Archive for: July, 2012

Ancient empires, or three musketeers?

Jul 17 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the things I'm quite sure each and every one of you has been told is that an important part of your training is having the opportunity to mentor people. And it is, for sure! Mentor away, you TT hopefuls, because if you can't teach another person how to run a western blot or design a properly controlled experiment, you're in the wrong business. But what nobody tells anybody is that you also have to know how to manage people, which is completely different from mentoring them.

By somewhat of a coincidence, my grad student and my technician started full-time in the lab on the exact same day last fall. This had its pros, as it created an instant camaraderie, a we're-all-in-this-together motivation that I think was good for morale as we all got to opening boxes and whatnot. And as we started having enough supplies to actually do real science things, I taught both grad student and technician everything, together. And when I had a bright-eyed cadre of undergrads join the lab last spring, they all learned the same things as each other, and they all helped each other on the same project, because really we were just piloting behavior stuff. This was the Three Musketeers style of management--all for one and one for all--everyone knows how to do everything, all working towards a singular goal. Good for team spirit, but not so good for people feeling like they had any personal stake in the work.

This summer, we've had a bit of a changing of the guard. Old tech is out, new tech is in, and I'm taking a more "divide and conquer" approach. I want my trainees to feel more personal, individual ownership of the work they do here. Now that more techniques are up and running (and my first grant is funded, w00t!), I can start assigning projects and letting the students take on more responsibility, freeing up my tech to do what she was hired to do: organize my shit and be a kick-ass microscopist.

So far, I think it's working. Grad Student has been mentoring the summer students to much success, and I have been mentoring the mentoring, a little. The undergrads are thrilled to pieces that we're letting them do the things they're doing, and taking on their new responsibilities with much seriousness and enthusiasm. People are invested now, and that's a very good thing, as far as I can tell.

In the next six months, a second grad student and a post-doc will join our happy family. I'm sure the lab dynamic will shift yet again, but this time I think/hope I'll be better prepared to help them find their place a little more easily.

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