Sunday, August 27, 2006

I'll take "The Business of Science 101" please Alex

I was reading Science+Professor+Women=Me's blog on War stories and it reminded me about how much our jobs as academic faculty are like small business owners. As a PI, you are the creative force (ideas for projects), financial manager (managing grant money), human resource manager (responsible for the hiring and sometimes firing of your workers) and marketing department (writing of grants, procuring collaborative relationships and seminar speaker), all wrapped up in one. When I set up my first lab, I used to joke that I was going to add "electrician, plumber, and carpenter" to my CV. It's amazing how many times I've discussed rewiring to add emergency power outlets, or discussed sink drainage with physical plant workers. I've crawled behind incubators, under tissue culture hoods and on top of benches to keep the lab running.

Either I had my head too far in my lab book or I never realized how my PhD and postdoc didn't really totally prepare me for running a lab. As a graduate student and postdoc, my life centered around the wet lab and manuscript writing. Then suddenly as a lab PI, I was pushing a lot more paper around on my desk and dealing with a lot of human issues. One of my favorites was calling a NY-based moving company and threatening to descend the corporate lawyers upon them if they didn't release my Thai graduate student's belongings for delivery by the contractual date in two days. They were taking advantage of her poor English to hold her belongings for ransom until they had a reason to drive a truck out our way. And there's the postdoc who I hired against my better judgement (and gut feeling). At her second yearly review, we spent close to two hours discussing why I was giving her a negative review, at the end of which she replied, "So am I getting a promotion?"

Based on my experiences over the last 10 years, I think I would change the cirriculum for science graduate students to include two additional courses: Grant Accounting 101 and Personnel Management 101. Grant accounting because to this day I can't read the financial spreadsheets that accounting sends me to let me know how my money is being distributed and spent. In my last position I was blessed with a deparmental financial administrator who loved numbers and always made sure all money was used appropriately and fully. She hated giving money back to the government. And all kidding aside, Personnel Management 101 training could be really useful because labs are small communities with people of different personalities, different bench-styles, and different likes and dislikes. It can be quite challenging to keep the lab environment positive; a shared interest in a research area is often not enough. I think I would have appreciated some insight into what my management style was, the types of human issues that a laboratory head might encounter and some management tricks of the trade would probably come in handy.

SciMom: I'll take the Business of Science for 100, Alex.
Alex: The answer is: Academic Science Faculty position
SciMom: What is a job where you get a PhD (4-6 years), perform at least one postdoc (2-4 years) and despite all that additional training, will still be required to find the funding for your own salary?


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