy and precision, academic labs are a crash course in operations management. Yet, not even a whisper of these business terms permeate academic labs. That needs to change.

4. Academic Labs Have A Marketing Strategy

Academic labs have websites. Researchers give talks, go to conferences, share research, and network. Labs often have social media pages and spread their work through Twitter or LinkedIn. All of these activities are part of a marketing strategy to benefit the lab. Collaboration opportunities, recruitment, speaking requests, and conference invites all come about from being known in a field. Marketing strategies help labs become known and are used by researchers every day.

5. Academic Labs Make A Profit

The saying goes, publish or perish. In the academic research world, failure to publish is the quickest way to obscurity and joblessness. However, that saying is missing the middle, most important part. Publish, get funding, or perish. Publications lead to grants, which means money for the university, and leads to money for more research to publish. Labs need to make a profit in order to keep the university happy and reinvest into a new research project for a new grant. The moment a lab stops making a profit, the cycle of research grinds to a halt and the lab closes.

Provide The Support Academic Labs Need

Academic labs are small businesses. Approaching labs this way would ensure the proper training and support to ensure new researchers’ success. Turning away from this reality leads to burnout, high turnover, stress, and low productivity. This one change in mindset could lead to a positive impact in our academic labs everywhere. Steps could include providing business classes in accounting, project management, and basic human resources. When we ignore the need of business principles in academic labs, we set up them up for failure. Provide researchers with all the tools they need for success so that everyone can benefit.


Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment below, I want to know what you think.

Photo credit to RonaldCandonga found on pixabay.com.

The Best Lesson I Learned In Grad School – When To Go Home

I have my own grad school big mistake story. Everyone has at least one. Unbalanced centrifuges always get sympathetic groans, closed containers in an autoclave is another blood pressure raiser. My story is not big or flashy, I simply spilled. I spilled an extract that took 6 months to create. Twice. Effectively wasting a year’s worth of time in fifteen minutes.

I should have stopped after the first spill. Absolutely. But I wanted to be productive that day. I wanted to get something done. I still had all of the equipment and materials out, so my exhausted brain said, “Lets try one more time.” When my PI heard this, his response was a lesson I’ve truly come to value, “You need to learn when to go home.”

“Learning to go home” does not mean giving up. It means assessing your state, mental, physical, and emotional; then deciding if it is in your best interest to continue. That night in the lab, I hadn’t had more than 4 hours of sleep, I was studying for midterms, and had 70 papers to grade. I was exhausted through and through. Instead of taking stock, I stumbled into the lab.

At first, deciding to go home is a difficult decision, especially for high performers like grad students tend to be. We think we are the only ones that can do it, that it has to get done right now, and that we are some sort of failures if we don’t do it on time. Whatever your “it” is, the thought processes are the same. What I want to emphasize is that “going home” does not mean you are a failure, it means you had the intelligence to know that further action would be detrimental to your goals. A quick metaphor, driving sleepy is detrimental to you arriving at your destination in one piece. It is better to take a break, take a nap, than to continue and risk the chance of an accident. Research is exactly the same. Make the decision that will give you the greatest chance of arriving at your goals.

Another thing I discovered about “learning to go home” is I ended up making better decisions for my long term happiness. Four months after my spills, I made the decision to complete a master’s degree and leave the Ph.D. program at Oregon State University. This was the best decision I could have made. My path now is very different but I am so much happier with my direction. Making a decision that is in your best interest will never be the wrong one. Big or small, whether it is to take a nap or change your career path, the benefits are massive.

To this day, I still cringe when I think about my spills. I can still see the green tinged liquid pooling on the black bench top. I can still remember the frustration from my lab’s PI and post doc. Often “learning when to go home” is a lesson gained only after a horrifying mistake. So the next time you find yourself cross-eyed from weariness and your mind fogged by exhaustion, stop. Take a breath. You work will be stronger and your results better if you take a rest. It can wait.


What are your big mistake stories? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

Photo credit to mohamand_hassan found on pixabay.com.

P.S. Thank you to Dr. Videau and Dr. Philmus for taking me under your wing and teaching me so much. I’ll always be grateful.

3 Business Principles to Help You Win That Research Grant

We go into research because we want to make a difference, investigate the mysteries of the universe, expand the human knowledge. While basic research and questions are vital to investigate, funding is not given for answering specific niche questions. Grant funding is awarded for answering questions that matter to the most people. This means diseases, climate change, space exploration, cool sexy topics that people outside of your field will understand. This requires a shift in the way you think about grant applications. The three principles below can help you shift your thinking and land that next grant.

1. Competitive Landscape Analysis

A competitive landscape is a structured way of identifying and researching your competitors. In business world, that is other companies making similar products to you. In the academic world, competitors are labs applying for the same grant as you. Analyzing your competitors can provide several benefits.

  • Identify high competition grants to avoid
  • Avoid getting scooped by adjusting your research focus to a less crowded space
  • Identify gaps where your competitors aren’t and stand out in a less crowded field
  • Avoid applying for grants where the reviewers are your competitors

Competitive analysis is all about finding out who your competitors are, what space they are dominating, and making strategic decisions to either out compete them or find an empty niche where you can thrive. The same can be applied to research and grant applications.

2. Unique Value Proposition

Great, you’ve identified the areas of high and low competition. The next step is to identify what unique value you can provide to those low competition areas. Your unique value proposition is the thing that makes your lab different from anyone else. Do you have unique methods or are you investigating something no one else has though of? Your unique value proposition will make you stand out in a field of grant applications.

3. Product Market Fit

The next step is to match your unique value to the low competition grant you have identified. Called product market fit, this is the key to getting your next grant. The question to ask, “How can my unique value fit with the wants and desires of this low competition grant?” There are often grants offered for research on conditions or questions that affect many people or a few people severely. Your hypothesis might not help them directly, but could your research help solve or alleviate that need in the future? Assessing this fit, between what you offer and what people want, is key to getting a strong response from grant reviewers. You want to show them that your research is an important step toward a solution to their problem.

Putting It Together

Find a low competition grant by analyzing where your competitors apply. Avoid the high competition grants where other applicants are similar to you. Find what makes you unique, capitalize on it to stand out. Then match the low competition grant to your unique value. The end result, less competition, eye catching uniqueness, and a direct connection to their problem and your research; which means a new grant for you.

Here are some examples form my experience and that of my colleagues. Vision and vestibular research applied to underwater virtual reality training program for NASA. Presynaptic vesicle movement and recovery speed applied to deafness. Genetic manipulation of E. choli to accept cyanobacterial genes applied to drug discovery.

The funding for your research is out there. You can get it with the help of a few business principles.


Please let me know what you think of the article in the comments below. Was it helpful? What other topics can I address?

Photo credit to Tumisu found on pixabay.com.

Storytelling as A Leadership Tool for Principle Investigators

Research in academic labs is a long term and often arduous process. Bolstering motivation and orienting lab members to the same goal often falls to the principle investigator. As the leader of the lab, it is one of the most important duties. Otherwise, nothing would get done. To help with motivation and dedication to long term goals, storytelling is a leadership tool principle investigators can use.

As Patti Sanchez from Duarte describes in her recent article,

Stories can improve understanding, make ideas more accessible, and make us feel emotions that compel us to action. But storytelling can also help us conceptualize the future. In leaders’ hands, great stories can help guide teams through long-term changes.

Long-term changes and challenges are the bedrock of every publication. Storytelling can be used to keep the lab group together through the sometimes years long process.

The anatomy of a story has three parts, a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is about introducing the hero of the story and includes a call to action. Then there is the tough middle, where obstacles and challenges block the way. Last is the end, where the hero overcomes and achieves the goal. Transforming this to a lab, the lab group is the hero and the call to action is testing the hypothesis. The messy middle is where experiments go wrong, centrifuges explode, and the product isolation fails. Finally, the end is where the research is pulled together, published, and celebrated.

Telling the journey of a publication in this way can have a huge impact on the people in your lab and outside of it. The story can create an identity for your lab group, making them feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves. Insights gained during the research process are preserved as well, helping to avoid mistakes in the future. Additionally, stories can make ideas stick. The audience at your next talk will be thinking about your story and research for a long time afterwards. Lastly, your research story can drive action and influence behavior. A successful story can be a huge influence, causing others to take action.

Storytelling is not just about making science come to life. It is about motivating people to action along side you. Great storytelling is a leadership skill that anyone can use and refine with practice. Often in lab settings, the grind of research can cause burn out and inefficiencies overtime. Instead of reprimanding or punishing, try telling the research story. Create an identity, share insights, make the ideas stick, and drive action. Tell the story of a successful lab and lead your people to it.

What are your experiences with storytelling as a leadership tool in a lab? What were the results? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit to ar130405 found on pixabay.com.

The Most Important Thing All Professors Should Know About Lab Management

When I say lab management, the first thing that comes to mind at any university is money. Will the grant cover this? Can we spend the grant before the year end? Will we win the next grant? All of these questions are incredibly valid. Without money, without supplies, work in the lab will grind to a halt. However, there is one thing that is even more important – the people in your lab.

The people in your lab are your best resource. They expand the ability of your lab and are important for those seeking tenure. However, students, post docs, others in your lab need support and mentorship to grow. Managing students is not just about telling them what to do and following up. Managing someone is also about mentoring them. Research has shown that over the past 40 years, the most stable predictor of a student’s success in research was their mentorship.

The best way to mentor the people in your lab is to help them grow. This can be growth in skills, growth professionally, or personal growth. Helping someone grow takes skill, it is not an easy thing to do. Dr. John C. Maxwell has a conceptual model that is easy and intuitive. He calls it the skill of equipping others – to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge to grow. Equipping someone else with a skill takes five steps:

  • Model – I do it
  • Mentor – I do it and you’re with me
  • Monitor – You do it and I’m with you
  • Motivate – You do it
  • Multiply – You teach someone else how to do it

As you move through the steps, the person you are equipping becomes more and more independent. A huge benefit to equipping others is that you are freed to do other things. As you equip the people in your lab, as you help them grown and develop, your entire lab will become more efficient and effective. Suddenly, you do have time to write the next grant, because you are no longer necessary for the tasks others can now handle. The benefits of this model compound as the people you equip then move on to equip others. The skill is perpetuated without your presence. This growth ensures that your lab continues to be productive and highly skilled.

John C. Maxwell says it best, “growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow will be any better”. To grow your lab, to spread your influence, and to be seen as successful it is imperative that the people in your lab grow and get better day over day. The only thing that will change the botched experiment is if the student learns and does better next time. The only way to ensure that you have better chances of publishing that next paper is to grow in knowledge and skill for the next grant. Growth for a better tomorrow is a simple idea, but incredibly powerful.

Last thought, if you grow and support your people, they will grow and support your lab. It is a reciprocating relationship. The student that you mentored and helped graduate can become a collaborator. The next post doc you hire was from another of your student’s labs. The next grant, the next referral, the next student, it becomes a network that supports your lab into the future. That network will be your legacy and can have an impact far beyond your lab.

Photo credit to RAEng_Publications found on pixabay.com.

To see the legacy of researchers and how mentorship has connected them, check out academictree.com. Stephen Hawking has an interesting tree to explore.