Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientifıc Management

Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientifıc Management
Making the Right Moves
A Practical Guide to Scientifıc Management
for Postdocs and New Faculty
Burroughs Wellcome Fund
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Second Edition
Making the
Right Moves
A Practical Guide to
Scientifıc Management for
Postdocs and New Faculty
Second Edition
Based on the BWF-HHMI
Course in Scientifıc Management for the
Beginning Academic Investigator
Burroughs Wellcome Fund
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Chevy Chase, Maryland
© 2006 by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Burroughs Wellcome Fund
All rights reserved.
09 08 07 06 1 2 3 4 5
Permission to use, copy, and distribute this manual or excerpts from this manual is
granted provided that (1) the copyright notice above appears in all reproductions; (2)
use is for noncommercial educational purposes only; (3) the manual or excerpts are not
modified in any way; and (4) no figures or graphic images are used, copied, or distributed separate from accompanying text. Requests beyond that scope should be directed
to [email protected]
The views expressed in this publication are those of its contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute or the Burroughs
Wellcome Fund.
This manual is also available online at
Project Developers: Maryrose Franko, Ph.D., and Martin Ionescu-Pioggia, Ph.D.
Editor: Laura Bonetta, Ph.D.
Managing Editor: Patricia Davenport
Production Manager: Dean Trackman
Designer: Raw Sienna Digital
Writers: Joan Guberman, Judith Saks, Barbara Shapiro, and Marion Torchia
Copyeditors: Cay Butler and Kathleen Savory
Indexer: Mary E. Coe
Burroughs Wellcome Fund
21 T.W. Alexander Drive
P.O. Box 13901
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
4000 Jones Bridge Road
Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815-6789
Chapter 1 u Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
The Job Search 5
The Job Application 8
The Job Interview 11
Negotiating Your Position 16
Resources 24
Chapter 2 u Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
Organization of a “Typical” University 26
Organization of a “Typical” Academic Health Center 28
People You Should Get to Know 29
Faculty Governing Bodies and Committees 30
Support Facilities and Services 31
Responsibilities Beyond the Laboratory 35
The Scientific Investigator and the Outside World 37
Planning for Promotion and Tenure 38
Resources 46
Chapter 4 u Staffing Your Laboratory
Getting Started 77
Recruiting Applicants 79
Screening Applicants 81
Interviewing Applicants 83
Evaluating Applicants 89
Making the Offer 91
Asking Staff to Leave 91
Resources 95
Appendix: Telephone Interview Outline 96
Chapter 3 u Laboratory Leadership in Science
Your Role as a Laboratory Leader 50
Creating Your Vision as a Leader 53
Developing Your Leadership Style 55
Building and Sustaining an Effective Team 57
Resources 72
Appendix 1: The Four Preferences That Make Up Your Personality Type 73
Appendix 2: Performance Review Form 75
Appendix 3: Performance Feedback Checklist for Managers 76
HHMI iii
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Chapter 5 u Mentoring and Being Mentored
What is Mentoring? 97
A Mentor's Responsibilities 98
Strategies for Effective Mentoring in Your Lab 100
Different Mentoring Needs 103
Mentoring Individuals Outside Your Lab 105
How to Get the Mentoring You Need 106
Gender and Culture Issues 108
Resources 110
Chapter 6 u Time Management
Strategies for Planning Your Activities 113
Managing Your Time Day to Day 115
Special Issues 120
Resources 123
Chapter 9 u Getting Funded
Understanding the NIH Funding Process 154
Preparing a Strong Grant Application 161
A Bit About Budgets 168
Submitting Your Application 170
The National Science Foundation 172
Resources 173
Chapter 10 u Getting Published and Increasing Your Visibility
A Brief Overview of Scientific Publishing 175
Planning for Publication 177
Getting Your Paper Published 179
Increasing Your Visibility 183
Resources 185
Chapter 7 u Project Management
What Is Project Management? 125
Getting Started 127
Tracking the Work and the Resources 131
Project Management Software 132
Controlling the Project 134
Resources 135
Appendix: Project Management—A Real-Life Example 137
Chapter 8 u Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks
Day-to-Day Record Keeping: The Lab Notebook 143
Tracking and Storing Information 147
Finding the Right Data Management System for You 150
Resources 152
iv BWF
Chapter 11 u Understanding Technology Transfer
University Technology Transfer Offices 187
The Technology Transfer Process 188
The Legal Terms and Agreements 189
Sponsorship and Consultation 196
Conflicts of Commitment and Interest 198
Resources 199
Chapter 13 u Teaching and Course Design
Why Teach Well 211
Becoming an Effective Teacher 212
Planning to Teach a Course 215
The Principles of Active Learning 215
Active Learning at a Medical School 221
Assessing Student Learning 223
Course Design 226
Teaching Others to Teach 231
Professional Considerations 234
Resources 236
Appendix 1: Examples of Active Assessments for Large Lectures 242
Appendix 2: Bloom’s Taxonomy 245
Chapter 12 u Setting Up Collaborations
The Varieties of Collaboration 201
Should You Collaborate? 202
Setting Up a Collaboration 203
The Ingredients of a Successful Collaboration 205
Special Challenges for the Beginning Investigator 207
International Collaborations 208
When a Collaboration is Not Working 209
Resources 210
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute
(HHMI) have similar missions—to advance medical science by funding scientific
research and education. In July 2002, the two organizations entered into a unique
collaboration to further advance these goals by offering a course in laboratory leadership and management at HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
The idea for the course grew out of feedback that BWF and HHMI staff had
solicited over the years from talented young biomedical scientists who had received
research training or career development grants from the organizations. These beginning investigators described the challenges they faced in having to fulfill their
research, teaching, administrative, and clinical responsibilities while simultaneously
being expected to obtain grant support, publish, hire staff, and keep their labs running smoothly—all without formal management training. Their comments suggested
that the grantees might have avoided costly mistakes and made better progress if
they had learned to be managers as well as researchers before establishing their
own laboratories.
The course in scientific management, which focused on these competencies,
received an exceptionally enthusiastic response. In the postcourse focus groups and
surveys, participants said that a manual based on the course would be a valuable
reference for them and for colleagues who could not attend the course. The resulting manual, Making the Right Moves, first published in 2004, was, like the course, a
success. Since its publication, 15,000 copies of the book have been distributed to
individual scientists and professional societies and many more copies have been
downloaded as a PDF version available at In
June 2005, BWF and HHMI organized a second iteration of the course, which included new sessions, and revised the manual to reflect the new material. This
second edition of the manual contains one new chapter, “Teaching and Course
Design,” and substantially revised chapters, “Laboratory Leadership in Science” and
“Project Management.” All other chapters were revised and updated with additional
information presented at the 2005 course.
As a companion to this book, BWF and HHMI have also developed a how-to
guide for organizing training programs focused on laboratory leadership and management. The guide is intended to encourage universities, professional societies,
postdoctoral associations, and other organizations to develop these types of
courses for their constituents. BWF and HHMI believe that training in scientific
management should be made available to all researchers early in their careers.
HHMI vii
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Just like the first edition, the second edition of Making the Right Moves is intended
for laboratory-based biomedical scientists just starting out—advanced postdoctoral
fellows ready to enter the academic job market and new faculty members in
research universities and medical schools. Much of the material, however, is also
relevant to scientists pursuing nonacademic career paths. The manual is available on
the Web as a PDF; a hard copy may be requested from HHMI. Academic organizations and institutions are free to distribute copies of the book, or sections of it, for
educational purposes.
The purpose of the manual is to alert beginning scientists to the importance of the
leadership and managerial aspects of their new (or soon-to-be-acquired) jobs and
to give them practical information that will help them succeed as planners and
managers of research programs. Not only will the researchers benefit, but the scientific enterprise will benefit as well.
Enriqueta C. Bond, Ph.D.
Burroughs Wellcome Fund
viii BWF
Thomas R. Cech, Ph.D.
Howard Hughes
Medical Institute
Peter J. Bruns, Ph.D.
Vice President
Grants and Special
Howard Hughes
Medical Institute
This manual and the course on which it is largely based owe their existence to
many people. Maryrose Franko (HHMI) and Martin Ionescu-Pioggia (formerly
BWF) advocated for both projects, guided their development, and brought them to
completion. Laura Bonetta, science writer and course coordinator, and Patricia
Davenport (HHMI) were crucial to shaping the content of the manual and managing the editorial process. The following people organized the sessions of the course
and reviewed the relevant chapters for the manual: Jim Austin (American
Association for the Advancement of Science), Victoria McGovern (BWF), Rolly L.
Simpson (BWF), Andrea L. Stith (HHMI), Nancy Sung (BWF), Ahn-Chi Le
(HHMI), and Barbara Ziff (HHMI).
Several scientists read various portions of the book and provided insightful comments. They include Ann J. Brown (Duke University School of Medicine), Ronald
B. Corley (Boston University School of Medicine), Milton W. Datta (Emory
University School of Medicine), Mark A. Hermodson (Purdue University), Joan M.
Lakoski (University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine), Tom Misteli (National
Institutes of Health), Klaus R. L. Nusslein (University of Massachusetts–Amherst),
Rudy Pozzati (National Institutes of Health), and Laurie Tompkins (National
Institutes of Health). Thanks also go to William R. Galey, Heidi E. Henning, Philip
Perlman, and Carl Rhodes of HHMI for their careful review of the chapters.
We are grateful to the speakers of the 2002 and 2005 courses for developing the
materials presented during sessions, on which this book is based, and reviewing the
contents of the resulting chapters. They are David J. Adams (Duke University
Medical Center), Curtis R. Altmann (Florida State University College of Medicine),
Kathy Barker (author), Martin J. Blaser (New York University School of Medicine),
R. Alta Charo (University of Wisconsin Law School), Martha J. Connolly (Maryland
Technology Enterprise Institute), David Cortez (Vanderbilt University), Milton W.
Datta (Emory University School of Medicine), Anthony Demsey (National
Institutes of Health), Joseph deRisi (University of California–San Francisco),
Angela Eggleston (Nature America), Claire E. Fraser (The Institute for Genomic
Research), Chris M. Golde (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching), William E. Goldman (Washington University), Todd R. Golub (DanaFarber Cancer Institute), Bettie J. Graham (National Institutes of Health), R. Kevin
Grigsby (Penn State College of Medicine), Stephen L. Hajduk (Marine Biological
Laboratory), Jo Handelsman (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Christine Harris
(independent consultant), Manju M. Hingorani (Wesleyan University), Hopi
Hoekstra (University of California–San Diego), Howard Kanare (Construction
Technology Laboratories), Elizabeth Keath (Saint Louis University), Neil L.
Kelleher (University of Illinois in Urbana), Joan C. King (Tufts University School
of Medicine), Jessica C. Kissinger (University of Georgia), Meta Kuehn (Duke
University Medical Center), Joan M. Lakoski (University of Pittsburgh School of
Medicine), Jennifer Lodge (Saint Louis University School of Medicine), Anna M.
McCormick (National Institutes of Health), Michael E. McClure (National
Institutes of Health), Francis J. Meyer (A. M. Pappas & Associates), Robert Milner
(Penn State College of Medicine), Christopher Moulding (formerly HHMI),
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Edward O’Neil (University of California–San Francisco), Judith Plesset (National
Science Foundation), Suzanne Pfeffer (Stanford University School of Medicine),
Stanley E. Portny (Stanley E. Portny and Associates), Pradipsinh K. Rathod
(University of Washington), Matthew Redinbo (University of North
Carolina–Chapel Hill), Richard M. Reis (Stanford University), David S. Roos
(University of Pennsylvania), Sandra L. Schmid (The Scripps Research Institute),
Christine E. Seidman (Harvard Medical School), Dorothy E. Shippen (Texas A&M
University), Jonathan W. Simons (Emory University School of Medicine), Brent R.
Stockwell (Columbia University), Rick Tarleton (University of Georgia), Emily Toth
(Louisiana State University), Gina Turrigiano (Brandeis University), Joseph M.
Vinetz (University of Texas Medical Branch–Galveston), Tony G. Waldrop
(University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill), Johannes Walter (Harvard Medical
School), Matthew L. Warman (Case Western Reserve University School of
Medicine), Christopher Wylie (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Research Foundation),
and E. Lynn Zechiedrich (Baylor College of Medicine).
In addition, several scientists were interviewed for the chapter on laboratory leadership: Gail H. Cassel (Eli Lilly and Company), Thomas Cech (HHMI), Tamara L.
Doering (Washington University School of Medicine), B. Brett Finlay (University of
British Columbia), and Charles E. Murry (University of Washington School of
Medicine). We are also thankful for the contributions of Krystyna R. Isaacs, who
conducted evaluations of the course and of the first edition of Making the Right
Writers Joan Guberman, Judith Saks, Barbara Shapiro, and Marion Torchia synthesized information presented during the course and conducted additional research to
draft chapters of the manual. Former HHMI librarian Cathy Harbert suggested and
obtained additional resources for the writers and course organizers. HHMI’s Dean
Trackman managed the production process; Cay Butler, Linda Harteker, and
Kathleen Savory provided additional editorial support; and Mary E. Coe created
the index. Adam Newton, Catherine Newton, and Tom Wood (Raw Sienna Digital)
designed the manual.
You are now a fully trained biomedical research scientist. You have earned a Ph.D.
or an M.D. or both and have spent several years as a postdoctoral fellow learning
the ropes of your specialty. You have the credentials you need for a career as an
academic researcher. But as you establish your own laboratory and build your
research program, you are becoming aware that research skills are only part—albeit
a critical part—of what you need to succeed.
In your first few years as a tenure-track faculty scientist, you will be asked to balance multiple new demands on top of your research, including teaching, administrative tasks, and perhaps clinical responsibilities. At the same time, you will be
expected to hire staff and establish a laboratory, plan a coherent research program,
obtain grant funding, and publish in the top journals. Meanwhile, your tenure clock
will be ticking, placing you under enormous pressure to produce. You need special
skills to meet all these expectations—a mixed bag of competencies that can be
loosely characterized as “scientific management” skills. It is unlikely that you have
received explicit instruction in any of these skills in graduate or medical school or
during your postdoctoral studies. Like most beginning investigators, you probably
were only able to learn a bit through trial and error or by watching your teachers
and talking to your advisers, mentors, and fellow students.
Why do we need something like a lab management course?
Biomedical research today is a complex enterprise that spans
multiple biological levels, requires a variety of equipment and
staff, and demands success with limited funds. Each one of you
is really an entrepreneur running your own new small business.
—Enriqueta Bond, BWF
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
This manual provides an outline for filling this educational gap. The content of the
first edition of this book, published in 2004, was based on the “Course in Scientific
Management for the Beginning Academic Investigator,” held at Howard Hughes
Medical Institute (HHMI) headquarters in July 2002. The course was developed
and sponsored by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) and HHMI for selected
BWF and HHMI grantees. This revised version of the manual incorporates new
information from the second BWF-HHMI course held at HHMI in June 2005. The
chapters were developed from the course presentations and panel discussions,
handouts from presenters, the question-and-answer sessions, feedback from course
participants, and subsequent interviews with the presenters and other scientists. In
addition, more information, particularly relevant to physician-scientists, was added
to each chapter. Content was also drawn from many of the resources listed at the
end of each chapter. Each chapter was reviewed by the session speaker(s), course
developers, and other BWF and HHMI staff.
Although Making the Right Moves is directed to laboratory-based academic scientists,
much of the material would also be of use to beginning investigators in government and industry labs. The first chapter, “Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty
Position,” offers tips on finding and negotiating terms for a faculty position and
outlines the expectations of a faculty job. The next chapter, “Understanding
University Structure and Planning for Tenure,” takes a look at the typical decisionmaking hierarchy of a research university and an academic health center, discusses
your professional responsibilities outside the laboratory, introduces some of the
academic offices with which you will interact and the resources available to support
your research, and outlines the requirements for obtaining tenure.
Two chapters deal with people skills. “Laboratory Leadership in Science” summarizes the role of the head of the laboratory in leading, motivating, and managing
members of a lab. “Mentoring and Being Mentored” explores what it means to be
a mentor, particularly as a strategy for facilitating learning and training new scientists. It includes approaches to help you be an effective mentor and offers advice
on how to obtain the mentoring you need.
“Staffing Your Laboratory” provides pointers on recruiting a team of people who
will contribute to the success of your lab. It also discusses what to do if you have to
let someone go. Several chapters offer information about time management, project
management, and data management. “Getting Funded” and “Getting Published and
Increasing Your Visibility” discuss these challenging tasks in the competitive environment of biomedical research. “Setting Up Collaborations” and “Understanding
Technology Transfer” are particularly relevant at a time when research projects often
involve scientists in different departments and different universities and when
research findings are often shared with industry and government.
New to this version of the book is the chapter “Teaching and Course Design,”
which offers tips on how to design a course, how to deliver lessons that engage students, and how to keep teaching responsibilities from engulfing your time.
Given time and space constraints, some topics, such as lab safety, scientific writing,
public speaking, communicating science to the public, and science policy, were not
covered in the BWF-HHMI courses or in this manual. This information is typically
taught at most universities or is available from other sources (e.g., HHMI has published several videos on laboratory safety, available at no charge from HHMI’s
online catalog at ).
The manual is not meant to be a comprehensive reference text. It is designed to
highlight key points about managing scientific research operations that are not
readily available in print elsewhere. The manual is likewise not meant to be prescriptive. It is a collection of opinions, experiences, and tips from established scientists and professionals. A complementary publication, Training Scientists to Make the
Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Developing Programs in Scientific Management, serves as a
resource for organizations that are developing their own courses in scientific
You are encouraged to supplement the information in this book with resources
from postdoctoral or professional associations and Web resources, as well as the
books and articles mentioned in each chapter. You are also encouraged to discuss
ideas in the book with colleagues, mentors, and advisers and to suggest that they
organize similar courses at your own institution.
Chapter 1
s you complete your postdoctoral training, you are probably starting to think
about the next step in your research career. For some of you, this may mean a position as an investigator in an industry or government laboratory. For others, this
may mean a faculty position at a university or medical center. If you pursue the latter, you will have to decide whether a tenured or nontenured position is better
suited to your personal goals and ambitions. Although all these career options are
rewarding, this chapter focuses on the tenure-track faculty appointment.
As you embark on your search, you will face a series of challenging questions:
What do I want and need from my job?
How can I ensure that my achievements and capabilities will be
How do I go about finding a job?
How will I choose among the offers I receive?
How can I ensure that the resources I need to launch my career are
included in the job package?
There are no universally right answers to these questions, but there are well-tested
strategies for finding and obtaining the right academic appointment and for obtaining tenure. This chapter discusses some of them.
O nce you decide to launch your search, make it a concentrated effort. Ideally,
doing so will bring multiple offers your way at about the same time. Making the job
hunt a flat-out effort also makes the labor-intensive process of gathering credentials and references much more worthwhile. Keep in mind that most academic
positions are advertised in the fall, with the assumption that the job will start in
summer or fall of the following year.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Knowing What You Want
Your chances of finding the right job will be greater if you have your own needs
and wants firmly in mind. For example, consider the following questions:
Do you need to be working at a top-rated institution, or would a lessintense atmosphere be acceptable or even preferable, given your talents and
Do you want to devote yourself exclusively to research, or would you
prefer some combination of research and teaching or clinical practice?
Do you want or need to be in a particular area of the country? Do you
prefer an urban, rural, or suburban location?
Will personal responsibilities, or your spouse’s or partner’s professional
needs, set limits on your search?
If you are a physician-scientist, will you want to see patients and how much
time will you want to devote to research versus clinical practice?
Learning What Is Out There
Use all available formal and informal sources of information. Formal sources of
information include the following:
Job announcement letters sent to your department
Announcements (print and online) in major scientific journals such as Cell,
Science, and Nature and in publications devoted to your subspecialty
A Few Career-Related Web
Sites for Scientists
Science magazine’s Web site contains a Career Development resource for postdocs
and beginning faculty
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s online newsletter
“Career Network” has career news and advice and
publishes new scientific faculty and research jobs
every day (
The University of Washington’s Re-envisioning the
Ph.D. provides Web resources related to job hunting
for doctoral students, postdocs, and academics
Web sites of academic institutions
Employment bulletins published by
professional associations
Mail list servers for postdoctoral fellows
Informal sources can be even more valuable—for example, the supervisor of your
postdoctoral research; other scientists with
whom you have a relationship, especially
those with whom you have collaborated; and
your peers. So, get the word out that you are
Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
Narrowing Your Search
Measure each job opportunity against your list of priorities. Find out about
The institution’s mission, values, political and social climate, and quality
(e.g., national or regional ranking)
The department’s mission, research activities, curriculum, and collegial
The parameters and expectations of the position, including whether it is
tenure track
Faculty policies regarding parental leave and tenure clock extension
There’s no easy way to tell how many positions to apply for. Remember, though,
job hunting is not wasted time; the process has valuable spin-offs. For example, you
will get a chance to make presentations about your work. Your ideas are sharpened
in the process, and the research itself benefits. You are practicing skills you will use
throughout your career. You also get better at the job-hunting process as you go
along. Your self-confidence builds, and your sense of what you want develops as
you are introduced to various research environments.
However, don’t apply for a job that you are clearly not qualified for or that really
does not interest you. You don’t want to waste people’s time and perhaps damage
your own credibility.
What Is Tenure Track?
Tenure is not given immediately to new faculty. Instead, jobs are designated as eligible for tenure, or
“tenure track.” A tenure-track position is one that leads to a permanent professorial appointment. In
most institutions, tenure confers virtual lifetime job security because a tenured professor cannot be
fired, except for certain limited causes, such as gross misconduct or neglect of duty. For many basic sciences departments, tenure means full salary support even if grants dry up. In the clinical sciences,
because clinicians have a second source of salary support other than the university, tenure may not
imply full salary support. Keep in mind that, from the perspective of the institution, tenure is a financial
commitment to you. Being offered a nontenure position is not necessarily a reflection of the institution’s assessment of your worth, but rather an assessment of whether the position is one that they can
commit to supporting, even if your grant funds dry up.
Typically, a faculty member hired in a tenure-track position will work for approximately five years
before a formal decision is made on whether tenure will be granted. If tenure is not granted, the investigator is typically asked to leave so that someone else can fill the tenure-track spot.
Non-tenure-track positions are often characterized by lower salaries and high teaching loads. But on
the upside, some individuals choose them because they provide greater choice in terms of geographic
location (as these posts are less competitive) and greater flexibility in career choices. (Also see
chapter 2, “Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure.”)
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
nce you have found one or several positions that you would like to apply for,
you want your application to stand out sufficiently so that you will be invited for an
interview. Here are some guidelines.
Making a Good First Impression
Your application is likely to be one of hundreds that an overworked search committee must sift through. Follow the application instructions, and make sure your
application is concise and free of factual, grammatical, and spelling errors. You
don’t want it eliminated at the outset because it makes a bad impression.
Get your application in on time. However, if you learn about the position after the
application deadline has passed, still send in your application; many departments
are willing to consider late applications.
—Johannes Walter, Harvard Medical School
Components of a Job Application
While a nicely prepared application will obviously not get you a
job, a poorly prepared one makes a bad impression no matter how
many papers you have published.
The cover letter. This letter, which should be limited to one page, is extremely
important and should be written with great care. It should give the search committee a quick but informative picture of your background and interests relevant to the
job. Include the following items in your letter:
Brief self-introduction
Statement about your research accomplishments, indicating why the work
is novel and interesting
Statement specifying the position for which you are applying
Brief description of your research plans, indicating what is important or
creative about what you propose
Brief description of your teaching (or clinical) experience, if the position
emphasizes these activities
Any special circumstances you believe the committee should know about
up front
Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
The last item may be a difficult judgment call. It is hard to know whether to reveal
information that could eliminate you as a candidate before you’ve even had an
interview but that will need to be addressed should you receive an offer. The classic example of such a situation is that your spouse is also a scientist looking for a
faculty appointment. If you decide not to mention such a circumstance in your
cover letter, inform the search committee of your special needs early in the interview process.
You may also mention your references (included in your curriculum vitae, or CV)
and describe how they know you.
The CV. This career summary should contain:
Your name and address
All professional positions held, with dates and brief descriptions of the
work performed
All higher education, with degrees obtained and dates
Awards and honors, including pre- and postdoctoral fellowships
Major sources of independent funding
Teaching experience, awards, and interests
References, including names, titles, and addresses and other contact
Invited keynotes and presentations
Board certifications and eligibility for physician-scientists
Two-Academic-Career Couples
“Partner hire” packages, in which a job is found for
the accompanying spouse or partner, take considerable work.You should put this item on the table
early in the interview process—certainly before you
receive an offer.You will learn whether the university, and your prospective department, views twocareer appointments positively or as a nuisance.
Highlight your name in bold type in your
publications list. If you are listed as an
equal author on a paper, use an asterisk
next to your name and all other authors
who are equal and note “*equal authorship” immediately below the relevant reference. Do not rearrange the published order of
authors to show that you have equal first authorship. List manuscripts in preparation under
a separate category. Indicate accompanying
News & Views articles or other reviews of
your publications. Do not include posters
exhibited at scientific meetings.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
The research proposal. This is the core of your application. It will describe your
research plans to a search committee composed of people from several scientific
areas outside your subspecialty.
Many successful applicants write two (or possibly three) research proposals, the
first of which is closely related to their current postdoctoral work. The second and
third proposals show the applicant’s ability to think beyond his or her current work.
These proposals are typically more creative and demonstrate a bit more risk.
Include the following items in your proposals:
A statement about the problem you intend to work on, indicating the key
unanswered questions you will tackle. State how this research is expected to
contribute to your general area.
A description of your research plans. This section should comprise 50 to
70 percent of the proposal. Put forward three or four specific aims that
address a range of fundamental questions within your discipline. Demonstrate that you have the necessary background to achieve what you propose. Be both creative and realistic.
A few figures (perhaps one per proposal). These can help make your proposal more interesting to the search committee, which will be wading
through perhaps hundreds of proposals from the other applicants. Remember, figures are most useful when they’re embedded in the text and not
tacked on at the end.
A detailed description of your postdoctoral research, with an emphasis on
what is novel and important and how it is the basis for your research proposal. Describe your predoctoral graduate research only if it is critical to your
current interests. Make clear to the search committee that the work you are
taking with you will not be in direct competition with your postdoc adviser.
A list of references that includes your publications and manuscripts submitted or in press, as well as pertinent publications by others.
Reprints. Follow the directions for each application. Send along any important
papers that are not yet published; otherwise, the committee will not have access to
Statement of teaching. If the job has a teaching component, add a separate section describing your interest in and approach to teaching and your experience.
Letters of recommendation. Depending on the application instructions, letters of
recommendation can be included in the application package or submitted subsequently to the search committee. Typically, these letters are written by your graduate
and postdoctoral advisers. It is also perfectly acceptable to submit one or two more
references than the number asked for in the application. When you approach someone other than an adviser for a letter of recommendation, use the conversation as
an opportunity to get a sense of how they judge your work. If you encounter any
hesitation at all, or an indication that the person does not have time to write a letter
or does not know you well enough to do so, ask others. You should ask someone
10 BWF
Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
Question: What if I don’t get along with my adviser?
who really knows you and your work, not
just someone with an important title.
Give those who are writing you a letter of
recommendation plenty of time to prepare
the letter. Give them your application package. If they suggest, prepare a draft of the
letter of recommendation for them. Point
out strengths you have that they may not be
fully aware of. But be careful—do not
appear to be dictating your letter to them.
Provide them with stamped, addressed
envelopes. Tell them when each letter to
each of your potential employers will be
needed, and then remind them until they send your letters. Check to verify that
each letter has been received.
Answer: If you do not have a good relationship with
your adviser and cannot ask for a letter of recommendation, make sure you explain why in your cover
letter. Be completely candid about the situation. Not
having a recommendation from your adviser is a red
flag to the search committee and will not be ignored.
The committee may even contact your adviser anyway. A letter from another faculty member from the
same institution may be critical in this case.
A formal interview for a faculty position typically takes the form of a daylong or
overnight visit to the campus. Normally, the institution inviting you for an interview pays your expenses for travel and accommodations. You can expect to meet
with several faculty members, as well as others who may be asked to provide feedback about you to the search committee, and to give talks about your research. It
will be your task to do the following:
Convince the department that your work is exciting and that you will be a
leader in your field.
Convince each member of the department that you will be a good colleague.
Find out if the institution and the department are right for you.
Be prepared for a demanding and exhausting experience. You will be on display at
all stages of the visit, from the moment you are picked up at the airport until you
are sent on your way again.
Advance Preparation
Come well prepared by doing the following before your visit:
Organize the logistics of your trip, including travel tickets, hotel accommodations, arrangements for pick up, and the schedule of events on interview
day. Be conservative about your estimates of travel time: You don’t need
the added stress of missing a connection and being late.
Find out about the academic interests of the people you are likely to meet.
Read a few of their papers or at least skim the abstracts. Be ready to ask
them about their work. You can probably find this information on the
department’s Web site.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Learn as much as possible about the institution and the surrounding area.
Knowing something about the city or town will give you a starting point
for small talk.
Physician-scientists may meet with representatives of the clinical enterprise
and should be prepared to talk about the business side of clinical medicine,
including how they will meet their salary goals through clinical work. They
should also be prepared to ask about what support staff will be available to
them in the clinic.
Dress Code
Dress neatly and in keeping with scientific custom as you know it. Avoid dressing at a
level of formality that will make you and your hosts uncomfortable.
Preparing Your Job Talk
During your interview visit, you will be asked to give a “job talk”—a formal presentation on your current research. A job talk generally lasts about an hour, including 10 to 15 minutes for questions. You have probably given this kind of talk
before, and you know what works for you, but here are a few guidelines on how to
prepare your talk.
First, write out the entire talk, thinking of your audience as you write. Remember, a
talk is not presented in the same way as a scientific paper. You must get your main
ideas across to listeners who have had little opportunity to study the details, as well
as to those whose research interests and backgrounds are very different from yours.
You can assume that your audience will be composed of intelligent people who are
uninformed about your chosen scientific field. To help your audience follow your
talk, divide it into several clear and concise sections, and give an overview of the
talk at the beginning. At the end, restate your conclusions and offer an outline of
your future research plans. At the outset or at the conclusion of your talk, include a
brief statement acknowledging those who helped you in your research.
Next, translate your talk into a slide presentation. Most researchers use PowerPoint
presentations to deliver their talks. Remember, however, to bring along a backup
disk. Be sure to inform your hosts ahead of time about your audiovisual needs. Try
to vary the design of your slides, alternating between text and figures. Resist the
temptation to use only bulleted points, but also avoid long sentences. Be sure that
your slides are readable and that the order of your slides matches your written presentation. (The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and other
professional societies publish guidelines for preparing these presentations.)
Finally, practice your talk in front of a mirror. Doing so allows you to time your
presentation while getting used to the sound of your own voice. Keep repeating
the talk until you can deliver it easily, using your slides as your only memory aid. If
necessary, edit the talk down until it can be delivered comfortably within 50 minutes. Remember that a talk that is slightly too short is much better than one that is
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Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
too long. It may be better to focus on only one aspect of your research, so you can
give sufficient detail within the time you have. Save the rest for the question-andanswer session.
When you feel comfortable giving your talk, enlist your adviser, your postdoctoral
colleagues, and any graduate students you work with as an audience for a practice
talk. Encourage them to ask questions and offer frank criticism. Ask them for suggestions to improve your PowerPoint slides, and leave enough time to edit your
slides accordingly.
We always ask the administrative assistant how she was treated
by the candidate, both on the phone prior to the visit and during
the visit. This is always very illuminating. I think candidates need
to pay attention to how they treat the staff.
—Ann Brown, Duke University School of Medicine
Delivering the Talk
Experienced speakers resort to a variety of techniques to control nervousness.
Here are a few of them:
Arrive early enough to set up equipment and become comfortable with the
room. You may have to ask your host to get you to the room with enough
time to prepare.
Plant your feet firmly on the floor. Feeling balanced is important to your
Know what you intend to do with your hands. A computer mouse and a
pointer may be enough to keep you from fidgeting—but be careful not to
play with either of them.
The most nerve-wracking minutes are those just before you begin your
lecture. Focus on your breathing—make deliberate every inhale and exhale,
to control a rapid heart rate.
Greet your audience and tell them you are glad to be with them. Make eye
contact with a few audience members who seem eager to hear what you
have to say. Then plunge in.
Don’t worry if some people nod off or seem uninterested; continue to give
your talk as you practiced it, making eye contact with those who are listening closely.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Let it show that you are excited about your work.
Even though you may have done all the work presented, it is important to
sound modest in your presentation. Begin by saying, “The work I will tell
you about today was carried out while I was in the lab of X at University
Y.” Then, describe each slide in terms of “we.”
A good trick to avoid a discussion period with no discussion is to plant a
seed in the audience during your talk to encourage questions later, for
example, by saying “I don’t have time to give you the details of that now
but would be happy to talk about that during the discussion.”
Some fraction of the audience is always asleep during any talk, no
matter how exciting the subject. Find a few people who are listening attentively and give your talk to them.
—Johannes Walter, Harvard Medical School
Answering questions during a talk can be especially difficult. Several ways for handling this are noted here:
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Repeat the question for the audience. Then take your time answering. If
you need to, buy some more time by asking for a restatement of the question. In a pinch, give an interpretation of what you think the questioner
wants to know. Then give your best answer and stop. Rambling on only
conveys uncertainty.
It is okay to answer, “I don’t know.” But offer to follow up, and do so. It’s
a great opportunity to make contact with faculty after the interview.
If questions are slow in coming, take the initiative by pointing out some
aspect of your work that you passed over quickly but that you believe warrants the audience’s attention. This gives you a chance to use some of the
material you edited out of your talk. You may generate a whole new line of
questioning. In case you need to go back through your slides to a particular
one in order to clarify a point, arrange to have your computer presentation
accessible during the discussion period.
If challenged, listen to the criticism and give a judicious response. Don’t
become defensive. If the criticism seems unfair, stand your ground politely.
You might suggest a follow-up discussion later.
Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
Giving a Chalk Talk
During your interview visit, you will likely have an opportunity to give a less formal
presentation—a chalk talk—during which you can offer detailed information about
the direction of your future research. It should not be a polished slide presentation,
but it should be prepared carefully.
Give a brief overview of your research agenda, including your short- and longterm objectives. Then state several specific problems you want to work on, and
explain in detail how you plan to proceed. Be prepared to write on a white board
and bring along an overhead or two of preliminary data that will demonstrate the
feasibility of your plan. Show that you are familiar with the details of any new techniques you may need to master. Be sure to convey to your audience why the work
is important and how you can make a difference to the field.
Expect to be interrupted. The chalk talk is a chance to show that you can think on
your feet and that you will be an interactive research colleague.
Meeting Potential Colleagues
Meeting other faculty members. Typically, part of the interview process will
include one-on-one conversations with members of the department. It is important
to show interest in their work and ask lots of questions. Remember that faculty
members are looking for a colleague who will benefit their own work, as well as
someone who is a good scientist. In addition, assume that you will be taken out to
dinner by some of the faculty. This is a chance for them to evaluate you as a future
colleague and for you to determine whether you would enjoy working with them.
Be yourself during these events.
Meeting with students, postdocs, residents, or other trainees. This is essential
for someone who expects to conduct research in any department. A candidate
should be concerned if a department doesn’t offer ample opportunities (over lunch
or in the lab) to meet with students and postdocs in the absence of faculty.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
When you’re talking to the faculty, it’s important to appear interested in everybody’s work. You don’t have to be an expert on the
topic. If you know something about it, it’s good to chime in with a
suggestion or a question. If you’re clueless, it’s fine to say, “This is
really fascinating, but could you give me a bit more background?”
It’s also very important to give a dynamite seminar so that the
people who didn’t get a chance to meet with you privately will have
a chance to hear about your work, how you express yourself, and
what kind of a context you put your research in.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Concluding Your Visit
Typically, your visit will conclude with a conversation with the chair of the search
committee, in which you might expect to learn when a decision will be reached. As
soon as you return home, write a formal letter addressed to the chair of the committee, thanking everyone for their hospitality and reiterating your interest in the
position. If during your one-on-one interviews, you have promised to share data,
be sure to follow up on your commitment. Now it’s time to play the waiting game
because the committee will undoubtedly be charged with arranging interviews for
several candidates.
Be sure to inform the search committee chair if you decide to take another job
before the committee extends an offer to you or if for some other reason you
decide to withdraw your candidacy.
The chair of the search committee or the department chair has given you a tentative offer or at least let you know that you are the top candidate. You are now in a
position of maximum strength for obtaining what you want. The search
committee has invested time and effort in choosing you, and the last thing its
members want is to come up empty or to have to start over. They have decided
they want you and will be disappointed if you don’t come, and they want you to
be happy once you are on board.
Evaluating the Offer
Before making a decision, you will need to find out as much information as possible about the position. If you are not satisfied with some aspects of the offer, try
to negotiate better terms. You will have to do the following:
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Learn the details of the offer.
Reread the list of priorities you made at the outset of your search to evaluate how the job stacks up against that list.
Calculate precisely what you are worth in salary and other benefits to determine whether the offer measures up. For example, can you afford to live in
the community? Does the institution provide housing allowances or lowinterest loans to help?
Enumerate in detail the other resources you believe you need to succeed in
your scientific career (decide what is absolutely necessary and what you can
live without). In some cases, it may be satisfactory for the department to
guarantee you access to shared equipment, rather than buying you your
Make your wishes known to the institution representatives and engage
them in the process of negotiating with you.
Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
Get everything spelled out in writing.
For physicians in clinical departments, make sure the offer indicates the
extent of clinical duties and clinical support (such as the availability of nursing staff and assistants to take telephone messages and refill prescriptions).
The search committee is your natural source for basic information about the terms
of the appointment and about university-wide benefits and policies. Ask for a copy
of the university’s faculty handbook and any other personnel policy manuals. Read
them over thoroughly, check them against the recommended standards of the
American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and prepare a list of questions for the committee.
It is important to start thinking about the tenure process at the
point of interviewing and negotiating for the right job. Ask
what the rate of tenure is for the junior faculty at the institutions you are considering, what the general process is, pitfalls,
and so on. Remember that the purpose of being an assistant
professor is to become an associate professor, so make sure you
educate yourself about what to expect before you make your
—Matthew Redinbo, University of North
Carolina–Chapel Hill
You may need to do some homework to rule out problems that may not be
revealed in response to direct questions or that you simply cannot ask the search
committee about. For example, it would be helpful to know whether the department has experienced internal personal conflicts recently, whether the university
has financial problems, whether the chair is retiring or stepping down soon, and
whether key faculty members are about to leave or retire. You also want to know
whether people who have worked in the department have been happy, well supported, and successful. Use the grapevine: Call people you met during your interview visit, and talk with postdocs or others recently affiliated with your potential
department and institution. Be discreet, but be straightforward. You don’t want to
be surprised.
When you are contacted with an offer, you might be asked for a second interview.
This time, you will be able to ask more detailed questions about the position. You
might also visit the human resources office, talk with key people in your prospective department, and have a preliminary look at available housing. A second interview visit is an excellent time to start the discussion about what you will need in
terms of laboratory space, materials and equipment, and staff.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
What You Need to Find Out
Here are some of the details that you will need to ask about.
The appointment. You need to know the following:
Your job title and what it means
The terms under which the contract will be renewed
The length of your initial contract
Question: What if I’m offered an appointment to
more than one department?
Answer: Insist on clarification in writing of where
your “tenure home” will be, what the performance
criteria for tenure will be, who will be making the
tenure decision, the percentage of your salary paid
by each department, where your office will be located, what your teaching responsibilities will be, and
who will serve as your mentor. Seek advice from
others who have worked in similar situations. For
example, one experienced academic scientist cautions against accepting an appointment that is split
50-50 between departments.
Verify that you are indeed being offered a
full-time tenure-track position. For example,
several California schools have offered
positions that appear to be full time yet are
only half time or less than full time as far
as a state-sponsored faculty position is concerned. In these cases, a faculty member is
expected to rely on other funds for a significant part of salary and other support. You
also need to find out about the process for
obtaining tenure (see chapter 2,
“Understanding University Structure and
Planning for Tenure”). Research faculty
appointments are often “at-will” appointments, offering no tenure protection if, for
example, the position is eliminated or grant
funding is lost.
The salary. You need to pin down the following:
The amount of your base pay (this will determine the level of other benefits and future raises)
Whether the salary is guaranteed, and, if so, for how long—in other words,
you need to know whether part of your salary and other support must
eventually be obtained from research grants or other nondepartmental or
institutional sources
If you have a dual appointment, it’s important to clarify which
department will be paying the bulk of your salary, because that
department will have the biggest right to your time. For example, if your secondary department wants you to increase your
teaching load, you could request that they negotiate with your
primary department to reduce the teaching load there in
exchange for picking up more of your salary.
—Milton Datta, Emory University School of Medicine
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Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
The department’s history of salary increases
Whether you will be paid on a 9-month or 12-month basis (if you are paid
on a 9-month basis, find out whether your paychecks can be prorated over
12 months)
If paid on a 9-month basis, does the institution allow you to pay yourself a
summer salary from a research grant? Is there an institutional pool of
money that will provide a summer salary for a year or two until you can
obtain grant funding?
Your institution’s policies on outside consulting, including how much consulting is permitted, what approvals are required, and what limitations apply
Knowing what you are worth. There are many sources of information that you
can use to evaluate your starting salary (see figure 1.1). Salaries differ widely
depending on degree, geographic location, type of institution (public versus private), and scientific discipline. To evaluate the salary offered, you need comparative
information on starting faculty salaries at the institution offering you the job and in
your field elsewhere as well as on costs of living.
Figure 1.1.
salaries and
packages for
junior faculty
who received
Trust Career
Awards in
(CABS) and
began faculty
positions as
assistant professors in U.S.
Faculty Appointments, 2004–2005*
Ph.D.s (n = 21)
Average 12-month salary
$92,632 ($73,000–$135,000)
Median 12-month salary
Average start-up package (less salary)
Median start-up package (less salary)
Physician-Scientists (n = 11)
Average 12-month salary
$127,315 ($93,000–$155,000)
Median 12-month salary
Average start-up package (less salary)
Median start-up package (less salary)
*These data were obtained from accepted offers received by CABS awardees who moved from
postdoctoral to tenure-track assistant professor faculty positions.The positions ranged across the
basic biomedical sciences, public and private institutions, and U.S. geographic areas. Although the
sample size is small, the data are consistent with those obtained from CABS awardees who have
received faculty appointments since 1996.
Source: Rolly L. Simpson, BWF.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Try the following resources:
The AAUP publishes an annual salary survey in the March-April issue of
Academe ( ).
The American Chemical Society publishes a detailed annual salary survey,
with data broken down by employment sector, geographic region, and professional specialty, in the magazine Chemical & Engineering News
( ).
The Association of American Medical Colleges publishes an annual salary
survey that contains data for professors at U.S. medical schools
( ).
Other forms of compensation. Get the details of the following:
Health coverage, life insurance, disability insurance, and retirement benefits
Other family-related benefits, such as tuition support for family members
and access to university recreational facilities
Whether moving expenses will be paid
Availability of a housing subsidy or at least assistance in obtaining housing
Start-up package. Find out what resources the university will make available to
support your research until you can obtain grant support. Specifically, ask about
office and lab space, equipment, computers
and software, a technician and other support
staff, the principal investigator’s contributions
to graduate student stipends, help in obtainHard Money Versus Soft Money
ing grants, and support for travel to conferences and meetings.
Hard money refers to any guaranteed funds that
you receive from the university where you are
employed.When you are offered a faculty position,
you typically receive salary and start-up funds—hard
money—to cover the costs of starting your laboratory during the first one or two years of your
employment. After the start-up period ends, you
may continue to receive hard money support for at
least a portion of your salary and perhaps for a
technician’s salary. However, you will also need to
obtain grant support (soft money) to pay for your
research and, at some universities, all or part of
your salary as well. Soft money therefore refers to
funds that you receive from grants—for which you
will most likely have to compete.
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Service within the university. Ask how
many committees and other projects you will
be expected to become involved with.
Teaching responsibilities. Although
rewarding, teaching can be the most timeconsuming activity for new faculty. You will
want a clear statement about the following:
Your teaching load (the number of
classes each term, typical enrollments,
and levels and types of students)
Teaching-related responsibilities (office
hours, direction of student theses,
advising students)
Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
Teaching-related responsibilities if you have an appointment in two different departments or if you will be a member of one or more departmental
graduate faculty groups or of an interdepartmental graduate program
Ask for a reduction in teaching responsibilities if your appointment involves
heavy service responsibilities or if the position entails an appointment in two
Protected research time. Now is the time to maximize and codify in writing how
much protected time you will have for research. You need to clarify as much as
possible expectations and decrease, if necessary, the number of other obligations
you have. Once you have signed a contract, it will be hard to make changes.
Special Issues for Physician-Scientists
Negotiating Protected Research Time
If you are a physician-scientist, you will probably be expected to spend some time in income-generating
patient care. Be sure this requirement does not engulf your research time.You should negotiate a written promise of a fixed percentage of protected time you will have for research—that is, a time when you
are not on call and are not responsible for seeing or following up on patients (although it might include
time for teaching or for administrative duties). In addition to being given a percentage of protected
research time, you may also want to ask for a concrete definition of your clinical obligations (e.g., a halfday per week in the clinic or two weeks per year rounding on the inpatient service).The way the split
between patient care and research is implemented differs from institution to institution and from department to department. For instance, individuals with a 50-50 split might have one month of clinical duty,
followed by one month of research time, or attend to clinical duties mornings and laboratory work
afternoons, or vice versa.While in theory it is possible to set up these parameters, they may play out differently in reality.You can’t necessarily stop treating a critical care patient because you have switched
back to a research month, and patient test outcomes and pathology reports will trickle in past the clinical month’s end date. If you want to be assessed primarily on the quality of your research work, you
should try to craft clinical responsibilities that require the least amount of follow-up, such as inpatient
“Buying Out” of Clinical Time
If you secure additional funds for your department, it is possible for you to be released from some or all
of your clinical duties. However, if you request a reduction of 20 to 25 percent in your clinical duties, for
example, because you have secured an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health, someone else in
the department will have to take on those obligations. Is there a new hire who can do that? Or a physician-scientist who is planning to close down or scale back his or her lab? If no one can take over your
clinical duties, then no matter what the division or department chair thinks of the idea or what promises
were made during the job negotiation process, you will not receive the additional protected time.You will
need to find out what the funding situation is at your medical school or academic health center to determine whether buying out is an option.You need to have these discussions prior to entering into the contract and to get the commitments secured in writing.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
—Todd Golub, HHMI and Dana-Farber Cancer
Getting What You Need and Want
The issue of protected research time—not the compensation package and lab space—is the single most important negotiating point
for junior faculty. If the institution is not willing to specify a time
split in writing, you should worry.
How to negotiate. Present your requests clearly. Make a list of what you really
need and explain why to the person in charge of your recruitment. Indicate any
equipment you would be willing to share. Your recruiter can use this information as
your advocate in requests to the relevant deans who provide the actual recruitment
dollars. Don’t decide between departments based on offered dollar amounts and
don’t pad your requests. But do be sure that you will be able to do the research that
you hope to do.
When the institution responds and you begin to discuss the terms of employment, be
prepared to make trade-offs. Knowing what is essential to you is crucial at this time.
The offer letter. The fruits of your negotiations should be reflected in an official
letter from the institution offering you a job. Work with the institution to craft as
comprehensive a letter as possible. The letter is usually your contract, so take it seriously. In addition to the basics (e.g., title, salary, and research support), the letter
should detail the timing, schedule, process, and requirements for tenure.
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I tell all of my postdocs who are negotiating for faculty positions: Once you sign on the dotted line, don’t count on getting
anything you haven’t already been promised, no matter how reasonable it might seem.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
Chapter 1 Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position
Medical Center Career Tracks
In general, a faculty member in a basic science department in a medical center holds a tenure-track
appointment, with responsibilities for research, teaching, and service. Such appointments are regarded as
the most stable types of academic appointments because the institution assumes some obligation for
salary and other types of support. However, in some departments, there may be faculty appointments
that are not on the tenure track. For these individuals, the primary responsibility is research, with limited
responsibilities in teaching and service. In this case, the faculty member may be entirely responsible for
raising funds for his or her salary and for all other expenses needed for scientific research. Such appointments are generally given for a limited period, subject to renewal at the discretion of the department
There are many different types of faculty appointments in clinical departments, such as medicine, pediatrics, or pathology. For example, in some schools, these are divided into three types of appointments:
(traditional) tenure track, medical-clinical track, and clinician-educator track.The availability of different
tracks provides faculty members the opportunity to choose how they want to be evaluated, for both
tenure-track and nontenure positions.The tracks usually require different degrees of effort in the areas
of clinical care and research, and accommodate individual and team effort differently.They also require
and reward various degrees of scholarly work; for example, a full-time clinician is not expected to publish as much as a tenure-track researcher. In addition, whereas teaching and administration may be
expected in every track, they may be recognized as more important in some than in others.You should
research the track system at your school and ask questions during the interview specifically about the
track you should be on.
Handling Multiple Offers
Multiple offers are gratifying, but they make life complicated. The important thing
is to deal honorably. The following rules apply:
Keep all parties informed of the status of your other applications.
Use your leverage to ask an institution to match an offer but only if you
intend to accept the offer.
Be prompt to refuse, so that other candidates may be considered for a job
you don’t want. Keep in mind, however, that it can be risky to decline all
your other offers before you’ve accepted your first choice in writing. There
have been cases when firm verbal offers have been withdrawn because of a
university-wide hiring freeze.
Ask for an extension of a deadline if you need to, but don’t miss a
After reading this chapter you should feel better prepared to tackle your job search
and decide which offer to accept. To help you in the decision process, discuss all
the pros and cons with those you trust. Once you have made a decision, sleep on it.
When it is finalized, don’t look back.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Austin, Jim. “You’ve Worked Hard to Get This Far.”
(November 22, 2002),
Babco, Eleanor L., and Nathan E. Bell. Salaries of Scientists, Engineers, and Technicians:
A Summary of Salary Surveys. Washington, DC: Commission on Professionals in
Science and Technology, November 2005,
Davis, Martha, and Gloria Fry. Scientific Papers and Presentations. New York, NY:
Academic Press, 1996.
Golde, Chris M. “After the Offer, Before the Deal: Negotiating a First Academic
Job.” Academe: Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors
January/February 1999, 44–49,
Golde, Chris, M. “Be Honorable and Strategic.” (August 24,
Heiberger, Mary M., and Julie M. Vick. The Academic Job Search Handbook.
Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.
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Chapter 2
You have no doubt spent many years in academic institutions and are familiar with
their overall structure. But now, as a tenure-track faculty member, you are entering
into a new set of relationships with your professional colleagues. Perhaps for the first
time, you will have to deal with many of the university’s administrative offices to fulfill professional responsibilities apart from those associated with your laboratory
As a young faculty member you will need to
Get to know people who will support your scholarly efforts, including the
faculty affairs dean, the department chair, department and college business
personnel, research infrastructure personnel, and more established faculty
members who can serve as mentors.
Understand faculty governance, including the faculty senate and university
Know about research infrastructure, including research support services,
indirect costs, institutional review boards, and conflicts of interest.
Find out what are the expectations for beginning, independent investigators
with regard to teaching, advising, service, and scholarship.
This chapter provides you with a starting point for obtaining this type of knowledge.
It begins with an overview of the “typical” structure of a research university and an
academic health center, as well as the resources available to a beginning investigator.
It also discusses the professional responsibilities of academic faculty outside the laboratory, including teaching and service and, in the case of physician-scientists, patient
care. Finally, it will give you some insights into how decisions about tenure are made
at a university and how you can prepare for this milestone.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
lthough the major goal of U.S. universities is the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, universities also need funding to support their activities. A university must seek revenue from a variety of sources (see figure 2.1), and more and
more, faculty members are encouraged to generate income. You will need to make
your research program either self-supporting or demonstrably worth its cost in
some other way.
Most U.S. research universities have roughly similar organizational and reporting
structures. The titles of the executive officials may vary, but their functions are generally the same. The organization of a university’s administrative staff and its
methods of operation reflect a strong tradition of faculty dominance.
University-Wide Responsibility
Figure 2.1.
sources at
a typical
Board of trustees or board of regents: The university’s highest authority, this governing board is composed of academic, business, and community leaders who
hold appointed or elected positions with specific terms. The board meets
regularly to review all major policy, financial, and management decisions,
including decisions about faculty appointments, promotions, and tenure.
President or chancellor: (Note: For this discussion, “president” is interchangeable with “chancellor.” In some state university systems, the president
oversees and coordinates the activities of the member universities, and a
chancellor heads each university within that system.) The university’s chief
executive officer, this individual has general oversight of the university’s
academic programs and financial health. He or she is also the university’s
public spokesperson, dealing with “big-picture” issues such as relationships with the legislature and other funding bodies, alumni relations, and
Provost or vice president for academic affairs: As the university’s chief academic
officer, the provost has programmatic and budgetary oversight over all academic activities. The provost reviews the appointment papers of new faculty
members and receives reports from the promotion and tenure committee.
Grants and contracts (30%)
State appropriations (27%)
Sales and services (23%)
Tuition and fees (10%)
Other* (10%)
*Includes individual and
corporate contributions,
interest, and dividends.
Source: Tony G. Waldrop, University of
North Carolina–Chapel Hill.
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Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
The deans of the various colleges report to the provost for academic-related matters. In some universities, vice presidents who are involved with academic affairs (e.g., research, student affairs) also report to the provost.
Vice president for administration and finance: The university’s chief financial officer, this individual is in charge of the fiscal affairs of the university and
often also oversees diverse functions such as facilities planning and construction, human resources, and campus services (e.g., parking, public
safety, maintenance, and mail service).
Vice president for research: The university’s chief research officer, this individual oversees grants and contracts, research funding, research centers and
institutes, issues relating to technology transfer (patenting and licensing),
and research-related committees such as Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)
for human subjects research and institutional animal care and use committees. At some universities, the vice president for research also deals with
scientific ethics issues.
Other vice presidents have responsibility for other areas that may affect the life of
a faculty scientist directly or indirectly. These include the following:
Consult the Faculty Handbook
Your university’s faculty handbook (often available
online) is an invaluable resource for learning about
the institution’s organization and reporting structure, policies and procedures, and resources to
support your research.
Vice president for information technology:
This individual oversees the university’s
computer facilities and telephone
Vice president for health sciences: This individual is responsible for the university’s
health-related institutions, including the
medical center and the other health professions schools. (See “Organization of
a ‘Typical’ Academic Health Center,”
page 28.)
Vice president for student affairs: This individual oversees dormitories, recreational facilities, and other necessities of student life and is concerned with
issues of student well-being.
Vice president for development: This individual manages fund-raising, alumni
networks, and university relations.
School- or College-Level Responsibility
Dean: All department chairs report to the dean, who is responsible for the
administration of a school or college. A university may have several schools
or colleges. Each college may also have an associate or assistant dean or
both. Not all deans are permanent appointments. For example, associate
dean positions may be renewed annually and the individual typically runs an
active research lab.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Department chair: Each college is likely to have several departments, and in
the sciences, separate scientific programs within each department. The dean
typically appoints the department chair, with input from the tenured faculty,
for a limited time period. Within that time frame, however, the department
chair exercises considerable control over the allocation of resources within
the department, including space, use of support staff, and purchases of
equipment and supplies. The department chair makes teaching assignments
and oversees the evaluation of faculty performance. The departmental promotion and tenure committee makes its recommendations to the department chair, who then presents the recommendation to the university-wide
promotion and tenure committee.
As a principal investigator, you will primarily report to your department chair. If you
have an appointment in more than one department, or in a department and in one
of the university’s separate research centers or institutes, you may have to report to
more than one individual. Each department’s interest in your efforts should be
spelled out in your offer letter. Usually, the reporting relationship is a matter of “following the money”—where your salary comes from is where your reporting responsibilities lie. (See chapter 1, “Obtaining and Negotiating a Faculty Position.”)
—Linda Walling, University of California–Riverside
When a junior faculty member directly or indirectly experiences
discrimination or harassment, he or she needs to go to his or her
chair and then to the dean. This is critical. Witnesses are not
needed for the dean to have to address allegations.
n academic health center within a university is a complex set of institutions, typically a medical school and hospitals; outpatient centers; and, in many cases, schools
of nursing, pharmacy, and other allied health professions. Because much of the
teaching conducted under the auspices of the medical school actually takes place in
the hospitals and clinics, these organizations should have agreements or understandings in place that allow the faculty to appropriately carry out activities, from
teaching to research to the provision of clinical care.
Key academic health center officials include the following:
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Vice president for health sciences: This individual oversees the entire complex
and reports to the president of the university.
Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
Chief executive officer(s) of the hospital(s) and clinics: These individuals are
responsible for the day-to-day operations of the hospitals and clinics and
report to the vice president for health sciences.
Administrative Structure of the School of Medicine
The administrative structure of a medical school parallels that of the university in
many respects. However, one distinctive feature is that the school is composed of
clinical and basic science departments.
Medical school officials include the following:
Dean: The dean’s functions are similar to those of the dean of any other
university college; the only exception is that he or she may also serve as
vice president for health sciences. On administrative matters (e.g., procurement), the dean of the medical school may report to the vice president for
health sciences. On academic and faculty matters, the dean reports to the
provost. The medical school often also has associate and assistant deans
with specific areas of responsibility.
Department chairs: As elsewhere in the university, the chair is the administrative head of the department.
Division chiefs: Frequently, large clinical departments in a medical school are
grouped into divisions. In such cases, a scientist may be a division chief
who, in turn, reports to a department chair.
If your appointment is in a basic science department, you report to the department
chair; if your appointment is in a large clinical department, you usually report to
the division chief. It is not uncommon for an investigator to hold a primary
appointment in a clinical department and a secondary appointment in a basic
science department or vice versa. In this case, the investigator reports to the
department in which the primary appointment resides.
s a beginning investigator, you will want to quickly learn which individuals can
affect your career progress. They include
Department chairs and division chiefs
Senior physicians (if you are a physician-scientist)
Full professors within your own department or division
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
It’s also a good idea to get acquainted with faculty in your own department and in
other departments whose research interests are complementary to your own. You
may find, for example,
Colleagues with whom a research collaboration is possible
Colleagues who will have a good understanding of any health and safety
risks associated with your research, and who can advise you about the policies of the university and safe procedures for controlling research risks
You should also be sure to get to know your departmental business manager and
the other administrators in your department or division. These individuals are generally very experienced in dealing with matters such as requesting maintenance, purchasing, tracking grant expenditures, and a host of other issues that you will not
have time to deal with in detail. These individuals will also be valuable in preserving
stability when inevitable changes such as the retirement of a chair or division chief
take place.
Faculty Senate
A representative body of faculty members, sometimes called the faculty senate,
serves as the principal channel of communication between faculty and university
administration. The faculty senate may elect a smaller executive committee to
implement its actions. It can make policy recommendations to the university president and appoint faculty to serve on university committees as well as faculty senate
committees. The senate weighs in on the appointment of academic officials and on
performance reviews of these officials. It meets regularly during the year.
University Committees
The faculty accomplishes its work through an array of standing and ad hoc committees. The names of committees and their mandates vary among universities, but
representative types of standing committees include the following:
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Promotion and tenure: Reviews recommendations for faculty promotion and
tenure as well as policies and procedures in these areas.
Admissions: Establishes admissions requirements.
Academic requirements: Establishes grading systems and graduation requirements.
Awards: Makes recommendations regarding faculty who should receive special awards from the university. Nominations for such awards can be critical
to the development of a junior or senior faculty member’s career.
Curricula: Approves new curricula and reviews existing ones.
Information technology: Makes recommendations regarding faculty computing
needs and concerns.
Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
Faculty and staff benefits: Makes recommendations on health and life insurance, leave, and retirement.
Ethics: Establishes guidelines for appropriate conduct of research. Reviews
cases of unethical conduct by faculty.
Human subjects research: Establishes policies for the ethical treatment of
human research subjects and ensures compliance with federal regulations.
Long-range planning: Develops a long-range plan for the university.
Research: Establishes policies to promote research and distributes university
research funds.
Radiation, biological, and chemical safety: Establishes procedures to carry out
institutional policies for complying with regulations governing the use of
hazardous materials in research.
Use and care of animals: Establishes policies for the humane treatment of animals used in research and ensures compliance with federal regulations.
The meeting schedules and workloads of these committees vary considerably.
Generally, committees that have responsibility for case-by-case review of individual
applications or projects are the most labor-intensive. However, the workload of a
policy committee may suddenly expand when it finds itself dealing with a “hot”
issue. (Further discussion of a principal investigator’s priorities with respect to
committee work can be found in the section “Responsibilities Beyond the
Laboratory,” page 35.)
Departmental committees can include standing committees (such as those responsible for departmental courses and curricula, admission of graduate students, and
selection of residents and fellows) as well as committees created in response to a
particular need (such as the recruitment of a new faculty member).
U niversities provide considerable support to aid faculty in their research, teaching,
and public service. Support includes traditional campuswide resources such as
libraries and media centers, scientific or technical services commonly referred to as
“core facilities,” and administrative offices established to help faculty complete
grant applications and comply with regulatory requirements. As a scientist, you
must know what centralized facilities exist to support you.
You are probably already familiar with the traditional campuswide resources and
core facilities at your institution but may have never dealt with administrative support services. Listed below are several offices that may prove essential to you as you
get your lab off the ground.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Regulatory Compliance Office
Regulatory compliance may be handled by the university-wide office of research or a
similar office in your college or by several offices devoted to specific regulatory issues.
Regulatory compliance officers keep track of the licenses and approvals you will need to
comply with federal and state regulations for research. Visit them early to find out about
the following:
u Requirements for radiation safety if you intend to use radioactive materials. You
may need to attend a training session. You will need to obtain authorization of
the Radiation Safety Committee to procure and possess radioactive materials.
u Requirements for the possession and use of bloodborne pathogens and other
infectious materials and for recombinant DNA research. You may have to register your research with the Institutional Biological Safety Committee or have it
approve your research.
u Licenses needed for the use of proprietary reagents and materials and approvals
for stem cell research.
u Approvals for human subjects research. Your research protocols will need to be
reviewed by an IRB. Because these boards typically meet monthly and the
review process can be long, find out about the requirements early.
u Requirements for carrying out studies on animals. You will need to have any
research protocols that involve animals reviewed and approved by the
Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
u Requirements for using lasers and chemicals that have a high degree of acute
toxicity and for disposing of hazardous chemical waste. Your institution will
have specific protocols and practices to follow for using lasers and handling hazardous chemicals.
Environmental Health and Safety Office
Beginning investigators share a responsibility for laboratory safety. It is important that
you participate in the health and safety program of your institution by being familiar
with the health and safety guidelines that apply to your research. You should make
sure the members of your research group know the hazards that may be present in
your laboratory, are trained in safe work habits, and know how to deal with any emergency that may arise. Your institution’s environmental health and safety office provides
services that can help you with this responsibility. The office typically offers safety
training programs, technical assistance, regulatory compliance assistance, risk assessments, and services to test the integrity of safety equipment.
Grants and Contracts Office
Staff of this office can tell you about available university financial support and help
you apply for it, and they can provide information about outside funding opportunities. This office typically approves budgets prior to grant submission and, in some
cases, controls the electronic submission of grants. In addition, this office can help
you ensure that your grant application is in compliance with university policies and
government regulatory requirements and that it has the necessary institutional
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Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
approvals and signatures. Remember to plan ahead; the grants and contracts office
may require a few days to a couple of weeks to turn around your grant. Check with
your institution’s grants and contracts office to find out how soon they need to see
your grant application.
Technology Transfer Office
The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 gives universities the right to elect ownership of the
inventions made in the course of federally funded research. Your university has
responded to this incentive by establishing a technology transfer office to manage the
patenting and licensing process. (See chapter 11, “Understanding Technology
Transfer.”) Visit the technology transfer office early in your career, keep the staff
informed of your research, and let them help you determine whether any discoveries
you make are worth licensing for commercial development. The office will also provide guidance on record keeping and documentation to protect your lab’s intellectual
property. (See chapter 8, “Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks.”)
Procurement Office
This office manages purchasing for the university, and you may be required to use it
to buy equipment and supplies. The office can negotiate group or bulk discounts. Its
staff is familiar with the full range of vendors and products and can help you
arrange custom purchases. Staff members are also knowledgeable about regulatory
requirements related to the products they buy. They also keep track of payments
and receipt of goods, thereby providing a valuable accounting function for your lab.
Human Resources Office
The human resources office can answer your questions about your own employee
benefits and can help you in your role of supervisor. Before you hire your first
technician or other support staff, visit this office to find out your university’s rules
and policies concerning employing and terminating staff, on-the-job discrimination,
sexual harassment, and performance evaluation of staff. It is very important that
you follow these rules and policies, because they involve matters of federal and state
law. In addition, find out whether there is a union at your institution and whether
any collective-bargaining agreements or union-related rules affect your interactions
with university staff or students. (See chapter 4, “Staffing Your Laboratory.”)
Public Relations Office
The public relations office keeps the world outside informed of the achievements of
the university and its scholars. Its staff maintains contact with the news media and can
help you prepare for an interview, translate your findings into “sound bites,” and learn
how to field questions comfortably.
Development Office
This office in an important administrative branch that faculty are becoming more
involved in. It is responsible for coordinating and generating philanthropic support
for development of the university by seeking money from individuals, including
alumni, companies, trusts, and other organizations. Contacting your college or university’s development office will allow special projects to be highlighted in fundraising activities.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Sources of Information on Research Ethics
and Human Subjects Research
Government Agency Web Sites
Office for Human Research Protections, Department of Health and
Human Services (DHHS)
This office coordinates implementation of federal requirements for the protection of human research
subjects and provides staff support to the secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research
Office of Research Integrity, DHHS
This office promotes integrity in biomedical and behavioral research supported by the U.S. Public Health
Service. It monitors institutional investigations of research conduct and facilitates the responsible conduct of research through educational, preventive, and regulatory activities.
National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Research
This site includes policies and requirements for research on human stem cells and guidance for investigators and IRBs.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Guidance for Institutional Review Boards and
Clinical Investigators, 1998 Update
This site gives the FDA’s current guidance on the protection of human subjects of research.
Private-Sector Web Sites
Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs
This association sponsors an accreditation program for institutions that engage in human
subjects research.
National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature
The center provides a free reference service to the public, free bioethics database services, a Syllabus
Exchange Clearinghouse for educators, annotated bibliographies, and other services to facilitate the
study and teaching of bioethics. Staff at the center compile the Bibliography of Bioethics, an annual listing of
3,000 to 4,000 citations.
Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research
This organization promotes the consistent application of ethical precepts in both medicine
and research.
Responsible Conduct of Research
This site is sponsored by the University of California–San Diego and is funded by the National Institutes
of Health Office of Research Integrity, the Department of Energy, and the DHHS Office for Human
Research Protections. It includes educational materials for research ethics.
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Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
Your roles as a faculty member form a triad of research, teaching, and service. As
a scientist at a major university, you will focus principally on research. However,
teaching and directing the research of students and postdocs will also be important
and gratifying aspects of your activities. Your service responsibility to the university
will occur mostly through service on committees. This, too, can be personally and
professionally rewarding. If you are a physician, you may also serve the university
through your patient-care activities.
As a new faculty member, you may find juggling your teaching and research
responsibilities to be a bit overwhelming at first. It’s a good idea to remind yourself
of the value of what you are doing—conveying knowledge and an appreciation of
science to young people and possibly inspiring some of your students to pursue
their own science careers. (See chapter 13, “Teaching and Course Design.”)
To have time to get your laboratory operations under way, you may wish to negotiate a lighter teaching load during your first year as a faculty member. Other circumstances may also make it necessary to reduce your teaching load, for example, if
your department has given you a heavy responsibility in another area or if you have
family or personal problems. Talk to your department head about the options that
may be available to you.
No matter when your teaching duties begin, take the time to prepare for them.
Work up your lectures, take any “how to teach” courses that are offered on campus,
and, if you can, sit in on your colleagues’ lectures.
Also bear in mind that teaching gives you an opportunity to meet students who in
the long run may be interested in research in your laboratory. At many schools,
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
At the same time I was building my research group, I was also
teaching. It took about 10 years before I found real joy in teaching. But even in the very early years, I noticed that teaching was
a tremendous stabilizing feature for my life—very unlike
research, which can be discouraging. With research, there are
times when you feel as though you’ve lost ground and you know
less than you did the week before. Whereas teaching is much
more steady—you put in a certain number of hours of work
and something good comes of it. So, I think the combination of
a teaching and a research career is a nice one in that teaching
can fill out the dips that are the normal part of doing research.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
younger faculty members often vie with senior faculty for the opportunity to teach
courses to “undeclared” graduate students. Learning how to teach effectively means
that you may have more opportunities to interact with undergraduate or graduate
students in your department and in others. (For a discussion of balancing teaching
and research responsibilities, see chapter 6, “Time Management.”)
Committee Work
You will be expected to participate in one or more committees, and your contributions will be evaluated as a component of your service requirement for tenure.
Although you should take this responsibility seriously, you also need to be judicious
in your choice of assignments. Some committees—especially those that review
individual research protocols or applications (e.g., IRBs for human subjects research
or admissions committees)—are very labor-intensive. Others may deal with politically sensitive matters that may be difficult for a new professor. For example, you
might not want to be on a curriculum committee if a controversial restructuring is
under way and your department has a stake in the outcome. Such an assignment
would be best left to a more senior colleague. Other committees may deal with
matters irrelevant to your concerns as a scientist. So, before you accept a committee assignment, ask for a detailed description of what will be expected of you in
terms of time commitment and the nature of the decisions to be made.
Many committees, however, do give you a decent return on your time investment.
Serving on a faculty search committee may give you a voice in deciding who a new
colleague will be. You might also want to be on a committee that puts together a
At the assistant professor level, you are expected to be setting up
your research program and keeping your head down. Being on a
high-profile committee can bring you quick visibility, but it can
also make you powerful enemies.
—Milton Datta, Emory University School of
—Linda Walling, University of California–Riverside
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Engagement in the university is critical, but excessive administrative responsibilities can be harmful to research and teaching
quality. Most pretenure faculty are involved in department-based
committees or committees involving interdisciplinary graduate student training. College-, university-, and systemwide committees
are more time-consuming and should not be emphasized until
later stages of their careers. Learn to know when to say no!
Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
seminar program or scientific meeting. This will give you a chance to invite your
former colleagues, leaders in your field, and new people with whom you may want
to network. Work on an admissions committee for graduate students might be
worthwhile because it will introduce you to graduate students who could work in
your lab. However, work on committees responsible for the admission of medical
students can be intensive and time-consuming, and the chances of significant
future interactions with medical students (except M.D./Ph.D. students) are less.
A good strategy is to try to get on a committee where your expertise will be useful
but where you will not be overburdened. Ask your department chair and mentors
for advice on balancing committee work with your other obligations in the pretenure years.
Complying with Guidelines for Human Subjects Protection
If your research makes use of human subjects, you must meet the requirements of
the IRB with respect to protection of patients’ rights and well-being. Your research
must be designed to be compatible with the IRB guidelines. In addition, you must
obtain and document patient consent, comply with rules for protecting the privacy
of patient information, and obtain the IRB’s approval before you begin your
You may be required to maintain data on your research processes and outcomes for
the IRB’s inspection. All of this may slow your progress, but failure to comply can
shut down your research program. Because obtaining IRB approval can take a long
time, find out whether it is possible to apply before you begin your faculty appointment.
s a university-based scientist, you owe allegiance to several constituencies: to the
university that supports you, to your profession, and to the general public that
stands to benefit from your research. It is absolutely necessary, and possible, to
keep these loyalties in harmony.
To keep your outside activities appropriate, you need to be aware of the university’s
rules and expectations with regard to
Service in professional associations
Conflict of interest and conflict of commitment, including limits on consulting activities
Relationships with the news media and with government and political
As your career develops, you may find opportunities to consult with commercial
entities such as biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Both you and your
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
home institution stand to benefit from relationships that extend your reputation,
add to your knowledge and skills, and may result in practical applications of your
discoveries. In addition, you may welcome the added income. Remember, however,
that the university, as your employer, has primary claim on your labor and
Many universities have developed explicit guidelines limiting the extent of a faculty
member’s work with other agents. It is critical that you know your institution’s policies regarding your work outside the scope of university employment and your relationships with outside parties. Your institution should have a clear set of guidelines
for these types of activities, and you may be required to report on them regularly.
(Additional information on consulting can be found in chapter 11, “Understanding
Technology Transfer.”)
Public Service
An academic appointment carries with it a public service obligation. As your career
progresses, you may be called on to participate on commissions or testify before
government bodies on the meaning of your work or on its ethical or public policy
Treat these invitations as a serious responsibility and, as you would with contacts
with the press, stay close to the university public relations office. Remember, anything you say in public will reflect on your institution. It is easy to be misunderstood or quoted out of context.
You may also have opportunities to participate in public education—at science
fairs, high school assemblies, or other community events. These opportunities can
be both enjoyable and rewarding.
You are more likely to succeed if you understand from the start how the decision
regarding tenure and promotion is made at the institution you are joining. You can
then start planning your strategy accordingly.
Criteria for Tenure
The official criteria for tenure form a “three-legged stool.” You will be judged on
your research, teaching, and service to the university, your profession, and the public. Whether or not these criteria have been spelled out in detail, the following
expectations are typical.
Research. Your research must be of a quality and quantity that contribute substantially to your scientific discipline. Publication in peer-reviewed journals in your
specialty and statements from individuals in your field who can testify to the quality
of your research are the principal pieces of evidence showing that you meet this
standard. Publications in scientific magazines that reach a wider audience give you
additional credit. Substantial, ongoing research grant support is required; for
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Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
example, some institutions require that you have at least one NIH R01 grant.
Additional evidence includes prizes and other recognitions of your work as well as
invitations to present your work at conferences.
Teaching. You must have evidence that you are a competent teacher and that you
fulfill your responsibilities to your students in a conscientious manner. Teaching is
notoriously difficult to evaluate, but your department should have mechanisms to
do so. Colleagues in your department may be assigned to supervise your teaching
and offer guidance. Students’ evaluations are another piece of evidence of your
competence and rapport with your students. You may also be asked to report on
your own teaching activities.
Service. You must demonstrate that you are willing to work for the betterment of
the university, your profession, and the public at large. Service on departmental and
other campus committees, on research ethics boards, on editorial boards of journals, and on grant study sections demonstrates your willingness to assume your
share of responsibility. Invitations to serve on editorial boards and study sections
also demonstrate scientific recognition outside of your institution. Work for professional associations and work as a consultant to government and industry also count
as service.
The weight that will be given to each area by your tenure committee will depend on
the mission of your institution and your department. In a premier research department or institution, research is primary, and it is the progress of your particular
program that counts the most.
You build a research group by being in the lab as much as possible. The assistant professors who don’t get tenure are the ones
who spend all of their time in the office instead of in the lab.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
—Matthew Redinbo, University of North
Carolina–Chapel Hill
The legs on the three-legged tenure stool have different thicknesses, with the research leg being considerably more substantial than
the teaching and service legs. The second two have to be there or
the stool topples, but it’s impractical to think they carry the
same weight as the research component.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
The Review Process
The review processes for promotion from assistant to associate professor and
tenure are intertwined. Tenure review entails a series of yes-or-no decisions by
committees established at the department, school, college, and campus or university
levels. The decision of the university-wide committee must be ratified by the president or provost of the university and governing board of the institution.
Universities vary as to whether the tenure process is open or closed—that is,
whether you and anyone else will have access to the file containing the evidence for
tenure and the record of the committees’ deliberations. Regardless, a candidate usually has an opportunity to appeal a negative decision.
The process unfolds roughly as follows:
During your second or third year of employment, your department chair
creates your promotion and tenure dossier (see below for details about
what it should contain).
Before the end of your third year, the tenured faculty within your department vote on whether to recommend your reappointment for another
three years.
After the vote, your department chair meets with you to discuss any problems that may hinder your future prospects.
During your fifth and sixth years, letters are solicited from both internal
and external experts in your area and comments are solicited from your
current and former trainees. At some institutions this may include solicitation of outside letters inquiring about your progress.
The tenured faculty in your department review the materials and vote on
whether you should receive tenure.
If the department votes in your favor, your tenure dossier goes forward to
the college’s or university’s appointments and promotions committee. Your
department chair goes before this committee to discuss your qualifications.
If this committee’s decision is favorable, the package is sent to a universitylevel ad hoc or standing committee. The package is then sent to the
provost and university president (or chancellor) and then on to the governing board for final approval.
Your Tenure Dossier
You should have the opportunity to contribute to your dossier. It should include
the following:
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Your personal and professional history—essentially an extended CV detailing your education; academic positions and other professional employment;
honors, prizes, and achievements; invited lectures and conference presenta-
Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
A list of your publications and other creative works
A summary of your teaching activities, including courses you have taught,
other contributions to the university’s instructional program, the results of
students’ evaluations, and your own report of your teaching activities
Details about the work and subsequent placement of graduate students
A description of your internal and external service to the university, your
profession, and the public
A statement of your research goals and accomplishments, expressed so
that members of a campuswide tenure and promotion committee can
appreciate the importance of your work
Letters from outside reviewers, who should be leading experts in your field
and aware of your work (you may be asked to suggest several of these scientists)
Nothing is too trivial. If you were recognized in some way,
make sure it appears in your dossier.
—Tony Waldrop, University of North Carolina–
Chapel Hill
On the clinical side, it comes down to billable time—the clinical
hours you work. The physician-scientist must find a department
chair who’s supportive of his research and communicates this to
others in the department and institution.
—Milton Datta, Emory University School of
tions; offices in professional societies; editorships of journals and other
learned publications; grants received; and service on study sections
Time Frame for Progress Along the Tenure Track
The exact time frame for tenure and promotion has been established by your institution. In general, if you are appointed as an assistant professor, you can expect to
be considered for advancement within about six years. Set specific, achievable
objectives right at the outset of your career, with timelines that tell you what you
need to accomplish each year. The whole process will seem more manageable, and
you will be able to make realistic career decisions based on your progress.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Year 1. You should
Set up your lab as soon as possible. Try to remodel your lab space, order
equipment, and hire technicians before you arrive. If, after you arrive, you
encounter problems, you may need to revise your tenure schedule.
Learn your institution’s ground rules for tenure.
Ask for a faculty mentor if you are not automatically matched with one.
You need someone who is effective in helping you wade through department politics and protocol. You may need an unofficial mentor if the official one disappoints you. In this case, be tactful.
Get to work. If appropriate, write up your postdoctoral research and submit it to a journal.
Accept committee responsibilities, but avoid becoming bogged down.
Think carefully about the workload of any committee you are asked to join.
You also need to consider the nature of the work. Some committees may
be too politically sensitive to be of much use so early in your career. (See
chapter 6, “Time Management.”) In general, it is a good idea to ask your
mentor before accepting to sit on any committee.
Enter the “grantsmanship” game. You may want to start by applying for
small grants ($5,000 to $25,000) from your own institution or from other
sources to test the waters as you begin work on your major R01 grant
Year 2. You should
Try to publish the research you did in your first year.
Apply to NIH or the National Science Foundation for a basic research
grant. (See chapter 9, “Getting Funded.”) Ask your mentor and other colleagues to review your proposal.
Question: What do I need to do every year to help
me attain tenure?
Answer: Update your CV, network with professional colleagues, and keep in close touch with your
department chair and your mentors to evaluate your
progress. Keep a “living document” of your accomplishments, activities, honors, and so on, so that you
won’t forget relatively small things, such as a poster
presented by a student, or a short-lived but important committee that you served on. Having such a
document will make assembling your tenure dossier
much easier. In addition to these ongoing tasks,
review your objectives and update them if necessary.
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Teach with the tenure review process in
mind. Have your chair, mentor, and
other colleagues observe your teaching.
Be sure your students fill out the evaluation forms at the end of each course.
You may want to create your own simple essay-type evaluation form for your
students as well as the trainees and
other personnel who work in your lab.
You want their feedback. (See chapter
13, “Teaching and Course Design.”)
I advise clinician-scientists who do basic science to develop a
“clinical niche.” To the extent possible, they should focus on a
clinical problem that has some relationship to their scientific
work. For the purpose of tenure evaluation, this is advantageous because it helps others define you and to understand and
describe what you do. For the purpose of time management, it
takes you away from general medical care, which is extremely
time-consuming. Having a stable of patients with a very narrow set of problems is a way of protecting research time. A
generalist-type practice is death to a basic science research career.
—Ann Brown, Duke University School of
Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
Year 3. This is the year the tenured faculty will vote on your reappointment. You
should have been meeting regularly with your department chair to discuss your
progress, so you should have a tenure file that will support your reappointment.
Ask your mentors if you are on track for tenure. If not, take stock and
consider adjusting your career goals at this point. If you are not doing well
in a tenure-track position, and if you are a physician and want to stay in
academia, this may be the time to think about moving into a research or
clinical track.
Ask your department chair for a checklist of the information to be
included in the file.
If your R01 was not funded, resubmit it and have a plan for backup funding. (See chapter 9, “Getting Funded.”)
The general rule of “publish a good paper, then get a grant,” is
an appropriate goal for most beginning faculty. Use your startup package to get those key results and then get them into the
literature. It shows the funding agencies that your group is moving and being productive, which will enhance your chances to get
those important first grants. Along the same lines, try not to
submit premature grants; it is always better to wait a cycle or
two if possible so that you can show stellar progress.
—Matthew Redinbo, University of North
Carolina–Chapel Hill
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Years 4, 5, and 6. You should begin to be recognized in your field for your
research. The invitations that come your way to participate on panels or to serve on
review committees are indications of success. If these opportunities are not occurring, take steps to gain exposure, perhaps by suggesting a session on your subspecialty at a national meeting. (See chapter 10, “Getting Published and Increasing
Your Visibility.”)
You need to address any issues that may hinder your bid for tenure. If you have
not obtained funding, this should be your number one priority. Keep up your
research, and continue your efforts to get the results into print.
Clearly, the road to a tenured faculty position is not an easy one. But if you think
strategically—know what you want and need from your job, present yourself and
your research to best advantage to obtain that job, and do what you should do each
year to document your productivity—you will be well on your way to achieving
your goal.
Designing and Equipping Your New Lab
You probably discussed your space and equipment needs during your interview and the negotiation
process. Before you move into your new laboratory, create a detailed plan for how you intend to work
within the space allotted to you.This will help you hit the ground running once you start your position.
The following is a list of things you should do:
Envision the relationships between the various workstations, preparation areas, and offices.
Arrange for and help supervise any renovations.
Order equipment and supervise its installation.
Acquire any licenses required by regulatory agencies.
You may need to attend training courses before you can order radioactive or hazardous materials or use animals in your lab; even the use of recombinant DNA needs to be approved.
Put in place data management systems both for control of laboratory ordering and expenditures and for the documentation of your research.
A series of online articles, “The Art of Laboratory Feng Shui,” at Science’s
( ), will take you through these decisions. Another resource is a series of
videos on laboratory safety, produced by HHMI and available at no charge from the Institute’s online
catalog ( ).
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Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
Special Issues for Physician-Scientists
Plotting Out a Career Trajectory
Clinical Duties
The career trajectory for tenure-track physician-scientists is different from that of Ph.D. scientists.The
table below lists some of the goals you may try to achieve each year, none of which is “set in stone.” The
purpose of the table is to provide discussion material for your negotiation with the department chair.
For example, you could present the table to the chair during the negotiation period and ask how his or
her expectations differ from those listed in the table and why.
Years 1 and 2
Years 3 and 4
Years 5
and Beyond
One month inpatient consult
One month inpatient consult
Four to six weeks inpatient
One-month outpatient clinic
Two outpatient clinics per
Protected time for research
Guaranteed salary and startup funds that include support
for one trainee, one technician, and a half-time secretary
Secure additional funds
through internal university
Ten contract hours
per year at medical and graduate schools in a variety of
courses and teaching settings
Protected time for research
and salary support (50–70%)
Ability to keep any unused
start-up funds and retain one
trainee, independent of current funding
One to two “specialty” outpatient clinics per month
Secure NIH funding (R01,
K08, etc.)
Two to three publications per
year in good quality journals
(top 25% of your field)
Apply for outside funding
from nonprofit organizations
and the U.S. government
Offer to organize a graduate
school course (in addition to
continuing the teaching
efforts outlined in years 1
and 2)
Direct a medical school
course (40 contract hours)
Teach in a variety of other
courses (5–15 contract hours)
Community Service
Attending duties (1 month
per year)
Network with
individuals outside of your
home institution
Review manuscripts
Review manuscripts
Departmental and university
Departmental and university
Network with individuals
outside your home institution
Thesis committees
Medical/scientific advisory
boards for nonprofits
NIH study sections
Write book or review
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Special Issues for Physician-Scientists
Straddling the Worlds of Research and Patient Care
As a physician-scientist, you can be active in defining your role by pointing out the value you bring to the
department beyond billable hours, such as a scientific perspective on patient care and important training
and mentorship opportunities for students and residents. In fact, the federal funding agencies consider
physician-scientists to be crucial to the translational science involved in moving from the map of the
human genome to strategies for diagnosis and treatment of disease.
You can increase your visibility and security by doing the following:
Creating allies who will stand up and protect you. Cultivate a few people in your field who
think you’re terrific.
Making yourself essential by providing an important clinical skill or filling a crucial clinical need.
Other clinicians who know your worth can become your advocates and help protect your
interests. Advocates need not be in your own department, but they should rely on you and your
Getting the word out that you’re doing something. Actively communicate progress on your
research with people who matter in your department or division.
Barker, Kathy. At the Bench: A Laboratory Navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1998.
Boice, Robert. Advice for New Faculty Members. Nihil Nimus. Boston, MA: Allyn and
Bacon, 2000.
Deneef, A. Leigh, and Craufurd D. Goodwin, eds. The Academic’s Handbook. 2nd ed.
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.
Goldsmith, John A., John Komlos, and Penny Schine Gold. The Chicago Guide to
Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School Through Tenure.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Kennedy, Donald. Academic Duty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Menges, Robert J., and associates. Faculty in New Jobs: A Guide to Settling in, Becoming
Established, and Building Institutional Support. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999.
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Chapter 2 Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure
National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of
Medicine. Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. On Being a
Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: National Academy
Press, 1995.
Reis, Richard M. Tomorrow’s Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and
Engineering. Piscataway, NJ: IEEE Press, 1997.
Schoenfeld, A. Clay, and Robert Magnan. Mentor in a Manual: Climbing the Academic
Ladder to Tenure. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing, 1994.
Smelser, Neil. Effective Committee Service. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications,
1993. Part of the series Survival Skills for Scholars ( ).
Whicker, Marcia Lynn, Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld, and Ruth Ann Strickland. Getting
Tenure. Survival Skills for Scholars, vol. 8. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995.
Chapter 3
Chapter 3
he day has finally come when you walk through the door of your own laboratory.
You are the boss! What got you here is your creativity and scientific expertise. But
you quickly realize that the day-to-day operation of the laboratory also requires
strong leadership and management skills.
This chapter describes the skills and competencies involved in leading and managing
a group of people. It also offers some suggestions on how to achieve them. It is
organized in four main sections. The first provides a definition of leadership in the
context of directing a scientific laboratory. The second describes the process for
developing a vision for your laboratory; your main role as a leader will be to organize
and motivate the people in your lab to enact this vision. The third is about different
leadership approaches and how you might proceed in developing your individual
style. The fourth discusses the role of the laboratory leader in building and sustaining
an effective team—that is, how to communicate with the people in your lab, how to
motivate them, how to make decisions and resolve conflicts, and how to set and
enforce expectations and rules of behavior. This chapter is largely based on material
developed by Edward O’Neil, director of the Center for the Health Professions at
the University of California–San Francisco, as well as interviews with scientists with
years of experience running laboratory research programs.
If I had one piece of advice to give it’s that although you’ve been
hired for your scientific skills and research potential, your eventual success will depend heavily on your ability to guide, lead,
and empower others to do their best work.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
What Is Leadership?
Before getting into the details of your responsibilities as the head of a lab, or principal investigator (PI), you need to understand what leadership is. Leadership is getting a group of people to enact a vision of what needs to be accomplished. Thus,
according to O’Neil, leadership starts with a vision, and requires relationships with
others to accomplish tasks.
Leadership = Vision + Relationships + Tasks
Put into practice, this means that the leader has to perform a number of functions,
from coming up with a scientific strategy, to motivating people, to managing
Vision. A leader has to create a vision and set the direction for the lab. (See
“Creating Your Vision as a Leader,” page 53.)
Relationships. A leader enables others in the lab to do the work in a unified manner. Thus, a leader has to
Build and manage teams.
Motivate and support graduate students, postdocs, and technicians.
Create an environment where people are able to give and receive feedback.
Delegate responsibility to others when possible.
Make fair decisions and manage conflicts.
Communicate and listen.
Be sensitive to diverse populations and needs (see chapter 5, “Mentoring
and Being Mentored”).
Be a mentor to others, as well as seeking his or her own mentors (see chapter 5, “Mentoring and Being Mentored”).
Tasks. A leader also has to manage the activities of lab members. This requires
that the PI understands the core activity that he or she is responsible for directing.
Beyond a basic knowledge of the scientific tools and processes used in the lab, the
PI must also be able to
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Design projects and determine time frames (see chapter 7, “Project
Create budgets (see chapter 9, “Getting Funded”).
Write grants and papers (see chapter 9, “Getting Funded”).
Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
Teach courses (see chapter 13, “Teaching and Course Design”).
Juggle many different demands at once (see chapter 6, “Time
Leaders and Managers: What Is the Difference?
Although leadership and management are often used interchangeably, they do not
mean the same thing. A leader influences the opinions and attitudes of others to
accomplish a shared goal. A manager, on the other hand, is primarily an administrator, who makes sure that people and processes are in place to achieve the desired
goal. Managers need to be able to plan, budget, organize, and solve problems, to
keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. As head of
a scientific laboratory, you will need to be a leader and a manager.
Developing Leadership Skills
Some of the leadership skills mentioned above, such as developing a vision statement, may come easily to you, whereas others, such as motivating people in your
lab or delegating responsibility, may prove more difficult. “Leadership development” is the process of improving your leadership skills. It involves establishing
one or several goals for becoming a better leader and making a plan for achieving
them. Here are some tips on how to go about it.
Choose a behavior that you want to modify. Say that a conflict arises between
two postdocs in the lab; their projects have converged and now they are competing
against each other over who should take charge. You realize that you should be
keeping closer tabs on the experiments being done by everyone in your lab, as well
as on the interactions among people.
Choose a specific goal for changing your behavior. You should choose a goal
that is as specific as possible and state it in clear, measurable terms. For example, a
goal that states “I will be better at communicating with people in the lab” is neither
clear nor easy to assess. You will be more likely to achieve a goal that states “I will
meet weekly with the postdoc who is working on project x to discuss in a direct
and open way progress on the project and any issues that might be affecting the
work.” This way you will be able to tell if you have or have not followed through.
Determine a timeline for completion. You need to have a realistic deadline for
assessing your progress. For example, “In one month, I will know what everyone in
the lab is working on and will have set up scheduled meetings with each person.”
Assess your progress. From the beginning you should have clearly stated the
expected outcomes of your goal, so that you will know if you have achieved them.
The questions you want to be able to answer are
How do I know I have been successful?
What difference will they notice?
Who are the other people who will notice and be affected?
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
To know if your plan is effective, you will need to create open channels of feedback. This involves asking people in your lab and your colleagues for feedback on
how you measure up against your desired model (see “Giving and Receiving
Feedback,” page 60).
How to Improve Your Leadership Skills
Improving leadership skills is often a process of trial and error, but there are some
more formal ways of going about it.
Find a mentor. To help you define and achieve a specific goal, identify someone
who does what you would like to do. For example, if one of your limitations is
making people feel valued for their work and accomplishments, you may want to
observe how another PI recognizes and rewards the people in his or her lab and
then attempt to model that behavior in your own lab. You will need to practice and
probably modify your behavior to suit your own personality and situation. Similarly,
you probably know colleagues who are good public speakers, cool under pressure,
effective at managing time, or skilled at running lab meetings. Observe these people
and identify specific positive behaviors that you see them use and then try to adopt
these behaviors. You may also ask these colleagues for feedback and advice on your
own behavior and progress. (See chapter 5, “Mentoring and Being Mentored,”
page 97.)
Read books and attend courses. You can aid your leadership development by
reading books and taking courses offered at your university, especially if it has a
school of management. Some of the scientific societies also offer seminars or short
courses in laboratory management in conjunction with their annual meetings. You
can also take advantage of the resources available through your institution’s human
resources department. A number of organizations, such as the Center for the
Health Professions at the University of California–San Francisco
( ) or the Leadership Learning Laboratory at the
University of California–Davis ( ),
can also bring tests and other resources to your institution.
Get to know your strengths and weaknesses. In most cases, you cannot change
your personal qualities, but becoming aware of them can help you lead more effectively. You will be able, for example, to make the most of your assets and work
around or improve on your liabilities. In addition, self-knowledge will make you
more aware of the personalities of people in your lab and help you direct and support them more effectively. You can take different tests to help you understand various aspects of your own personality and how you behave in certain situations; one
of the best known is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Appendix 1 (page
73) offers a brief description of the MBTI personality types and how these may
play out in a laboratory environment. More information on the MBTI can be
found at
A popular way to understand your on-the-job strengths and weaknesses is to complete a so-called 360-degree feedback questionnaire. One example, Skillscope, published by the Center for Creative Leadership, consists of a series of questions that
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Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
you and others answer. Your supervisor, peers, and people you supervise rate you
on what parts of your job (from communicating information and supporting the
professional development of your staff, to administrative and organizational abilities and time management skills) you excel in and what parts could use improvement. The questionnaire also gives everyone a chance to say if they think that particular skill is important to your job. It is very enlightening (and an opportunity for
discussion) to know what others consider your strengths and weaknesses compared
with your ideas about them. Responses are anonymous, except for the supervisor’s
responses. More information on Skillscope can be found at
M ost people understand that the president of a university or the head of a large
teaching hospital must have a vision for what he or she wants to accomplish, but
how about someone running a lab? Even a six-person lab in which there is no clear
vision is likely to have postdocs and graduate students heading off in their own
directions, wasting time, and generating ill will. Developing a vision for everyone in
the lab to share does not limit innovation. Instead, it provides a foundation for creativity from which new directions may be taken.
My vision is that we are going to regenerate the heart after a
heart attack. This is really what I would like to accomplish
with my career. Initially, I was worried that I would sound
“sappy” in some fashion when I told people that I had a vision.
I found that at first people may think it’s a little odd, but pretty
soon when they hear it again and again, you start seeing people
nodding their heads and agreeing with you. Having a clearly
stated vision does help to inspire in people the mission behind
what you are working on.
—Charles Murry, University of Washington School
of Medicine
How to Create a Mission Statement
The cornerstone for implementing a vision for your lab is the mission statement. It
describes the kind of research you want to do, the motivation for your research,
and the kind of atmosphere in which you want to work. It should take into consideration the history and current challenges of your lab and what you want to accomplish in the short and long term, with an eye to the future work of your department and institution as a whole. As you develop your mission statement, you might
present it verbally to colleagues and your department head in an informal setting.
Following input and adjustment, the statement should be written in about one
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
As you develop your mission statement, keep in mind the following points:
Decide what values you want for your lab (e.g., scientific excellence, discipline, teamwork, competition).
Consider your social and financial goals, in addition to scientific ones.
Craft a statement that you feel comfortable communicating to your peers,
superiors, and lab members.
The following are two sample mission statements:
The goal of our laboratory is to be among the most successful and respected in the area
of cancer genetics. The ultimate goal is to help develop better therapies and cures for cancer. To this end, we will collaborate with other researchers in the area and share our
results and reagents. We will be recognized for being fair and collegial.
Our lab aims to understand the mechanisms by which cells transport proteins. In particular, we will focus on technical challenges that others have not been able to overcome. A
main focus of the lab is to train the next generation of scientists. We will create an environment that is conducive to learning and testing new skills.
Keep in mind that mission statements are not operating plans or strategic maps for
the lab, but they serve to shape these essential elements. In addition, they are not
static; they evolve and change with time.
Once you have a mission statement that you are comfortable with, start saying it
over and over to the people in your lab. Mention it at lab meetings, when people
first join the lab, when you sit down to write a paper. Every decision you make
from now on—from hiring staff to choosing scientific projects for the people in
the lab to establishing how communication
flows—should be made with this statement
in mind.
Developing Your Mission
Paint with broad strokes, but also identify key
measures of success.
Provide both reasoned and emotional justification for the vision.
Tie it to the values and culture of your department and school.
Be clear and honest.
Create a distinct future that distinguishes your
research program from others, especially those
of competitors.
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Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
Your mission statement is what sets the course for your lab, but how do you go
about directing and motivating people to accomplish this vision? The way in which
you carry out your role as a leader is called your “leadership style.” It will depend
largely on your own personality and the types of mentors you have had up to now.
For example, you may find you feel more comfortable making decisions on your
own, without seeking the input of others in the lab or colleagues. Or you may find
it difficult to give unsolicited feedback to your students and postdocs. After a few
months of leading your own lab, you will most likely develop a style that you feel
comfortable with. But management experts tell us that different styles are required
for different situations and different individuals, and that you should practice using
a variety of such styles.
Four Styles of Leadership
Figure 3.1.
and Hershey
model of
Supportive Behavior
Ken Blanchard, best known for the “One Minute Manager” series, and Paul
Hershey proposed one classic research model for so-called situational leadership.
They visualized leadership styles in terms of a continuing spectrum of directive
and supportive behavior. Directive behavior involves clearly telling people what to
do, how to do it, and when to do it, and then closely monitoring the behavior.
Supportive behavior involves listening to people, providing assistance and encouragement, and then facilitating their involvement in problem solving and decision
making. According to this model (see figure 3.1), the degree to which you direct
and support people who work for you is influenced by their level of competence
and their commitment to completing a given task.
Directive Behavior
Source: Adapted from a concept developed by the Center for Leadership Studies, Inc.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
The four styles of situational leadership are described below.
Directing. This style puts a high focus on task and a lower one on relationship.
When the person you are supervising is not yet qualified or not sufficiently motivated to carry out a task independently, then you need to tell him or her precisely
what to do at each step. For example, you may take this approach with a technician
who has just started working in the lab and needs to learn an important technique
that he or she will be doing routinely.
Coaching. This style puts a high focus on both task and relationship. As a PI, you
would continue to direct the action of the person you are supervising, but also take
the time to explain decisions, solicit suggestions, and support the individual’s professional development. This leadership style is the most demanding. It requires a lot
of time and emotional investment on the part of the leader. For example, soon
after a graduate student joins the lab, you will probably have to show him or her
different techniques and help him or her decide which experiments to do, but you
would explain why and how they fit in with the lab’s mission.
Supporting. This style puts a low focus on task and a higher one on relationship.
As a PI, you would facilitate people’s efforts toward accomplishing a given task and
share responsibility for decision making with them. In a lab, the PI is likely to adopt
this leadership style with most postdocs and experienced graduate students. For
example, you would give the postdoc responsibility to choose what experiments to
do but continue to discuss what these are and facilitate progress by, for example,
helping the postdoc find someone to collaborate with so that he or she can get the
next step of a project accomplished.
Delegating. This style puts a low focus on both task and relationship. As a PI, you
would turn over responsibility for decision making and problem solving to an individual who has become more independent. For example, you would allow a postdoc who is ready to leave the lab to make decisions about what projects to pursue
and collaborators to seek out without having to ask for your input first.
Delegating Tasks and Authority
Many PIs, especially starting PIs, are reluctant to delegate for fear of losing control
or power. Delegating is important because it will relieve you of some of the day-today responsibilities. Assigning responsibility does not lessen your role in the lab. It
merely gives you a capacity to handle greater responsibility. In addition, delegating
serves to empower and motivate the people who work for you.
In deciding whether there is something you could delegate, ask yourself the following questions: What am I doing now that I’d like to see someone else do? Is there a
person in the lab who is capable of handling and willing to take on a new responsibility? What could I do if I had more free time?
Once you have decided to delegate the responsibility for a given task, you need to
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Be sure you delegate the necessary authority with the responsibility.
Give clear directions and make sure they are understood; keep two-way
communication channels open.
Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
Clearly define the responsibilities assigned to each lab member, and make
this information known to everyone in the lab.
Once you have delegated, follow up to make sure the job is being done
without interfering with it.
When you delegate authority to someone, be sure to back up that person
when his or her authority is called into question.
Distribute responsibilities fairly among members of the lab.
Through the years I’ve learned that, on the one hand, there are
a bunch of ways to treat people that generally work well; on the
other hand, each individual case seems to bring up something
new that you don’t have experience with. So even though you
think you’ve developed all of this experience, with the very next
circumstance, you may have to fine-tune your approach, because
every person is different.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
Today, more than any other time in history, science is a team sport—and the
teams keep getting bigger. For many kinds of experiments, you need to integrate
different kinds of technical expertise and backgrounds. Regardless of the size of
your lab, there are some general guidelines for keeping the team members motivated and working effectively, from communicating and giving feedback to setting
specific rules of behavior. They are discussed in the sections below. (For more
information about how to collaborate with other labs, see chapter 12, “Setting Up
Collaborations.” For more information about how to select lab members, see chapter 4, “Staffing Your Laboratory.”)
Communicating Within the Lab
You should communicate with laboratory members on a daily basis. If you are still
doing experiments at the bench, you will be accessible to your lab members. But, if
you spend most of your time in your office writing papers and grants, make an
effort to walk around the lab at least once a day, if possible, and informally chat
with people. Unless you need to concentrate on a task without interruptions, keep
the door to your office open.
In addition to these informal interactions, formal meetings are an organized way to
ensure that everyone is kept informed of the group’s activities and results and for
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
you to reiterate your expectations and values. By all means, hold regular goal-setting
and evaluation sessions: an annual lab retreat, periodic lab meetings involving the
full staff, weekly or more frequent small-group meetings to discuss specific issues,
and regularly scheduled one-on-one advisory meetings and performance evaluations. Group activities, held periodically, are also important for building morale and
encouraging lab members to think of themselves as part of a team.
Research group meetings. Many research groups hold weekly meetings. One or
more people in the lab take turns presenting what they’ve done since they gave
their last presentations. They give an introduction, share their results and their
interpretation, and then discuss what they plan to do next. Comments and suggestions from the research team usually follow. In some labs, especially larger ones, a
research group meeting is a semiformal presentation with overheads or PowerPoint
slides and can be a somewhat intimidating experience, especially for a graduate student. In smaller labs, these meetings may be more informal—for example, each
person discusses what he or she did that week. These meetings are much more
interactive. Yet, even in smaller labs, it’s important to schedule occasional formal
presentations so that students and postdocs can perfect their ability to speak about
their research. Another good idea is to have joint research meetings with other labs.
It is good experience for your lab members to give presentations to scientists outside your lab. It can help to clarify presentations and garner new ideas from those
who aren’t so closely involved with the project. It also extends your network and
that of your students, which is especially useful when they are looking for jobs or
letters of reference.
One-on-one meetings. Regardless of the frequency of research group meetings,
you should meet often with each lab member to keep current with progress and
problems. Invite your students, postdocs, and technicians to come into your
office with their lab notebooks and
Guidelines for Effective
show you what they’ve been working
on. Many PIs meet with lab members
For most formal types of meetings you should have
for an hour each week. They may meet
a predetermined plan for the meeting that states its
with them more frequently immediately
goals and purpose:
after lab members have finished a series
of experiments or when they notice that
u Solicit agenda items and distribute an agenda
a lab member is struggling.
before the meeting.
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Have clear assigned roles for the meeting—
that is, who will speak, who will take notes,
who will lead the discussion.
For each action item on the agenda, go over
discussion points, make a decision, and determine postmeeting actions.
Discuss what should be on the next meeting
Follow up the meeting with a meeting summary and a to-do list.
Performance reviews. The performance review meeting with lab members
is an opportunity for you to clarify your
expectations, review their recent accomplishments, and set performance goals.
It is also a good time to talk about their
career goals and how their work in your
lab contributes to achieving those goals.
Another important purpose of performance evaluations is to provide lab
members an opportunity to give you
feedback on your leadership style. Work
Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
with your institution’s human resources department to make sure you conform to
your institution’s performance management process. Appendix 2 shows a sample
performance review form, created by Tamara Doering. She gives the form to lab
members a few days before the meeting. The form consists of two parts: a selfassessment section that is completed by the lab member before the meeting and a
joint feedback section that is completed during the meeting. In addition to a
focused discussion of short- and long-term goals, the twice-yearly meeting gives lab
members an opportunity to give feedback on Doering’s leadership style. The form
offers some suggestions about what to evaluate and how to engage lab members in
self-evaluation. Appendix 3 includes a checklist developed by HHMI’s Department
of Human Resources; it can also help you prepare for a performance feedback session with a lab member.
Small-group meetings. Some labs also have meetings attended by individuals
working on specific projects or with specific techniques. This is where lab members
deal with logistics and technical matters, and they hammer out experiments, trying
to get different approaches to work.
Strategy sessions. Should you decide that your research needs to take a new direction, you may want to call an official strategy session. A strategy session helps the
group identify the next most important questions and what experiments will answer
these questions. Such a meeting also helps the group develop a shared understanding of the lab’s direction and clarifies what needs to be done and who is interested
in what aspects of the new research area. In addition, these meetings help you
determine how potential conflicts and competing interests can be avoided.
If a PI has 20 people in the lab and you ask the PI at any
moment, “What is person number 17 doing?” he or she should
be able to give you a two-hour talk on this without any preparation. The sine qua non for being a good lab director is having
all of this in your head.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
In my lab, there are five or six breakout groups that meet once
a week or two, and that works really well. It gives them a teambuilding experience.
—B. Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Journal club meetings. These meetings are an integral part of training new scientists and can vary in frequency from weekly to monthly, or as desired. The discussion of a scientific report serves to illustrate how to and how not to construct and
test a hypothesis, what constitutes effective analysis, and how to report scientific
findings. In addition, a journal club meeting reinforces the idea that reading current
papers is essential to keeping up with the field. These meetings also provide an
opportunity to communicate your values about science when discussing other
people’s work.
[At journal club meetings] we discuss papers and talk about
their weaknesses, and it makes it clear that we don’t want our
papers to have those kinds of weaknesses. I think the scientific
rigor issues come up as we go along.
—Tamara Doering, Washington University School
of Medicine
Informal group activities. Organizing social occasions to celebrate a major
accomplishment—publication of a paper, a job, a grant—is important for promoting your shared vision of the lab and building morale. In addition, most PIs agree
that it is important that lab members occasionally socialize in a relaxed, nonwork
environment. Such get-togethers can help promote team building and enhance
communication among lab members. As you are establishing your lab, you might
have to arrange these outings. After a while, they will occur more spontaneously.
Don’t feel that you always have to participate, and don’t feel offended if you are
not invited to all after-hours occasions.
Giving and Receiving Feedback
Giving and receiving feedback is a critical leadership skill. Receiving feedback from
individuals in your lab will help you improve as a leader and help you steer people
toward your vision. In turn, giving them feedback will help them develop as scientists and ensure that your expectations are met. Feedback should be given informally, on a daily basis, as well as during formal meetings. Giving feedback and communicating with your group on a regular basis help instill the culture of “feedback,”
and can also make it easier to approach lab members about specific situations or
problems, since they are used to regular sessions with you. It also helps avoid
unpleasant surprises from members of your lab.
Giving Feedback. When you give feedback to people in the lab, try to
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Time it well. Feedback during stressful times (e.g., when a grant deadline is
looming) is rarely helpful, especially when either party is angry, or when
someone is not ready to receive feedback.
Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
Be specific and objective. Focus your comments on first-hand data, actions,
and behavior and not on the person or speculation about his or her intentions. For example, instead of saying “You are not focused enough on your
work” or “You don’t seem to care about your experiments,” think of a specific instance that you thought was a problem. “We decided at our meeting
that you would do these three experiments, but you only did one.”
Reinforce expectations. Provide feedback in terms of previously outlined
goals and decisions (e.g., “We decided at the last meeting...”).
Avoid subjective statements. An example of such a statement is “I don’t
like the fact that you show up in the lab whenever you feel like it.” Try
instead to stick to objective arguments: “If you arrive at unpredictable
times, it is difficult for other people in the lab to know when they can talk
to you. Many people depend on your expertise and need to know when you
are available.”
Present it in a constructive way. Feedback should be seen as a method of
improving rather than as a punitive step. To this end, ensure that the student or postdoc has a plan for dealing with any problems you have identified and arrange a way to monitor progress. Why does the postdoc come to
the lab late in the day and have an erratic work schedule? Does she need to
adjust her daily routine and go to sleep earlier? Does she have a problem
with getting transportation to and from the lab? Suggest ways to overcome
these problems and agree on a deadline for reevaluating the problem:
“From now on I expect you to be in the lab at 10 a.m. and to attend all
scheduled lab meetings. Talk to Dave or Jane about carpooling to the lab.
We can talk again in a week to see how you are doing.”
Make sure it registers. Feedback is often subject to distortion or misinterpretation. You may want to ask the student or postdoc to rephrase what
you have said and talk about his or her assessment of the issues you raised.
Avoid giving too much. Select the highest-priority issues to start with, and
remember that time and space are needed for integrating feedback.
Although I know it’s important, it is hard for me to let people
know when their behavior does not meet my expectations. When
I first opened the lab, I was more uncomfortable with this than I
am now. Basically, I’m quicker to call people on it now. If
things are not working and the quality of their work is somehow slipping, or the effort that they are putting in is somewhat
dropping, I have an easier time saying, “This isn’t right, you
have to change it now.”
—Charles Murry, University of Washington School
of Medicine
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Receiving feedback. Invite people in your lab to provide feedback on specific
issues by asking questions during lab meetings or scheduled one-on-one meetings.
Make it a point to meet with your department chair on a regular basis and have
lunch with senior colleagues to get a sense of how they think your work is progressing and whether you are on track for getting tenure. (If they have not been
paying attention to your work, this conversation will motivate them to start doing
so). But remember, to get honest comments and suggestions, you must be receptive. If you respond angrily or defensively, those in your lab and other colleagues
will be reluctant to give you their opinion. As you are listening to a comment, try to
understand what the other person is saying. If something is not clear, ask for clarification. If the feedback is negative, take time to think about what you heard, even
if you don’t agree. What behaviors might have caused these perceptions? What
changes, if any, do you need to make?
Making Decisions
As a PI you will be making tens if not hundreds of decisions a day, from determining which e-mails to open and what type of answer to give each one, to choosing
to hire a new postdoc. In each case, the first step in making a decision involves
understanding the demands of the situation by answering the following questions:
How important is the decision I have to make? For example, hiring a new
technician is a serious commitment. You will have to interview the candidate and carefully research his or her background before you make a decision. On the other hand, whether or not you agree to referee a paper is
unlikely to carry very serious consequences.
When do I need to make the decision?
Do I have enough information to make the decision?
How critical are the consequences of this decision?
Who needs to know or cares about the decision I am about to make?
Will I need assistance or approval from others?
If I have made that kind of decision before, can I use the same approach?
Answers to these questions will help you choose the most appropriate decision
style—that is, the degree to which you go at it alone or include others.
Making a decision in complete isolation. This decision style works best when
you are under severe time constraints, there is no need for buy-in from other people, you alone have the best insight, or you are dealing with highly confidential
information. For example, if another scientist approaches you to collaborate on
some experiments for a paper that he is in a rush to publish, you may quickly
decide whether it is worthwhile for you to get involved. You can make this decision
without consulting anyone else if the work can be done by yourself or a technician.
Another example would be to decide whether to referee a paper or write a reference letter for a postdoc.
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Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
Making a decision after consulting with other individuals, but without necessarily telling them why. You would use this decision style when you need input
from others and have sufficient time to gather information. In general, this
approach improves the quality of the decision, but you run the risk of involving
people who are not really participating in the decision-making process, which may
lead to resentment or misunderstanding. For example, if approached by another
researcher to collaborate on a project, you may ask your colleagues whether they
know this person and what his or her reputation is. A PI considering taking on a
new research direction may consult with the department head and postdocs and
students in the lab. But the decision ultimately rests on the shoulders of the PI.
Steps in
Making a decision with the group. This decision style is helpful when you have
few time constraints, need the buy-in or technical experience of the group, or need
a creative response. It is more time-consuming than the two discussed above, but in
some cases it improves the quality of the decision. For example, when deciding
whether or not to invite a new postdoc to join the lab many PIs will decide jointly
with existing lab members. Another example is when a PI has to decide whether or
not to buy a new piece of equipment that he
or she has little experience with. There may
be postdocs in the lab who are more knowlMaking a Decision
edgeable and can make a better decision.
1. Determine the type of decision that you need
to make.
2. Pick a style that is appropriate for the decision
and situation. (Remember, different decision
styles will fit different situations and you should
be equally comfortable using any of the styles
when appropriate.)
3. Make the decision.
4. Keep a log of all your decisions, giving a brief
description of the issue at hand, the decision
type, and what the decision and outcome were.
5. Go back to the log once a month to see how
each decision is playing out.
Passing the decision on to others. It may
be appropriate to let other people in your lab
make a decision in cases where the decision is
more important to them, you have little competence in the particular issue, or you have
other more pressing priorities to deal with.
The most important thing to consider in this
case is that you will have to live with the decision, whether you like it or not. The last thing
you want to do is overturn a decision once it
has been made. For example, you might let a
senior postdoc decide on his or her own
whether to collaborate with another scientist
or where to submit a paper.
Depending on your personality, you probably prefer to make decisions in one particular way. For example, if you are an introvert, you may gravitate toward making
decisions on your own, without too much group discussion. But people in your lab
will appreciate being involved in some of the decisions. It is a good idea to try to
experiment with different decision styles in different situations.
Setting and Communicating Rules of Behavior for
Members of Your Laboratory
A key aspect of your role as a lab leader is to set and effectively convey expectations that reflect your vision for the lab. Some expectations may apply to a particular group of lab members (e.g., postdocs), and others will be unique to each individual. You may want to work with your lab members to set these expectations—
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
this can increase the likelihood of buy-in and help increase motivation. The best
way to communicate expectations is to convey them continually—at the first interview, on the first day on the job, at lunch time, during lab meetings, and, most
importantly, by setting an example. It’s also a good idea to communicate your
expectations in writing, especially for new lab members and when conducting staff
reviews, and to periodically review them with your staff. As a general rule, you
should live by the expectations you set for your lab members. Show your workers
that you enjoy what you are doing. Especially in the early years, be present in the
lab, working side by side with them. They will be able to see how you work and
what is important to you.
I give a “state of the lab” talk once a year. I start with reviewing the accomplishments, the things that have gone well over the
last year. I try to point out things that everyone has done so that
there is a sense that everyone has been recognized for their part.
Then I go over the lab budget—what our “burn rate” is, where
our money is coming from—and talk a little bit about money
management issues and strategies.
—Charles Murry, University of Washington School
of Medicine
—B. Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia
We have a package that we give people on arrival that tells
them what their lab duties are and how the lab is run. The
faster you can get new lab members to the bench and get them
going, the better it will be.
Below are some general areas that you will want to consider when setting expectations for people in your lab.
Question: How do I avoid potential misunderstandings among lab members regarding work hours
and time off?
Answer: The best way to handle this is to convey
your expectations about work hours and time off to
applicants during the interview. For example, the
amount of vacation leave varies from country to
country (e.g., it is usually longer in Europe than in
the United States), so you should let applicants
know about your institution’s and your lab’s policies.
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Work hours. Some PIs feel they should stipulate a specific number of hours per week
that they expect graduate students or postdocs to work. But that strategy does not necessarily work well and can generate resentment. Focusing on productivity will prove
more successful than focusing on the number
of hours or on the specific hours an individual works. Nevertheless, you will probably
want the members of your laboratory to be
present during certain hours—to make sure
that they can interact with you and the other
lab members. Generally, your own work
Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
hours set the pace for your group. If you leave the lab at 6:00 p.m., don’t expect
people in your lab to be working late into the evening.
Prolonged absences. Communicate your expectation that lab members should
give you several weeks’ notice about an upcoming vacation. Inform them of the
vacation and personal leave limits at your institution. Your institution will also have
guidelines about maternity and paternity leave. It is best to follow these guidelines
Some labs get a bad reputation when PIs say, “We expect you
to be here every Saturday and never take vacations,” or something similar. I think what you want to do is set an example
and help your people find how to be most effective. It is possible to work regular hours, but one has to be very organized
about it. I have had very efficient people who can be very productive working nine to five and just use their time well. I
have also had other people who don’t use their time well, and
so I try to work with each lab member to help them figure out
what works best.
—Suzanne Pfeffer, Stanford University School of
Authorship of papers. The inclusion and order of authors on a paper are often
sources of discord in the lab. In deciding who should be an author on a paper, the
PI has to consider who has contributed to particular aspects of the work. All lab
members who are involved in a project should express their expectations concerning authorship and credits on the resulting paper, and provide their rationale for
being considered as an author.
Here are some guidelines to consider:
The first author is normally the individual who is primarily responsible for
the project.
Occasionally, two individuals may share that responsibility; most journals
permit a statement that indicates that the first two or three authors listed
have each contributed equally to the publication.
It is unwise to make upfront promises about authorship. You may choose
to make it a policy in your lab to wait until you know how much each person has actually contributed before authorship is assigned.
In deciding whether to include someone as an author, ask “Could this project
have been done without this person’s conceptual or technical contribution?”
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
—Suzanne Pfeffer, Stanford University School of
I have included a student on a paper because he had a conceptual
contribution without which the whole study could not have been
done. There was no question, everybody wanted this person on
the paper—so an author doesn’t have to contribute an actual
figure if they’ve contributed something that was essential for that
project to go forward.
Scientific ethics. The best way to communicate responsible conduct in research to
your lab is to live by those values. As a leader, you should talk about important ethical issues (e.g., scientific rigor and reproducible and discrepant results) in a lab
meeting or in a more informal setting. Most universities offer lectures or seminars
in scientific ethics, and you should encourage your staff to attend. An introduction
to the ethical conduct of research is a report from the Institute of Medicine,
Integrity in Scientific Research: Creating an Environment That Promotes Responsible Conduct,
which is available from National Academies Press at You
should also make it possible for your research staff to discuss and report concerns
to you in a confidential manner.
Project ownership. The PI, with input from individual members, usually decides
what projects people in the lab work on. Some labs have strategy discussions every
three to four months during which everyone talks about what projects they would
like to continue or initiate. Work in the lab is most effective and productive when
members have clearly defined projects that are sufficiently distinct so that each person can carry out some independent work, and at the same time the projects are
interrelated so that no one is working in a vacuum. This way, everyone in the lab
can consult with and motivate each other.
Policy on letting projects leave the lab. You should develop a clear policy concerning whether or not you will allow postdocs to take their projects with them
—Tamara Doering, Washington University School
of Medicine
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I often encourage people to collaborate or help each other with
techniques. So if someone has an idea, I’ll say, “Why don’t you
go to so and so? She has been thinking about that or knows
how to use that machine. Why don’t you talk to her?” And I
try to make it reciprocal as much as I can.
Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
when they leave your lab. Communicate this policy to all prospective postdocs.
Some PIs let their postdocs take whatever they had worked on during their stay in
their labs, with no strings attached. Others will let postdocs take some aspects of
their projects to serve as the focus for their new labs. In these cases, the PI makes
sure that he or she does not compete directly with the former postdoc’s project for
a few years, until the postdoc’s lab is well established. When you develop your policy, think about how you would want to handle a situation in which the research
results are different from what you anticipated or a situation in which the results
lead to interesting new avenues of research. If you have a small research group and
a focused area of research, you may not be able to let departing postdocs take their
projects with them. In this case, you might have to develop some alternatives to
benefit them. One possibility is to give your postdocs six months of salary and
resources to generate preliminary data for a new research question or direction. If
this is not possible, you may encourage your postdocs to work on two projects: one
that contributes directly to the mission of the lab and one that is related to what
the lab does but is not a main focus. The postdocs are free to take the latter projects with them.
I personally think it’s unfair to say to someone who has slaved
away in your lab for three years and goes looking for a job,
“You can’t continue what you’ve been working on,” because then
that person won’t be able to get a grant.
—B. Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia
The head of a lab needs to be generous, and that is hard for
junior PIs because you feel like you are just starting and everything is crucial to the success of your research program. So it’s
hard to let postdocs take projects with them. But they need to,
and the main thing is to communicate about it.
—Tamara Doering, Washington University School
of Medicine
Keeping Lab Members Motivated
One of your key roles is to motivate people to work hard toward achieving your
shared vision. While different people respond to different types of internal and
external motivation, most people are motivated when their contributions to the laboratory are recognized and appreciated. According to Edward O’Neil, to feel motivated, most people require the following:
Choice: People want to make some decisions. As a PI, make sure you give
people appropriate responsibilities, involve them in discussions about general scientific strategy, and listen to their ideas.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Competence: People need the skills to do the work that is expected of them.
As a PI, check competences by asking someone to do an experiment with
you or ask appropriate questions.
Purpose: People need to understand the importance of their role in the lab
and in scientific enterprise. As a PI, it is important for you to set goals that
define success for each person in the lab and make sure they match with
what the person is doing. It is important to listen to what each person
wants to do and understand what his or her goals are. If a postdoc has
decided to pursue a career in industry, trying to motivate him or her to follow in your footsteps into academia will not work. As a lab leader, you
need to address your lab members’ individual goals while you work
together to realize your shared vision.
Recognition: You need to provide continuous feedback to your lab members.
Comments and suggestions should be provided in the context of the given
expectations. Special accomplishments, such as publishing a paper or getting a difficult technique to work, require special recognition, such as a lab
Feeling comfortable: To be able to focus on their work, people have to feel
comfortable in their environment. One example is that some lab members
like to play music in the lab, while others get distracted by it. The working
environment needs to be comfortable so that your lab members look forward to coming to work everyday and enjoy conducting research in your
lab with their colleagues.
Progress: Satisfaction in achieving goals should not be in the distant future.
It is a good idea to schedule individual meetings as often as once a week to
set deadlines, solve problems, and plan future experiments.
Enthusiasm: You undoubtedly love science for the thrill of discovery, of
finding the answer to an important scientific question that has never been
answered before—share your enthusiasm and soon others in the lab will
follow your lead.
Barring personal problems, when these factors are in place people should feel motivated to work in your lab. A lack of motivation may manifest itself as a decrease in
productivity; someone who was productive will stop producing results consistently
week after week. You will first need to determine the cause for this decrease. Is it
an interpersonal problem in the lab, an experimental obstacle, or a personal crisis?
Discuss the problem with the lab member and see whether you can jointly develop
a strategy to address the issue or minimize the impact of the lab member’s actions.
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Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
I think the mistake a lot of us make is to assume all too often
that individuals don’t have any contribution to make, just simply because it might be a minor contribution. I think gaining an
appreciation of what everyone brings to the table is extremely
—Gail Cassell, Eli Lilly and Company
When people present a really good result at a lab meeting, I’ll
say, “That seems like a pizza result,” and I’ll buy pizza for the
lab in their honor. Sometimes it’s by way of appreciation rather
than an important result. If someone—say a junior technician—gets stuck in a cloning project for a long time and then
gets the construct he’s been trying to make, that’s a pizza result.
—Tamara Doering, Washington University School
of Medicine
—B. Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia
Managing Conflict in the Lab
I do half-hour meetings with each person once a week. If they
come in and say, “Nothing worked,” I say, “OK,” and change
the subject because I realize that probably 90 percent of the
experiments as a scientist don’t work. I’ve found that this
approach is a very subtle but effective motivator. Most people
don’t want to come into my office week after week and say,
“Nothing worked.”
Conflict is any situation where one person’s concerns or desires differ from those
of another person. In the lab, conflicts often arise over “turf wars,” when two individuals are interested in the same project. By staying on top of what each member
of your lab is doing, you can often spot potential problems and deal with them
before they become too serious.
Most people tend to avoid conflict. But we should think of conflict as a creative
part of our lives. Conflict has the potential of both positive and negative effects.
Depending on how it is managed, conflict can be constructive or destructive, be
stimulating or unnerving, produce higher-quality results or stifle a project, lead to
original thinking or cause destructive power struggles.
Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann provide a useful model for evaluating
an individual’s behavior in conflict situations. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict
Model describes a person’s behavior in a conflict situation along two basic
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
dimensions: assertiveness—that is, the extent to which an individual attempts to
satisfy his or her own concerns—and cooperativeness—that is, the extent to which
an individual attempts to satisfy the concerns of the other person.
These two basic dimensions of behavior can be used to define five specific modes
of dealing with conflict that everyone is capable of using.
Competing. This conflict-handling mode is assertive and uncooperative.
Competers pursue their own concerns at the other person’s expense. They use
whatever powers seem appropriate to win their position, including their ability to
argue or their rank. This conflict mode works when you are dealing with a vital
issue, an unpopular decision, or a decision that needs quick action. However,
although it sometimes seems justified, the mistake many scientists make is to stay in
individualistic, competitive mode all the time. For example, if the head of another
lab asks you for a reagent that you have not yet cited in a publication and that one
of your postdocs is using for his or her project, you may refuse to share the
reagent until your postdoc has published a paper referring to it. The decision will
probably make you unpopular with the other PI, but you are safeguarding the interests of your postdoc.
Accommodating. This mode is unassertive and cooperative—in other words, the
opposite of competing. Accommodators often neglect their own concerns in order
to satisfy the concerns of others. Times when the accommodating mode is appropriate are when you want to build political capital or create good will, and for issues
of low importance. However, keep in mind that the accommodating mode can be a
problem if you keep a tally and expect that the other person will be accommodating next time. For example, you and your collaborator are sharing a piece of equipment that just broke down. He insists that you pay for the repairs since your lab
uses it more. You don’t agree, but you give in on this one because you know that
his lab uses all the other shared equipment more so it will be his turn next time a
piece of equipment needs repair.
Avoiding. Avoiders are unassertive and uncooperative. They do not immediately
pursue their own concerns or those of others. The conflict is never addressed by
avoiders. Many times people will avoid conflicts out of fear of engaging in a conflict or because they don’t have confidence in their conflict management skills. But,
avoiding can be a good strategy in cases where the person you are in conflict with
has much more power than you do or when issues are not that important. It is also
a good strategy when you need to buy time. An example of how to do this is to say
“These are serious changes. I will need some time to think about it.”
Collaborating. This conflict-handling mode is both assertive and cooperative—the
opposite of avoiding. Collaborators attempt to work with the other person to find
some solution that fully satisfies the concerns of both persons. They dig into an
issue to identify the underlying concerns of the two conflicting individuals and try
to find an alternative that meets both sets of concerns. With such a positive outcome, some people will profess that the collaboration mode is always the best conflict mode to use. However, collaboration takes a great deal of time and energy;
thus, it should be used only when the conflict warrants time and energy. For example, if two postdocs are arguing over “territory,” you might want to spend the
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Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
necessary time to carefully carve out different projects in a way that will satisfy
both postdocs. On the other hand, if your postdocs are in conflict about which day
to hold a lab meeting, the time and energy necessary to collaboratively resolve the
conflict is probably not beneficial.
Compromising. On the negotiating continuum, this mode lies somewhere
between assertiveness and cooperativeness. The goal of the compromiser is to
find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties.
The compromiser gives up more than the competer, but less than the accommodator. He or she addresses an issue more directly than the avoider, but does
not explore it in as much depth or detail as the collaborator. This mode of conflict resolution is useful for decisions of moderate importance, when you have
equal power status, or when you are faced with an issue that needs to be resolved
quickly. In general, academics tend to underutilize this mode of handling conflict.
For example, say your department chair goes back on her agreement to give you a
semester free of teaching responsibilities. She tells you that she is desperate and
needs you to teach Introduction to Biology for 200 students, including labs during
your first semester. You point out that it is stipulated in your contract that your
first semester would be free of teaching responsibilities; however, you are willing
to teach a smaller, graduate-level course. You of course would rather not teach
anything and are not contractually bound to teach your first semester, but you also
know that it is in your best interest to accommodate your chair’s wishes as much
as possible.
Each of the conflict-handling modes has
value; none is intended to be good, bad, or
preferable in all situations. A worthwhile goal
Steps for Dealing with Conflict
for you as a PI is to increase your repertoire
When faced with conflict:
of responses to conflict, with the flexibility
to use various modes in different situations
u Assess the problem.
and in appropriate ways.
Assess the other person’s interests.
Acknowledge the constraints.
Select a strategy that balances the importance
of the problem, time constraints, power differences, and the relationships of the people
The people who work for you in your lab will
also tend to adopt one style of handling a
conflict over another. You will have a mix of
competers, accommodators, and avoiders.
Show them by example that there are different ways of handling conflict depending on
the situation.
Resolving a conflict between lab members. When conflict occurs between two
or more members of the lab, determine whether it is necessary for you to step in
and facilitate a resolution. Usually, most people will be able to resolve their own
conflicts, but make sure that a conflict does not fester to the point where it affects
morale and the atmosphere in the lab.
Here are a few tips for how to help resolve conflict in the lab:
Foster an environment that accepts conflict, as long as the difficulties are faced
openly and honestly by the people involved. The PI can actively reinforce
openness by lab members, especially the participants in a conflict episode.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Help the individuals involved in a conflict synchronize the timing, focus,
and extent of their overtures and responses. The PI may, for example,
invite the people involved in a conflict to the office at a designated time to
discuss the problems openly and honestly, and come to a resolution.
Make sure that each person understands the other’s point of view. The PI
can do this by summarizing, clarifying, focusing questions, and encouraging
listening by each person.
Resolving conflicts between you and others in the lab. Conflicts between the
PI and the lab members also occur. Such conflicts are important and influential in
developing the future course of the lab, particularly during the early stages. It is
important that the leader demonstrates interest in receiving and understanding negative feedback and shows a willingness to learn from it, when appropriate. It also is
important for the leader to avoid the trap of dropping his or her leadership responsibilities and responding to the challenge by becoming “just another lab member.”
In other words, as a PI, you never have just your interests at hand but those of the
lab as a whole.
Barker, Kathy. At the Bench: A Laboratory Navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1998.
Barker, Kathy. At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2002.
Baron, Renee. What Type Am I. New York, NY: Penguin, 1998.
Boss, Jeremy M., and Susan H. Eckert. Academic Scientists at Work: Navigating the
Biomedical Research Career. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers,
Committee on Assessing Integrity in Research Environments, Institute of
Medicine. Integrity in Scientific Research: Creating an Environment that Promotes Responsible
Conduct. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2002,
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1995.
Harmening, Denise M. Laboratory Management: Principles and Processes. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
O’Neil, John. Leadership Aikido: 6 Business Practices That Can Turn Your Life Around.
New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Ridley, Matt. The Origin of Virtue. New York, NY: Penguin, 1996.
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Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator describes four pairs of opposite behaviors.
Everyone prefers one behavior from each pair, and generally uses it more than
its opposite.
1. Ways of Gaining Energy
Extroversion. An extroverted individual focuses on the outside world and gets
energy by interacting with people and doing things. Extroverts want time to talk, to
have something to do, to have a voice, and action.
Introversion. An introverted individual focuses on the inner world and gets energy
by reflecting on information, ideas, and concepts. Introverts want time alone, to be
asked what they think, thought-out written communication, time to think, and time
to assimilate before action.
Example: During a lab meeting extroverts are the ones who tend to talk and ask
lots of questions. Introverts are participating just as much, but doing so in their
heads. As PI, you will probably need to call on some of the introverts during the
meeting to hear their ideas. If you, the PI, are a strong introvert, you may prefer
giving feedback in one-on-one meetings.
2. Ways of Gathering Information
Sensing. A sensing individual notices and trusts facts, details, and present realities.
Sensing types want concrete data, specifics and details, connections to the past,
realistic description of the future, clear guidelines, roles, and expectations.
Intuition. An intuitive individual attends to and trusts interrelationships, theories,
and future possibilities. Intuitive types want the overall rationale (big picture), general directions, pictures of the future, and opportunities to participate.
Example: When interviewing candidates for a position in the lab, the sensing PI
will have a standard set of questions that he or she goes through with all candidates. The sensing PI will call all the references for each candidate. The intuitive PI,
on the other hand, will “know” who to hire after a five-minute conversation with a
candidate, regardless of whether or not the candidate has all the necessary qualifications. Both types need to recognize their preferences and take them into consideration. In the interview case, for instance, the intuitive PI should prepare a
standard set of questions that are asked of each candidate. On the other hand,
once the sensing PI has run through his or her set of already prepared questions,
he or she should try to let the conversation wander to learn things about the
candidate that could not be gleaned from the list of questions.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
3. Ways of Making Decisions
Thinking. A thinking individual makes decisions using logical, objective analysis.
Thinking types want to understand the rationale behind changes; have clarity about
the decision-making process; understand goals and future structure; and want competent leadership, fairness, and equity.
Feeling. A feeling individual makes decisions by applying person-centered values.
Feeling types want to recognize the impact that decisions have on people; to meet
people’s needs; to include everyone in the decision process; to have values drive
change; and to have a leader who cares, appreciates, and supports them.
Example: Most scientists are oriented toward thinking. When making a decision
about the best graduate student to take on a project, for instance, a thinking PI
would focus on who has the skills to get the project done most efficiently. The
feeling PI might also take into account the members’ career aspirations as well as
lab skills when assigning projects to lab members. Because leadership has a lot to
do with relationships, most PIs will find this aspect of their job difficult because
they are not naturally oriented toward feeling. Even if it does not come naturally,
you can learn to adopt a more people-centered approach.
4. Ways of Living in the World
Judging. A judging individual prefers to be organized and orderly and to make
decisions quickly. Judging types want a clear concise plan, defined outcomes and
goals, a time frame with stages, clear priorities, completion, and, most of all, no
Perceiving. A perceiving individual prefers to be flexible and adaptable, and to
keep options open as long as possible. Perceiving types want an open-ended
approach, general parameters, flexibility and options, information, room to adjust,
and a go-with-the-flow approach.
Example: A judging type will meet with the PI and clearly lay out a plan for getting
from a to b, and then spend the rest of the week completing the tasks that were
discussed. A perceiving type will see a world of possibilities to discuss at the
meeting. With the help of the PI, he or she may be able to come up with a plan of
action to get from a to b, but is likely to get side-tracked and not complete the
agreed-upon tasks by the end of the week.
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Chapter 3 Laboratory Leadership in Science
Please complete part A in advance and bring it to our meeting or e-mail it to me.
We will discuss part B together at our meeting, but you might want to look over the
Part A. Six-Month Review of Goals
Name: ___________________________________________________________
Date: ______________
I. Accomplishments
II. Goals for the next six months
III. Long-term goals
Part B. Joint-Feedback Meeting
I. Feedback on mentoring
Frequency of interactions
Quality of interactions
Level of involvement
Positive aspects of interactions
Areas for effort/improvement
II. Comments from mentor
Quality of work
Organization and efficiency
Knowledge base
Communication skills
Working relationships
Leadership/supervisory skills
Areas for effort/improvement
III. Summary of discussion
Areas for effort/improvement
Scientific goals
Long-term plans
Lab Director: _____________________________________________________
Lab Member: _____________________________________________________
Date: _____________
Source: This form was created by Tamara L. Doering, Washington University School of Medicine.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Opening the performance review discussion
Create a sincere, open, and friendly atmosphere. This includes
Reviewing the purpose of the discussion.
Emphasizing that it is a joint discussion for the purpose of problem solving and goal setting.
Striving to put the employee at ease.
Conducting the performance review discussion
Keep the focus on job performance and related factors. This includes
Discussing job elements—employee strengths, accomplishments, and
improvement needs—and evaluating results of performance against objectives set during previous reviews and discussions.
Being prepared to cite observations for each point you want to discuss.
Encouraging the employee to review his or her own performance.
Using open-ended, reflective, and directive questions to promote thought,
understanding, and problem solving.
Encourage the employee to outline his or her personal plans for self-development
before suggesting ideas of your own. In the process, you should
Try to get the employee to set development and improvement targets.
Strive to reach agreement on appropriate development plans that detail
what the employee intends to do, a timetable, and the support you are prepared to give.
Discuss work assignments, projects, and goals for the next performance review
period and ask the employee to come prepared with suggestions.
Closing the performance review discussion
In closing, you should
Summarize what has been discussed. Pay particular attention to agreedupon next steps.
Show enthusiasm for plans that have been made.
Give the employee an opportunity to make additional suggestions.
End on a positive, friendly, harmonious note.
Source: This form was developed by HHMI’s Human Resources Department.
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Chapter 4
Chapter 4
S taffing your lab with the right people is one of the most important things you can
do to ensure the success of your research. This chapter focuses on four laboratory
positions—technician, postdoc, graduate student, and undergraduate—although
much of the material would be relevant for anyone you bring on board. The chapter
reviews issues to consider when determining your staffing needs and suggests strategies to help you manage the process for recruiting, interviewing, and evaluating applicants. The chapter also offers guidance on what to do if you have to ask someone to
leave your lab.
For a discussion of the skills needed to manage the people in your lab day to day and
get them to work productively, see chapter 3, “Laboratory Leadership in Science.”
Also consult your institution’s human resources (HR) staff—they have expertise and
resources to help you set performance expectations, maintain performance records,
motivate staff and evaluate their performance, deal with behavior or performance
problems, and manage issues related to staff promotion and job growth.
he process for staffing your lab will vary depending on the position you are trying
to fill and the extent to which your institution’s HR department is involved. Because
the hiring process in an academic setting can be protracted and time-consuming, you
should involve your department’s administrative staff or your institution’s HR department from the beginning.
Know the Difference Between Employees and Students
It is important to distinguish between employees and students. Generally, technicians
and postdocs are considered to be employees of your university or research institution. They receive regular wages and have taxes withheld, and federal and state laws
and your institution’s personnel policies apply to their employment. On the other
hand, undergraduate and graduate students are just that—students. Although they
may receive a stipend for work in your laboratory, their relationship to you in almost
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
all cases is that of learner to teacher, not employee to employer. For the most part,
students work in your lab to gain experience and to learn how to do science, not
because they receive monetary compensation.
In addition, employees are “hired” and “fired,” and students are “assigned” to a lab
and “released” from it. Although this may seem like mere wordplay, the nuances of
these relationships are important because of the legal implications.
Avoid Discrimination
In the United States, many laws—at the federal, state, and local levels—guide and
control how you as the employer’s representative work with other employees, particularly those you supervise. These laws determine many aspects of the employer/
employee relationship. One very important principle to follow is to avoid discrimination on the basis of an individual’s membership in a protected group or an individual’s protected characteristic. Generally, this means that you cannot discriminate
in an employment-related decision (such as interviewing, recruiting, selecting, hiring, training, evaluating, promoting, disciplining, or terminating) on the basis of
someone’s race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, marital
status, mental or physical disability, or other protected status. Work with HR and
with knowledgeable people in your department to ensure that you follow the law
and your institution’s policies and procedures.
Determine Your Staffing Needs
Your decision to take on staff will depend on several factors, such as the provisions
of your start-up package, the stability of your external funding sources, the
progress of your research, and even your personal preferences about performing
various laboratory tasks. Established scientists caution new principal investigators
against rushing out and hiring people just to fill an empty lab. Before you bring on
staff, think carefully about the consequences. Will you be able to recruit the caliber
of people you need? Can you make the time to train and mentor others?
Remember, you need to preserve sufficient time and space for your own work at
the bench.
Often, the first person a new investigator hires is a lab technician. This versatile lab
member can help you with time-consuming initial tasks, such as logging in and setting up equipment and handling routine tasks that keep your laboratory working.
Although your budget may more easily accommodate a junior technician, you might
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
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Early in my career, when I couldn’t attract top postdocs, I put
my energy into graduate students and technicians. The graduate
students are like raw lumps of clay that have the opportunity to
mold themselves into something really great.
Chapter 4 Staffing Your Laboratory
benefit more by hiring an experienced technician who can help train other staff as
they come on board. Some experienced technicians can also contribute in substantive ways to your research project. A technician who is familiar with the administrative processes of your institution can also be extremely valuable.
Consider bringing a graduate student on board once your lab is running and you
have the time to invest in training. Working with your technician and graduate student can provide you with additional intellectual stimulation, and when each is able
to work independently, you should have more time for grant writing and doing
experiments. Hire a postdoc when your main project is well under way and you
have enough other projects, so that you can turn one of them over to the postdoc
and allow him or her to have a great deal of responsibility.
You may want to be cautious about taking on undergraduates because of the large
time investment needed to make them fully a part of the lab. If you decide to take
on an undergraduate, consider limiting the initial assignment to one semester. At
the end of that time, determine whether the student should continue for a second
semester. (Additional considerations for working with undergraduates and other lab
members can be found in chapter 5, “Mentoring and Being Mentored.”)
Write the Job Description
The next step is developing a job description for the open position. First, identify
and prioritize the initial and ongoing lab tasks for which you need support. Then
determine the qualifications needed to best complete these tasks and develop a
general plan for allocating the person’s time. Most HR departments have job
descriptions that you can use as models. Bear in mind that the position will have to
fit within your institution’s established compensation and classification system. The
process may be more complicated if unions represent identified groups of employees
at your institution.
Get the Word Out
Informal methods. Try to recruit by word of mouth. Ideally, you want people to
seek you out. Meetings and seminars where you present your work are good venues
to reach graduate students and postdocs, as well as lab technicians who are not
employed by your institution. Another strategy is to include a statement on your
Web site inviting people to contact you if they are interested in working with you.
As you get to know students in your classes, you may find some who are interested
in learning more about your work and carrying out a research project in your laboratory. In addition, you may be able to recruit graduate students from those who
rotate through your lab as part of the curriculum.
Formal advertisements. To recruit postdocs, you may decide to place advertisements in journals such as Science ( ), Cell
( ), and Nature ( ), both in hard copy and
on the Web. Other resources for advertising are the Federation of American
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Societies for Experimental Biology’s Career Resources Web site
( ), your scientific society’s Web
site, Science’s ( ), and the
mailing list servers maintained by professional associations, such as the Association
for Women in Science. For any advertisements you place, make sure you follow
your institution’s policies.
What Do You Have to Offer?
As a beginning investigator, you may find it a challenge to recruit the people you
want, especially postdocs and experienced lab technicians. Here are some things
you can do to increase your chances:
Promote your vision. When you talk to the applicant, take time to identify
your vision for your lab. Your excitement about your work and your lab will
excite and interest potential staff.
Communicate your lab culture. Think about how to create a lab environment that allows you and your staff to work efficiently and harmoniously.
If good communication, collaboration, and cooperation are valued concepts in your lab, they can be selling points in recruitment.
Convey your commitment to mentoring. Let potential staff know that they
will be working directly with you and that you have an interest in helping
them in their careers.
Offer flexibility where you can. Flexibility, especially about assignments or
research avenues, is attractive to most job applicants.
Provide a realistic level of reassurance regarding the stability of your funding. Potential staff are likely to be aware that the money to pay their salaries
may be coming from your research grants.
What They Are Looking For
Lab technicians. Technicians may be attracted to a beginning laboratory because
they are eager for the opportunity to work closely with the principal investigator
and are interested in learning new techniques and being included on papers. Good
salaries and status (related to publishing papers) may be of prime importance to
career lab techs, whereas experience, especially experience that will help them
decide whether to go to graduate school or medical school, may be more important
to short-term lab technicians.
Graduate students. Graduate students are often attracted to new labs because, like
lab technicians, they are eager for the opportunity to work directly with principal
investigators. Mentoring graduate students can be time-consuming, especially for
the first few months. Therefore, you may want to sign up your first graduate student when your lab is running well and you have time to work with each student
properly. Thoughtful mentoring of graduate students early in your career will help
you develop a positive reputation and will increase your ability to attract other grad-
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Chapter 4 Staffing Your Laboratory
uate students. On the other hand, if your first graduate students have negative
experiences in your lab, they will quickly share this with their peers, and your ability
to recruit students will suffer greatly.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
When I talk to students about what kind of a lab they should
join, I always tell them that it’s a very special experience to go
into the laboratory of someone who is just beginning an independent research career, because the principal investigator is in
the lab all the time working shoulder to shoulder with them.
There is a lot of excitement and anticipation about exactly
which direction the laboratory will go.
Undergraduate students. Undergraduate students may want to work in your lab
because they are curious about research, perhaps because they have talked with
their peers who are having a good experience in a lab and want to find out whether
they should consider graduate study. Or they may be looking for academic credit,
funding, or recommendations for graduate or medical school. Try to select undergraduates who are motivated to contribute to the productivity of your lab.
Postdocs. It may take two to three years for you to recruit a postdoc with the
desired qualifications. Most postdocs are attracted to more established labs because
these usually are better launching pads for their careers. Nevertheless, some postdocs might be attracted by your research area, your concern for furthering their
careers, or your institution’s reputation and geographic location. If you have a good
reputation from your own postdoctoral work, you may be able to recruit highly
qualified postdocs right away. Having a policy that allows postdocs to take their
projects, or some aspect of their projects, when they leave your lab is also a potent
recruitment tool.
M any principal investigators do all the screening for jobs for which scientific
qualifications are important but may rely on HR to do the initial screening for
administrative positions. However, as a beginning investigator, you probably will
not be swamped with applicants, so you may want to screen all the applicants
When you review résumés, check skills against qualifications and look for transferable skills. Always review résumés carefully—some applicants may inflate their
experience. Gaps in employment and job-hopping may be signs of problems.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Tips for Specific Positions
For an applicant to a postdoc position, consider publication quality-—not just quantity—and the applicant’s contribution. A first-author citation indicates that the
applicant probably spearheaded the project. A middle-author citation indicates that
the applicant contributed experimental expertise but may have had less to do with
the project’s intellectual construct. Although it may not be realistic for a beginning
investigator, try to find a postdoc with a record of accomplishment—usually two
first-author papers—that indicates he or she will be able to obtain independent
If a technician has contributed to publications, you should evaluate them to determine whether the technician has the ability to contribute intellectually as well as
technically to the lab. The résumés of less-experienced lab technicians may not
show a record of contributions to published papers or other indicators of productivity. Carefully check references to find out about their capabilities.
For a graduate student, speak informally with other people who have worked with
the student, including teaching assistants who may know how the student has performed in a laboratory course. Take the student to lunch and see how articulate,
bright, and energized he or she is. When selecting graduate students and undergraduates, remember that a high grade-point average is no guarantee of success in your
Check References Directly
For a variety of reasons, including fear of a lawsuit or hurt feelings and concerns
about confidentiality, people rarely write negative letters of recommendation.
Therefore, you need to contact applicants’ references by telephone. You may want
to talk with HR in advance about your institution’s policies on conducting
reference checks.
What to ask a reference. When discussing an applicant with someone who has
provided a reference for him or her:
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Describe the job and the work atmosphere you want to create.
Ask short, open-ended questions, and avoid asking questions to which the
desired response is obvious.
You might want to ask, Why is this person leaving? Is he or she reliable?
Would you rehire this person? What are this person’s strengths and weaknesses? What are you most disappointed in with respect to this person?
Probe for further information, and ask for examples. Do not settle for yes
or no answers.
Try to determine whether your lab values are similar to those of the reference, perhaps by asking about the reference’s lab and philosophy. This
information should help you decide how much weight to give to the
Chapter 4 Staffing Your Laboratory
Types of Interview Questions
Open-ended questions cannot be answered yes
or no; for example, “Tell me about yourself.” The
applicant determines the direction of the answer.
Directive questions solicit information about a
specific point; for example, “What skills do you have
for this position?” The interviewer determines the
focus of the answer.
Reflective questions solicit information about a
past experience that might serve to predict the
applicant’s future performance; for example,
“Describe a time when you demonstrated
Contact all references. You are trying to
make a decision about someone with whom
you will be spending many of your waking
hours—make sure you get the information
you need. To correct for bias in the
responses of any one reference, make sure
you call all of an applicant’s references,
even those overseas. Don’t rely on e-mail to
make the reference check—you’re unlikely
to get the kind of information you’re looking for.
Sometimes, applicants won’t give the name
of a current supervisor as a reference. If
that is the case, you must respect their
request for confidentiality. However, you
should probably ask why the applicant
doesn’t want you to call. You can also ask
for additional references who can provide
you with information about this person’s
work habits, accomplishments, and history.
Further Screen Applicants by Telephone
You may want to screen promising applicants by telephone before inviting any of
them for a formal interview. As with interviewing references, focus on asking openended questions. For foreign applicants, open-ended questions are particularly helpful in determining the person’s ability to communicate effectively in English. The
appendix (page 96) shows a sample outline that can help you in your phone interviews with applicants. (Consider developing a similar form for talking to applicants’
Invite Applicants to Visit Your Lab
After you have completed the initial screening, narrow your list of potential applicants to a reasonable number of good prospects. Then, invite each person to visit
your lab for a formal interview. Remember, the initial telephone screening interview
is no substitute for this in-person interview. (Your institution may be willing to pay
the travel costs of applicants for a postdoc position.) In addition to the interview
with you, the applicant should meet informally with other members of your lab or,
if this is your first hire, meet with your colleagues, perhaps over lunch or dinner.
Also arrange for the applicant to spend some time with other lab members and colleagues without you. For a postdoc position, require that each applicant deliver a
seminar to members of your lab or department, and then get their feedback.
Share your requirements and expectations for the successful applicant with the
other people you have asked to help conduct interviews. This way everyone will be
looking for the same attributes and skills.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
—B. Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia
Conduct a Structured Interview
The presentation [postdoc candidates] give to the lab is key. You
can check out their ability in public speaking, which is important because in science a lot of times you are a salesperson. I
usually try to ask them some decently tough questions—not to
try to stump them, but just to make sure that they can think on
their feet, because you have to do that a lot as a scientist.
The goal of the structured interview is to use a standardized set of predetermined
questions to gather key information in an efficient, equitable, and nondiscriminatory
manner from all qualified applicants. You want to give each applicant a fair opportunity to compete for the position. Your questions should be
Outlined ahead of time so that you ask basically the same questions of
each applicant
Job-related and legal (avoid asking personal questions)
Short and open-ended, like those used when checking references
Focused and designed to elicit information (avoid asking philosophical
Tailor your follow-up questions to reflect each applicant’s responses and to encourage each applicant to provide examples from his or her own experiences.
Topics to Avoid
Most illegal or ill-conceived questions deal with race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, or age. You should not ask about sexual orientation, marital status,
marriage plans, pregnancy or plans for having children, the number and ages of
dependent children, childcare arrangements, or other non-work-related matters.
Remember that job-related questions are the only appropriate means by which to
determine skills and qualifications. Your HR department can provide more guidance on topics to avoid during interviews.
Develop the Interview Questions
As you develop your questions, think about how to determine whether the applicant has the knowledge, technical skills, and personal qualities that you need.
Review the job description you created earlier, the applicant’s résumé, and your
notes from your conversations with the references to identify any items or information gaps that need clarification in the interview.
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I ask them, “Why do you want to come to this lab? What
interests you? What areas do you want to work in?” I’m looking for people who say they want to broaden their horizons, not
those who want to continue doing the same thing.
—B. Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia
Chapter 4 Staffing Your Laboratory
Sample interview questions. At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator by Kathy Barker
(see “Resources,” page 95) contains a list of general questions as well as those
geared for specific laboratory positions and for determining specific personal characteristics. In addition, you may want to tailor the following questions to the position for which you are interviewing.
Experience and Skills
Tell me about your most significant accomplishments.
Tell me the part you played in conducting a specific project or implementing a new approach or technology in your lab.
I see you have worked with [insert specific technology or technique]. Tell
me about its features and benefits.
Commitment and Initiative
Why do you want to work in my lab?
What kinds of projects do you want to do? Why?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Tell me how you stay current in your field.
Describe a time when you were in charge of a project and what you feel
you accomplished.
Tell me about a project or situation that required you to take initiative.
Working and Learning Styles
What motivates you at work?
Do you learn better from books, hands-on experience, or other people?
Would you rather work on several projects at a time or on one project?
Tell me about a project that required you to work as part of a team. What
was the outcome of the team’s efforts?
How would you feel about leaving a project for a few hours to help someone else?
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
If you encountered a problem in the lab, would you ask someone for help
or would you try to deal with it yourself ?
You may be asked to work after hours or on a weekend. Would this be a
Time Management
How do you prioritize your work?
What happens when you have two priorities competing for your time?
Decision Making and Problem Solving
What is your biggest challenge in your current job? How are you dealing
with it?
Tell me about a time when you made a decision that resulted in unintended
(or unexpected) consequences (either good or bad).
Give me an example of a situation where you found it necessary to gather
other opinions before you made a decision.
Interpersonal Skills
How important is it to you to be liked by your colleagues and why?
If you heard through the grapevine that someone didn’t care for you, what
would you do, if anything?
Tell me about a situation in which your work was criticized. How did you
rectify the situation?
Describe a scientist whom you like and respect. What do you like about
this person?
Cultural differences. You may find yourself considering applicants from different
cultures whose beliefs, such as those about self-promotion, collaboration, and deference, may differ from the beliefs commonly held in the United States. To learn
more about cultural factors, see chapter 5, “Mentoring and Being Mentored.” To
ensure you are considering all candidates fairly, refer to Kathy Barker’s At the Helm:
A Laboratory Navigator; in that book the author provides a list of useful questions
you might ask a candidate, including the following:
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How do you feel about getting in front of a group and describing your
personal accomplishments?
How would you respond if a more senior lab colleague took credit for your
If you did not understand something, would you persist in asking for help
even if the principal investigator got annoyed?
My favorite questions are, “What do you want to be doing five
years from now? Ten years from now? What area do you want
to be working in?” These give me an idea of just how mature
[applicants]are in terms of how much they have thought about
what they want to do and how committed they are.
—Gail Cassell, Eli Lilly and Company
Tips for Conducting an Interview
Chapter 4 Staffing Your Laboratory
Before you begin, try to make the applicant feel comfortable. Make appropriate small talk, offer a beverage, and compliment the applicant on making
it thus far in the selection process. Remember that the applicant is also
deciding whether he or she wants to work for you.
Develop professional rapport, but avoid a social atmosphere:
Explain how the interview will be structured.
Briefly describe the selection process.
Outline the responsibilities for the open position.
Convey your expectations about the job. Include values that may seem
obvious to you, such as your commitment to lab safety and scientific
Keep in mind the topics to avoid.
Take brief notes. Record actual answers to questions, not evaluative or
conclusive comments.
Listen carefully. Let the applicant do most of the talking.
Develop a high tolerance for silence. Give the applicant a chance to think
and develop thoughtful answers to your questions.
Give the applicant many chances to ask questions. This will give you some
insight into what is important to him or her.
Never make promises or give commitments, even those that seem innocent
to you.
Ask the applicant about his or her timetable for leaving the current job,
even if you asked it during the telephone interview.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Before ending the interview, do the following:
Give the applicant a chance to add anything else he or she thinks may
be important for you to know in making your decision.
Make the applicant aware of the next steps, such as additional interviews and the time frame for hiring.
Thank the applicant for his or her time.
Special Considerations
This section is especially relevant for interviewing technicians, postdocs, and other
professional laboratory staff.
Pregnancy. If, during the interview, a well-qualified applicant tells you she is pregnant, remember it is illegal to discriminate against someone because she is pregnant. Familiarize yourself with your institution’s policies on maternity leave before
making any statements to the applicant about what length of maternity leave would
be permitted and whether the leave would be paid or unpaid. Similarly, your institution may have a policy on paternity leave that may apply to an applicant.
Visas. If you are filling a postdoc position and are dealing with foreign applicants,
remember that visa rules and requirements are complex and change frequently.
Some visa types are more desirable from the perspective of the applicant (e.g.,
because they allow for concurrent application for permanent residence in the
United States). Other visa types are more desirable from the perspective of the
employer (e.g., because they are easier to administer). Special concerns for any type
of visa may include visa arrangements for a spouse and other family members,
requirements to return to the home country, and employment implications. Keep in
mind that obtaining a visa can be a very slow and lengthy process. (Obtaining visas
to travel to the United States has become even more time-consuming given
increased U.S. security concerns and clearance.)
Consult HR, your institution’s international office, and your department’s administrative staff about visa rules and requirements. They can also help you determine
which visa is most appropriate for a given applicant. You can also check the latest
information from the State Department (
and the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly the Immigration and
Naturalization Service, The site may be helpful. A brief visa primer also is available in At
the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator by Kathy Barker.
In addition, try to determine the consequences (for you as well as the applicant) if
poor performance forces you to ask the postdoc to leave your laboratory. Because
this is an extremely complex area of immigration law, it is important that you consult your institution’s HR or legal department and follow their advice.
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B efore you begin evaluating an applicant, make sure that you have all the neces-
sary information. Conduct any reference interviews that you were unable to complete before the interview. Gather opinions from others who have met with the
applicant. As needed, seek guidance from your department and HR.
Maintaining Objectivity
As in any situation that involves interpreting interpersonal behavior, objectivity in
evaluation may be difficult. Nevertheless, try to avoid the following:
Relying too heavily on first impressions.
Downgrading an applicant because of a negative characteristic that is not
relevant to the job itself.
Making a decision too early in the interview, before asking all questions.
Allowing a positive characteristic to overshadow your perception of all
other traits, sometimes called the “halo effect.”
Judging the applicant in comparison with yourself.
Comparing applicants with one another rather than with the selection criteria (e.g., if you have been interviewing poorly qualified applicants, you may
rate average applicants highly).
Allowing factors not directly related to the interview to influence your estimation of the applicant (e.g., interviewing during times of the day when
you may be tired).
What to Look For
In addition to determining whether the applicant has the qualifications required to
perform well in your lab, you should also keep the following points in mind:
Consider the “chemistry.” First and foremost, pay attention to your intuitive reaction to the person. Look for a person who is interested in, and
able to get along with, others.
Ascertain whether the applicant is a good fit. Keep in mind that you are
building your team and need people with the skills and personalities to get
things done. Look for people who have a track record of productivity and
have demonstrated an ability to learn new skills.
Seek someone who has a passion for science and a strong work ethic.
Enthusiasm, a can-do attitude, and the willingness to go the extra mile are
critical attributes.
Check the applicant’s career plans. Knowing what the applicant wants to be
doing in 5 or 10 years can give you insight into his or her scientific maturity
and creativity, as well as his or her commitment to a specific research area.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Be certain the applicant is committed to good research practices. Record
keeping and reporting results are even more important now than in the
past because of patent and other legal issues. Insist on the highest level of
scientific integrity from anyone you are considering.
If people in the lab had reservations about whether they would
get along with someone, I probably wouldn’t bring that person in.
—Tamara Doering, Washington University School
of Medicine
If people don’t seem like they would be fun to work with, I
would use that as a reason to turn them down. Even if they
have a lot of papers and seem to be very smart, I think you
might want to think twice about hiring them.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
Red Flags
Warning signs during an interview that should alert you to potential problems
Unwillingness to take responsibility for something that has gone wrong.
Demanding privileges not given to others.
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Complaining about an adviser and coworkers.
Delaying answering questions, challenging your questions, or avoiding
answering them all together. (Humor and sarcasm can be tools to avoid
answering questions.)
Unless you have been rude, responding to an interview question with anger
is never appropriate.
Incongruence between what you hear and what you see (e.g., downcast eyes
and slouching are not signs of an eager, assertive candidate).
Trying to control the interview and otherwise behaving inappropriately.
Chapter 4 Staffing Your Laboratory
his section is especially relevant for hiring technicians, postdocs, and other professional laboratory staff.
Before you make an offer, check with your department to learn which items of the
job are negotiable and whether you are responsible for negotiating them. HR or
your department should provide you with institutional salary ranges for the position. In some institutions, HR will determine the initial salary that you can offer. In
other institutions, you may be given some leeway within a predetermined range that
is appropriate for the job description.
Once you have identified the person you wish to hire, contact him or her by telephone to extend the offer and to discuss start date, salary, and other conditions of
employment. (Be sure to check with HR first to determine whether you or they will
make this contact and cover these issues.)
Inform All the Applicants
First, inform the person you have selected. If he or she turns down the offer, you
can move to your second choice.
Once you have filled the position, let the other applicants know. You do not need
to give a specific reason for your decision not to hire an applicant. However, you
may state that the selected candidate had better qualifications or more relevant
experience or that it is your policy not to disclose this information. Check with HR
and your department’s administrative staff about policy in this area.
The Offer Letter
After you and the selected candidate have confirmed the job details via telephone,
your institution will send the formal offer letter. Usually, it confirms the offer
terms, including start date and salary. Coordinate with HR and your department’s
administrative staff to determine what information to include.
An offer letter to a foreign national may need to include more information. For
example, it may need to spell out that employment is contingent on the ability to
obtain authorization for the individual to work in the United States and to keep the
work authorization in effect. HR or your department’s administrative staff will help
you follow policies correctly in this type of situation.
espite all your best efforts, you may need to ask someone to leave your lab.
Before considering dismissal, be sure that you have tried various avenues to help
this person be successful in your lab. This may include assistance with scientific
techniques and counseling for behavioral issues. Also, be certain that your dissatisfaction is based on objective observations, not your personal biases.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Try to determine whether you think the person would be better off in another lab
or should consider another career. For students and postdocs, this usually means
talking with that person and his or her faculty adviser or the graduate student committee. It may be best to suggest to someone that research is not for them if you
truly believe the profession is not suited to his or her talents or personality. You
can provide that person with encouragement and options. For example, Science’s Web site provides a range of career options for people with bioscience backgrounds ( ).
There are no hard and fast rules about how a manager should address performance
or behavior problems in the lab. However, keep in mind the following, especially if
you’re thinking about letting someone go:
Be fair.
Let there be no surprises.
Fairness dictates that lab members receive some type of notice about unsatisfactory
performance. Make sure the person knows your concerns and is given a reasonable
opportunity to respond and turn things around.
Keep a Record
You should outline and set expectations for the performance and conduct of
everyone in your lab. The process is more formal for employees than it is for
For technicians, postdocs, and other professionals, job expectations should be made
clear. Don’t expect your employees to read your mind about what you want them to
accomplish and how you want them to accomplish it. Keep good records of your
conversations with everyone so that you can track your own efforts and determine
whether your staff has met expectations. If a lab member is not meeting expectations, make sure you document your attempts to help the person improve his or
her performance or prepare for a new career. Should you ultimately have to terminate this person, these records can help avert external challenges to your decision.
When postdocs don’t fit in, I try to help them find other positions. Sometimes they realize that this isn’t where they belong
and they do it themselves. I say, “What do you want to work
on? Let’s see what we can do.” People are different, sometimes
things don’t work out, and this is not a reason to be defensive.
The focus is to help people do what they value.
—Suzanne Pfeffer, Stanford University School of
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Deliver a Warning
Warnings should be delivered by you, calmly and in private. Listen to the
employee’s point of view and explanation. Develop a plan for addressing the problem with benchmarks and timelines. You may want to commit your action plan to
writing. If you provide advance notice, employees will not be surprised when you
take forceful action concerning unsatisfactory performance or behavior.
If You Decide to Terminate
An employee with serious work-related problems is a disruptive force and, especially in a small lab, can significantly retard research progress. Although it is not
easy to decide to terminate someone, those investigators who have had to release
staff say that in retrospect their biggest mistake was not doing it sooner.
To be fair to yourself and your staff and to avoid lawsuits, an involuntary termination should never happen out of the blue unless it is the result of substantial misconduct, such as clear fraud or violence in the workplace. Always avoid firing on
the spot. You should find a way to calm the situation so that you don’t take precipitous action. A suspension with or without pay may be a good option for the short
term while you consider the situation. If you have decided that termination is your
only solution, consult with HR as soon as possible to ensure that you are complying with institutional and legal requirements relating to termination and correctly
documenting your actions.
Questions to ask yourself before letting someone go. HR professionals recommend that, if circumstances permit, you ask yourself the following questions and
document each of the actions before proceeding:
Have you given the person at least some type of notice or warning?
Has the person received counseling or assistance in learning new or difficult tasks? If so, how much?
Have you made it clear to the person what he or she is doing wrong?
Are you treating (or have you treated) the person differently from other
staff in your lab?
Are you following written procedures and institutional policies?
Does the documentation in the personnel file support the reason for
Ideally, you have conducted regular and candid performance reviews with all your
laboratory staff and now can use this documentation to help support your decision.
(For a discussion of conducting performance reviews, see chapter 3, “Laboratory
Leadership in Science.”)
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
How to terminate. Terminating anyone from your lab is a confidential matter
and should not be discussed, before or after the fact, with others in the lab. A
termination meeting should be conducted by you, the investigator, in your office,
in a way that is private and respectful. (You can always ask HR for assistance if
you are unsure how to proceed or if you suspect that your employee may act
Prepare for the meeting. Develop a script and practice it until you can convey the
information confidently. Keep in mind that what is said during the termination
meeting can become part of the basis for a subsequent challenge. Remember to
Be polite.
Stay focused on the issue at hand. Get to the point quickly. Explain the
decision briefly and clearly. Don’t apologize or argue with the employee in
an effort to justify your decision.
Avoid laying blame.
Arrange to have scientific materials and equipment and supplies returned
to you, including lab notebooks; protocol books (unless it is a personal
copy); lists of clones, cells, and experiments in progress; and keys.
Let the employee have an opportunity to have his or her say, and pay close
attention to what is being said.
Refer the employee to HR or to the office responsible for discussing benefit eligibility.
Take notes that document this meeting and convert them into an informal
or formal memo to file.
Try to part on cordial terms. Science is a small community, and your paths
may cross again.
Termination letters and references. As part of final documentation, a termination letter may be required by your institution or by state law. In addition, you may
be asked for, or may wish to offer, a reference. Check with HR about proper procedures.
Visa considerations. Consult with HR or your department’s administrative staff
about visa issues before terminating a foreign national employee. Be certain that
you are not legally responsible for continuing to pay the salary of someone no
longer working in your lab. Again, it’s better to understand these requirements
before you hire someone with a visa.
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Austin, Robert D. “Managing Knowledge Workers.” (April 26,
Barker, Kathy. At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2002.
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Career pages,
Harmening, Denise M. Laboratory Management: Principles and Processes. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
HRhero. “The Art of Firing,” parts 1, 2, and 3,
Rehrig, Norita H. Six Steps to Successful Interviewing: How to Build Your Reputation by
Picking the Winners. Bethlehem, PA: College Placement Council, 1990.
Siering, Marlene. “Hire the Best.” Denver Business Journal (November 17, 1997),
University of Michigan Employment and Executive Services. “Conducting a
Successful Employee Selection Process,”
University of Michigan Employment and Executive Services. “Electronic
Recruitment Resources,”
Varnadoe, Lionel A. Medical Laboratory Management and Supervision: Operations, Review,
and Study Guide. Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company, 1996.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Date: ___________________________________________
Candidate: ______________________________________
Investigator’s Questions (Use open-ended questions, and ask for examples.)
To see if we might fit, give me an idea of what you are looking for.
What are your goals for this position? (short-term expectations, long-term plans)
Tell me about yourself as a scientist:
What are your strengths?
What do you want to learn?
What are your weaknesses?
What are you looking for in a supervisor?
What is your preferred interaction style? (with me, with others, on joint projects)
Timing, current job
Visa status
Investigator’s Comments
Background, interests, goals
The projects we are working on
What I am looking for
What I expect (enthusiastic, interested, communicative, a hard worker, responsible)
What I will offer (be there, help, communicate, support career with communication
about goals, funding for x amount of time)
The university, department, town
Timing, constraints
Source: This interview form is adapted from one developed by Tamara L. Doering, Washington University School of Medicine.
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Chapter 5
s a principal investigator, you probably will hire technicians, assume responsibility
for the direction of graduate students, and take on a few postdocs. In addition, your
undergraduate students may look to you for guidance about careers in science. It’s
also possible that young scientists outside your lab may begin knocking on your door.
Each of these individuals may look to you as a mentor. At the same time, you will
continue to be in need of guidance for your own continuing professional development. This chapter describes the process of mentoring, with the focus on mentoring
the people working in your lab. It also suggests desirable personal qualities and plans
of action for both mentors and trainees. (Note: In this chapter, the people you mentor are referred to as “trainees,” although not everyone you mentor may be receiving
training in your lab.)
cientific mentoring is a personal, one-on-one relationship between a more experienced scientist and a junior scientist or a scientist-in-the-making. The mentor is
exposed to the trainee’s energy and ideas, and the trainee receives the guidance and
encouragement necessary for professional development. Mentoring relationships
commonly form across broad experience gaps—e.g., professor to student—but also
can be established between peers or near peers. For example, a graduate student
whose background is in biology may serve a laboratory mentoring role for a graduate
student whose background is in mathematics, or a graduate student may mentor an
Mentors usually include those who are officially responsible for the work of junior
scientists or students, such as the principal investigator or a formal adviser. However,
it’s also important to have mentors who are outside the direct line of authority. These
mentors can be especially helpful in providing guidance when formal advising relationships become strained or when the personal or professional interests of the
trainee differ from those of the formal mentor.
Not only does mentoring benefit the trainee, it also benefits the mentor. As a mentor,
you derive personal satisfaction in helping nurture the next generation of scientists.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Your scientific achievements are carried forward by those you have mentored. As
your trainees embark on new projects, you are naturally kept abreast of the latest
scientific developments. In addition, your professional network expands as your
trainees expand their professional horizons.
Traits of a Good Mentor
Good mentors often share some of the following personal qualities:
Accessibility: An open door and an approachable attitude.
Open-mindedness: Respect for each trainee’s individuality and for working
styles and career goals different from your own.
Empathy: Personal insight into what the trainee is experiencing.
Consistency: Acting on your stated principles on a regular basis.
Patience: Awareness that people make mistakes and that each person
matures at his or her own rate.
Honesty: Ability to communicate the hard truths about the world “out
there” and about the trainee’s chances.
Savvy: Attention to the pragmatic aspects of career development.
Confidentiality in Mentoring
As a mentor, you may be privy to a lot of information about your trainees, from
their past professional accomplishments and failures to their personal relationships
and financial situation. You should treat all information as confidential. Your trainees
should feel that they can trust you with whatever problems they share with you.
M entoring entails substantial commitments of time, energy, and good will. A sig-
nificant portion of your time must be allocated to each trainee, and you must be
prepared to obtain the resources the trainee needs. In addition, you should use your
experience and contacts to help the trainee establish a professional network.
Question: How do I say no to being someone’s
Answer: Be kind: Imagine yourself in your
requestor’s shoes. Listen to them intently and
give reasons related to your own limitations.
However, be clear and firm. Do not invite misunderstanding. Suggest alternative sources of help,
but check first with the potential mentor.
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Choosing Whom to Mentor
You will have to make case-by-case judgments about which mentoring relationships
you can afford to enter into and how intensive each one should be. There are some people for whom you are clearly responsible,
such as the people working in your lab. The
students in your courses also have legitimate
expectations of you. Others, outside your lab
or courses, may come to you for advice.
Chapter 5 Mentoring and Being Mentored
Some people are more promising than others, and you want to nurture their talent.
Others have interests closely related to yours, and it is natural for you to want to
work closely with them. Still others show promise but are needy in some respect;
for example, their skills are not fully developed or they need help focusing their
efforts. With the people in your lab, the important thing is to be fair and avoid
favoritism. With the people outside your lab, you need to avoid overextending yourself or setting up expectations you can’t fulfill.
Defining Your Role as a Mentor
Generally speaking, a mentor provides whatever is needed to further a trainee’s
professional development but is not necessarily a friend. You should offer to teach
technical skills, give advice about the political aspects of science, and suggest networking opportunities, but you should probably not offer advice on personal matters. Often, emotional issues are relevant to one’s work, and you can offer moral
support, but a good mentor treads carefully.
One of the lessons is that my job is not to be their best friend.
My job is to be their mentor, and my job is to be their boss or
supervisor.... I had this sort of egalitarian thing where I was
trying to run a professional laboratory, but I was also wanting
to be buddies with everybody.... I have come to realize the alternative—to have a little distance. Things work better if it’s clear
that I am the head of the lab.
—Charles Murry, University of Washington School
of Medicine
Mentor Versus Adviser
In theory, mentors have multiple responsibilities—being an adviser is one of these.
According to the Council of Graduate Schools ( ) mentors are
Advisers: People with career experience willing to share their knowledge.
Tutors: People who give specific feedback on one’s performance.
Supporters: People who give emotional and moral encouragement.
Masters: Employers to whom one is apprenticed.
Sponsors: Sources of information about opportunities and aid in obtaining
Models of identity: The kind of person one should be to be an academic or a
professional scientist.
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
In reality, it is unlikely that any one individual can fulfill all possible mentoring
roles. For this reason, many argue that the term mentor should be used broadly to
mean an individual who helps another with one or more aspects of his or her personal or professional development or both. In this sense, trainees are encouraged
to seek out various faculty who can provide some of these components.
Make Everything a Learning Opportunity
It helps to think of mentoring as a highly individualized mode of teaching. You
want to establish a “culture of teaching” in your lab, so that each individual feels
empowered to seek whatever he or she needs to do good science.
Set Specific Goals and Measures of Accomplishment
Work with each individual—at performance evaluation time, in the course of lab
meetings, and on other occasions when his or her work is under review—to set
specific goals and measures of accomplishment. The following are some examples:
For a postdoc or student, you might want to establish a publishing goal. It
should include deadlines.
For postdocs, job-hunting goals might be important. You might say, “By
next month, give me your list of places you want to apply to. Then we can
talk about developing your job talk.”
Have technicians identify new skills they need (e.g., using new equipment
or software). Give them time to learn and the opportunity to take courses
or seek help from others. Then ask them to demonstrate what they have
learned at a staff meeting.
In some cases, you may have to push people a bit to set their goals. In other cases,
people’s goals may be well-defined but may not exactly fit your lab’s overall goals. If
you can, give them room to explore options, and offer whatever educational and
networking opportunities you can afford. They will be much happier and more productive while they are with you if they feel you are looking out for them and their
future well-being.
Encourage Strategic Thinking and Creativity
Trainees in your lab, especially newcomers, may not have the experience to judge
how long to struggle with an experiment or a project that is not working. As the
principal investigator, you must decide what work is most important, how long a
given project can be pursued, and what resources can be allocated to any particular
effort. As a mentor, you should explain the basis and significance of your decisions
to your trainees. In this way, you give concrete examples of strategic thinking and
prepare your trainees for similar decisions they must make when they are in charge
of their own research programs.
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It is also important to give people enough space to be creative. Don’t rush in too
quickly with interpretations of data or solutions to problems. Let your staff take
the first stab. Be thoughtful and ask probing and guiding questions. By doing this,
you prepare your trainees to work through projects independently and you benefit
from their insights and creativity.
If you just regiment the students’ and postdocs’ lives, you may
have a very productive laboratory, but you may miss out on an
opportunity to stumble on a major discovery or new scientific
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
Uphold Professional Standards
Those new to research are still forming their professional standards and habits.
They will be working with you for months or years and will learn your lab’s way of
doing things. Set high standards for yourself and your workers, and make sure your
lab offers an encouraging and disciplined environment. Experienced lab leaders list
the following essentials:
Encourage good time-management techniques. At the same time, respect
individual patterns of work. (See chapter 6, “Time Management.”)
Clearly state your expectations. Let people know when they are not
meeting them. (See chapter 3, “Laboratory Leadership in Science.”)
Offer criticism in a way that doesn’t shame and discourage people.
Keep abreast of laboratory record keeping. This is a key management
responsibility and an aspect of mentoring. As the principal investigator, you
are responsible for seeing that your people keep meticulous records documenting their work and meeting regulatory requirements. This habit will
serve them well later on. By reviewing lab notebooks frequently, you also
guard against falsification of data. (For more on record keeping in the laboratory, see chapter 8, “Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks.”)
Impart Skills
Do the following to encourage your lab workers to learn new skills:
Involve everyone in the scientific publishing and grant-writing process. Part
of your job is to teach your trainees how to write publishable scientific
papers and successful grant proposals. For papers, have the first author
write the first draft, and then send the paper around the lab for review. For
proposals, have each person write a piece of the proposal, and then have
everyone review successive drafts of the whole package. By doing this,
HHMI 101
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Impart technical skills. As a manager, you need to know the skill sets of
each member of your lab and make sure that each important skill is passed
on to several people in the laboratory, for their benefit and yours.
Teach lab management explicitly. Give the people in your lab managerial
responsibilities; for example, have them coordinate the sharing of equipment in the lab or draw up a list of routine lab jobs that can be rotated
among lab members.
I have a graduated system for providing opportunities. For
example, [graduate students and postdocs] must write their own
meeting abstracts and papers. They must present at lab meetings
and seminars in the department when works are published. If
they go to meetings, they must provide meeting summary presentations when they get back. If they do well at these tasks, I let
them review manuscripts with me, providing comments that I
may choose to incorporate into the final review. The ultimate
compliment is when I ask them to attend meetings on my behalf.
—Milton Datta, Emory University School of
Provide Networking Opportunities
everyone will gain invaluable experience and get a chance to see the big picture of the lab’s activities.
One of the most important benefits you confer on the people you train is admission to the network of scientists in your field. Your reputation opens doors for
those associated with you, and the connections are not likely to be made without
your involvement. So take steps to facilitate the introductions, including
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Allowing trainees to meet with seminar speakers invited to your institution.
Taking trainees with you to meetings and introducing them to your colleagues.
Encouraging trainees to approach your colleagues about scientific matters,
using your name.
Encouraging trainees to make presentations at meetings when they are
Chapter 5 Mentoring and Being Mentored
Give Moral Support
You can help the people you mentor estimate their own potential and chart their
life course. To do so, you must be supportive and honest. Try to convey to each of
your trainees that you have a commitment to him or her and that when a problem
surfaces, you have an interest in helping to solve it and will do everything you can
to do so.
ach type of lab worker—for example, undergraduate, graduate student, postdoc,
and technician—is on a different professional trajectory. As you work with them,
you need to keep in mind their path and their location on that path.
Mentoring Undergraduates
The seeds of a scientific career are planted in the undergraduate years or even
earlier. Promising undergraduates can be invited to take part in research through
academic independent-study options or can be given paid work. Take their work
seriously, and set high standards for them. You might place them under the day-today guidance of a graduate student or postdoc, but you should maintain a strong
role in overseeing their training and the overall flow of their work within the lab.
Keep in mind that these beginning researchers may need extra encouragement
when their research isn’t going smoothly.
Mentoring Graduate Students
In science as in other fields, graduate school is vastly different from the undergraduate scene. Perhaps the most important difference is that undergraduates are
expected to be primarily engaged in absorbing knowledge, whereas graduate students are expected to begin making their own contributions. A mentor helps new
graduate students make this transition. A graduate student may have several mentors, but the most important is the principal investigator in whose lab the student is
A typical graduate student follows this trajectory:
First years. The principal investigator’s task is to provide a focus—a coherent plan
of study. The student faces a steep learning curve. Basic techniques must be
learned, comprehensive exams taken, and a thesis topic chosen. The principal
investigator keeps tabs on the student’s progress. The student’s success depends on
effective mentoring by the principal investigator.
Middle years. At some time during these years, the student may be struggling
with his or her thesis. The principal investigator helps the student out of a slump
by offering moral support and suggesting ways to tackle a scientific problem. By
now, the student has learned a lot and should be sharing information and techniques with colleagues, younger students, and postdocs. Teaching others is a good
way to learn.
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Final years. The student is preparing to move on. The thesis should be near completion, and the search for a postdoctoral position should be under way. The principal investigator will be asked for letters of reference and perhaps more active jobhunting assistance. Other mentors, such as members of the thesis advisory committee, may be called upon for help in the job search as well.
Mentoring Postdoctoral Fellows
Postdocs are in transition. On the one hand, they are highly trained professional scientists who are working in your lab for a limited time to conduct research within the
general parameters of your and their shared interests. On the other hand, they are
not really complete professionally, because a stint as a postdoc is usually a prerequisite
for an academic position. Your task as a mentor of postdocs is therefore complex.
Keep in mind that the amount of time you can spend helping your postdocs will be
limited, so use that time efficiently. In addition, find ways to have them help one
another or obtain assistance from other sources.
You must strike a delicate balance in directing postdoctoral work. Although the postdocs may be working on your projects, you must treat them as collaborators, not
employees who require close supervision. Encourage them and give them the help
they need in setting research and career goals, but give them sufficient independence
so that they “own” their projects.
You do have a protective function when it comes to the politics of the larger academic world. Your postdocs are young, politically inexperienced, and vulnerable. You
need to be aware of outside competition. Be prepared to steer your postdocs away
from projects that might result in conflict with researchers who are already working
on similar projects and who might publish results before your postdocs are able to.
If a postdoc is not working out as you had hoped, encourage him or her to make a
change. You may be able to help the postdoc find a more suitable position. But even
if you can’t, an unhappy postdoc should move on sooner rather than later. (See
“Asking Staff to Leave,” page 91 in chapter 4, “Staffing Your Laboratory.”)
As with all trainees, it is important to discuss career goals with your postdocs. Not all
will be interested in or competitive for academic positions. For those who are, help
them develop a project that they can take with them after they leave your lab and
begin to establish their own labs. Alternatively, you can let your postdocs take a project from your lab with them and work on it for a specified time period (e.g., for several years) without competition from you, with the understanding that when that
period has passed, your lab may pursue research in the same area.
You have a huge role to play in facilitating your postdocs’ job hunts. Keep alert to job
openings, counsel them about the process, coach them in their interview presentations, and give them the best letter of recommendation you can. Sometimes, when
the search doesn’t go smoothly, you may need to keep them in your lab a little longer
than you expected. Keep up the words of encouragement during this difficult period.
After they have gone, keep in touch with them. They will be an increasingly important part of your professional network.
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Mentoring Technicians
A technician is your employee, hired to get work done. That being said, many
technicians are a distinct type of professional scientist. You should understand and
encourage their aspirations. Make it clear to them that they are valued contributors
to your projects. If they are interested, you may want to give them research projects of their own. If their aspirations are purely technical, encourage them to gain
new skills.
Special Issues for Physician-Scientists
How to Mentor Physician-Scientists
Physician-scientists have an especially complicated balancing act: caring for patients, carrying out experiments at the bench, and meeting regulatory requirements for human-subjects research. As a result, they
may not be able to spend as much uninterrupted time in the lab as their Ph.D. colleagues. However, the
strength of physician-scientists is that they have a clinical base. As a mentor, you should understand the
unique challenges physician-scientists face, as well as value their strengths. Help physician-scientists in
your lab with establishing priorities and developing effective time management skills. If you are not a
physician-scientist, put them in touch with someone who can help them with these competencies. In
addition, encourage physician-scientists in your lab to use their clinical base. For example, they might
enroll patients from their clinic or practice following a simple protocol.They might collect answers to a
questionnaire with demographics, or obtain data on clinical presentation, progression and response to
therapy, as well as collect relevant serum or tissue samples. Even if you do not have use for these specimens, if they are well-collected and from well-defined sources, then they will have value to someone,
perhaps a colleague in your department, who is testing a particular hypothesis. Making use of the
physician-scientist’s clinical base can compensate for the split in time. In addition, clinical work allows
physician-scientists to sometimes see connections that someone with narrower training may not see. As
a mentor you should take advantage of this perspective. Make sure that questions about clinical translation or relevance are brought up in the lab and directed to the physician-scientists.
hen you get a request for mentoring from a young scientist in another lab, or
even in another university, think carefully before you agree. Do not enter into such
a relationship secretly. Insist that the individual inform his or her principal investigator that you two are speaking. On the one hand, the request says something positive about your standing in the research community. In addition, by taking on a new
relationship, you might open up the possibility of future collaborations. On the
other hand, there may be problems you are not aware of. Ask yourself the following questions:
Why is this person asking me for help? There may be a negative reason. In
the case of a postdoc, perhaps he or she is dissatisfied with relationships in
the home lab. If this is the case, make sure you are not offending the indiBWF
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vidual’s principal investigator. You may find that the other principal investigator welcomes your help as an extra resource.
What are the person’s expectations? You need to be clear about whether
you are being asked for occasional advice or long-term assistance. If it’s the
latter, determine whether your mentoring role will be formal or informal.
Do I really have the time and energy to commit to this relationship?
Is this someone I want to mentor?
The people in your lab deserve priority. But if the person fits, and you can extend
yourself, do so.
eing mentored is as much an art as mentoring. It’s a matter of getting plugged in
to a complex network, knowing whom to ask for what, knowing how to accept the
professional advice you receive, and maintaining long-term personal and professional relationships. The following suggestions may help:
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Don’t let go of your old mentors. Stay in close touch with your graduate
and postdoc advisers. Although they may not be familiar with your new
environment, their distance from it, combined with their general understanding of the world of science, can help you put your current environment in perspective. Also, you never know when you will need to ask them
for a reference or other professional help. Even a quick e-mail to let them
know that you published a paper or received a research grant or an award
will help them support your career.
Establish a relationship with a set of official mentors. Your new department probably will assign you a mentor or even a mentoring committee.
These individuals may ultimately constitute your promotion and tenure
committee, so cultivate them carefully and treat them with respect. You do
not want to vent your frustrations or confide your uncertainties and weaknesses to this group.
Seek out informal mentors. These usually are experienced scientists within
your department or elsewhere who can give you a broader perspective on
science and scientific politics. It is especially important to do this if your
department has not assigned you an official mentor.
Establish a set of confidants. These are people with whom you can openly
share information about politically sensitive issues. Choose them carefully.
You may be more comfortable limiting your confidants to one-on-one relationships. Or you may find a group that puts you in close touch with colleagues whose situations are similar to yours.
Chapter 5 Mentoring and Being Mentored
Meet regularly with your formal mentors. Keep them apprised of your
progress. Do not avoid them if things are going badly. Enlist their help.
Keep meetings professional. Respect your mentors’ time constraints. Be
prepared and specific about what you ask for.
How to Be Mentored Well
Here are some qualities to cultivate in yourself as you seek to be mentored:
Foresight: Start early to think about your future.
Proactivity: Don’t expect to be taken care of. You could easily be overlooked
in the competitive world of science.
Probing: Ask tough questions. Find out about the experiences of others
with this potential mentor.
Respect: Be polite. Make and keep appointments. Stay focused. Don’t overstay your welcome.
Gratitude: Everyone likes to be thanked.
Reciprocation: Repay your mentor indirectly by helping others.
Humility: Be willing to accept critical feedback so that you are open to
learning new ways of thinking about and doing science.
When the Relationship Is Not Working Out
What you view as a problem may simply be a matter of personal style or a different
understanding of the mentor’s role. Have a conversation with your mentor about
getting what you need. If that does not help solve the problem, you may need to
think about finding other mentors. Consider finding another mentor if yours is
clearly and consistently uninterested in you, undervalues your abilities, or displays
any other signs of undermining the relationship. Consider finding another mentor
if yours behaves inappropriately by violating workplace rules or fails to fulfill essential responsibilities to you—for example, by not sending letters of reference or by
not reviewing your work. You may need to appeal to whatever conflict-resolution
mechanism exists at your university. Start with the human resources office for guidance on how to proceed.
Adding new mentors may be helpful. However, be very careful about severing a
mentoring relationship. Even if the relationship is not going well, you do not want
to offend someone unnecessarily. If the relationship is official, ending it will require
explicit action and most probably generate bad feelings. If the relationship is informal, and you can just allow it to peter out, do so. If your mentor wants to terminate the relationship, accept the decision with good grace. It will be better for both
of you.
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S cientific labs are close quarters that ideally will create equally tight and fruitful
working relationships. However, these working environments can also create friction and conflict. In addition, many labs include people from many different cultures and backgrounds, which can contribute to difficulties in communicating and
to misunderstanding. For this reason, everyone in the lab has to work especially
hard to show respect to other lab members. As the principal investigator you need
to set the example by facilitating positive and cooperative relationships.
Teach your students and postdocs appropriate social behavior by
Respecting other people and not offending them with jokes, pictures, or
music that show disrespect for who they are or where they come from.
Treating everyone fairly, and keeping the main focus on science.
Respecting different sensitivities by tailoring your way of criticizing students to their personal style (e.g., some will be devastated by words that
others take as simply a push in the right direction).
Demonstrating your willingness to communicate with and to understand
each student, regardless of their background and culture.
Ensuring that all lab members feel physically safe while working in the lab.
As a principal investigator, you will also need to be aware of issues that are particularly relevant to certain segments of the population, such as women and minority
and disabled students. Some of these issues are mentioned below.
Gender and Minority Issues
Role models and networking. African Americans, Hispanics, and American
Indians are underrepresented in the science and engineering labor force. And in
some fields of research, females are underrepresented either as students or at the
faculty level. Be aware of minority support groups on your campus and of potentially helpful role models for minority students and postdocs. Similarly, women
students and postdocs may not have access to the same networking opportunities
as their male counterparts and may need your help in seeking these out. If you
are a woman or a minority scientist, and you are making good progress on a
career in science, younger women or minority students may want to know how
you do it. If you have had failures, or are making compromises, they may want to
know that too. You may want to share your experiences, positive or negative, with
the next generation.
Discrimination and harassment. Be sure you are familiar with your institution’s
policies pertaining to discrimination and harassment. This knowledge will help you
deal with the situation if you are approached by someone who believes to have
been discriminated against, if you are accused of harassment or discrimination, or
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if you become romantically involved with a colleague or someone you supervise.
Understanding the nature of discrimination will help you avoid making unlawful
mistakes and help you spot mistakes made by others. Be sure you know what
offices in your university deal with harassment and discrimination complaints and
offer training about university policies and procedures.
Sharing the load. If you are a successful woman or minority scientist, you may be
called upon too often to serve on committees as the representative of your gender
or group. Do what you can, but be selective and don’t let committee work get in
the way of your research. Have an answer ready so that when you are called to
serve in some way that you feel taxes your
time too much you can politely explain you
have a lot on your plate at the moment.
Teaching How to Mentor
Alternatively, you can make it a policy to
Jo Handelsman, Christine Pfund, Sarah Miller Lauffer,
always ask for a day to think about a
and Christine Maidl Pribbenow of the Wisconsin
request for your time.
Program for Scientific Teaching have developed a
mentoring seminar to teach scientists how to be
better mentors. Guided by a “facilitator” the seminar takes a group of mentors through different scenarios and situations that serve as teaching tools. It
consists of eight sessions that provide an intellectual
framework for mentoring, present various mentoring methods to experiment with, and describe
dilemmas that participants solve through discussions
with their peers.The manual for the seminar,
entitled Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New
Generation of Scientists, may be obtained from
For more information about the Wisconsin Program
for Scientific Teaching, visit
Family responsibilities. In many cases,
women have the primary responsibility for
the care of young children and aging parents. As a principal investigator, you should
try to accommodate family obligations of all
those in your lab who have such responsibilities (e.g., avoid scheduling mandatory meetings before or after the hours when child
care is typically available). You may also
consider what you can do more generally to
be an advocate for family-friendly policies at
your institution. If you are shouldering pressures of family responsibilities, find out
whether your institution has policies or programs you can take advantage of to help
alleviate those pressures (such as tenure
clock extensions, part-time appointments,
parental leave, and flexible work hours).
Cultural Differences
As a scientist, you are very likely to find yourself the mentor of students from
other countries, or from minority groups within the United States. Language and
cultural differences may make the mentoring relationship more challenging. For
example, people from some cultures may convey information only in indirect ways,
or they may be reluctant to argue with an authority figure. As a mentor, it is important to be aware of cultural differences when dealing with issues in the lab, and you
should make an effort to learn about these differences. In addition, most campuses
have resources to help foreign students become acculturated; encourage the people
in your lab to get whatever aid they may need.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science. has
many articles on mentoring,
Association for Women in Science. Mentoring Means Future Scientists: A Guide to
Developing Mentoring Programs Based on the AWIS Mentoring Program. Washington, DC:
Association for Women in Science, 1993.
Barker, Kathy. At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2002.
Council of Graduate Schools. A Conversation About Mentoring: Trends and Models.
Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools, 1995.
Council of Graduate Schools. On the Right Track: A Manual for Research Mentors.
Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools, 2003.
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Individual
Development Plan for Postdoctoral Fellows,”
Fort, Catherine C., Stephanie J. Bird, and Catherine J. Didion, eds. A Hand Up:
Women Mentoring Women in Science. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Association for Women
in Science, 2005.
National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of
Medicine. Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. Adviser, Teacher,
Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering. Washington
DC: National Academy Press, 1997,
National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council. Reports from the
Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy,
National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director. A Guide to Training and
Mentoring in the Intramural Research Program at NIH. Bethesda, MD: National
Institutes of Health, 2002,
Nettles, M. T., and C. M. Millet. Three Magic Letters: Getting to Ph.D. Baltimore, MD:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
Nyquist, Jody D., and Donald H. Wulff. Working Effectively with Graduate Assistants.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996.
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Reis, Richard M. Tomorrow’s Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and
Engineering. New York, NY: IEEE Press, 1997.
University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. How to
Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty at a Diverse University. Ann Arbor, MI:
University of Michigan,
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Chapter 6
rom a practical perspective, one of the most daunting challenges for beginning
investigators is learning how to cram an impossible load of new obligations into a
24-hour day. Finding ways to manage the conflicting demands on your time can be
key to developing a successful career and a rewarding personal life. This chapter
discusses planning strategies that are critical for successful time management, such
as defining long- and short-term goals and setting priorities. Tips for day-to-day
time management are also presented. The chapter also offers guidance on managing committee service commitments, balancing research and teaching, and juggling
the demands of home and work. In addition, it covers issues specific to physicianscientists.
Defining Goals
Planning is a process that begins with a goal. Once you have set a goal, you can identify the necessary steps to move toward it. Goals come in descending sizes, each of
which informs the next: long-term goals (years), intermediate-term goals (months),
and short-term goals (weeks and days).
Long-term goals are likely to be a combination of tangibles (e.g., faculty promotions)
and intangibles (e.g., a satisfying personal life) that may change over time, making
goal setting an ongoing process that you should revisit periodically. In defining your
long-term goals, you are also defining yourself—who you want to be and how you
want to be perceived.
Intermediate-term goals, such as publishing a paper, are often composed of many
short-term objectives, such as preparing figures for a paper. Short-term goals are the
ones written on your weekly and monthly calendars—the small, concrete, finite tasks
that can swallow your time.
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Getting from Here to There
Take the time to craft a formal plan, beginning with your long-term goals. Then set
interim goals along the way that are realistic indicators of progress. By setting
achievable goals, you avoid having too much to do and not knowing where to
begin. Accomplishing just one goal can serve as a powerful motivator to tackle the
next goal.
The key is to identify what matters to you in terms of interests
and values and then to apportion your activities throughout the
day and week to address all of them.
—Richard Reis, Stanford University
Write down all your goals, with each achievement tied to a specific time frame.
Putting your ideas into words can help refine your thinking and provide a concrete
checklist to keep you on target. Every so often, take a look at your plans, reflect on
them, and revise them as appropriate to changing circumstances. Priorities shift; be
prepared to reevaluate yours but also to defend them.
Long-term goals. These goals can be achieved in three to five years. Before
jotting down your long-term plans, first ask yourself where you want to be after
this stage in your career. For example, if you are a postdoc, do you plan on an
academic or applied position? At what type of institution—a research-intensive
institution, teaching college, or other? Now ask yourself, “What will I need to
accomplish to make myself competitive for that job?” If you are an assistant
professor, you probably want to work toward tenure. Knowing when you’ll be up
for tenure, ask yourself, “What will I need to do by then—how many papers,
invited seminars, professional meetings, and other accomplishments?”
Intermediate-term goals. These goals can be achieved in six months to one year.
For example, as a postdoc you should be thinking about the experiments needed to
complete your next paper or to put together a poster. Completing publishable
chunks is an essential intermediate-term goal for faculty. Other such goals are
obtaining preliminary results for a grant, putting together a new course, and organizing a meeting.
Short-term goals. These goals can be achieved in one week to one month. They
include preparing figures for the paper you’re writing, completing an experiment,
preparing reagents for the next set of experiments, or writing letters and making
phone calls to secure a seminar invitation. If you find it hard to get organized,
make a daily or weekly to-do list and check tasks off as you complete them.
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Making Choices
Saying no, saying yes. One of the simplest things you can do to streamline your
life is, for many people, also one of the hardest: Learn to say no. Remember, you
can’t do everything, please everyone, be available to everyone, and at the same time
be an ideal teacher and scholar. There are certain tasks you must say no to and others for which it’s fine to deliver a less than stellar performance. Making such
choices will allow you to focus on doing an outstanding job in what’s truly important to you. Establishing these priorities depends on the intermediate- and longterm goals you have set for yourself.
Saying yes judiciously will make it easier for you to say no to things you do not
want to do. Because you must accept some administrative assignments, try to make
them work for you. Explore the options, and sign up early for duties that either
interest you or will work to your advantage professionally. This will then allow you
to turn down administrative duties that have less value to you.
Maximizing returns. Given the ever-increasing demands on your time, it is
impossible to do everything perfectly. Decide which projects need to be completed
to near perfection (e.g., your grant application) and which do not (e.g., a draft of a
manuscript you are reviewing for a collaborator).
Disconnecting. Part of saying no is also not being available on demand. Today’s
technological “conveniences” are often needless interruptions to concentration.
Any sound strategy for time management involves learning to disconnect—be the
master of those tools rather than their servant.
M any people find long-term goals easy to set—for example, “I want to be a full
professor by the age of X.” More difficult is the daily multitasking—managing the
flood of small chores that can threaten to drown even the most organized professional. This section covers how to make the most of the time you have.
Finding Some Extra Time
To be able to focus and think creatively, you need blocks of uninterrupted time.
Here are some tips to help you do this:
Get your e-mail under control. If you’re lucky enough to have administrative help, have an assistant screen messages and flag time-sensitive ones
for you. You can also print e-mail messages that require a personal reply
and hand write responses during short breaks in your day. Then have your
assistant type and send them later. If you don’t have an assistant, set aside
specific times of the day for reading and responding to e-mails or read
your e-mails at home in the evening.
Buy an answering machine or voice-mail service.
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Invest in a family cell phone plan to make sure you’re available for family
communication and emergencies when you have silenced your office
Close your office door or come in early. A sign on your door that reads
“Knock if important” lets your students and colleagues know you are in
and working, but don’t want to be disturbed. Early hours might buy you
precious focused time away from clamoring students and colleagues.
Close your lab door. Securing uninterrupted time in the lab is of paramount importance to your career.
Make, and keep, appointments with yourself. Find a quiet hideaway and use
it on a scheduled basis. This practice trains people to expect you to be inaccessible at predictable times.
Rotating Your Tasks
If you tend to have difficulty focusing on one task for long periods, you can turn
this potential weakness into a strength through multitasking. Make sure that you
always have several things to work on (e.g., the introduction to a grant, a paper to
review, or a recommendation letter to write), perhaps three or four, and cycle
through them with increasing lengths of time. Make sure they are clearly arranged
on your desk so that you don’t waste time figuring out what you should do next.
Seven (Not So Obvious) Keys to Working and Living Right
1. Learn how to say yes as well as how to say no. It’s easier to say no to unwanted tasks if you have
already committed to something you do want to do.
2. Establish your absence as well as your presence. Set a schedule for being physically elsewhere and
unavailable, and stick to it.
3. Do a little bit of everything as well as all of one thing. Master the art of multitasking.
4. Determine your tasks as well as your priorities.There are many activities, small and large, that lead to
your goal.
5. Work until your time is up as well as until your task is done. Approach every task with the goal of
making progress during a specific amount of time, then move on to the next task to maintain forward
6. Bring some of your home to work as well as some of your work to home.You live in both worlds;
look for ways to bring them together (e.g., if you have a long commute, leave home early to beat the
traffic and save breakfast and the newspaper for your office).
7. Seek to integrate your professional and personal activities where appropriate as well as to
separate work and play where appropriate; doing so can maximize your effectiveness and satisfaction
in both areas.
Source: Richard M. Reis, Stanford University.
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Setting Priorities
On the basis of your goals, decide what you need to do and when, and follow the
classic KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid. A grid that allows you to rank short-term
claims on your attention according to urgency and importance can be a useful tool
(see figure 6.1). Try to control the not urgent/not important quadrant. You get relatively little value for the time spent doing tasks in this quadrant. The urgent/
important quadrant puts you in crisis mode, where few people operate best. For
maximum efficiency, you should be spending most of your time in the upper righthand quadrant on tasks that are important but not urgent.
If it’s important but not urgent, remember your priorities and schedules:
Plan ahead and know your deadlines.
Break large tasks into smaller tasks.
Set aside blocks of time for specific tasks.
Delegate tasks.
Complete tasks on time.
Making the Most of the Time You Have
It’s important to find ways to make efficient and productive use of your time. Be
aware that for some activities, it may not be immediately apparent that your time
spent is worthwhile. For example, attending seminars in your department can actually be a productive and efficient use of your time. Not only will you learn new
information, but if you ask questions, you will also boost your visibility.
Efficiency. Successful people tend to be efficient. They have evolved practices to
create blocks of uninterrupted time for “brain work.” Here are some tips to help
you make the best use of those parts of the day you control:
Figure 6.1.
Create an environment conducive to productivity. Make a place for everything, and put everything in its place; clutter is inefficient. Find or make a
quiet space (or time) to work.
Know your biological clock, and protect your most productive hours for
your writing and designing experiments and other critical tasks.
Not Important
Not Urgent
• Most e-mail
• Weekend plans of lab
• The Super Bowl pool
• Ongoing experiments
• Preparing for a committee
• Next month’s grant deadline
• “You’ve got mail” alert
• Ringing telephone
• Inquiring colleague
• A lab fire
• Tomorrow’s grant deadline
Source: Sandra L. Schmid,The Scripps Research Institute, adapted from Stephen R. Covey’s time management matrix in The Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
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During your protected work hours, focus and don’t allow interruptions.
Set time limits. Give yourself predetermined amounts of time to complete
tasks (e.g., two hours to review a paper).
Eliminate unnecessary tasks.
Avoid procrastination. Start tasks early—at least in outline. If you have a
grant due, write your goals early enough to let your lab staff start gathering
relevant data without last-minute panic. If a critical reagent requires a long
lead time to produce, start it early enough to make sure it’s ready when you
need it.
Structure and supervise meetings.
Delegate work.
Make a quick phone call instead of having an often less efficient back and
forth e-mail conversation.
Get a high-speed Internet connection at home.
Having a high-speed Internet connection at home has revolutionized our lives. I can be home at 5:00, put the kids to bed, get
on the PC, and do everything from home. It has really improved
our parenting and family abilities with more efficient time
—Milton Datta, Emory University School of
Fitting it all in. Successful people also learn to use small units of time, capitalizing
on free minutes here and there (in many professions, people bill their time in increments of 15 minutes or less). Returning phone calls, drafting memos, and reviewing
your weekly schedule are just a few ways in which you can put a few minutes to
work for you throughout the day. The trick is to be prepared when those moments
arise by having messages or e-mail, students’ homework, a notepad, and perhaps a
cell phone with you. Some tasks, such as reviewing papers and reading science magazines, adapt well to commuting time if you don’t drive.
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Be prepared to take advantage of small chunks of time. In 5 to
10 minutes, you can make a quick phone call, handle an e-mail
requiring a personal response, or fill out a form.
—Sandra Schmid, The Scripps Research Institute
Chapter 6 Time Management
Improving Your Lab Staff ’s Time Management Skills
Here are some tips for helping your staff work more efficiently:
Establish clear goals and expectations early, starting with simple tasks your
staff can handle. Make sure they understand the tasks. Reward and correct
them as appropriate, expand the tasks, then repeat the process.
Help them seek advice without taking up unnecessary time. Teach them
how to describe projects, issues, and problems accurately and efficiently.
Develop an agenda for every meeting—and stick to it. Start meetings with
a clear description of the purpose of the meeting and when it will end.
After meetings, send a “Dear gang” follow-up letter containing a summary
and to-do list. Use these informal minutes to start the next meeting and
gauge progress. (Meeting minutes are also useful for patent protections in
establishing proof of an idea, attribution, and date.)
Once the members of your lab learn the importance of time management, you can
also delegate to a key staff person the task of summarizing meetings and assigning
follow-up actions.
Investment of time to train others does pay off in time
—Richard Reis, Stanford University
—Todd Golub, HHMI and Dana-Farber Cancer
When your lab members report to you on a project, request that
they first provide some context and then organize what they tell
you in concise bullet points of information: “I’m going to tell
you about this morning’s experiment. This was the result. This
is what I think it means. This is what I plan to do tomorrow.”
With this strategy, a five-minute interaction can get you immediately connected to what the person is doing.
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Managing Committee Service Commitments
Committee duties can connect you with interesting people—in your department,
your institution, and beyond. They can also help bring your research to the attention of your colleagues—a genuine plus for a beginning faculty member.
But how can you avoid spreading yourself thin with committee service obligations?
Be proactive and seek out committee service that suits your interests and schedule
so you can turn down other requests with the legitimate excuse of previous committee commitments. Women and underrepresented minorities need to be particularly good at saying no because they’re frequently asked to serve on committees.
Try to volunteer for something that you care about or that would
benefit you. For example, the graduate admissions committee is
often of great interest to a starting assistant professor. Then use
these commitments as a reason to decline other opportunities for
committee work that come along. So the next time someone
comes and tells you about this great committee that they would
like you to sit on, say, “I would really love to do that, but it
turns out I just agreed to do this huge graduate admissions committee job. It’s going to be very time-consuming and it’s so important.” And then they will nod understandingly and, hopefully,
walk out the door and not ask you again.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
Research and Teaching
If you’re in a department that values good teaching and you’re thinking about
tenure, if you want your course material to be up to date and engaging, or if you
are responsible for difficult material you don’t fully understand, you may find yourself dedicating a large portion of your time to teaching at the expense of everything else. For the sake of your research career, you must learn to control your
class-related hours. Chapter 13 “Teaching and Course Design,” page 211, offers
some strategies on how to do this.
Even though it is difficult, you have to set limits for nonresearch tasks and stick to
them. When time is up for one task, move on to the next item in your daily planner. This way, you start each day anew without carrying forward serious work
deficits that accumulate throughout the week. As a guideline, one senior scientist
advises that regardless of how much office work you have, as a beginning principal
investigator, you should be spending the equivalent of at least two full days in the
laboratory every week.
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Special Issues for Physician-Scientists
The Triple Load of the Physician-Scientist:
Lab, Class, and Clinic
Although physician-scientists may have some teaching duties, these duties usually aren’t extensive.The
larger challenge for a physician who is running a research lab is balancing lab and clinical time. An even
split between the lab and clinic is increasingly rare; it can be as much as 80 percent lab and 20 percent
clinic, but it varies considerably from person to person and by the nature of the work. Here are some
tips for straddling the lab and the clinic.
In the lab:
Consider investing in a lab manager.These individuals usually have an advanced degree or a lot of
experience and are thus more expensive, but a good lab manager will help keep the lab on track
while you are on clinical duties.
Establish a system where you can review the lab members’ notebooks and data even if they are
not there (e.g., if clinical duties keep you from being in the lab until late in the evening).
Explain to your lab members that you will not be around much when you are on clinical duty.Try
to schedule times when you can meet with your students and postdocs to keep yourself
apprised of their progress.
Focus your research program on what you’re uniquely qualified to do.
In the clinic:
Tell patients how you want to be contacted.
If you have access to support staff (and many junior faculty do not), use them effectively. Educate
nurses or “physician extenders” to do as much of the preparation as possible before your
appointments, as well as the follow-up.
Learn to tell patients when you have to stop.
Make patients and colleagues aware of your dual roles.
Remember, in the lab, in the clinic, and at home—the most important thing you need to learn is to be
flexible with your priorities.
Home and Work: Can You Have It All?
This question applies to many professionals in high-pressure careers, including male
and female scientists pursuing academic career tracks.
Family communication. It helps to start with a supportive partner and family.
Have clear discussions about career and personal goals—yours and those of your
family—early on. To avoid the resentments of unspoken and unmet expectations,
be as explicit as possible about your aspirations with those who are important to
you. Shared goals for work and family make compromises easier.
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In addition to sharing your long-term goals, keep your partner and family aware of
your short-term plans and projects. Letting your partner know in advance about an
impending grant deadline can buy some understanding. Here are some ways to
keep your family informed of your schedule and you involved with your family:
Post a calendar at home with your travel dates and big deadlines.
Schedule activities with your family and keep those commitments (e.g.,
Friday date night).
Turn business travel into a vacation. Have your partner join you after a scientific meeting and take a few days together to unwind.
Involve your partner in your work if he or she is interested. Having partners read over a grant application allows them to contribute, and you benefit from a fresh set of eyes to find typos.
One problem I see with clinician-scientists is that the clinic
creeps into every day’s work, with phone calls, prescription
renewals, acute medical needs, lab follow-up, and management of
paperwork. In my experience, it has been valuable for junior
faculty to define their availability to the infinite demands of
patient care. For example, it may help to limit clinic duties to
one full day per week rather than two half days or to choose to
do clinical work that can be done in chunks (such as inpatient
rounding) and does not require follow-up.
—Ann Brown, Duke University School of
Balancing work and children. Unquestionably, children complicate the equation,
but they can also provide the sanity, personal satisfaction, and motivation to make
you a more focused and efficient scientist. Few professionals are willing to forgo
having children in order to facilitate career advancement, nor should they. Highquality day care, domestic services, and shopping conveniences make raising a
family and having a challenging career sustainable and enriching. Indeed, being the
boss (e.g., running a lab) can give you the flexibility and the financial resources to
make the choices and adjustments necessary to maintain a balanced lifestyle. Here
are some tips for balancing work and family life:
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Take advantage of options for assistance in cooking, cleaning, and other
domestic chores, and don’t waste energy feeling guilty. When your budget
allows (and in the early years, it may not), buy yourself time: Hire help with
housecleaning—even if you can afford only semimonthly scouring of the
bathrooms and kitchen. Until then, a messy (but reasonably clean) house
won’t hurt you or the kids. Later, a nanny or housekeeper (who also does
laundry) is worth the investment.
Chapter 6 Time Management
Eat out with your family once a week or once in a while, even if it’s fast
food. This is an easy family-focused activity you can enjoy together outside
the house.
Pick up carryout meals to eat at home. This break from cooking will
stretch the dinner table time you have to share information about everyone’s day and allow you to play with younger children and put them to bed.
Teach your children how to help out with age-appropriate chores (e.g., putting their clothes in a hamper, putting away clean laundry, setting the table).
When you do cook, keep meals simple and make large quantities that can
be frozen in meal-size portions for use throughout the week.
If you and your partner both work outside the house, make the best childcare arrangements you can. If you’re away from your child all day, it’s especially important to carve out inviolable family time on evenings or weekends.
Is it possible for ambitious scientists to have it all? For those who learn to balance
competing demands, the answer is a qualified yes. The key—admittedly easier said
than done—is to identify what matters most to you and then to apportion your
activities throughout the day and week to address them all. The important thing is
to set your priorities, learn to compromise, and be flexible.
I don’t sell cookies or gift wrap for my kids’ school; I write
checks. I don’t volunteer in their classrooms; I go on one field
trip a year, which means a lot to my kids. My family takes a
two-week summer vacation, a trip at spring break, and long
weekends away.
—Sandra Schmid, The Scripps Research Institute
Blanchard, Kenneth H., and Spencer Johnson. The One Minute Manager. 10th ed.
New York, NY: Berkeley Books, 1983.
Boice, Robert. The New Faculty Member: Supporting and Fostering Professional Development.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1992.
Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in
Personal Change. New York, NY: Fireside, Simon & Schuster, 1990.
Reis, Richard M. Tomorrow’s Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and
Engineering. New York, NY: IEEE Press, 1997.
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Chapter 7
To increase the output of your laboratory, you can either increase resources—by
getting another grant and recruiting more people to work with you—or make better
use of what you already have. One tool for achieving the latter is project management. Put simply, project management means allocating, using, and tracking
resources to achieve a goal in a desired time frame. In a scientific setting, goals may
include publishing a paper, obtaining a research grant, completing a set of experiments, or even achieving tenure. While keeping creativity intact, project management
can help reduce wasted effort, track progress (or lack of it), and respond quickly to
deviations from important aims. This chapter highlights some of the techniques of
project management and how you can use them. The appendix at the end of the
chapter shows a real-life example of project management applied to a project to
determine the role of a gene in prostate cancer.
Project management helps you efficiently use your research funds,
personnel, and time to publish research papers, obtain funding,
and be promoted.
—Milton Datta, Emory University School of
roject management is a series of flexible and iterative steps through which you
identify where you want to go and a reasonable way to get there, with specifics of
who will do what and when. The steps of project management are similar to the
components of a grant proposal (see chapter 9, “Getting Funded”). With a grant
proposal, the probability of success is proportional to the thought that has gone
into each part of the proposal. The reviewers as well as the funding agency staff
want to see that you have thought things through. The same process also applies to
other aspects of running your laboratory and planning your career.
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—Stanley Portny, Stanley E. Portny and Associates
Deciding on a Project
A detailed, well-designed project plan is one of the sharpest
tools available for convincing a funder, such as NSF or NIH,
to give you the resources you require.
You may have an endless number of ideas for projects, but your resources (e.g.,
research funds, number of students and postdocs, time, and so on) are limited. The
first thing you will have to do is decide which projects to pursue within the limits
of your resources and considering your laboratory’s mission (see chapter 3,
“Laboratory Leadership in Science”).
For, example, you may want to obtain a second R01 grant because it will allow you
to pursue another line of research and increase your chances of obtaining tenure.
The grant deadline is in nine months. You should ask yourself the following:
What experiments do I need to conduct to write a research paper and submit it for publication before the grant deadline?
Do I have enough time to obtain the necessary data?
Which students and postdocs could generate these data?
Once you have defined your overall objectives, how to get there, and from whom
you need buy-in and participation, you can start the process of planning your
project, working backwards from your stated objective:
My project is to get an R01 funded within one and a half years.
I will need to
Obtain final data for the grant proposal (12 months)
Submit a paper for publication (6 months)
Submit the grant with preliminary data (9 months)
Integrate data and start writing a manuscript (5 months)
Complete the initial set of experiments (1 to 5 months)
Project management consists of planning each part of your project using the tools
outlined in the sections below. One of the most important benefits of project management is that it helps you accurately anticipate how much time a project will take
and what resources you will need. Even if some back-of-the-envelope thinking
convinces you that a project is worth pursuing and that you can generate an initial
set of publishable results for your grant in five months, you will need to plan each
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step more carefully to answer the following questions:
How long will the project really take?
Do we really have the funds to do it?
Do we really have the people to do this?
Can we get it done in time?
The Statement of Work
The statement of work is a written document that clearly explains what the project
is. It should include the following sections:
Purpose. This section should include
Background: Why was the project initiated and by whom, what happens if
it’s not done, and what else relates to it?
Scope of work: What will you do?—a brief statement describing the major
work to be performed.
Question: Don’t the strict definitions you impose when you set up a project management plan limit
scientific creativity?
Answer: Not at all. All projects, including highly innovative ones, rely on defined resources. Regardless of
the scientific goals of a project, project management helps you determine whether your ideas can be
implemented with the resources at hand and how best to approach these ideas. If you realize ahead of
time that you don’t have the resources you need, you’ll know you need to get them.
Question: Does project management discourage us from trying high-risk projects?
Answer: Scientists must work within the limits of their resources.This does not mean high-risk projects
should not be done; it just means that one should know the risks involved before starting the project.
Project management helps define what the risks will be; for example, you may use up your start-up funds
before you get an NIH grant or you may produce one paper, rather than three, in one year. Once you
know the risks involved, you can plan for them. Project management can also help you conserve some of
your resources to use for high-risk projects.The more information you have at the outset of a project,
the better you will be at allocating resources.The better you are at allocating resources for the work
that has to get done (e.g., the experiments proposed in your funded grant), the more likely you will be
able to save some funds for more speculative projects.
Question: Given the uncertainties in science, is project management feasible?
Answer: Project management isn’t meant to be rigid or blindly restrictive. Indeed, by reexamining goals
and circumstances in a systemized way, project management encourages you to reconsider which path is
best many times during the course of a given project.
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Strategy: How will you perform the work, who will do it, and what funds are
available for the work?
Objectives. Objectives are the end results achieved by the project. Each objective
should include
Statement: A description of the desired outcome when the project is
Measures: Indicators to assess how well you have achieved the desired
Specifications: Target values of the measures that define successful results.
Constraints. These are the restrictions on the project, which fall into two categories:
Limitations: Constraints set by others (such as limited start-up funds for
your laboratory, or teaching responsibilities that will limit your research
Needs: Constraints set by the project team (such as wanting to complete a
project three weeks early because one of the key people will be leaving
the lab).
Assumptions. These are the unknowns you posit in developing the plan—statements about uncertain information you will take as fact as you conceive, plan, and
perform the project (e.g., you may assume that your clinical or teaching loads will
not increase in the next year or that no one will leave the project before a certain
milestone is reached).
Be aware that as your project progresses, your goals may change. Build in periodic
reviews of results against objectives and revise the objectives if necessary. No matter how much you’ve invested in a project, it’s never too late to redirect or stop
work altogether if you discover, for example, that another route is more promising
than the main avenue of research, or a key premise was off base, or that someone
publishes the work before you do.
The appendix at the end of this chapter shows a real-life example of a statement
of work.
Defining the Audience
Any of your audiences—the people and groups that have an interest in your project, are affected by it, or are needed to support it—can sink the entire enterprise if
their needs are not considered. Early on, you should make a list of the project’s
audiences, both within your institution and outside it. Although you can do this in
your head, a written list serves as a reminder throughout the project to touch base
with these stakeholders as you proceed. A project can succeed only if everyone
involved does his or her part.
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Divide your audience list into three categories:
Drivers: People who tell you what to do, defining to some degree what your
project will produce and what constitutes success. As a principle investigator, you are the main driver for your research. Additional drivers might
include competitors and collaborators in your field, the editors of scientific
journals (if they are advising you on what experiments should be done in
order to get a manuscript published), and the study section reviewers of
the research grants (if their feedback is shaping the course of your research
project). If possible, keep these people abreast of how the project is going
or consult with them before changing direction or branching out in a different area. For example, if an editor at Nature has requested specific
experiments in a revised manuscript but you decide to do different ones
that you think are more appropriate or easier to do given the expertise in
your lab, you can contact the editor to make sure that the proposed experiments will satisfy his or her requirements.
Supporters: People who will perform the work or make the work possible
(e.g., the students and postdocs in your lab as well as the program director
for the organization that is funding the project). Make sure that these
people are motivated to do the work and understand how what they are
doing relates to achieving the overall scientific goal. (See chapter 3,
“Laboratory Leadership in Science.”)
Observers: People who have an interest in your project but are neither drivers
nor supporters. They are interested in what you’re doing, but they’re not
telling you what to do or how to do it (e.g., other scientists working in your
field, mentors, and potential supporters). It can be helpful to your career to
let as many scientists as possible know what you have accomplished. This
can be done by giving presentations at meetings and conferences, by asking
colleagues to review a manuscript that you are preparing to submit for publication, or by sending scientists in your field copies of a paper you have
published. Keep in mind that people who are familiar with your work, but
who are not direct collaborators, will have to submit letters for your tenure.
These people might also invite you to give talks or suggest that you participate in study sections or become part of a meeting planning team.
As you work on the project, revise the list as necessary. Categorizing audiences is
less difficult than it may look, and you don’t have to start from scratch for every
activity. Many of the same people are likely to be on your audience list over time
for different activities.
Defining Who Does What and When
The work breakdown structure (WBS) is an outline of all the work that will have to
be performed for your project. To develop a WBS, start with broad work assignments, break them down into activities, and divide these into discrete steps (see the
appendix for a real-life example). In the jargon of the project management field, an
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activity is a task that must be performed for your project and an event is a milestone marking the completion of one or more activities. You will want to list on
your timeline resources and the people that will carry out the activities, so that you
can successfully complete some milestone event—for example, getting a paper
accepted, a grant funded, or a difficult technique reduced to practice.
The WBS is one of the most important elements of project management as it will
help you schedule the project and its parts, estimate resources, assign tasks and
responsibilities, and control the project. (For more information about developing
this kind of outline, see
structure.htm ).
When you develop a WBS, think in one- to two-week increments. You probably
wouldn’t want to include detailed plans for activities that take less time (e.g., experiments to be done each day). However, the level of detail you include in your WBS
depends, in part, on who is doing the work. Most undergraduates will need more
detail than an experienced postdoc or technician. It may be useful to teach your
trainees to think in this time- and resource-aware way, perhaps by, early in their stay
in your lab, having them write out detailed weekly plans or design flow charts for
how they intend to work through a difficult technical issue at the bench.
To decide whether a particular part of the project is detailed enough, ask yourself
these three questions. Based on the WBS can
You determine a reasonable estimate of the resources (including people)
required for this work?
You determine a reasonable estimate of the time required to do this work?
Question: Is project management a top-down or a
mutual process?
Answer: It must be mutual. For the best possible
outcome, you need both staff insights and “buy-in.”
Project management does not say, “Forget thinking
and just do what I say.” It’s a process for identifying
what to think about, not how to think about it.
Question: If I have experiments A, B, C, and D, is it
reasonable to do detailed planning only for A first
and deal with the others later?
Answer: That may be reasonable, but what if B isn’t
entirely dependent on A, and you could have done
some work for B or any of the other experiments
without waiting until A was done? Project management tools and software can help you see where
timelines may overlap, so that you can use your time
most productively.
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Anyone charged with one of these
activities understand it well enough to
do it to your satisfaction?
If the answer to any of these questions is
“no,” more detail is necessary.
In science, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to
make a detailed plan very far in advance.
Much of the detailed planning will be done
“on the fly” as the project proceeds. Try a
rolling approach, in which you revise estimates in more detail as you progress through
the project.
In addition to planning experiments, you can
use the WBS to set up the lab and divide big
tasks into smaller ones—for example, ordering equipment; hiring staff; and dealing with
institutional review boards (IRBs), radiation
safety, and other issues.
Chapter 7 Project Management
C omplex projects require a series of activities, some of which will have to be performed in sequence and others in parallel. Project schedules outline the order in
which activities are to be performed and estimates of how long each will take. In
addition, for each step of the schedule, you will need to assign the necessary
resources, including people, funds, equipment, supplies, facilities, and information.
To schedule your activities and resources, you will need to follow these steps:
1. Identify activities and events (from the WBS).
2. Identify constraints (from the statement of work).
3. Determine the durations of different activities and, if more than one person
will be involved, who will be doing them.
4. Decide on the order of performance.
5. Develop an initial schedule.
6. Revise your schedule as necessary.
Tools for Developing Schedules
You have probably seen some of the tools for developing schedules, timelines, flow
charts, and so on, before. Here are some popular ones:
Key events schedule: A table showing events and target dates for reaching them
(remember that events are milestones signaling the completion of one or
more activities).
Activities plan: A table showing activities and their planned start and end
dates (see appendix, page 141).
Gantt chart: A graph consisting of horizontal bars that depict the start date
and duration for each activity (see appendix, page 142).
PERT chart: A diagram in which activities are represented by lines and
events on the nodes (typically depicted as circles or bubbles).
The key events schedule and the activities plan display dates better; the Gantt and
PERT charts give a better overview of how long activities take and where they
coincide. Regardless of which format you use, take the time to develop a schedule
you have a reasonable chance of meeting. Think realistically and estimate how long
each step will take, how many uninterrupted hours you have available during the
day, and how other demands on your time will affect what you or your lab can get
To determine how long a very complex process may take, think about similar
things you’ve done before. Flip through your notebook or calendar and try to
remember—how many hours did it really take you to write, edit, get feedback on,
make figures for, revise, revise again, and submit that last paper or grant? Try to
be conservative in your estimates. When it comes to planning benchwork, an accurate assessment of the skills, experience, and limitations of your staff will help
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you match the right people to each task. Stretching is good, but failing because of
overreaching is not. If your team lacks the expertise required for completing a
specific goal you may need to find a suitable and willing collaborator. Collectively
these scheduling tools will
Provide ways of tracking the work.
Identify the order of experiments, which will define how long it will take to
get the job done.
Show the relationship of experiments to each other (e.g., do they need to
be done sequentially or can they be done in parallel?)
u Identify bottlenecks.
As the work progresses, make adjustments to your schedule or the resources needed. For example, the estimates of times can be replaced with actual times. In cases
where there are delays in the schedule, additional resources may be needed to make up
for time and the diagram may be modified to
Question: It sometimes takes longer than I
reflect the new situation.
think it will to complete new experiments. How
do I plan accordingly?
Do I Have the Resources?
Answer: The work breakdown structure will
help you see where inherent difficulties in
experiments or bottlenecks in the procedures
are, and you can then add time and resources to
address these. For example, you may pair an
experienced postdoc with a new student who is
responsible for a step in the protocol, or give a
technician who has to establish a new technique
in the lab time for several trials and revisions of
the procedure.
Once you have made an outline of the activities to do in a given timeframe and who will
perform the work, you may want to more precisely determine how much of a given
resource the project will use up—e.g., how
many hours a postdoc will have to work each
week to complete his or her activities (see
appendix, page 142) or how much money will
be spent. This will help you identify potential
bottlenecks—even the best postdoc cannot
work 37 hours a day!
I f you are keeping track of a simple project involving only one or two individuals,
you can probably use a network diagram drawn on a board or in an electronic document. But as the number of projects and responsibilities you juggle grows, you
may want to make use of one of the many software packages available. They can
help you spot, for example, resource conflicts (such as one person assigned to three
overlapping activities) and identify which activities can be delayed to accommodate
that problem without jeopardizing the schedule. Good software helps you brainstorm the organization of activities on screen, create a WBS, link activities, develop
a schedule, identify resources, maintain information on progress, and generate
reports. When you make a change, the software reflects the impact of that change
throughout the project.
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Microsoft Project, a program that seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Office, is a
popular choice. The software package lets you enter any number of tasks and
schedule them. You can then view the data using multiple formats (e.g., Gantt
charts or PERT diagrams). You can also enter cost for each resource and the software will automatically track the spending of the project. Other popular choices are
the packages Act! (Symantec Corp.) and Now Up-to-Date (Qualcomm, Inc.). For
information about others, see
Like other software, project management programs come with bells and whistles
you may never need or use. Remember that software is merely a tool to help you
plan and organize your work. It should not become your work, bogging you down
in complex manipulations or fancy graphs and charts that look impressive but don’t
improve on simpler presentations of the information.
After some short training on these software packages, it is straightforward to build
new plans. Several fields, including construction and some areas of business management, make extensive use of this kind of software. You may be able to find
undergraduates, especially in engineering or business schools, who would be eager
to polish their skills (and get a line for their résumé) by doing the grunt work needed to move your established pencil-and-paper plans onto the computer.
Question: I’ve done some experiments so many times that I already know how long it will take and
the resources I need. Should I add these experiments to my plan?
Answer: Not for your benefit, but you have to consider whether others need to know what you’re
doing—the sequence of steps as well as the materials and time required. If they do, a written work
plan can also be a useful part of the record. Project management isn’t just a planning tool, it’s also a
training and communication tool.
Question: Despite the best explanations, inexperienced students may focus only on their part of the
work. Are there devices to help them get the big picture?
Answer: It’s important that they do get the big picture, and project management may be part of the
solution. Although it’s true that project management encourages a focus on details, it also encourages
you to consider the big picture.Think of a project’s detailed plan as being like a metabolic map: If students can see how their work connects to a greater whole, they may be more motivated to think
about their own small projects and to ask bigger questions about the lab’s work and the broader
field.Young students may be reluctant to admit what they don’t know. By walking them through the
field’s complicated issues and ongoing controversies, you can convey to them that it’s alright not to
know and customary to ask others to explain things. Get them to talk about what they’re doing, and
paraphrase what they say, highlighting the places where their work intersects with other work in the
lab, or ask them to write a statement of work for their part of the project, which requires knowing
the background on the project as a whole.
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ffective project management demands that the components of a project be constantly monitored and revised with new information. The principle investigator typically plays this role in addition to the following tasks:
Championing the project for the project audience (e.g., through seminars
and informal updates to supporters).
Clearing away obstacles for the project team (such as minimizing other
responsibilities for the team members and providing a supportive and comfortable work environment).
Providing resources, by way of funds, access to essential equipment, and
technical skills.
Communicating the project vision to keep the team motivated and focused.
Communicating with the department chair, NIH, journal editors, and the
external collaborators.
The greatest chances for success are achieved when project information is used to align, guide, and motivate team members, and
when these team members, in turn, use this information to guide
their work.
—Stanley Portny and Jim Austin, “Project
Management for Scientists,”,
Keeping Your Work on Track
It is hard to predict how the course of a project will run. Flexible planning is needed to help you deal with the unexpected and still keep your many projects moving.
The following is a list to help you stay on track:
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As you would do in a good R01 or other grant application, consider different scenarios to identify what may not unfold as you anticipate, and identify
the range of ramifications and how you would address them.
Select aspects of your project that are most likely to slow things down (e.g.,
a graduate student who is not familiar with interpreting experimental results
and thus may slow progress or a technician who does not aggressively follow up on orders from a slow vendor and thus may not receive needed
reagents on time), and monitor them closely.
Chapter 7 Project Management
Develop strategies to reduce the likelihood of deviations, as well as contingency plans for any that occur.
Create indicators or defined results (such as a completed Western blot or a
clearly interpretable experimental finding) that will help you evaluate the
project against your stated objectives. The indicators should be clear and
directly relate to your objectives. Poorly chosen indicators are worse than
none at all and may cause you to abandon a project when in fact the objective may be sound.
Monitor the project carefully and consistently to promptly identify detours
from course.
Implement contingency plans, and revise your master plan as necessary.
Question: How do I finish projects while allowing key people to leave when they’re ready?
Answer: Project management can help you
anticipate and plan for their departure. Identify
who’s most likely to leave and the places in the
project where that’s most likely to happen.
When it does happen, stop and assess the
impact on your project and determine steps you
can take to minimize the effects.
As a scientist, you want your work to be
worthwhile, even if it doesn’t proceed the
way you planned or produce the expected
outcome. To get the most out of your investment of project resources, learn to work
through the “what ifs” by positing multiple
possible outcomes and timelines, and planning ways to deal with each one.
Austin, Jim. “Management in the Lab.” (September 13, 2002),
Austin, Rob. “Project Management and Discovery.” (September
13, 2002),
Barker, Kathy. At The Helm: A Laboratory Navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2002.
Harmening, Denise M. Laboratory Management: Principles and Processes. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
Heldman, Kim. Project Management JumpStart. Alameda, CA: Sybex, 2003.
Henry, John B., ed. Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods.
Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders, 2001.
Hudson, Jane, ed. Principles of Clinical Laboratory Management: A Study Guide and
Workbook. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
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Kemp, Sid. Project Management Demystified. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2004.
Lewis, James P. Fundamentals of Project Management: Developing Core Competencies to Help
Outperform the Competition. New York, NY: American Management Association,
Luecke, Richard. Managing Projects Large and Small: The Fundamental Skills to Deliver on
Cost and on Time. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
Martin, Vivien. Managing Projects in Health and Social Care. London: Routledge, 2002.
Portny, Stanley E. Project Management for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing,
Portny, Stanley E., and Jim Austin. “Project Management for Scientists.” (July 12, 2002),
Portny, Stanley E. “Project Management in an Uncertain Environment.” (August 23, 2002),
Project Management Institute. Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, 2000.
Sindermann, Carl J. Winning the Games Scientists Play. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Book
Group, 2001.
Usherwood, Tim. Introduction to Project Management in Health Research: A Guide for New
Researchers. Bristol, PA: Open University Press, 1996.
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Chapter 7 Project Management
The Statement of Work
Section 1: Purpose
Background. Theresa, a postdoc in the laboratory, wants to examine the possible
role for alterations in the gene Sumacan in prostate cancer. She noted that Sumacan,
which encodes a growth factor receptor, maps to a genetic region involved in
human prostate cancer. Current studies in the lab focus on the role of Sumacan in
brain tumors. Bob, a postdoc, is screening drugs that block Sumacan function; Ming
Li, a graduate student, is elucidating the functional pathways Sumacan is involved in;
and Steve, a graduate student, is performing a mutational analysis of the Sumacan
gene. These same studies can be applied to prostate cancer, thereby opening up
potential avenues for funding through prostate cancer foundations.
Scope of work.
Examine whether the functional pathway for Sumacan is present in human
prostate cancer cells.
u Compare the expression of Sumacan in normal human prostate tissues and
prostate cancers, and correlate expression levels with clinical outcome in
prostate cancer.
u Identify mutations in Sumacan in patients with prostate cancer.
Strategy. Each person in the lab is already working on different aspects of Sumacan
biology in brain tumors. In each case, the work will be applied to prostate cancer
cell lines that we will obtain from Mike, a colleague in our department. We have
identified two additional potential collaborators—Rajiv, a pathologist who studies
human prostate tissues and cancers, and Kathy, a geneticist who studies human
prostate cancer families. We will use funds from our current R01 grant to obtain
preliminary findings. We plan to use these findings to obtain a second R01 grant to
the laboratory.
Section 2: Objective
Statement. Investigate the possible role of Sumacan in prostate cancer.
Measure #1. Our experiments will provide preliminary evidence to either support
or deny a role for Sumacan in prostate cancer.
Specification. The experiments we carry out will answer the following questions:
Is Sumacan expressed in the prostate?
Is there a difference between the expression of Sumacan in the prostate and
in prostate cancer?
Is Sumacan expressed in prostate cancer?
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Measure #2. The results obtained by these experiments will generate publications
and grants.
At least two (one for each postdoc working on the project) research articles
will be accepted for publication in a top-tier research journal in the field.
A request to NIH for funds to continue the research begun receives a
percentile score on first-round submission of at least 25 percent and
subsequent funding on the resubmission.
Measure #3. People in the field are aware of our research.
We will receive several requests for information about the research.
We will present the research results at at least two conferences in one year.
We will publish at least two research articles in the scientific literature.
Section 3: Constraints
The NIH proposal is due June 1, 2007. This means that the first research
manuscript must be submitted for publication by approximately January 1,
2007, and accepted by mid-April 2007.
Our lab has limited funds to cover the generation of preliminary data,
which means that productivity has to be reviewed monthly.
Our lab needs to be able to grow prostate cancer cells.
Our lab needs to be able to handle human prostate cancer specimens.
Section 4: Assumptions
u The current research team will be willing and able to perform prostate cancer studies in addition to their brain tumor studies.
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The collaborators we have identified will be willing and able to work with
our group or will provide the name of another person who wants to
Chapter 7 Project Management
The Work Breakdown Structure
Activity 1: Determine whether Sumacan is expressed in the prostate.
1. Determine where to obtain human prostate cells.
2. Determine how to grow human prostate cells.
The type of medium and serum they require
The optimal conditions for growth
3. Determine whether we can isolate RNA and protein from human prostate cells.
Try the same technique we use to isolate RNA from brain cells.
Develop a different technique.
4. Determine whether we can perform quantitative RT-PCR for Sumacan expression.
Primers and positive and negative controls
5. Determine whether we can perform a Western blot for Sumacan expression.
Test whether the antibody we use in the brain works in the prostate and
determine what size protein band(s) is identified.
Identify positive or negative controls for protein quality and Sumacan
Note: Steps 1 to 3 must be done sequentially, but once step 3 is completed, steps 4
and 5 can be done at the same time.
Activity 2: Determine whether Sumacan is expressed in prostate cancer cells.
1. Determine where to obtain human prostate cancer cells.
2. Determine how to grow human prostate cancer cells.
Type of medium and serum they require
Optimal conditions for growth
3. Determine whether we can isolate RNA and protein from human prostate
cancer cells.
Try the same technique we use to isolate RNA from brain cells.
Develop a different technique.
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4. Determine whether we can perform quantitative RT-PCR for Sumacan expression.
Primers and positive and negative controls
5. Determine whether we can perform a Western blot for Sumacan expression.
Test whether the antibody we use in the brain works in prostate cancer
cells and determine what size protein band(s) is identified.
Identify positive or negative controls for protein quality and Sumacan
Note: Steps 1 to 3 must be done sequentially, but once step 3 is completed, steps 4
and 5 can be done at the same time. In addition, activities 1 and 2 can be done at
the same time, although this may result in higher resource costs if both tasks fail.
Activity 3: Determine whether there is a difference in Sumacan expression
between normal and cancer cells.
1. Determine the difference in RNA expression.
2. Determine the difference in protein expression.
3. Determine the relationship between RNA and protein expression.
Note: Activity 3 involves analysis of the data collected in activities 1 and 2 and thus
cannot be performed until these two activities are completed.
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Chapter 7 Project Management
An Activities Plan
Aug. 1
Aug. 5
Identify sources of
prostate cancer cells
Aug. 1
Aug. 5
Grow prostate cells
Aug. 5
Aug. 26
Aug. 5
Aug. 26
Aug. 26
Sept. 26
Aug. 26
Sept. 26
Perform RT-PCR on
prostate cells
Sept. 26
Oct. 26
Perform RT-PCR on
prostate cancer cells
Sept. 26
Oct. 26
Perform Western blots on
prostate cells
Sept. 26
Oct. 26
Perform Western blots on
prostate cancer cells
Sept. 26
Oct. 26
Compare the levels of
Sumacan RNA in the
prostate and prostate
cancer cells
and Bob
Oct. 26
Nov. 5
Compare the levels of
Sumacan protein in the
prostate and prostate
cancer cells
and Bob
Oct. 26
Nov. 5
Compare the levels of
Sumacan RNA and
protein with each other
and Bob
Oct. 26
Nov. 5
Identify sources of
prostate cells
Grow prostate cancer
Isolate RNA and protein
from prostate cells
Isolate RNA and protein
from prostate cancer cells
Note: Each of these activities can be broken down further if more detail is needed.
For example, if the activities are being performed by a new graduate student, you
may want to explain the different protocols to use to perform RT-PCR from
prostate cancer cells and what controls should be used as well as alternative protocols to use in case the first ones do not work.
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A Gantt Chart
Find cells
Grow cells
Isolate RNA
and protein
RT-PCR and
Western blots
Theresa and Bob
Find cells
Grow cells
Isolate RNA
and protein
RT-PCR and
Western blots
Theresa and Bob
Theresa, Bob
and PI
Data Analysis
A Loading Chart
This chart displays Theresa’s workload. She is responsible for the first three steps in
determining Sumacan expression in prostate cells. Step 1 (looking for prostate cells) is
done in week 1, step 2 (trying to grow the cells) in weeks 2 to 4, step 3 (isolating
RNA and protein) in weeks 5 to 8, and step 4 (doing RT-PCR on normal and cancer
cells) in weeks 9 to 13. In addition, during the time the project is being run, she will
be teaching a microbiology lab course (5 hours/day with monthly exams).
Lab Hours
Total Time
Source: The examples in this appendix were provided by Milton W. Datta, Emory University School of Medicine.
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Chapter 8
s science explodes with new information and competition increases, and as
academic scientists engage in more collaborations with industry scientists, proper
recording of laboratory activities and managing the volumes of data produced by a
laboratory are becoming increasingly important.
This chapter covers some of the basics: the importance of day-to-day record keeping
and good practice for laboratory notebooks, what to consider when developing a system to track and store information, and finding the right data management system
for you.
Why Keep Daily Records?
Every person working in a lab should keep detailed records of the experiments conducted each day. Here are some reasons why.
Establishing good work practices. Lab records allow your work to be reproduced
by others. The records you keep should allow you and others to re-create the work
and achieve the same results, thereby validating or extending your work. The records
also allow you to prepare formal reports, papers, and presentations. They also serve
as a source for assigning credit to lab members.
Teaching the people in your lab. Scientific training involves gathering information,
forming hypotheses, designing experiments, and observing results. Lab notebooks, in
which these activities are carefully recorded, can be a valuable aid in teaching your
grad students, postdocs, and technicians how to analyze results, construct new theories and tests, and retrace their steps to identify an error.
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Enter all your work in a notebook—even procedures that did
not work.
—David Adams, Duke University Medical Center
—Joseph Vinetz, University of Texas Medical
Reading notebooks is a nonconfrontational way to keep current
with your students’ and postdocs’ work, and notebooks are critical when these lab members leave.
Meeting contractual requirements. From grants to contracts to patent applications, researchers have explicit terms and implicit expectations to meet, for which
detailed records and data are essential. For example, the National Institutes of
Health has the legal right to audit and examine records that are relevant to any
research grant award. Accordingly, the recipients of research grants have an obligation to keep appropriate records.
Question: For patent purposes, what’s an “original”
Answer: An original is the first human-readable
form—for example, a printout of a measurement
but not a photocopy of it. It should be dated, signed,
and filed.
Question: Genomics produces massive amounts of
data. If the data are burned on a CD, are they considered “original”?
Answer: In this era of computer-assisted research,
many pieces of data are collected, stored, and analyzed by computer.The problem with electronic
records is that it is hard to prove that the data are
not added to, deleted from, or in some way tampered with.The Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) has published clear guidelines for maintaining
electronic records in a way that will meet legal
scrutiny ( If
you have really important results, it is probably safer
to print them out, sign and date the documents, and
indicate why they are significant.
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Avoiding fraud. Lab directors are responsible for the integrity of their lab and everything it produces. Periodic checks of raw
data in notebooks and project files can
uncover and correct carelessness or outright
fraud before they become huge problems.
Defending patents. U.S. patent law follows
a first-to-conceive rather than a first-to-file
system. That is why documentation to support the date of discovery or invention is
critical and why pages of lab notebooks and
other records should be consecutively numbered, dated, and signed. Careful records can
save a patent.
Chapter 8 Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks
Good Practice for Laboratory Notebooks
Although individual scientists are responsible for maintaining their own notebooks,
heads of labs are responsible for making sure that the notebooks of those under
their direction are in order. The precise way in which to document scientific
research varies from field to field and from institution to institution, but some general rules apply, such as the following:
Use a permanently bound book, with consecutive signed and dated entries.
When appropriate, witness entries as well.
For computer-kept logs, you can use a loose-leaf notebook, but pages must
be consecutively numbered (using a sequential page-number stamp), dated,
and signed.
Record entries chronologically.
Electronic Laboratory
Electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) do everything their handwritten forebears do but with the
attractive bonus of search and organization functions.Through links to analytical software, ELNs can
usually download and store data directly, and many
ELNs also support secure access for multiple users
and remote users.
Choosing the right ELN for your lab requires homework. One important consideration is whether the
ELN complies with the FDA’s rules for acceptance
of electronic documents, which were published in
March 1997 in title 21 of the Code of Federal
Regulations, part 11, available online at
So far, few ELNs have been subjected to legal scrutiny, and it is doubtful that many would pass the test.
For this reason, most researchers in academic and
industry settings are sticking to paper records.
Each entry should stand on its own to
permit others to replicate the work.
Organize material with sections and
Identify and describe reagents and specimens used.
Identify sources of those materials (e.g.,
reagent manufacturer, lot number, purity, expiration date).
Enter instrument serial numbers and
calibration dates.
Use proper nouns for items.
Write all entries in the first person, and
be specific about who did the work.
Explain nonstandard abbreviations.
Use ink and never obliterate original
writing; never remove pages or portions
of a page.
If a page is left blank or a space within a page is left blank, draw a line
through it.
Permanently affix with glue any attachments (such as graphs or computer
printouts) to the pages of the notebook; date and sign both the notebook
page and the attachment.
Outline new experiments, including their objectives and rationale.
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Include periodic factual, not speculative, summaries of status and findings.
Enter ideas and observations into your notebook immediately. Summarize
discussions from lab meetings and ideas or suggestions made by others,
citing the persons by name.
When Is a Witness Warranted?
Question: Why should I learn to write in the notebook?
Answer: You want to create an accurate, original,
permanent record.There is a tendency to record
information on the handiest piece of paper available,
even on a paper towel lying on a bench, and then
later transferring the information to a notebook.
Therefore, you should get into the habit of immediately recording data as they are being collected into
your lab notebook.
Question: What’s the responsible way to document errors?
Answer: Make the required changes as soon as
possible without obliterating the original entry.
Electronic documents may require a new entry, not
an override. If the error is logged by hand, do not
erase or alter the initial entry. Correct the data at
the point in the log where the error was discovered, refer to the original page, and go on (e.g.,
“Reagent was 50 percent of the strength we originally thought.”).
Question: How do I get people in my lab to keep
good records?
Answer: All students, technicians, and postdocs
should be issued their own laboratory notebooks,
with instructions on how to record in them.
Establish expectations early and reinforce them periodically.The job interview is not too early to
describe expected lab record-keeping methods and
media. Many lab heads have a system for regularly
reviewing all lab notebooks.
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Some companies require that all notebook
pages be witnessed. In academia, few labs
follow this practice, but under some circumstances, having a certain record signed by a
witness is desirable.
Learn to recognize an entry that merits a
witness. When you think you have conceived an invention or an idea that may have
intellectual property value, the date you did
so is when you want a witness. For example,
if lunch with a colleague leads you to an idea
so tantalizing that you simply must go write it
down, that’s a notebook page you want witnessed. Another important date from a
patent law standpoint is when the idea is put
into actual practice, called “reduction to practice” (see chapter 11, “Understanding
Technology Transfer”).
Learn who constitutes an appropriate
witness. Although a witness serves a certifying function much like a notary public, unlike
a notary, a witness needs a sound grasp of
the science. However, the witness should not
be a coinventor, who, from a legal perspective, has a vested interest in verifying the
claim. Find someone who is not directly
involved in your work but who understands
and can explain your idea. You may also need
different people to witness pages containing
different ideas. Do not designate one person
as the “official” witness in your lab. Rote signatures unsupported by suitable scientific
credentials will not meet the standard for
credibility in court.
Chapter 8 Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks
Where and How Long to Keep the Notebook
Lab notebooks that are “in progress” should be kept in the lab and reviewed periodically. Usually, notebooks are kept on a lab bench, but if you are concerned
about the risk of damage or contamination, make it a rule that at the end of each
day, all lab notebooks are placed in a fireproof cabinet or other designated space.
Completed lab notebooks should be indexed and kept in a safe central repository,
along with corresponding patent applications or patents. Notebooks should be catalogued. Every time someone takes a notebook, it should be checked out and then
returned. A person who is leaving the lab for a position elsewhere should not take
any original lab notebooks but could be allowed to take copies of the lab notebooks he or she has maintained.
In general, the principal investigator should keep notebooks for at least five years
after funding for the study ends. At that point, the notebooks can continue to be
stored on site or moved to a storage facility. For anything that has been patented,
the general rule is that the corresponding lab notebooks should be kept for the life
of the patent plus six years. Your institution may have specific policies for you to
follow. If you move to a new institution, you should also check your old institution’s policies; some institutions require departing faculty to leave their original lab
Every gel should be dried down and put in the lab notebook—
even negative results.
—Joseph Vinetz, University of Texas Medical
Developing a Data Management System
Take the time to think about and produce a plan to track and store data generated
by the people in your lab. Some requirements of your system will include the
Ability to sort and search: If you want to be able to sort data in your system
by a particular criterion, the information has to be entered as a sortable
field. Try to identify at the beginning all the ways you might want to
retrieve your data later. This is a challenging but productive exercise in
thinking ahead.
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Consistency: For comparability, you need standards that are followed consistently. If everyone in your lab uses a different document-naming protocol,
the departure of one person can create chaos. Decide on a consistent
system for the file names of electronic and paper documents as well as the
identification of samples and specimens—everything that your lab catalogues and stores. Figures 8.1 and 8.2 (page 149) present examples of
alphanumeric coding systems for electronic documents and specimens.
Ability to update records: It is important that you set up a system for logging
in reagents and that everyone in the lab uses the system.
Assign Responsibility
It’s not enough to have a data management plan; someone needs to make sure the
plan is executed. Because this is your lab, it’s your responsibility—to handle
personally or to delegate. Once you have made that choice, put quality assurance
procedures in place, including scheduled spot checks of your established procedures. Make sure that everyone in your lab knows what to store where, how to do
it, and who needs to log in that information.
What to Store and How
You will likely want to store the following:
Lab protocols
Lists of specimens and reagents
Primary data, including images
Information about instruments
Where and how long you keep this information will likely be dictated by the type of
information, but you also need to consider issues of lab space, fees and security
issues for off-site storage, and the shelf life of the materials being stored. Here are
some general guidelines.
Printed records. Records written in ink on acid-free paper and laser-printed
records can be archived for a long time; ideal conditions are approximately 50 percent relative humidity and 21°C or cooler.
Electronic records. In theory, CD-ROMs and DVDs can last more than 200 years
when stored in the dark at 25°C and 40 percent relative humidity. Floppy disks,
however, have a shelf life of only about three years. Similarly, magnetic media are
not designed for long-term storage. Another point to consider is whether the hardware and software needed to read the information will be available in the long term.
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Chapter 8 Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks
Figure 8.1.
document file
CR0216G XRD01 A347.xls
Project number
File type:
D = data
G = graph
L = letter
P = proposal
CR0216L Kanare prelim stats02.doc
Project number
Source: Howard Kanare, Construction Technology Laboratories.
Figure 8.2.
Sample and
specimen IDs
Split (a, b, c, etc.)
sample ID number
(from spreadsheet log)
Project number
Notebook number
Page number
Sequential number, on
page and split
Source: Howard Kanare, Construction Technology Laboratories.
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Lab protocols. Many labs keep a master collection of lab protocols, which is available either electronically or in print and is updated periodically. Lab protocols are
rarely the type of records you need to store for the long term.
Reagents. It is important to have a system in place for keeping track of reagents
that are used in your lab. While work is in progress, maintain records about the
reagents used and keep the reagents themselves easily accessible in storage.
Database programs such as FileMaker are easy to use and useful for keeping track
of items such as oligos, antisera, plasmids, and cell lines. Many labs also use Excel
spreadsheets or even paper records. When people leave the lab, have them place
their unique reagents in storage boxes and document their location. Make sure
everyone in the lab updates the database regularly.
You will also need a reliable tracking system for the sharing of reagents—requesting them from other sources and transferring yours to other labs. This involves
Request for Materials forms and Material Transfer Agreement forms (see chapter
11, “Understanding Technology Transfer”).
Instrument histories. The care and maintenance of equipment are important
responsibilities that affect the entire lab. Make sure someone accepts them and follows through. Lab records should include instrument logs that contain purchase,
upgrade, and repair information; a calibration schedule and results; a control chart
for performance trends; and blind quality control and assurance checks.
M any academic labs, especially small ones, track samples, reagents, and experi-
ments through paper records and simple electronic spreadsheets. But as the amount
and complexity of data grow, some investigators may turn to specialized software
products, such as databases, laboratory information management systems (LIMS),
archival software, and tools to integrate the different applications.
Selecting a suitable program—one that fits your lab’s needs and budget—involves
something at which you excel: research. Consult colleagues who have been through
this process themselves, and don’t be shy about involving your institution’s information technology office. Once you have narrowed the list of candidate software,
arrange vendor demonstrations and visits to labs that use these systems, and, of
course, conduct reference checks. Your institution’s purchasing office may also be
Some of the questions that you should consider are
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Is the system compatible with your existing software and hardware? Will it
interface with your instruments?
Are other users satisfied? (Talk to people in your field who have purchased
a system.)
What kind of support is available from the vendor?
Chapter 8 Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks
How much flexibility does the system offer? Can it be configured to satisfy
your particular needs?
How much training will be required?
Is the company that sells the system well established or is it likely to be out
of business in a few years?
Is it worth it, or can you get by with the system you already have? Do you
really need more software?
Redundancy is good. Cross-reference data sources—files, documents, samples—according to whatever consistent alphanumeric
or other system your lab uses.
—Howard Kanare, Construction Technology
FileMaker Pro is an inexpensive, easy-to-use software program that allows users to
create a custom database in minutes and is a favorite among researchers. Some use
it for ordering lab supplies. It allows lab members to keep track of what has been
ordered, by whom, and when, as well as how much money has been spent. In addition, its search feature allows users to quickly locate items that have been ordered
before without having to look them up in the catalog. Other researchers use it to
keep a record of all constructs, plasmids, cells, and so on, in the lab and where they
are located. You can customize almost every area of FileMaker to work the way
you do, so you’re not forced to manage your information in a pre-set way. The software works on both Mac and PC, and FileMaker information can also be accessed
on the Web. The latest version of the software, FileMaker 8, lets you store any kind
of files in your database, including Word files, movies, images, and PDFs. Data can
be sent to others as Adobe PDF or Excel files.
Laboratory Information Management Systems
Traditionally, LIMS have been used by chemistry labs that conduct batteries of
tests on thousands of samples. In recent years, however, the LIMS marketplace has
unveiled new products adaptable to the specialized needs of life sciences research
(e.g., microbiology and genomics). LIMS can be used to
Receive, log in, and label samples.
Schedule work.
Assign work (e.g., tests and analyses for each sample).
Check status of work.
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Integrate data collection by interfacing with instruments.
Track records and specimens.
Be aware that a flexible system may not be ready for use straight out of the box.
You may have to configure it to your specifications first.
Archival Software
The multitude of data generated by a single lab can be overwhelming. A growing
number of software systems allow the user to collect, store, and visualize disparate
kinds of information—ranging from mass spectrometry readings to microarray
data. The systems provide a central repository for all data generated in a lab. One
of the critical features that sets different types of software apart is the degree to
which stored data can be retrieved and manipulated in the absence of the original
instrument software. Another important consideration is the degree to which the
stored data meet the FDA criteria set forth in title 21 of the Code of Federal
Regulations, part 11 (see box “Electronic Laboratory Notebooks,” page 145).
As principal investigator, you know that maintaining accurate and consistent laboratory records and managing the flow of data your lab generates are critical to the
success of your research program. So, be proactive. As you’re setting up your lab,
determine the standards and procedures for record keeping and communicate these
to the members of your lab. Develop a plan to efficiently track and store data and
find an electronic data management system to help you implement this plan. Once
you’ve done this, you’re well on your way to keeping the avalanche of data organized and retrievable.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. Scientific integrity videos,
Barker, Kathy. At the Bench: A Laboratory Navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1998.
Barker, Kathy. At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2002.
Food and Drug Administration. Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations, part 11 (21
CFR part 11), Electronic Records; Electronic Signatures,
Harmening, Denise M. Laboratory Management: Principles and Processes. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
Kanare, Howard M. Writing the Laboratory Notebook. Washington, DC: American
Chemical Society, 1985.
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Chapter 9
You’ve begun your career as an academic scientist. Your lab is up and running,
and your research program is under way. But the pressure is on—soon you will
have to find financial support for your research from sources other than your institution. It’s time to learn the art of getting funded.
Numerous public and private sources support scientific studies, but the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the Public Health Service under the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is by far the nation’s largest funder of academic research. For that reason, this chapter focuses primarily on NIH
and emphasizes the R01 grant, an investigator-initiated research project grant for
which most beginning academic investigators will have to apply.
This chapter provides an overview of the NIH funding process and the two-level
review system that is used by NIH for most R01 grant applications. It also details
the steps involved in preparing a strong R01 grant application, including turning
your concept into a solid research plan and making sure that individuals with the
appropriate expertise review your application. In addition, the chapter discusses
what to do if your application is not funded. The chapter also provides some information about another major funder of basic science research, the National Science
Foundation (NSF).
There is no grantsmanship that will turn a bad idea into a good
one, but there are many ways to disguise a good one.
—William Raub, former deputy director, NIH
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NIH Institutes and Centers
An important part of writing a successful grant application is having a good understanding of the mission of the funding organization and the type of projects it
supports. At this point in your career, you are probably already familiar with NIH
and may have even applied for NIH postdoctoral funding. However, it’s still useful
to remember that NIH is composed of institutes and centers (I/Cs) whose numbers increase and whose structures are reorganized periodically. (From a grant
applicant’s perspective, the only relevant distinction between institutes and centers
is that an institute can make awards of less than $50,000 without approval from its
national advisory council, but a center cannot.) As of May 2006, NIH had 20 institutes and 7 centers. Each I/C has its own mission and research agenda, and 24 of
the current 27 I/Cs have funding programs for extramural awards (research conducted outside their own facilities and staff), including those that fund R01 grants.
Although not essential, it will be useful for you to identify an I/C that is likely to
be interested in your research (see “Find a Home for Your Application at NIH,”
page 164).
The R01 Review: An Overview
Question: At what stage in my career should I apply
for my first R01 grant?
Answer: After you have accepted a position at a university or medical center, you may be encouraged by
your department chair to apply for your first NIH
grant, even before you move into your new lab. Some
experts warn, however, that it might be better to wait
until the second year of your appointment, because it
will help your application considerably if you have generated some preliminary data in your new lab.
Whenever you decide to apply, remember that you are
in that special position of “new NIH investigator” only
once; make the most of it.
Question: What’s the difference between an RFA and
a PA?
Answer: An RFA invites grant applications in a welldefined scientific area for which an I/C has determined
a specific research need (e.g., to study West Nile virus).
This is usually a one-time competition and funds are
set aside for a certain number of awards.A PA invites
grant applications for a scientific area for which an
extramural research program within an I/C has new or
expanded interest or continuing interest (e.g., to study
drug addiction).These applications are accepted on
standard receipt dates on an ongoing basis.
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R01 grant applications are usually investigator-initiated. Applications can also be submitted in response to a Request for
Applications (RFA) or a Program
Announcement (PA), both of which are
announced in the NIH Guide for Grants
and Contracts (
grants/guide/index.html). R01 applications
submitted in response to an RFA are generally reviewed by the issuing I/C. R01 applications submitted in response to a PA are
reviewed by the Center for Scientific Review
(CSR). Regardless, all applications are sent to
the CSR and then follow a two-level review
process: CSR 1) assigns the application to a
Scientific Review Group (SRG) for evaluation of scientific and technical merit and 2)
assigns it to one or more I/Cs to review for
programmatic relevance and funding recommendations. (Figure 9.1 provides an
overview of this two-level review process.)
CSR conducts scientific peer review of
approximately 70 percent of the applications
sent to NIH; I/Cs evaluate the others. Of
the more than 68,000 applications received
annually by NIH, perhaps only 20 to 25 percent are funded. The funding range can vary
from year to year and from one I/C to
Chapter 9 Getting Funded
Figure 9.1.
Overview of
the NIH R01
grant review
NIH/CSR receives
CSR assigns application
to SRG and Institute or
Center (may assign to
more than one I/C)
CSR sends PI confirmation
of receipt (also called
assignment notification
SRG (study section)
conducts review for
scientific merit and votes
a priority score
SRA prepares summary
statement of review
results, sends to
PI and I/C
If application is in funding
range, PI receives letter
notifying of need to get
IRB and IACUC approval
if not already obtained
I/C national advisory
council conducts review
for program relevance and
funding; makes
I/C director, acting on
behalf of NIH director,
takes final action to fund
or not
I/C notifies PI of
final action
Center for Scientific Review
Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
NIH Institute or Center
Institutional Review Board
Principal Investigator
Scientific Review Administrator
Scientific Review Group
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First-Level Review: Scientific
Review Group
Common Abbreviations
One type of SRG, the study section, is used
by CSR to review R01 grant applications.
Study sections are clustered into Integrated
Review Groups (IRGs), organized around a
general scientific area. Each study section has
a specific scientific focus. (For simplicity, the
terms study section and SRG are used interchangeably in this chapter.)
AREA: Academic Research Enhancement Award
CRISP: Computer Retrieval of Information on
Scientific Projects
CSR: Center for Scientific Review
IACUC: Institutional Animal Care and Use
I/C: NIH Institute or Center (also written IC)
IRB: Institutional Review Board
IRG: Integrated Review Group
OER: Office of Extramural Research
OHRP: Office for Human Research Protections
(formerly OPRR, Office of Protection from Research
OLAW: Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare
(formerly Division of Animal Welfare within OPRR)
R01 applications are usually assigned first to
an IRG and then to a study section within
that IRG. The study section reviews the grant
application for scientific merit, rates it with a
numerical priority score from which a percentile ranking is derived, and recommends
an appropriate level of support and duration
of award.
Scores, ranks, and percentiles. Every
member of a study section gives each appliRFP: Request for Proposals
cation a rating, or priority score. Those
SEP: Special Emphasis Panel
scores are averaged to create a three-digit
SRA: Scientific Review Administrator
number, which is that application’s final score
SRG: Scientific Review Group
in the NIH computer system. A 100 is the
best possible score, and a 500 is the worst
possible score. Some applications are not discussed at the review meeting and thus do not receive a score (see “Streamlining and
Deferrals,” page 158).
PA: Program Announcement
RFA: Request for Applications
Percentiling is a reflection of the rank of a particular score in the pool of all scores
given by a study section in its current meeting plus the two previous meetings. For
example, an application whose score ranked number 50 out of 100 applications
would receive a percentile of 49.5, according to the following formula:
P = 100 5 (R – 1/2 ) / N
In the formula, P is the percentile, R is the ranking (in this case, 50), and N is the
total number of applications.
The percentiling process is specific to each study section and is the way that NIH
I/Cs can account for different scoring behavior in the various study sections. Thus,
if the 20th percentile is a 150 priority score in Study Section A and a 190 priority
score in Study Section B, both applications are considered in the 20th percentile
and treated as such when funding decisions are made by the I/Cs.
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Behind Closed Doors: Demystifying the Study Section
Chartered study sections
Are managed by a scientific review administrator (SRA), a professional at the M.D. or Ph.D. level
with a scientific background close to the study section’s area of expertise.
Have 12 to 24 members recruited by the SRA, most of whom are from academia—some have
long-term appointments and others are temporary members.
Review as many as 60 to 100 applications per meeting.
Usually assign three reviewers to each application.
Are supported by a grants technical assistant, who reports to the SRA.
Under the terms of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, study section meetings are
closed. Meetings include
Orientation (discussion of general business)
Provisional approval of list of streamlined applications
Discussion of remaining applications
The discussion of applications includes the following:
Reviewers with a conflict of interest are excused.
Assigned reviewers present strengths, weaknesses, and their preliminary scores.
Other members discuss scientific and technical merit.
Range of scores is expressed (every member scores every application).
Codes for gender, minority, and children and human subjects are assigned (NIH has requirements
for inclusion of women, minorities, and children in clinical research and strict criteria for research
involving human subjects and animals).
Recommended budget changes are discussed.
After each meeting, the SRA documents the results in a summary statement, which is forwarded to
both the I/C and the principal investigator.
Summary statements may vary somewhat depending on the SRA,
but all of them contain
Overall résumé and summary of review discussion (for applications that were discussed and scored)
Essentially unedited critiques by the assigned reviewers
Priority score and percentile ranking
Budget recommendations
Administrative notes (e.g., comments on human subjects or animal welfare)
For more information about what happens in a study section, see the CSR Web site
( Also, professional societies, such as the American Society for Cell
Biology, often conduct mock study sections at their meetings using already-funded applications.
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Poor priority scores. Applications can receive poor priority scores for any number
of reasons, including the following:
Lack of original ideas
Lack of experience in the essential methodology
Absence of an acceptable scientific rationale
Questionable reasoning in experimental approach
Diffuse, superficial, or unfocused research plan
Lack of sufficient experimental detail
Lack of knowledge of published relevant work
Unrealistically large amount of work for the given time frame or funding level
Uncertainty about future directions
Question: What should I do if an SRA asks me to
be a reviewer for a study section?
Answer: Views differ on this question. Service on a
study section can provide valuable insights for grant
writing and open professional doors in other ways.
However, many senior scientists counsel that junior
faculty should wait until they have obtained tenure
before accepting an invitation to be appointed to a
term on a study section, because they should be
devoting their energies to their research, which is
the primary basis for the tenure decision. However,
agreeing to serve as a temporary member might be
appropriate at this stage in your career.
Streamlining and deferrals. A study section
gives a score to only about half the applications assigned to it every review cycle.
Through a process called “streamlining,”
applications that are deemed by reviewers to
be in the lower half of those assigned for
review are read by the assigned reviewers and
receive written critiques, but they are not
scored or discussed at the review meeting.
Any member can object to the streamlining
of any application, thereby bringing it to full
discussion at the meeting. Streamlining was
instituted to allow more time for discussion
of applications near the fundable range and
to shorten the meetings. This more efficient
process also helps attract more reviewers.
A study section can also defer an application if, for example, more information is
needed before the reviewers can adequately consider the application. Deferred
applications require a majority vote by the study section and are rated “DF.”
Deferrals are rare.
Second-Level Review:
I/C National Advisory Council or Board
After an R01 application has undergone study section review, it undergoes a secondlevel review by the national advisory council or board of an I/C. The advisory
council is composed of people outside the I/C. Approximately two-thirds are scientific members who are generally established in their fields, such as deans or department chairs. Others are advocates for specific health issues and patient populations,
ethicists, and laypersons. The secretary of Health and Human Services has ultimate
authority to make these appointments.
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The advisory council assesses the quality of the study section’s scientific review,
makes recommendations to I/C staff on funding, and evaluates the application’s
relevance to program priorities. For every scored application, the advisory council
will do one of the following:
Concur with the study section’s action.
Defer the study section’s action for another review, with no changes
allowed (e.g., if the principal investigator has appealed, the council may
recommend a re-review because it considers the first review flawed).
Modify the study section’s action (but it cannot change the priority score).
The I/C director, acting on behalf of the NIH director, takes final action. Awards
are made on the basis of scientific merit, program considerations, and available
funds. The director usually (but not always) follows the advisory council’s recommendations.
Roughly half of the funding I/Cs post their funding plans on their Web sites. The
funding plan is the percentile to which the I/C anticipates being able to fund applications on the basis of its budget, recent funding history, and program priorities. If
that information is posted, you can check the Web site after you receive the summary statement that shows your application’s percentile. Regardless of whether the
I/C to which your application was assigned posts its funding plan, you may want to
ask the I/C program official responsible for the administrative management of
pending applications/revisions and funded grants about the likelihood of your
obtaining funding.
Review and Funding Cycles
The meetings of the national advisory councils form the basis for NIH’s three overlapping review and funding cycles (see figure 9.2). However, NIH is trying to expedite the funding process by making some awards before the council meeting. For
example, a candidate for expedited funding might be an R01 application that has a
high score, is in an area of strong interest, and does not involve human subjects.
Figure 9.2.
timeline for a
new R01
Cycle 1
Cycle 2
Cycle 3
Application Submitted
SRG (Study Section) Review
Advisory Council Review
Earliest Award
Note: This timeline is specific to R01 research grants. Always check with the I/C to verify
due dates for specific types of applications. RFA due dates are stated in the solicitations.
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Depending on the I/C, approximately 30 percent of funds are allocated at each of
the first two meetings; more is spent at the third meeting. Some I/Cs may be a bit
more conservative in funding (e.g., to the 25th percentile) in the first two cycles to
hold funds in reserve in case strong applications are submitted during the final
funding cycle. In addition, every advisory council and I/C staff have “select pay”
for which they can nominate applications that have poorer scores but are of high
interest for funding.
As much as possible, consider the timing of your application in terms of the career
track at your institution. You want to be funded when decisions about tenure are made.
Opportunities for Beginning Investigators
NIH actively seeks to support beginning investigators.When you apply for your first NIH grant, check
the box on the form that signals to reviewers that you’re a new investigator (meaning you haven’t been
principal investigator on an NIH research grant before).The reviewers are often more forgiving of applications from novices.
Other, non-R01 research awards available specifically to beginning investigators include
Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01)
Independent Scientist Award (K02)
Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award (K08)
Small Grant (R03)
Academic Research Enhancement Award (R15)
Exploratory/Developmental Grant (R21)
Career Transition Award (K22)
Many of these programs are announced periodically in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts
( ). Each has its own criteria for eligibility and submission
of applications. Information on these and other NIH extramural funding opportunities can be found at
In addition to NIH, other federal agencies and private sector organizations solicit and fund research
grants, and each has its own application and review system (see “Resources,” page 173).You can send the
same application to multiple funding sources in the public and private sectors, but you must disclose
your multiple applications to each potential funder to avoid “double dipping” when awards are made.
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Getting Started
Successful grant applications begin with a good idea. Figures 9.3 and 9.4 (pages 162
and 163) show the sequence of steps that can carry you from a good idea through
the submission of an application to the final decision about funding.
Once you have a good idea, you can get started in two realms: your own institution
and an appropriate NIH I/C. These activities overlap to some extent, but they are
presented sequentially below.
Seek input at your own institution. An experienced scientific reviewer and NIH
grantee recommends seeking peer review of your research proposal at your own
institution according to a plan devised by Keith Yamamoto, University of
California–San Francisco. The process, which begins at least two months before the
application deadline of your grant, involves the following steps:
1. Choose three senior colleagues as your “grant committee.” Ideally, these would
be successful grantees and would include someone who has experience on a
study section.
2. Discuss research goals, aims, and ideas with the committee (1.5 hours).
Components of the NIH R01
Grant Application
Research Plan: Abstract, Specific Aims,
Background (like a review article), and
Progress Report (preliminary results and
demonstration of relevant expertise)
Research Design and Methods
Resources and Facilities
Budget Justification
Tip: Conclude each section in the research plan
with a few sentences stating what you will learn and
why that information is important—for example,
“These experiments are important because nothing
is known about X, and they will enable us to distinguish between two controversial models that are
widely discussed in the field.”
For information about how to prepare a grant application form, visit
3. Draft one page listing three to five specific
aims, and explain why each aim is important.
4. Discuss your aims and rationales with the
committee (1.5 hours).
5. Refine your aims according to committee
6. Draft the abstract and the research design
and methods sections. Then draft the
progress report and the background and
significance sections. (See box
“Components of the NIH R01 Grant
Application” and “Preparing Your
Application,” page 166.)
7. Read “Criteria for Rating of NIH Grant
Applications” (page 167), and revise your
drafts as appropriate.
8. Seek feedback on the drafts from your
In addition to seeking advice from other scientists, seek administrative advice from
appropriate review bodies, such as your local
Institutional Review Board and Institutional
Animal Care and Use Committee.
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Figure 9.3.
From concept
to submission
In the beginning:
The good idea
Seek input at your own
Find a home for your
research; investigate
suitable I/Cs
Write an abstract (clear
language suitable for
educated layperson)
Contact the program
officer at the target I/C(s)
If encouraged, send
abstract to program officer;
discuss suitable study
Prepare your application;
refer frequently to Criteria
for Rating of NIH Grant
Applications, page 167
In your cover letter,
suggest a study section and
I/C; mention supporting
program officer
I/Cs: NIH Institutes and Centers
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If discouraged, ask about
alternative I/C and
program officer
Chapter 9 Getting Funded
Figure 9.4.
Submit your application on
time; follow instructions
Review confirmation of
notification letter for
accuracy and concerns
Review the summary
If notified that
application is in
funding range, get
approvals if not
obtained before
If revision and resubmission
are recommended, consult
colleagues at your
institution and the program
officer for guidance
Address all
thoroughly and
resubmit your
Learn from the summary
statement and program
officer; write a stronger
application next time
If appropriate,
consult the
program officer
about challenging
a review you
think is flawed
If score, percentile ranking,
and recommendations are
positive, do nothing
(but celebrate)
Receive notice of final
funding decision
Application is funded:
Begin your research
Application isn’t funded: Consult your program
officer for guidance and either revise or apply
what you’ve learned to a new concept
IACUC: Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
Institutional Review Board
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—Suzanne Pfeffer, Stanford University School of
Your NIH R01 history is a form of peer review at the national
level and is weighed heavily in decisions about promotion
and tenure.
Reviewers will look for your track record in the field, so, if necessary, create one
by conducting some preliminary work and presenting the results in your grant
Find a home for your application at NIH. In many cases the appropriate I/C
and program officer for your research might be your mentor’s. On the other hand,
it may take legwork to find the I/C most likely to be interested in your idea. An
experienced NIH program officer suggests that beginning scientists should
Check the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts
( ) for relevant and recent PAs
and RFAs.
Check the NIH CRISP (Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific
Projects) database ( ) for projects like yours that have
been funded. The two letters in the grant number tell you which I/C funded the project.
Conduct a literature search to see what has already been done in your area.
(This can help you address the innovation aspect of evaluation criteria and,
if appropriate, revise your study design or methods accordingly.)
Once you’ve narrowed the list of potential I/Cs, go to the Web site of each I/C to
learn what areas they are currently interested in and are funding. (The NIH Web
site lists all its I/Cs and offices at ) I/C Web sites commonly
describe scientific areas of interest as well as identify the staff members who are
responsible for each program area and maintain a portfolio of grants in that area.
The I/C program officer is the best person to help you decide what type of grant
to apply for and which study section may be most appropriate. The program officer whose area of responsibility is most appropriate to your research also can be
your best advocate and adviser at NIH throughout the application process. The
program officer will not evaluate the quality of the research idea or the science.
That job is left to your institutional colleagues and the study section.
Before you call this key person, be sure to have an abstract of your research project
ready (see box “Tips on Writing an Abstract” on page 165). The program officer
will probably ask for a copy; if not, you can offer to send one.
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Review by more than one I/C. Remember, you can ask for assignment to a second I/C if you’ve had encouragement from another program officer or think that
your application fits within another I/C’s scientific areas of interest. Your application can be funded by only one I/C, but more than one advisory council can
review it to broaden your chance of funding.
In such cases, the application will be assigned
Tips on Writing an Abstract
a primary and a secondary I/C. The secondary I/C can consider it for funding only if
The abstract should convey the big picture—the
the primary I/C opts to relinquish first right
general hypothesis and aims, the methodological
of funding.
approach, and the significance of the research. It
should also include key words, which the referral
officer at NIH will use to assign your application to
the right study section, whether or not you request
a particular review group.Try to avoid technical jargon, and write the abstract in language an educated
layperson can understand.
Despite your homework on finding the
appropriate I/C, the first program officer you
contact may not consider your proposal
appropriate for funding by that I/C. In such
cases, the program officer will likely suggest a
more suitable I/C and program officer.
Getting Assigned to the Right Study Section
The most important thing you can do to bolster your chance of funding is to have
your application assigned to the right study section. Read the study section descriptions and rosters before finishing and submitting your application. Remember that
key words in the title, the abstract, and the specific aims will be used to direct your
application to a suitable study section.
If you submit a cover letter, it should contain an informed request for assignment
to a specific study section and a brief explanation of why you think it’s best suited
for your application as you have determined through your own research and your
discussion with the program officer. Include the name of the program officer who
supports this request. CSR staff members will consider your suggestion for a study
section; if your suggestion is logical, it is likely they will honor it. You can also recommend the type of expertise needed to evaluate your application, but you should
not provide specific names of potential reviewers.
After you have been notified about the study section to which your application has
been assigned, check the roster to make sure the expertise you consider essential to
a fair and thorough evaluation of your application is still represented. If someone
who you regard as an important interpreter of your research plan has dropped off
the roster, you can request that expertise be added. These requests are generally
taken seriously and responded to, and appropriate expertise is provided onsite or
through an outside review by phone or mail. Similarly, if someone has joined the
study section and you think for some reason that this person will not provide a fair
review, you can request that this person not review your grant. Be aware, however,
that during the study section meeting, the person you are excluding will be
informed that you made this request.
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Preparing Your Application
First, be sure you’re using the most current application form. (The Web site has the most current version of the PHS 398
Grant Application Kit.) Second, follow a simple mantra: Start early, write, read, rest,
re-read, revise.
In your application, you should address the following questions, keeping in mind
the information given under “Criteria for Rating of NIH Grant Applications,”
page 167):
What do you want to do?
Why do you think you can do it?
Why is it important?
Has this area been studied before (and if so, what has been done)?
What approaches will you use, and why?
Why do you think it’s feasible?
What will you do if your initial approach doesn’t work as planned?
What resources and expertise are available to you from your institution?
You should keep the following suggestions in mind as you prepare your application:
Read and follow instructions, paying close attention to budget requirements
and eligibility criteria (see “A Bit About Budgets,” page 168).
Prepare your application with care, and use spell check. No matter how
strong the science, typos and grammatical errors leave a poor impression.
Don’t try to evade the page limit by using small type or narrow margins.
You could delay your application if you disregard NIH’s formatting
requirements. Don’t feel you must write up to the full page limit; you get
points for strength, not length.
Quantify whenever possible.
Edit. Try to keep your specific aims to two or three sentences each.
Remember that reviewers have dozens of applications to evaluate.
Use language and formatting to create signposts for overworked reviewers,
for example:
The long-term objectives of this project are…
The general strategy of the proposed research is to…
The specific aims of the present study are to…
Four goals are envisioned: …
In these experiments, molecular genetic, biochemical, and structural
approaches will be used to…
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Reviewers Focus on the Four Cs
Clarity. Cross-reference current literature in laying
out your premises.
Content. Organize your ideas around associated
aims linked to your central hypothesis. (The mission
statement of each I/C sets forth its areas of emphasis.)
Coherence of concepts. Present a coherent set
of ideas predicated on previous work.
Cutting edge. Be ready to take legitimate risks,
preferably based on preliminary data, to move the
science forward. NIH rates grant applications on
innovation (see “Criteria for Rating of NIH Grant
Applications” on this page).
Don’t put anything that is critical for
reviewers to read, such as key graphics,
in an appendix because reviewers are
not required to read appendixes.
Include clear tables, figures, and diagrams (along with legends) in the text.
Conduct a thorough literature search
and cite all relevant literature (omissions
here are often a source of criticism). Be
sure to discuss your work in the context
of these published results.
Provide preliminary data whenever
they exist.
Preliminary data. NIH understands that
beginning investigators may not have much
opportunity to acquire preliminary data. The
NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts
( )
often announces programs (e.g., R03 and R21) that are specifically designed to
allow new investigators to obtain preliminary data.
Criteria for rating of NIH grant applications. Here are some questions that
reviewers will ask about your proposal:
Significance: Does it address an important problem? Will it advance scientific
knowledge? Will it affect concepts or methods in this field?
Approach: Are the experimental design and methods appropriate to the
aims? Does it acknowledge problem areas and consider alternative tactics
(in other words, is there a thoughtful backup plan)?
Innovation: Does it employ novel concepts, approaches, or methods? Does it
challenge existing paradigms or develop new methodologies?
Question: How do I distinguish myself from my
mentor if I want to continue in the same research
Answer: Get a letter from your mentor explaining
that he or she is pleased to know that you will be
continuing to work on project X, which he or she
will not pursue. Have this discussion with your mentor before you start to write the grant application.
Investigator: Is the investigator appropriately trained to carry out the proposed
work? Is the work appropriate to the
experience of the principal investigator
and collaborators?
Environment: Does the institutional environment contribute to the probability of
success? Is there evidence of institutional support?
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Remember, every yes answer strengthens your application. Every no answer represents an area of potential vulnerability during scientific review. For a detailed
description of these criteria, see the PHS 398 application instructions at In addition, guidelines for reviewers for
grants from new investigators can be found at
This section does not discuss how to draw up a budget for your grant application. Most
institutions have a central grants office with experienced staff who can devise budgets
suitable to the scope of the research proposed and in keeping with your institution’s policies. Take advantage of that expertise.
However, this section does provide an overview of six budget-related topics. The first,
direct costs versus indirect costs, can be the source of misunderstanding between faculty
and administration at academic institutions. The next, modular grants, concerns the initial
budget request that is now part of many NIH grant applications. Budget justification,
administrative budget supplement, and competing budget supplement are relevant to later
requests to supplement the initial award amount. The last topic concerns equipment costs.
Direct Costs Versus Indirect Costs
Direct costs comprise those expenses that are directly related to conducting a research
project. They include salaries, employee benefits, equipment and scientific instruments,
consumable supplies such as printer paper and pipettes, reagents, laboratory computers,
and postage. Indirect costs (informally termed “overhead”) comprise the expenses that
are paid to your institution by the funding organization to support your research but that
can’t easily be charged directly to a specific grant. These include administration, utilities,
computer infrastructure, building maintenance, security, and custodial services. These
costs can be from 10 percent to 80 percent of the total direct costs of a research grant.
Generally, an institution’s administrators negotiate indirect costs, on behalf of the investigator, with the funding organizations (such as NIH or the National Science Foundation)
that allow these costs. The organization then provides funds for indirect costs to the institution, along with funds to cover direct costs charged to the research grants. In general,
beginning investigators need not be concerned about indirect costs. However, you should
be aware that a significant part of the budget for a large funding agency may include indirect costs; the more paid to institutions for indirect costs, the less available for direct costs
for investigators and their research projects.
Modular Grants
To simplify the budgeting process, research budgets are now requested in units, or “modules,” of $25,000. This applies to all investigator-initiated grants (R01, R03, R15, and R21)
with direct costs of up to $250,000 per year over the period of the award. All salary,
fringe benefits, and inflation increases must be built into the modular framework. The
number of modules can differ from year to year. For example, acquisition of equipment
can make first-year costs higher than those for subsequent years. Request what you need,
but be sure to justify that amount. Budget cuts are also modular. R01s over $250,000 per
year and P01 grants are nonmodular.
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Budget Justification
The budget justification is a categorical description of the proposed costs.
Generally, it explains staffing and supply/service consumption patterns, the methods used to estimate/calculate these items, and other details such as lists of items
that make up the total costs for a category. The budget justification should address
each of the major cost categories, such as
Number of positions and level of expertise for each position
Percent effort for each position
What will each member of the proposed research team be doing?
Why do you need this piece of equipment?
What equipment did you use to get preliminary data?
Why is the above equipment not sufficient to support R01-level effort?
(Cost sharing for new equipment is advisable.)
Explain large expenses
Describe proposed meetings, travelers, and estimated cost/trip
Justify any foreign travel
Detailed description of animal per diem costs
Categorize other expenses
Administrative Budget Supplement
This budget request covers unforeseen expenses that arise, generally because initial budget
assumptions have changed. Examples are increases in the cost of isotopes or animal care.
Administrative supplements are also offered occasionally for special purposes. For example,
you may be able to get an administrative supplement to pay for a minority student to work
in your lab. These requests are submitted to the I/C program staff rather than to the CSR
for peer review. If you have questions about the appropriateness of this type of request, ask
your program officer.
Competing Budget Supplement
Competing continuation applications are designed for the principal investigator
who wants to modify the scope of approved work (e.g., by adding an aim or following an exciting lead). These requests are subject to the competitive peer-review
process, usually through the same study section that reviewed the initial application.
If you’re considering this mechanism, ask your program officer about the feasibility
of getting those funds from the sponsoring I/C.
More advice on laboratory budgets can be found in the resources listed at the end
of this chapter.
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Equipment: What You Should Know
When planning to buy equipment, keep in mind the following:
Cost sharing has many benefits. Consider arranging for your department or
institution to share equipment costs.
If you need new equipment to pursue your research, ask for it on your
renewal application. Never request major equipment funds in the last year
of the grant.
Office of Extramural Research
Salary Cap Summary
October 1, 2004, through December 31, 2004:
January 1, 2005, through December 31, 2005:
January 1, 2006, through December 31, 2006:
Your institution owns equipment funded
by your grant only after the award
period ends. If you’re the principal
investigator and you relocate, the equipment generally goes with you.
If you’re in doubt about anything
related to equipment, ask a grants management specialist at your institution.
You may find help with equipment costs
through the Shared Instrumentation Grant
Program (S10) or the Small Instrumentation
Grants Program (S15) run by NIH’s National
Center for Research Resources. For more
information about these programs, visit
Follow instructions for mailing. Applications must be received by or mailed on or
before the published receipt date. It’s appropriate to send a courtesy copy of your
application to the I/C’s program officer.
Confirmation Letter
NIH will send you a confirmation of receipt, which is also called an assignment
notification letter. Review it carefully to make sure all information is correct and
you have no concerns (e.g., about assignment to a study section other than the one
you requested). The letter will include the following items:
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An application number with codes for the type of grant (such as R01), the
assigned I/C, and an identifying application ID number. The two letters in
the ID number denote the primary I/C to which the application has been
The assigned SRG (or study section)
The name of the SRA and contact information
The letter will also outline the expected timetable for review and funding decisions
and explain who to contact if you have questions.
Chapter 9 Getting Funded
New Data
If new data become available after you have submitted the application, contact the
SRA of your assigned study section. You may be allowed to submit this additional
information. The SRA can tell you how much to send, what format to use, and
when and where to send it.
Interpreting the Summary Statement
After the study section meeting, the SRA will draft a summary statement (see
“Behind Closed Doors: Demystifying the Study Section,” page 157). Usually, the
summary statement is straightforward and will tell you whether your grant is likely
to get funded or not, but in some cases, you may need help interpreting it. For
example, if your summary statement recommends revision and resubmission, do
the reviewers really want to see it again? Or have they politely refrained from stating plainly that they consider your hypothesis untenable, your expectations excessive, or your approach extremely flawed?
The program officer, who usually attends the study section meetings or enlists a
colleague to do so, can help you interpret the results of the scientific review. If the
program officer wasn’t present, he or she can call the SRA for guidance. Your institutional mentor or grant committee can also help you evaluate the summary statement. After the national advisory council meeting, you can discuss the potential for
funding or revisions with the program officer.
Occasionally, mistakes are made during the review process. If you believe that the
reviewers criticized you for information that they overlooked in your application or
think the review was flawed for other reasons, consult the program officer about
the possibility of appealing the study section’s decision. Although this action is
sometimes appropriate, it’s usually better to address review comments and resubmit
your application. Follow the program officer’s guidance on this matter.
If the reviewers thought your starting hypothesis was seriously flawed, don’t waste
your time revising and resubmitting the application. Instead, learn as much as you
can from the summary statement and discussion with the program officer and your
colleagues, reconsider your project and approach, and write a stronger application
the next time.
Resubmitting Your Application
If your application is not immediately funded, remember that with an NIH funding
average of 20 to 25 percent, many applications aren’t funded the first time. If the
program officer thinks it’s worthwhile for you to revise the application, keep the
following points in mind:
Reviewers of amended applications get to see the summary statement from
the previous reviews.
Always treat review comments respectfully.
Respond to all suggestions and comments, even if you don’t agree with them.
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Be explicit about changes: Mark each section of the revised application
where you have addressed reviewer critiques.
Provide any additional data that are now available and update your publication list, if necessary.
Resubmit the revised application by the due date. Your revised application
now begins its journey through the review process all over again, along
with the next batch of new submissions from other applicants.
Although your first instinct may be to request that your revised application be
assigned to a different study section, you would need a compelling scientific reason
for that request to be honored. Further, there’s always the possibility that a different study section might find additional reasons to criticize your application.
A revised application supersedes the previous version, erasing the earlier score and
pushing you back farther in line in the funding decision-making process. However,
as the funding cycles progress and I/C staff have a clearer idea of what remains in
their award budget for that fiscal year, they can reactivate the previous version if
they find that the score on your initial application looks promising for funding (see
“Review and Funding Cycles,” page 159). If you submit a revised application and
the program officer later tells you to withdraw it because your funding chances now
look good, do so.
How many times can, or should, you revise and resubmit the same application?
NIH policy is that after a second revision, you must reconsider your project and
approach and submit a new application.
he National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency with an
annual budget of about $5.5 billion. It is the funding source for approximately 20
percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and
universities. It provides funding only for nonmedical biological research: According
to NSF, “…Research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology,
diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in
human beings or animals, is normally not supported. Animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also are not eligible for support.” Complete information may be found at Information on funding opportunities in biology may be found
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Example of a Funded R01
Annotated R01 grant application (NIAID),
NIH I/Cs and Offices
General information,
NIH Peer Review: Process, Forms, Guidelines
CRISP, a searchable database of federally funded biomedical research projects conducted at universities, hospitals, and other research institutions,
Overview of peer-review process,
Study section rosters,
Grant application forms,
Preparation instructions,
Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare,
NIH Funding Opportunities
Grants and funding opportunities,
Guide to grants and contracts,
Grants site map, with links to other relevant sites,
Office of Extramural Research,
Other Sources of Funding Information
FedBizOpps, an evolving database of all federal government granting programs of
more than $25,000,
GrantsNet, maintained by the American Association for the Advancement of
Laboratory Budgets
Brown, Megan T. “Preparing and Managing Your First Lab Budget: Finance 101
for New Investigators.” (October 22, 1999),
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Harmening, Denise M. Laboratory Management: Principles and Processes. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
McClure, Michael. “From Science Fair to Science Fare, Part 2: Establishing a
Revenue Stream.” (February 28, 2003),
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Chapter 10
Your scientific success hinges on your ability to produce a body of publications
that your colleagues will notice and respect and that granting agencies and your
tenure committee will accept as proof of your research accomplishments. You are
also, to some extent, responsible for the publication success of your postdocs and
graduate students. After several years of graduate school and postdoctoral research,
you should be familiar with writing scientific papers and the peer-review process
for scientific publishing. This chapter provides some tips on planning for publication and some tricks of the trade to help you get your work published. It also
offers some pointers for increasing your visibility in the scientific community.
T his section reviews some of the basics of the publishing process.
Types of Journals
Within the broad category of peer-reviewed journals, individual journals vary in the
audience they try to reach and in the scope of coverage they provide. For example,
some journals—typically the top-tier journals—focus on a broad scientific audience.
Others are deliberately narrower in scope, publishing research within a scientific
specialty. In addition, a hierarchy exists within the world of scientific publishing.
Some journals are more prestigious than others are, a situation that is dictated in
part by each journal’s impact factor—a measure of how frequently papers published in
that journal are cited in other papers (see box “A Word About Impact Factors,”
page 176). The more prestigious the journal, the more competitive its publication
process is.
Communication Formats
In scientific journals, primary research holds center stage, although significant space is
often allocated to reviews and commentaries. Depending on how complete the study
is, original research can be published in a variety of formats, including full-length articles, brief communications, technical comments, or even letters to the editor.
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As a beginning investigator, you will need to concentrate on getting your research
published as peer-reviewed, full-length articles. These are by far the priority of both
tenure committees and the study sections of granting agencies. Technical comments and letters to the editor count for very little in most fields.
A well-written and useful review may be worth the investment of your time, particularly if you’ve been writing grants and have collected all the literature anyway;
however, a review does not carry the weight of original research. Good reviews
tend to get cited frequently by other scientists, which would increase your citation
index (a measure of how many researchers cite your work); this sometimes makes a
difference with tenure committees. However, reviews are extremely labor-intensive.
To do them well, you need the breadth and depth of knowledge that generally
come only with long experience and in knowing a lot of scientists working in a
field who will share unpublished data with you. Writing a review that reveals your
lack of expertise could be embarrassing, so be careful.
As your career progresses, you may want to consider other opportunities to express
your views—in letters, comments, and discussions of scientific trends. Most readers
peruse this “front matter,” and contributing to it gives you quick and wide visibility. In
the top-tier journals, however, front matter tends to be commissioned by the editors.
The Editors
Some journal editors are professional editors who trained as scientists but no
longer work in a lab. Others are working scientists who have their own research
programs but also serve for a period of time as editors. Journals such as Cell,
Science, Nature, and PLoS Biology are staffed by professional editors. When talking to
a professional editor about your work, be sure to take the time to highlight the general interest of your paper and explain the nuances of the science. An editor who is
also a working scientist is more likely to already know these things.
A Word About Impact Factors
One of several types of data published by Thompson Scientific, the impact factor, is a measure of how
frequently the “average article” in a given journal has been cited in a particular year or other time
period.The impact factor, which is updated annually, is calculated by dividing the number of current-year
citations by the number of citable items published in that journal during the previous two years.
Although the impact factor is often used to provide a gross approximation of the prestige of a journal,
many other factors can influence a journal’s impact and ranking. For example, review articles are
generally cited more frequently than research articles are, because the former often serve as surrogates
for earlier literature, especially in journals that discourage extensive bibliographies.The inclusion of
review articles in a journal will, therefore, increase its impact factor.
Other methods for measuring citations include Google Scholar and CrossRef.The United Kingdom
Serials Group is promoting the “usage factor” ( ) and Google has developed the
“Y factor” ( ).
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B ecause publishing original research papers is critical to your career, this section
focuses on submitting and publishing these types of papers.
Knowing When to Publish Your Research
Your tenure committee will want to see that you have published at least one paper a
year in a highly ranked journal in your field as a senior author. (Some departments
and institutions may expect several papers per year; make sure you discuss these
expectations with your mentor.) If you have one or more postdocs who want to
pursue research careers, each of them is under similar pressure to publish. To
obtain a faculty position, it is usually necessary that a candidate be first author on
two or more papers, at least one of which is a high-impact paper.
Research projects have a natural point where it makes sense to publish (see box
“Creating an Integrated Research and Publication Plan,” page 178). However, you
may want to write up your results before you reach this point. If there is competition in your field and you wait to publish, you run the risk of being “scooped”; in
this case, you would have to publish your research in a journal that is not as prestigious as the one you had initially envisioned. Also, if you wait to obtain complete
results, you may not be able to publish the one paper a year required for tenure.
In deciding when to publish, you will have to balance several considerations, but try
to resist the temptation to rush into print, if you have a choice. Remember, the
quality of your publications is what matters most in the long run. A paper that is
incomplete or carelessly put together is less likely to be accepted for publication
and will be an inefficient use of your time. Even worse, incorrect results will damage your reputation.
Writing up an incomplete or flawed story is not time-effective,
since writing a good or bad paper generally takes the same
amount of time.
—Tom Misteli, National Cancer Institute
Choosing a Journal
Because most papers today have several authors, the choice of where to publish
often involves considerable negotiations. All authors typically want to publish in the
most prestigious journal that is likely to accept their paper, but views on which
journal is best will differ. Negotiations will also depend on who is involved. As the
principal investigator, you will want to take into consideration the suggestions of
students and postdocs in your lab; however, you will generally make the final decision. Decisions about where to publish may become more complex when two or
more principal investigators have coauthored a paper that involves extensive interlaboratory collaboration.
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Here are some questions that can help guide your decision:
Are my results sufficiently groundbreaking, and do they have enough general appeal, to be considered by one of the top-tier scientific journals? Do I
have a larger story that makes my results really exciting?
Even if my results are not earth-shattering, have I taken an interdisciplinary
approach, making the findings interesting to scientists in several fields and
therefore appropriate for a general journal?
If my results are primarily of interest to my particular scientific specialty,
which journals reach the members of that specialty? Within this group,
which journal or journals have included articles on my particular subject
area in the past couple of years?
Would any journals be particularly interested in my subject because it fits
into a theme they have been pursuing? Some journals, and some editors,
pursue their own special interests over time.
The top-tier journals receive far more submissions than they can publish. For
example, Nature rejects about 95 percent of the biomedical papers it receives. Be
realistic about your chances. You will lose precious time by submitting your paper
to the wrong journal.
It helps to ask trusted colleagues where they think your paper should appear. If
they are frequent reviewers for several journals in your field, they will have a good
idea of what the standards are for each journal.
Creating an Integrated Research and Publication Plan
There is a balance to be struck between trying to produce a “dream paper,” which may never get done,
and sending out a set of fragmentary observations. One way to find this balance is to integrate your
plans for publication into your research plans. In her book At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator, Kathy
Barker suggests strategies for doing this. As you decide on the long-term goals of your research and on
the series of experiments or calculations you want to undertake, Barker suggests that you envision these
experiments or calculations as components of a published manuscript or series of manuscripts.Think
graphically; imagine how each set of results will be displayed in a figure, graph, or table. Put your ideas in
writing at the outset, sketching out the hypotheses you want to pursue, the methods you intend to use,
and the results you hope to get. By integrating research planning, the development of displays of your
data, and interpretive writing, you force yourself to focus your energy and you move your project forward.The questions you generate as you analyze and write up the results of each experiment should suggest additional clarifying experiments, which you should also express graphically. As you write, you will
uncover gaps in information and shaky conclusions. Eventually, you should be able to decide that you have
a set of results that warrants publication.
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Making Your Pitch
To make sure you write your paper for the right journal, you may want to submit
an initial query to your target journal to gauge its interest in your work. Most journals have guidelines for submitting so-called presubmission inquiries; check journal
Web sites for this information. If the journal does not provide guidelines, send an
e-mail to one of the editors. (Try to find out the name of the editor who handles
papers in your area.)
A presubmission inquiry usually includes the following:
An abstract stating the purpose of the project, methods, and main findings
and conclusions. This abstract can be slightly longer than the abstract of a
typical research paper and may include citations of relevant journal literature. Make sure that the abstract is clear to nonspecialists and that they will
be able to understand what the scientific advance is.
A cover letter briefly describing what questions led you to your research
project, what you did, why you think your findings or methodology is significant, how your findings advance the field, and why they are of special
interest to that journal’s readers. Limit the cover letter to no more than
500 words.
Presubmission inquiries are typically considered within a few days; when that time
has elapsed, follow up with a telephone call or e-mail. If you contact an editor by
phone, use the opportunity to make your pitch. Be sure to allude to the larger context of your research—the big picture that makes your particular effort meaningful.
You can expect a reply of either “we’re not interested” or “send the full manuscript.” A positive response to a presubmission inquiry is not a guarantee that the
manuscript will be sent out for formal peer review. The editor will want to see the
actual paper before making that decision.
Writing Your Paper
Once you have decided where you want to submit your manuscript, review the
journal’s editorial guidelines (available from the journal’s Web site or directly from
the editor) and follow them carefully.
The main consideration when writing a paper is to clearly describe your most
important findings and their impact in your field. Don’t let your manuscript look
like a compilation of lab data; make sure the reader can understand how you have
advanced the field of research. But don’t overdo it—claiming that your work is
more important than it really is earns little more than contempt from reviewers.
Assign the task of writing the first draft of the paper to the student or postdoc
who will be first author. Encourage that person to prepare the figures, tables, and
legends first, because a scientific paper is best written with the final form of the
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data in front of the writer. Then work with the author to get the paper into shape.
Although this may not be the most efficient way to write a paper, it is important
for people in your lab to get experience and feedback on writing papers.
Once you have a good draft, send it to colleagues in your field and in your department for review. Have it proofread by someone in your lab with access to your data
and the documents you have cited. The last thing you want to do is to appear careless; doing so will raise suspicions about the quality of all your work. It is also a
good idea to give the paper to someone outside your field to see whether they
understand its importance.
Three particularly difficult parts to write are the title, abstract, and cover letter.
Title and abstract. Create these two elements after the manuscript is complete.
The title should summarize the take-home message of your paper. The abstract
should briefly summarize the paper and should stand on its own. Describe the
experimental question, the methods, the main results, and the conclusion. Unless
the main point of the paper is a new technique, methods should be limited to a
sentence or a few words. Keep in mind that the abstract will announce the existence of your work to people who may not have time to read your paper. If the
abstract attracts their attention, they could be induced to read your article, rather
than passing on to the next abstract. Also note that your title and abstract will be
used as the basic tools for the retrieval of your paper from electronic and paper
Cover letter. The cover letter should explain why the paper is significant and why
you think it is appropriate for the journal to which you are submitting it. The letter
should cite a major question in your field and describe how your work helps answer
it. You may want to cite other papers the journal has published in this field or provide other reasons why the journal’s readership would find your work of interest.
The letter of introduction is the place to mention whether there is competition in
the field that could lead to your being “scooped,” as well as to include a list of colleagues who have reviewed the paper and any information necessary to ensure a
fair review process. Most journals will give you an opportunity to suggest people
who are qualified to comment on your work and to exclude one or two particular
individuals who may be competitors and should not be reading about your work
before it is published. Be sure to take this opportunity.
Many books and articles that explain how to write scientific papers are available
in print and online. (Some of these are listed under “Resources” at the end of
this chapter.)
Submitting Your Paper
Most major journals require that manuscripts are submitted electronically through
the journal’s Web site. Each journal has its own requirements, such as preferred file
formats for text and figures and the procedures for uploading files. Consult the
journal’s Web site for specific instructions and be sure to follow them.
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Regardless of whether they receive a paper manuscript or an electronic version,
most journal editors will let you know that they have received your manuscript and
how long you can expect the review process to be.
Submitting Image Files
Today, most images are obtained digitally and programs like Adobe Photoshop make it very simple to
modify their quality. But sometimes by adjusting an image you can make inappropriate changes to your
data, which could be classified as scientific misconduct. Since 2002, the Journal of Cell Biology has been
doing simple, routine checks of every image of all accepted manuscripts to look for signs of manipulation.
This step has in some cases caused editors to withdraw the acceptance of a paper and in a few cases to
notify relevant institutions. Other prominent journals may take similar steps.
Here is what the Journal of Cell Biology says constitutes inappropriate manipulation of images:
“No specific feature within an image may be enhanced, obscured, moved, removed, or introduced.The
grouping of images from different parts of the same gel, or from different gels, fields, or exposures must
be made explicit by the arrangement of the figure (e.g., using dividing lines) and in the text of the figure
legend. Adjustments of brightness, contrast, or color balance are acceptable if they are applied to the
whole image and as long as they do not obscure or eliminate any information present in the original.
Nonlinear adjustments (e.g., changes to gamma settings) must be disclosed in the figure legend.”
For more information, see Rossner, M., and K. M.Yamada “What’s in a Picture? The Temptation of Image
Manipulation.” J. Cell Biol. 166:11–15, 2004.
Navigating the Review Process
The reviewers of your paper will be chosen by the journal’s editor, who will take
into account any names you have suggested, his or her own knowledge of the field,
and a literature search.
Receiving the reviewers’ comments. A paper is rarely accepted after the first
round of review. When you receive the editorial decision and the reviewers’ comments, you will have to decide how to proceed. Sometimes the editors will indicate
they would like to publish your work, provided that you make a few minor revisions or do a few additional experiments. In other cases, the editors will say that the
work is potentially interesting but too preliminary or that it has significant flaws
that preclude its publication. Another possibility is that the reviewers will advise the
editors not to publish the work even if it is revised, because it is either not sufficiently novel or it does not fit the scope of the journal. Most editors are happy to
talk to you by telephone to help you assess whether you should revise and resubmit
your paper or try another journal. In any event, it is important to remain unemotional during such conversations.
Responding to reviews. Do not react defensively. Focus instead on the substance
of each editorial comment. Value good advice wherever you find it. Read the
reviews carefully and communicate your responses in writing to the editor. It is a
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good idea not to respond as soon as you hear from the editor. Let a couple of
days go by. A hastily written and emotional response will hurt your chances for
If the reviews include a request for additional information that will require a few
more experiments, carry them out and send your response to the editor. You can
make the process easier by repeating each comment, stating your response, and
indicating explicitly where in your paper you are making a recommended change.
If the main problem is that the manuscript does not convey the importance of the
work, you may want to rewrite it and add more data. You might want to check with
the editor first to make sure this is an appropriate course of action.
In the end, you will have to do a cost-benefit analysis. If you believe that satisfying
all the reviewers’ concerns would bog down your research program in unnecessary
experiments, you may have no choice but to take your paper elsewhere.
If You Are Asked to
Review a Paper
As your relationships with journal editors develop,
you may be asked to review manuscripts submitted
by other scientists.Take the task seriously. Do the
reviews thoroughly and promptly. If you don’t have
time or don’t think you have the right expertise, let
the editors know right away.They will not hold this
against you. A late or weak review, however, could
hurt your reputation with the editors.The benefits
of serving as a reviewer are potentially great. Not
only will you learn about others’ research, you will
improve your own critical skills and confirm your
standing as a knowledgeable scientist in the eyes of
the editors.Your own future papers will be taken
more seriously if you do good reviews.You will be
asked not to reveal the contents of any article
reviewed and be reminded that you should not use
your knowledge of the prepublished results to further your own research.Take this admonition seriously—it is essential that you respect the confidentiality of the review process. If you have a conflict of
interest that precludes you from reviewing an article (e.g., you are directly competing with the author
of the article you are reviewing or the author is one
of your former postdocs), stop reading the paper
and let the editors know immediately.They will not
be pleased if they find out about a conflict of interest after you have reviewed the paper.
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If you think a requested additional experiment is unreasonable, write a rebuttal letter
explaining why the experiment cannot be
done or why it will not help strengthen the
conclusions of your paper. You may discuss
your concerns with the editor, before working on a revised manuscript. For example,
you should ask, “If I do revisions A and B,
but instead of doing experiment C, I do D,
will you still consider a revised manuscript?”
Remember that you are the person best
acquainted with the details of your work and
the limitations of your research tools. If you
think a referee’s comments are completely off
the mark, write a rebuttal letter explaining
your concerns. If all three referees, or even
two out of three, had serious misgivings, it
may be difficult to convince the editor that
the referees missed the point.
Regardless of how you proceed, keep your
emotions in check. You should never demean
the reviewers. The reality is that reviewers,
especially those who manage their own laboratories, sometimes work under unrealistic
time pressures. Occasionally, the reviewer
selected may not have the expertise to judge
a paper competently. Whatever the case, do
not question a reviewer’s expertise. If you
think a reviewer missed an important point,
politely tell your editor, who has the option
of identifying additional reviewers for your
paper if doing so seems warranted.
Chapter 10 Getting Published and Increasing Your Visibility
Submitting your paper to another journal. If you are advised that your paper
isn’t appropriate for the journal to which you have initially submitted it (e.g., it is
not sufficiently novel or does not have the right focus), the best course is usually to
select another journal. In some cases, you may not want to inform editors of the
second journal that the manuscript was submitted elsewhere and rejected—it might
prejudice the process. For example, if your paper was rejected by Nature and you
resubmit it to Science (or vice versa), don’t let the editors of the second journal
know. These journals compete for the best papers and don’t want to publish each
other’s rejections. If, however, your paper was reviewed by Nature or Science and the
reviews were generally positive but the editor did not feel the paper had a sufficiently high impact value for a top-tier journal, you may be able to use the reviewers’ comments as leverage for your next submission to a second-tier journal. Ask
the first journal’s editor to support the resubmission, and tell the second editor that
your paper has already been reviewed. The second review process may be expedited.
Regardless of your course of action, never send a rejected manuscript without
changes to a second journal. If, as is likely, the same reviewers receive it a second
time, they will be annoyed to see that you have completely ignored their comments.
Your patience and persistence have paid off, and your article has been accepted by
a good journal. Now you can use your newly minted publication as a tool in a legitimate effort at self-promotion. You want to become known to your scientific colleagues nationwide. Here are some things you can do:
Announce the publication on your personal Web site and in e-mail correspondence with your friends. Consider making it available in PDF format.
Give a workshop or a brown-bag presentation at your own institution on
the research described in your article and your future research plans. Doing
so is relatively easy and is good practice.
Call your friends at universities around the country and offer to give a talk
on your research at their institutions or at conferences they are organizing.
However, don’t invite yourself to a meeting by writing to the organizers if
you do not know them. You might come across as arrogant and put people
in the awkward position of having to turn you down.
Once you have an invitation, take it seriously. Prepare and rehearse your
Consider going public. Contact your university public relations office for
help in contacting the media. It is in the university’s interest to have the
good work of its scientists publicized.
If your research was supported by an outside funder, let the appropriate
staff at the funding organization know about the publication as soon as
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If a reporter contacts you, make an effort to speak with him or her. Your
university’s public relations office can help you prepare for the interview.
Keep in mind that many reporters are not scientists and you will need to
give them sufficient background for them to understand the importance of
your work. If possible, ask reporters to give you a copy of the story before
it is published so that you can check for accuracy (note, however, that many
reporters work on tight deadlines and will not be able to accommodate the
Getting your work published and promoting your publications are essential, interrelated tasks of scientific communication. So think “big picture” and “long term”
when working on your publications, presentations, and other efforts to bring your
work to the attention of others in your field.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
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I learned early on that if you want to be promoted, you need to
get a national reputation. This means that you have to be invited to give talks at universities around the country and at
national conferences. The people listening to you might be the
ones recommending you for promotion, they might be sitting on
an NIH study section when your grant comes up for review, or
they might be potential collaborators. Or they might be graduate
students who would consider coming to your lab as postdocs. So
how do you get these invitations when you’re just starting out?
Well, you can’t be shy. You have friends all over the country who
are also young faculty and carrying out work that would be of
interest to your department colleagues. Call them up and make
a deal: “I’ll invite you if you’ll invite me.”
Chapter 10 Getting Published and Increasing Your Visibility
Curran-Everett, Douglas. “The Thrill of the Paper, the Agony of the Review: Part
One.” (September 10, 1999),
Curran-Everett, Douglas. “The Thrill of the Paper, the Agony of the Review: Part
Two.” (September 24, 1999),
Davis, Martha. Scientific Papers and Presentations. San Diego, CA: Academic Press,
Day, Robert A. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper. 5th ed. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx
Press, 1998.
Dee, Phil. “Yours Transferably: Your First ‘First-Author’ Paper: Part One—
Writing.” (February 15, 2002),
Dee, Phil. “Yours Transferably: Your First ‘First-Author’ Paper: Part Two—
The Act of Submission and Peering at the Review Process.”
(March 15, 2002),
Matthews, Janice R., John M. Bowen, and Robert W. Matthews. Successful Scientific
Writing: A Step-By-Step Guide for the Biological and Medical Sciences. 2nd ed. Cambridge,
MA: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Wells, W. “Me Write Pretty One Day: How to Write a Good Scientific Paper.” J. Cell
Biol. 165:757–758, 2004.
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Chapter 11
Two decades of explosive growth in biomedical science have quietly revolution-
ized the role of academic investigators in the commercialization of research results.
Patent applications for promising discoveries, once the near-exclusive domain of
industry, are now filed routinely by research universities. Through the process
known as technology transfer, these patents are licensed to companies for development into marketable products or services.
The technology transfer guidelines at your institution will be based, at least in part,
on federal and state laws, regulations, and guidance. This chapter provides an
overview of the technology transfer information most important to academic scientists. The information should be viewed as a supplement to the information in
your institution’s faculty handbook and its intellectual property policies.
The chapter reviews the role of the university’s technology transfer office (TTO)
and covers the ways in which a university’s intellectual property (IP) is protected,
the process for bringing an invention to market, and diverse types of legal agreements. Conflicts of commitment and interest are also discussed.
I n 1980, the U.S. Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act to jump-start the transfer of
inventions from federally funded academic laboratories to the public. As a result,
today most academic research institutions have TTOs that, with the help of the
inventor, evaluate an invention for potential use and marketability and handle the
forms, filings, negotiations, and follow-up of technology transfer. Most universities’
TTOs follow the provisions of the Bayh-Dole Act, regardless of whether the
research is federally funded. This means that if you make a discovery with potential
commercial value, your university will own and control the IP, but you will get a
percentage of any resulting licensing income, including royalties.
Soon after taking your post at your new institution, you should meet with the TTO
staff. They can tell you about what they do and how they can help you.
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It Starts with an Invention
For a scientist, most technology transfer begins with an invention: a new and useful
process, a machine, an article of manufacture, composition of matter, or any
related improvement to these. The invention itself has two steps: conception and
reduction to practice. Reduction to practice is further subclassified into two types:
Constructive reduction to practice involves filing a patent application even
though an invention isn’t yet physically reduced to practice or “made.” The
information in the application should make it possible for a person of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention without undue research
or experimentation.
Actual reduction to practice requires a working model demonstrating that
the invention will work as intended.
Moving from Invention to License
The journey from invention to license can be frustratingly long and very expensive.
The following are typical steps:
Discussion: The inventor informally discusses the invention with the institution’s TTO. These discussions may help the inventor decide whether to
proceed with filing an invention disclosure. In some cases, further work on
the invention may be advisable before proceeding.
Disclosure: The inventor reports the invention to the TTO using the institution’s standard disclosure form.
Evaluation: The TTO assesses the invention for patentability and commercial potential.
Filing and commercialization decisions: The TTO may ask the inventor to do
further work on the invention before proceeding, may file a patent application if the invention has commercial potential and appears to be
patentable, or may decide to market the invention without filing for patent
protection. If the TTO is not excited by commercialization prospects, it
may “waive title,” in which case ownership rights may be released to the
inventor. Some universities waive title only on certain conditions—for
example, an inventor may be asked to reimburse patent costs or pay a percentage of any income from the invention or both.
Marketing: The TTO will contact potential licensees.
Licensing: The TTO will negotiate and manage licenses to companies.
At the end of this process, approximately 30 percent of inventions reported to the
TTO (disclosure) will be licensed.
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Should I File an Invention Disclosure?
Deciding whether to file a disclosure with the TTO to report a discovery made in your lab may not be a
clear-cut matter.You may wish to discuss it with TTO staff before making a decision. Some of the factors
that might encourage you to file include the following:
The invention could lead to a useful diagnostic or pharmaceutical, and patent protection would
be necessary to convince a company to incur the costs of development and clinical trials.
You and your university, department, and colleagues could profit from a patent both financially
and in terms of enhanced reputation.
If you pass on the opportunity to file a disclosure, and go ahead with public disclosure of your
work, it may not be possible to obtain patent protection later on.
Before filing a disclosure, you should also be aware of the following considerations:
Dealing with the TTO, patent attorneys, and eventually, licensees, can be very time-consuming.
Filing for patent protection can delay publication; you will want assurances from the TTO that
the delay will be minimal (often 30–60 days is reasonable).
If you can’t identify a specific use and potential licensees, it may be unrealistic to expect that the
TTO will be able to solve this problem.
Be careful with patents on research tools; you will want your invention to be made broadly
available, not restricted for the use of a few.
his discussion is an overview of some of the common terms and legal agreements used in connection with technology transfer. For more information and
project-specific assistance, consult your institution’s TTO.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants three types of patents:
Utility patents (20 years) may be granted to anyone who invents or
discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture,
composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement to these.
Design patents (14 years) may be granted to anyone who invents a new,
original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
Plant patents (17 years) may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers
and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
Most patents produced by academic researchers fall into the utility category.
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—Martha Connolly, Maryland Technology
Enterprise Institute
Educate yourself about what constitutes public disclosure. Talking
to a grad student doesn’t, a faculty lecture comes close, and a presentation in a public forum may cost you the patent rights.
What does a patent do? A patent gives the owner or an exclusive licensee the
right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented invention for a
specific period that begins with issuance of the patent. The patent provides protection within the country where the patent is granted. For U.S. patent protection, an
application may be filed up to one year after
public disclosure of the invention, but
patent rights outside the United States can’t
be obtained if public disclosure occurs
Question: Are the public disclosure rules the same
before a patent application is filed.
for foreign patent rights?
Answer: No. If your invention is publicly disclosed
before you file a patent application, you lose foreign
rights. If you file a U.S. application before the first
public disclosure, you have one year from that filing
date to file foreign patent applications. A Patent
Cooperation Treaty application preserves the right to
file in selected foreign countries for 18 months after
the one-year period.
Researchers must have a clear understanding
of what constitutes public disclosure. If
something you say or write allows someone
else to practice your invention before a patent
application is filed, you may have created a
bar to filing patents on your invention outside
of the United States. Before discussing your
discovery in any forum that could be considered public, you may wish to consult your
TTO about the proposed disclosure.
What is—and is not—patentable? To be patentable, an invention must be useful,
novel, and “nonobvious” to someone of ordinary skill in the art. If you think you
have a discovery that meets these criteria, the best approach may be to go directly
to your TTO and let the experts take charge from there.
You may want to conduct a “patentability search” of key words at to screen for similar inventions in the files of patent applications. You can do this yourself, without the aid of a patent professional.
Certain forms of unpatented IP may be licensed to companies by the TTO for
commercial use. These kinds of IP include the following:
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Tangible property: This can be licensed for compensation but without patent
protection; others are not precluded from independently developing the
same materials. Examples are cloned DNA, viral vectors, cell lines, seeds,
tissues, and organisms.
Chapter 11 Understanding Technology Transfer
Know-how: This can be licensed in some circumstances, usually nonexclusively in conjunction with a patent license. Examples are techniques, experimental systems, and special knowledge.
Copyrighted works: Although copyright in scholarly works normally rests with
the authors, copyright in other written works may be claimed by the university. Examples are formulas, algorithms, and software, including source
In contrast to industry, universities almost never maintain trade secrets, which are
antithetical to the knowledge-expanding culture of an educational institution.
Who Owns Inventions at a
As a condition of employment, U.S. universities
require faculty and staff to assign invention rights to
the university. A common key phrase in university IP
policies is “use of university funds or facilities” in
conception or reduction to practice of inventions
or development of materials, which extends the
institution’s ownership to IP of graduate students
and guest researchers. In other words, the university
owns inventions made by university personnel and
may have rights in inventions made by others using
university funds or resources.
The patent application. When the TTO is
confident that your invention meets the criteria for being patented and has commercial
potential, it’s time to prepare a patent application. Like most legal documents, a patent
application is best prepared by a specialist—a
patent attorney or agent. Universities normally hire patent law firms to prosecute
patent applications.
The patent attorney is likely to need input
both from the inventor(s) and the TTO in
order to prepare a patent application. You can
expect to speak with the patent attorney several times over the course of the patent
process. You will probably also be asked to
review draft documents. The major elements
of a patent application are the abstract, background/introduction, specification
(how to practice), and claims.
In preparing the patent application, the patent attorney will need to make a determination of who should be named as inventors. It is important that this determination be accurate, because a patent may be
invalid if the named inventors are not corQuestion: How much does it cost to get a patent?
rect (either because an individual who did
not make an inventive contribution is named
Answer: Costs vary widely depending on factors
or because an individual who made an
such as the patent attorney’s time spent and hourly
inventive contribution is not named). The
rate, what is being patented, the number of claims in
inventors may differ from the authors of the
the application, the number of (and reasons for)
paper that describes the invention. For
USPTO rejections, and whether foreign filings are
example, a postdoc who joined the project
pursued. Preparation costs can run between $5,000
after the inventive steps had occurred and
and $20,000 and up, and filing fees and possible prosthen provided supporting data might be a
ecution cost between $3,000 and $5,000 and up
but not an inventor. Normally, only
(sometimes much more).The university pays the
the named inventors share royalties under
fees, but in almost all cases, the first income from the
invention is earmarked for reimbursement of these
institutional policies.
costs. Only then does the income-sharing formula for
the inventors kick in.
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What happens to the patent application? From the time the application is filed,
the USPTO usually takes 12 to 18 months to complete its examination and issue an
“Office Action.”
The first Office Action is generally a rejection. The applicant is then required to
narrow patent claims and justify the novelty or nonobviousness of the invention in
the light of prior art identified by the USPTO. Subsequent Office Actions often
result in issuance of a patent, but this process takes an average of about three
An alternative is a provisional patent application, a streamlined version that can be
filed without some of the time-consuming formalities of the standard form. The
USPTO doesn’t examine this type of application, a patent can’t be issued directly
from it, and it expires automatically one year after its filing. During that year, the
university can file a regular patent application. So what’s the point? This option has
at least three benefits:
Temporary filing protection can be secured for your invention for less
money (less time for an attorney and a filing fee of only $100 for a small
entity or a university).
If filed before a public disclosure, a provisional application preserves the
right to file for foreign patent protection.
The one-year term of a provisional application doesn’t count toward the
20-year (or other) patent term.
Many applications filed by universities are provisional, even if the application is
extremely thorough. The reason: This option buys valuable time. The technology is
usually at an early stage of development. A year later, the TTO can file a regular
application that includes not only the invention described in the provisional patent
application but additional results developed in the interim, which may result in
approval of broader claims.
Technology Transfer and Faculty Recruitment
Increasingly,TTO staff are part of the university recruiting team.When faculty candidates compare
employment offers, many often consider the university’s commercialization record and policies regarding
income sharing.
Commercialization record. Licensing and commercialization success can be strong selling points,
along with the TTO’s track record in crafting advantageous terms.
Income sharing. Formulas differ for distributing IP-related royalty and equity income, but a common distribution is 40 percent as taxable income to the inventors (split if there are multiple inventors), 40 percent
to the inventors’ departments for education and research, and 20 percent to the university for management
of the invention and support of technology transfer efforts. However, some universities give the inventors as
much as 50 percent of net licensing income, and others give the inventors as little as 20 percent.
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Despite its conditional nature, a provisional application shouldn’t be a sloppy filing
that the TTO plans to fix during the following year. It should be prepared by a
patent attorney or agent and held to the same standards as the work that led you to
this point. In addition, be aware that in some cases in which a provisional patent is
filed, TTO staff may not yet have done a thorough search for competing or similar
patents. You should find out whether such searches have been conducted and make
sure a patent attorney examines the results.
Licensing Agreements
In technology transfer terms, a license is a legal contract that allows a company to
make, use, and/or sell a university’s invention. Through a licensing agreement,
someone agrees to pay for the use of IP that someone else (in this case, the university) owns—under strictly defined terms and conditions that are specific to each
license—but the university maintains its ownership rights to the IP. In other words,
a license allows people (or entities) to make, use, or sell something they don’t own
without being prosecuted. If special know-how developed by the inventors is
needed to “practice” the invention, it’s often included as part of the licensing
Licenses can be exclusive or nonexclusive. An exclusive license grants the right to
use the invention to only one licensee. Exclusive licenses usually allow the license
holder to sublicense the invention to others for a fee. These sublicenses generate
“pass-through royalties” as an additional source of income to the university. A
license also can be granted exclusively to one licensee for a specific application, or
“field of use,” maintaining the university’s option to issue licenses for other fields
of use.
A nonexclusive license can be granted to multiple companies. The TTO, with the
inventor, will decide whether an invention is best licensed exclusively or nonexclusively. Know-how is usually licensed nonexclusively in order to preserve the inventor’s right to share the know-how with other scientists informally.
Question: Do I have any say in where my invention
is licensed?
Answer: Although your university has ultimate
authority regarding the choice of licensee and the
license terms, you will probably have some control
over where your invention goes. In the licensing
process, a full faculty member’s preferences will likely
carry more weight than a postdoc’s. In some cases, a
company will already have licensing rights because it
provided research funding or materials. If it exercises
those rights, the university may not be able to license
the invention to any other company, regardless of the
university’s or inventor’s preferences.
Your TTO will probably handle licensing
arrangements for your institution, but keep
in mind one point: Many companies often
want all future improvements to an invention to be licensed to them. However, universities generally do not license inventions
or improvements (unless very narrowly
defined) that have not been made. This
policy serves as a protection to you, the
inventor, to keep from encumbering your
future research results. You need to be aware
of the tension between the interests of the
university and the companies to whom
inventions may be licensed.
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Option Agreements
Negotiating the
The TTO has responsibility for protecting
the university’s and the inventor’s interests.
If the inventor insists on unreasonable
terms, some TTOs may be obliged to present them, damaging the negotiating process
and the relationship in which all of you will
be tied. So, try to refrain from inserting
yourself into the negotiating process in this
way. During the negotiation, however, it is
necessary for you to understand what
restrictions an exclusive license may
impose on your ability to share data or
materials with others.
An option agreement is a right to negotiate a
license—a document that says, “I want to and I
hope I can, but I’m not ready yet.” It’s less complex
than a license, relatively easy to negotiate, and may
or may not include the financial terms of the
expected future license.
Because it’s of limited duration (usually 6 to 12
months), an option agreement is a useful mechanism in dealing with start-up companies and their
inherent uncertainties. It gives the hopeful licensee
an opportunity to secure funds and attract other
resources needed for commercial development,
and it gives all parties time to evaluate the technology and what each brings to the table and to
establish trust.
Material Transfer Agreements
Often as a result of a publication or presentation, other researchers may request
materials from your lab—generally a cell line, animal model, research reagent,
genetic construct such as a plasmid or phage, or purified proteins. Some institutions require that a material transfer agreement (MTA) be signed and returned
before material is sent out. Some send the MTA form with the shipment and consider delivery of the material to be implied consent, whether or not a signed MTA
is ever returned. Others may be unconcerned about keeping records for outgoing
material (at least when the recipient is another nonprofit institution).
Almost all MTAs for incoming materials require the signature of an authorized
representative from the university. Even if an institutional signature is not required
by the materials provider, university policy may call for institutional review of the
terms anyway. Check with your university’s TTO about who needs to approve the
terms for and signs MTAs for incoming materials for your lab.
MTAs have distinct uses and caveats according to the entities involved. The following lists address three MTA scenarios: transfer of materials between academic labs,
from academia to industry, and from industry to academia.
MTAs covering transfers between academic labs. These MTAs usually have relatively benign provisions. An exception is when the materials have been exclusively
licensed to a company that successfully negotiated for restrictions on distribution.
Work to avoid this situation because it puts your responsibilities as an author to
share reagents at odds with your contractual responsibilities to a licensee. MTAs
used for transfers to an academic lab typically and reasonably require that recipients
of the materials do the following:
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Use the materials for noncommercial research purposes only.
Acknowledge the providing scientist in publications.
Chapter 11 Understanding Technology Transfer
Not send materials to third parties without the provider’s consent.
Not use the materials in human subjects.
Assume responsibility for damages caused by use of the materials by the
MTAs used for transfers from academia to industry. These MTAs usually do
not permit use of the materials commercially (e.g., for sale or to make a commercial product) or in human subjects but allow use for defined internal research purposes. They may also require that recipients do the following:
Share manuscripts before publication, in addition to providing proper
acknowledgment in publications.
Indemnify the provider for damages caused by use of the materials by the
Not send the materials to third parties.
Pay a fee.
MTAs used for transfers from industry to academia. These MTAs tend to be
the most restrictive and difficult to negotiate. They may include the following
Ownership: Beware if the definition of materials specifies that the company
will own all derivatives and modifications made by the recipient or if the
MTA requires assignment of inventions to the company or provides the
company with an automatic nonexclusive license to all inventions. Many
institutions try to avoid granting broad “reach-through” rights in new materials or inventions developed by their faculty.
Publications: Beware if the MTA reserves to the company the right to
approve or deny publications. More reasonably, the company may require
review of manuscripts 60 days or more before submission for publication,
and delay of publications for 60 days or more after manuscript submission.
At a minimum, most companies want a 30-day prepublication review to
protect confidentiality and their investment and to consider filing for patent
Reporting: The MTA may require extensive reporting and sharing of data
from the recipient.
The university’s TTO will scrutinize the language of an MTA for incoming materials for restrictions like these and weigh the costs and benefits. If negotiations can’t
alter unacceptable MTA terms, the university may refuse to proceed. Under these
circumstances, the requesting university scientist will not be able to get the materials from that provider.
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hrough publications, presentations, and personal contacts, the work of an academic investigator might pique the interest of industry. If there’s a good fit
between the avenue of research and the company’s strategic interests, the company
may want to buy an option to commercialize the lab’s research results or support
some of the investigator’s research. Or the company may invite the investigator to
become an adviser or consultant. The typical mechanisms for doing so are
described next.
Sponsored Research Agreements
When a company funds a university laboratory’s research, the terms are spelled out
in yet another form of legal agreement, called a sponsored research agreement,
negotiated by the TTO or the university’s grants and contracts office. Most sponsored research agreements will take into account the following guidelines:
Project control: The work should be entirely under the control of the university, not directed in any way by the sponsor.
Technical representatives: A person from the institution and the sponsoring
company should be identified to serve in this capacity, establishing a
researcher-to-researcher relationship. These are usually the scientists leading
the research at both places.
Reporting: Reporting requirements should be limited, and oral reporting
allowed as much as possible, to minimize what can otherwise be a timeconsuming burden. Sponsors usually require quarterly or semiannual
reports or meetings for periodic updates on the research.
Publishing rights: The university should ensure that the laboratory has the
right to publish and present all findings. The sponsor may have the right of
advance review but not the power to veto proposed publications and not
the right of editorial control.
Invention rights: The university owns inventions that arise from the sponsored research but will tell the sponsor about the inventions in confidence.
Licensing rights: The sponsor is usually given a time-limited right to negotiate
for an exclusive or nonexclusive license to inventions that arise from the
Question: How do I find the right sponsor for my
Answer: Look for a strategic as well as a scientific
fit, an alignment of business objectives, and a supportive alliance with management. Heed your
instincts: If it doesn’t feel right, chances are that it’s
not right.
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Discussion and collaboration: The university
researchers should have the right to
discuss their work on the sponsored
project with other academic scientists
and to collaborate with them (as long as
the other scientists are not funded by a
different company).
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Consulting Agreements
Faculty members are usually allowed to spend a limited amount of time on consulting outside their institutions. If you have a manual that outlines the university’s
consulting policies, make sure you read it and understand the policies.
Review the agreement. If your institution chooses to review consulting agreements involving employees, the appropriate office will examine your proposed
agreements for conflicts of interest and other problems. If your institution does
not review these agreements, consider hiring a qualified person (e.g., a contract law
specialist) at your own expense to conduct a contract review because consulting
may subject you to personal liability. The TTO can probably give you a referral for
this purpose.
Best practices. Consulting agreements vary widely to suit the particulars of a
given situation, but they should abide by some general best practices as outlined
Companies should engage consultants for the exchange of ideas only, not to direct
or conduct research on behalf of the company. They should not use the name of a
consultant or university in promotional materials unless they have written consent.
Consultants should have a limited and reasonable time commitment (e.g., a maximum number of days per year for a specific number of years). There should be a
provision allowing the consultant to terminate the agreement by giving reasonable
notice, and it is fair for the company to have the same right. Consultants should
Protecting the Rights of Graduate Students
Typically, industry-funded research agreements provide the industrial partner with an interest (normally
licensing rights) in intellectual property that results from the funded research and include confidentiality
obligations restricting the dissemination of the results.
Such provisions may raise issues when students are involved in the research. For example, a graduate
student has to be able to communicate his or her thesis work in order to graduate. It is important that
students are fully informed by their existing or potential supervisors of any existing or potential contractual agreements between an industry sponsor and the university or academic center that may affect
their projects. It is also important that university policies relating to student participation in industryfunded projects are followed.The supervisor should have a clear understanding of what the agreements
entail and how they might affect a student’s ability to communicate his or her work as well as inform students of any restrictions that may affect them. During the course of the industry-funded project, graduate
students working on the project must be free to present and discuss their research in university forums,
such as lab meetings or graduate student seminars, and meetings of the thesis advisory committee.This
may be directly in conflict with confidentiality obligations in the agreement. In some cases, it may be possible to arrange for confidentiality agreements to be signed (e.g., by the thesis advisory committee); in
other cases, it may be neither possible nor consistent with university policy. As to final publication, many
universities have guidelines stipulating that publication of thesis-related research may be delayed no
longer than 90 days from the time a manuscript is submitted to the sponsor for review.This delay should
be sufficient for the filing of a patent application and allow the industry sponsor an opportunity to
request deletion of any of its proprietary information from the manuscript.
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not disclose information about their laboratory research that they wouldn’t
normally disclose to members of the scientific community. In addition, they may
assign to the company rights in inventions arising from consulting activities if such
rights haven’t arisen from their own research undertaken as a university employee.
Consulting agreements should acknowledge that the consultant is an employee of
the university and is subject to all of its policies, including those related to IP and
conflict of interest (COI). If the company requires a noncompetition clause, the
consulting agreement should state that this provision doesn’t apply to the consultant’s relationship with the university.
hether the lure is simply scientific inquiry or economic rewards, a career can
easily run aground on conflict of commitment or interest.
Conflict of Commitment
Is your time really your own? Yes and no. As an employee, your first professional
obligation is to fulfill your agreed-upon duties to your employer—the university or
research institution. Faculty members should give priority to their time and goals
accordingly. The “20 percent rule” is a good guideline (if consistent with your university’s policies): You may take up to 20 percent of your time for outside activities
that are in the interest of you and the university.
Conflict of Interest
When dealing with technology transfer, a COI can lurk anywhere from the sponsorship of research to the nature and timing of published research results. One of
the most common scenarios for COI is when the content or timing of published
research findings affects license income, funding, or stock value for the financial
gain of the investigator or the institution. The following definition, from Francis
Meyer of A. M. Pappas & Associates, can help you recognize a potential COI:
“A conflict of interest is a situation in which financial or other personal and
institutional considerations may directly or significantly affect, or have the
appearance of directly and significantly affecting, a faculty or staff member’s
professional judgment in exercising any university duty or responsibility or in
conducting or reporting of research.”
Here are some tips to help you avoid COIs:
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Remember that industry is interested in science to increase sales and
profits. Altruism and enlightenment are not corporate incentives.
Be careful about your involvement with start-up companies. With a startup, you’re more likely to have significant equity in the company, and if the
company was founded on your technology, the possibility of a COI
Chapter 11 Understanding Technology Transfer
Be careful of what you say during press interviews. It may be better to let
the university do the public speaking about your research. Off-the-cuff
remarks can present an opportunity for a COI to be perceived where none
exists, and the perception can be as damaging to a scientist’s credibility and
career as the reality.
At some point in your research career you may make a discovery in your lab that
has potential commercial application. By having a better understanding of the concepts, processes, and potential pitfalls of technology transfer, you will be better
prepared to work with your university’s TTO and with industry to bring your discovery to market.
Association of American Medical Colleges. Reports from Task Force on Financial
Conflicts of Interest in Clinical Research,
Association of American Universities. Information on intellectual property issues,
Association of University Technology Managers.
Cech, Thomas R., and Joan S. Leonard. “Conflicts of Interest—Moving Beyond
Disclosure.” Science 291(5506): 989, 2001.
Council on Governmental Relations. Information on intellectual property,
Field, Thomas G. “Intellectual Property: The Practical and Legal Fundamentals.”
Franklin Pierce Law Center,
Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “What You Should Know About Intellectual
Property, Research Collaborations, Materials Transfers, Consulting, and
Confidential Disclosure Agreements,”
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School. “Patent Law: An Overview.”
National Institutes of Health. Information on conflict of interest,
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,
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wenty-first century science is often a collaborative effort. As a beginning investigator, you may want or need to work with scientists in other labs who can offer
resources or technical expertise to complement your own. Because a scientific collaboration is a complex exchange, you will need to sharpen your managerial and
political skills to be a successful collaborator. This chapter summarizes some of the
questions you should ask yourself before embarking on a collaborative project and
provides some guidelines to help ensure that the project and your interactions with
colleagues proceed smoothly.
C ollaborators are researchers who share an interest in the outcome of a project,
not service providers or customers. Sharing reagents or materials described in a
publication does not in itself constitute a collaboration; scientists are expected to
make published materials available to others. Similarly, a service rendered by a scientist in a core service facility within his or her own institution is usually not considered a collaboration. The core service facility exists to perform specific tasks for
other laboratories.
Collaborations can vary greatly in scope, duration, and degree of formality. A
limited collaboration might entail only a series of consultations about a technique
or the provision of samples to be tested. At the other extreme, several scientists or
laboratories might join together to establish a permanent consortium or center for
the pursuit of a particular line of research. Depending on its complexity, a collaboration can be launched by an informal agreement that is sealed with a handshake or
an e-mail or by a legally binding document.
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C ollaboration is a major responsibility—one that is not to be entered into lightly.
It will take time, effort, and the nurturing of relationships. Before you start a
collaboration, you should know for sure that you can see it through. The larger the
collaboration, the more complicated fulfilling your obligations may be. Be sure that
you are ready to collaborate and that a given opportunity is right for you. Once
you’ve signed on, you will be expected to follow through on your commitments,
and your scientific reputation will be at stake.
Assessing a Collaborative Opportunity
Regardless of whether you are approached by another scientist to collaborate or
you are thinking of approaching someone to collaborate with you, here are some
questions you should ask yourself before embarking on the project:
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Do I need this collaboration in order to move my own work forward? Is
there a missing piece—a technique or resource—that I must have?
Even if collaboration is not strictly necessary to my current work, will
interacting with the proposed collaborators enable me to contribute something significant to science?
Do I really have the expertise or other resources that are sought by the
other collaborator?
Can this collaboration be conducted efficiently, given such factors as
distance, restrictions imposed by my institution, and, in the case of international collaborations, cultural differences or legal and political
Is there funding for the work envisioned? If not, can it be obtained?
Can I afford the time? How much will it take away from my other responsibilities? Is the project close enough to my central interests to warrant the
necessary time expenditure?
Is this person someone with whom I want to collaborate? What is his or
her track record? Can someone I trust tell me whether this potential collaborator is honest and reliable?
Are our professional and scientific interests compatible? Does what each of
us has to gain or lose by collaborating seem comparable?
Will this person be accessible to me and consistently interested in the project? (There is no point in collaborating if interaction will be difficult. An
investigator at a small lab may be a better match than the director of a
large operation because a more established scientist is likely to be busier
and less in need of the collaboration.)
Chapter 12 Setting Up Collaborations
Question: If I am not interested in a collaborative
project with my department chair or someone else
who can influence my tenure appointment, how do I
decline politely?
Answer: Explain to your chair that you don’t have
the resources at the moment to enter a collaborative project or that it would not be beneficial to
your grad student, who needs to work on a project
that is all his or her own. Offer instead to provide
input and suggestions into the research and, if possible, suggest other people with similar expertise who
may be good collaborators.
u In a larger group, will there be a reliable
“point person” who is responsible for handling day-to-day issues and small matters?
u What exactly is being asked of me? (For
example, if someone simply wants your
technical expertise or the opportunity to
run his or her experiments on your equipment, he or she may not consider you a
collaborator at all. The essential ingredient
of collaboration is mutual interest in the
research outcome. If you have this interest,
but the other party assumes that you do
not, you may not be treated as a collaborator. This may be acceptable, as long as you
understand what you are getting into.)
Can I rule out potential conflicts, either personal or institutional? (For
example, you do not want to collaborate with a competitor of your department chair or someone with whom your chair is already collaborating.)
Before making a decision about a collaboration, consider all factors. A good collaboration can take your research in a completely unexpected course; a bad one can
siphon off energy and demoralize you.
S omeone may eventually ask you to collaborate, but if you are a beginning investigator, it is more likely that you will need to approach a potential collaborator yourself. A collaboration, like many relationships, has no fixed rules; however, there are
some guidelines you can follow to ensure that the collaboration starts off on the
right foot and proceeds smoothly (also see box “Personal Qualities of a Good
Collaborator,” page 207).
Approaching a Potential Collaborator
Once you have identified a potential collaborator and decided that you want to go
forward, develop an outline of your proposal for the joint project. Define in detail
how you think each of you can complement the other’s efforts.
Send an e-mail. Make your initial contact with an inquiry designed to whet the
other person’s appetite. Send a short e-mail describing your research in general
terms and asking for the opportunity for a conversation. Do not call on the telephone first—you do not want to put the person on the spot, and you do want to
give him or her a chance to find out more about you through personal contacts or
your scientific publications.
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—Tom Misteli, National Cancer Institute
In your initial e-mail, say up front that you are interested in a
collaboration. Don’t pretend to be asking for expert advice.
In your e-mail, focus on the big picture and on conveying your enthusiasm. You
must convince your potential collaborator of the following:
You have the expertise you claim.
Both of you stand to benefit.
You believe that he or she is the best-possible collaborator for the project
at hand.
The whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts.
Be informed. To make your pitch effective, you need to be familiar with your
potential collaborator’s work. Be sure to read the lab’s published papers. You will
also need to have a clear idea of what you want to do and of the respective role
each of you will play.
Your e-mail should lead to telephone conversations. After that, a trip to your collaborator’s lab for a face-to-face meeting is often worthwhile.
The Collaboration Agreement
Using an informal agreement. An exchange of e-mails is usually sufficient to get
a project under way. Before you actually start the work, however, it’s best to
develop and agree on a detailed written summary of your joint research plan. The
plan should spell out the following:
The purpose of the collaboration
The expected contribution of each collaborator
The scope of work
Financial responsibilities of each collaborator
Reporting obligations
Expectations about authorship
An explicit plan offers several advantages. It prevents misunderstandings, and it
helps keep the project on track. Furthermore, if you expect to apply for funding
for the project, this information can function as a grant proposal. In a collaboration
between two academic labs, the collaboration agreement can simply be e-mailed
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back and forth until both parties are satisfied; obtaining signatures could seem overly
formal, but it is very important that you conclude these negotiations and reach a
clear agreement.
Using a formal agreement. A formal, legally binding written agreement is probably
necessary if the collaboration involves a commercial entity such as a pharmaceutical
company or a commercial application in which a patent is an expected outcome. You
and your collaborator will want to consult with appropriate offices at your respective
institutions to help you draft this agreement. This will typically be the technology
transfer office or the grants and contracts office; their staff may also arrange for legal
review by the institution’s attorneys. Make sure to spell out the time period of the
collaboration or provide a mechanism by which you can terminate your involvement.
Be aware that if your academic collaborator has financial support from a company
for his or her share of the work, the funding agreement may contain restrictions
that apply to the collaborative project. For example, the company may have the
right to delay publication and to license the results of the collaboration. If the collaboration is an important one for your laboratory, be sure to ask in advance
whether your collaborator will use company funding for his or her work on your
joint project. If so, you can ask your institution’s technology transfer office to help
you determine whether there are restrictions that apply to your share of the work.
It may be possible to negotiate an agreement that limits the effect your collaborator’s funding arrangements have on you. (See chapter 11, “Understanding
Technology Transfer,” for more information about company-sponsored research.)
O nce your agreement is in place and your expectations of one another are clear,
you and your collaborator can focus on keeping your lines of communication open
and maintaining attitudes of mutual consideration and respect.
Keeping the Lines of Communication Open
An open, trusting relationship is essential if you want to be able to discuss problems
candidly and to give and receive critical feedback. In a good collaboration, participants stay in close touch and are accessible to one another. Make it a practice to
return your collaborator’s calls right away. Make fulfilling your promises to collaborators a significant priority. Don’t postpone collaborative commitment for local urgencies that may not have significant impact on your career and scientific reputation.
Meetings. Set up systems to ensure that regular communication takes place. A
fixed schedule of face-to-face meetings or conference calls is a must. Also consider
setting up occasional videoconferences if your institution and your collaborator’s
have such facilities. No matter what type of meeting you choose, send out agendas
by e-mail, take notes during the discussions, and send out e-mail summaries of the
meetings. Include in the summaries “action items” for each collaborator.
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Keeping up. Once the project is under way, stay with it. Do not be the “rate-limiting step” that holds things up. When unavoidable conflicts emerge and you can’t
meet a deadline, let that fact be known right away, so that the deadline can be reset.
Dealing with Authorship and Intellectual Property Issues
Expectations for authorship. Because credit for your work, expressed as authorship of publications, is crucial to your scientific career, you need to pay attention to
how credit will be distributed in a collaboration. It’s best to discuss expectations for
authorship, including who will be first author, before a collaboration begins. This is
especially important for trainees in your laboratory whose career progress depends
on producing work that gives them clear high priority among a paper’s authors.
However, agree to revisit authorship as publication nears; the relative contributions
of different participants often changes from what was originally envisioned. Once
you have a sense of whether the data from your experiments can be published, discuss plans for publication immediately; don’t wait until a manuscript draft is prepared.
Pursuing patents. If patents are sought, applications should be filed before the
work is presented publicly or is published; otherwise, rights will be lost. Do not
jeopardize your own or the other party’s intellectual property rights by disclosing
your results prematurely.
If your collaboration produces patentable discoveries, you will undoubtedly need to
deal with the legal concept of “joint intellectual property.” Generally, you will have
to assign your ownership in intellectual property to your institution or employer,
and your collaborator must do the same to his or her institution. Each party to a
collaboration will retain its own “background” intellectual property—that is, the
intellectual property it owned before undertaking the project. Each party will also
retain the intellectual property rights to discoveries created solely by its own
researchers in the course of the project. Joint intellectual property is that created
jointly by collaborating researchers. The collaborators’ institutions may file a joint
patent application that names inventors from both institutions, and the institutions
will hold the patent jointly. Often, the institutions will need to reach an agreement
on management and licensing of the intellectual property so that any royalties can
be shared according to an agreed-upon formula.
If you think a joint patent application is a likely outcome of your collaboration, ask
yourself these questions before you begin the collaboration:
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What aspects of the proposed project are so interactive that any potential
discoveries will be owned jointly?
What aspects of shared work are the property of one laboratory?
When and how will you discuss patents and publications with workers in
your laboratories?
Who will take responsibility for, and incur the expense of, filing joint patent
Who will maintain the patents once received?
Chapter 12 Setting Up Collaborations
See chapter 11, “Understanding Technology Transfer,” for more information about
the patent process, including the effect disclosures can have on the ability to obtain
patent rights.
I n the early stages of your career, collaboration can present particular challenges.
You are under pressure to get your own research program up and running. You
can’t afford to let your progress toward tenure be impeded by collaborations that
do not yield good results and appropriate credit. You need to keep the following
facts of scientific life firmly in mind as you decide about specific collaborations:
Personal Qualities of a
Good Collaborator
u Disclose anything that might affect someone’s decision to collaborate.
Once the collaboration is under way, be
willing to “cut through the nonsense” and
offer constructive criticism.
u Stay in touch with your collaborator
throughout the project, especially when
there are problems or delays.
Try to resolve problems with your collaborator directly.
u Be sure to give credit where it is due.
u Put your full effort into the project.
Carry your fair share of the labor and
financial outlays.
u Appreciate your collaborator’s contributions.
Never assume that your contributions are
more important than those of your collaborator.
u Deliver what you have promised, on time.
If you collaborate with established, wellknown scientists, your tenure committee
may undervalue your role in the effort.
People may assume that you played a
minor role, even if you are first author
on a paper. For the same reason, collaborating with your postdoctoral mentor
may not enhance your reputation as an
independent investigator. If you do collaborate with established scientists or
your previous mentor, make sure you
arrange the collaboration so that the relative contributions of each scientist are
made clear in publications and other
The larger the collaborator’s lab and the
more complex the collaboration, the
harder it will be to negotiate first or last
authorship. Smaller projects may offer a
better chance of getting credit.
If you have special technical expertise
that is in demand, you may be inundated by numerous requests to collaborate, even within your own department.
Do not allow your time to become so
fragmented that your central research
projects are neglected. Learn to say no
gracefully and, if needed, ask your
department chair to offer some
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If you engage in multiple collaborations, the probability increases that you
will find yourself with a conflict of interest. Especially in these early years,
it is better to keep things simple so that you know all the actors and can
identify potential conflicts.
When Your Students and Postdocs Collaborate
Your graduate students and postdocs need to learn to collaborate. You can start
them off by assigning them joint projects and by guiding them in establishing their
expectations of each other and in monitoring the fulfillment of promises. However,
you should be prepared to referee, especially when it’s necessary to contain inappropriately aggressive members of your group.
It is quite another matter when your students and postdocs approach scientists outside your lab or are themselves approached as potential collaborators. They may
have no idea of the politics involved or of the extent of the commitments they are
making. Encourage your trainees to look broadly for help and resources, but insist
on your prerogative to approve all outside commitments in advance.
The practical difficulties of international collaboration can be daunting. They
include geographic distance, as well as cultural, linguistic, and political barriers. You
must be realistic in judging whether you have the energy and resources to make a
long-distance project worthwhile. Ask yourself these questions:
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How much travel will be required? What will be the costs of each trip in
terms of airfare, hotel accommodations, and time away from the lab?
Is travel to this country safe?
How good are the channels of long-distance communication? (E-mail is
virtually universal and certainly will help, but if the other lab is on the other
side of the world, long-distance telephone conversations will be inconvenient because of the time difference.)
Do I understand the other culture—especially its etiquette of information
sharing—well enough to communicate about scientific matters?
Do I know the language of my potential collaborators? Do they have a
good command of oral and written English? Will scientific papers be published in another language? If so, how can I vouch for the translation?
What are the country’s customs regarding publishing and authorship?
Is the other lab adequately equipped and supported by the country’s infrastructure (e.g., electricity, telecommunications)?
Chapter 12 Setting Up Collaborations
Although physical and technical factors are important, it is the human dimension
that most often makes or breaks an international collaboration. Be especially sensitive to emotions that may be in play under the surface, especially if your collaborator’s lab is less well funded than your own. For example, your collaborators may
have concerns about being exploited or disparaged.
Considering these special challenges, international collaboration requires extra dedication. Two key ingredients should be in place at the outset: a stable funding source
and at least one individual in the other lab who is as committed to the project as
you are and is willing to help push past roadblocks that may arise.
C ollaborations can fail for various reasons. Here are some possible scenarios:
One party loses interest or develops other priorities and intentionally or
inadvertently puts the project on the back burner. There’s no intent to
renege, but deadlines are allowed to slip.
Illness or family problems hinder someone’s progress.
Key personnel move on or become uninvolved.
Scientific results are not forthcoming, and the project simply stalls.
Honest disagreements arise about the plan, finances, or authorship.
One or both parties behave badly (e.g., they do not honor some aspect of
the agreement, steal credit, or disparage the other collaborator to others).
When such situations arise, you will have to decide how to protect yourself. The
worst thing you can do is to allow a bad situation to fester. If you decide your colleague is failing to fulfill the original agreements, get on the phone, or on a plane if
need be, and have a straightforward discussion. It is worth your while to try to fix a
situation, especially if you have invested significant time and resources in the project. If, however, the other party has lost all interest or you really don’t get along,
the best thing might be to back out. Although you may be tempted to let your colleagues know about the failure, remember that such a retaliation can harm your
reputation as much as that of your collaborator.
If a collaboration doesn’t succeed, it’s important not to become discouraged.
Although collaborations can be a lot of work and, at times, challenging, you will
gain much from working with other scientists. Your research can take unexpected
turns and expand into new and exciting areas. You will form professional relationships with scientists outside your department who may be willing to write letters of
recommendation when it is time to apply for tenure. Your collaborators can help
increase your visibility by inviting you to give seminars at their institutes, and they
might send graduate students or postdocs to work in your lab.
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Adams, Michael J. “Mutual Benefit: Building a Successful Collaboration.” (October 6, 2000),
Dee, Phil. “Yours Transferably: Going Global 2—Making Contact.” (February 16, 2000),
DePass, Anthony. “Collaborations: Critical to Research Success at Minority
Institutions.” (March 2, 2001),
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Chapter 13
s a new junior faculty member, you might have mixed feelings about taking
your place in front of a class. You stare at a sea of faces and think: “What am I
doing here? I’m a scientist, not a teacher.” Very likely, you feel uncomfortable with
teaching because you have never learned how to do it. In this chapter, you will
learn how to become a more effective teacher by using a variety of strategies,
including “active learning.” By experimenting with different teaching methods,
continually assessing their effectiveness, and modifying them based upon assessment results, you can become a “scientific teacher” who is as rigorous in teaching
as in research. Although the chapter focuses on teaching undergraduates at large
research universities and students at medical schools, the methods described can
easily be adapted to teaching undergraduates at smaller liberal arts colleges and to
teaching graduate students.
This chapter suggests ways to improve your current teaching style by assessing your
strengths and weaknesses and learning from colleagues and other professionals. It
also offers advice for revising and designing courses, helping your graduate students and postdocs learn to teach, creating a teaching portfolio, and balancing your
teaching and research responsibilities.
eyond your contractual obligations, there are important reasons to teach well.
Gaining the varied skills required to become a good teacher will benefit you professionally by strengthening your résumé, enhancing your communication skills, and
bringing new energy to your lab investigations. You will also contribute to the
greater good of society by educating the next generation of students (those who
become scientists, as well as those who go into other fields), and you should gain
great personal satisfaction by giving a diverse set of students the knowledge,
insights, and enthusiasm they need to succeed in science careers. These reasons are
explored in greater depth below.
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Reasons to Teach
A strong teaching record can help your tenure case. If you are knowledgeable
about teaching and can cite evidence that your teaching is effective, the people who
are evaluating you will care—or you can make them care. Your ability to prosper in
an academic environment will depend in part on your teaching record.
Get to know potential students for your lab. Teaching a class well will likely
give you access to top undergraduate or graduate students who may want to join
your lab.
Increase science literacy. Increasingly, scientists will be called upon to communicate effectively with the public about complex societal issues, such as genetic
engineering or stem cell research, that directly involve advances in science and
technology. Teaching will improve your communication skills. In addition, by
effectively teaching students who will not be scientists but policy makers, business
leaders, and others, you will increase science literacy.
Science needs to retain the best and brightest students. Colleges and universities are losing students from science classrooms at dramatic rates. About 60 percent
of students who declare biology as a major do not graduate with that major. The
statistics are worse for women and minorities. Often, the students dropping out of
science are the ones with very good grades who have gotten the message that science is boring, that teachers already know all the answers, and that there is nothing
left to be discovered. By changing your teaching style to one that engages students
in the discovery process, you will help change the current trend.
Science needs to draw diverse participants. Heterogeneous groups of people
are more effective at problem solving and defending their decisions. To continue to
make science a thriving enterprise, we need to attract and retain a diverse community of students and to recognize, appreciate, and satisfy their diverse styles of
Intellectual growth. Ongoing interactions with new students will provide you
with new skills and improve on existing ones. For example, teaching will help you
improve your communication skills, which are invaluable to research.
Increase job satisfaction. Your science experiments are not always going to go
according to plan, and at times you may become frustrated with the pace of
research in your lab. Teaching a class may provide you with a much needed distraction and sense of accomplishment.
Teaching the lecture component of a basic science curriculum for medical school
students or a year-long microbiology course for undergraduates can be daunting.
You want to be well-prepared for this new responsibility. So, how do you learn to
become a capable and effective teacher? There are several steps you should take
before you even set foot in the classroom.
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Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Research has shown that the best teachers are not only knowledgeable about their
subject matter, but they also show a concern for students and know how to stimulate interest, encourage discussion, explain topics clearly, and show enthusiasm.
Think back to your teaching assistant (TA) days or other teaching experiences you
may have had. They might give you some insights into what teaching skills you
could improve.
The type of course assigned might not mesh with your scientific preferences, but
you should take the time to assess your strengths and weaknesses and take those
into account when planning your classes. For example, if you are an extrovert, sharing your enthusiasm for science with students should be easy for you, but you
might need to avoid overwhelming students with a rash of complex ideas and,
instead, give them more time to pose questions and reflect upon solutions. If you
are an introvert, you might find teaching in a large lecture to be so intimidating that
you retreat behind your lecture notes and have difficulty interacting with students.
If you are given a choice, you can build your confidence by starting with a topic
you know well and feel passionately about. After you have established some rapport
with students, encouraging give-and-take might be easier for you. Working with
small groups is a strategy that should suit your personality. Since good teaching is
part art, part technique, and part personality, you will need to find techniques that
both fit your personality and address your students’ varied learning styles.
Take Advantage of Professional Help
To help you become a better teacher, take advantage of whatever professional
assistance your college, university, or medical school offers. Although formal programs aimed at improving learning are still rare, their numbers are rapidly increasing, and many informal programs exist. Some universities offer career development
programs for junior faculty; these programs give opportunities for new faculty to
build and expand their teaching and other professional skills. Many universities
have teaching and learning centers that will give you tips and pointers, offer individual consultations, and videotape your performance as a teacher and suggest ways to
improve it. Often, these centers have substantial online resources on curriculum
development, teaching techniques, and other issues related to becoming an effective
teacher. If your college or university does not have such a center, you can explore
the Web to see what’s available on other campuses. (A comprehensive list of teaching and learning centers can be found at
Some professional societies also educate faculty. For example, the National
Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education in Biology, the
American Society for Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Educators,
and the American Association of Physics Teachers Workshops for New
Physics and Astronomy Faculty are a few examples of available programs that
you can investigate.
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Observe and Be Observed
Just as you learn to improve your scientific work based on the critiques that editors
give to your submitted manuscripts or comments that reviewers make about your
grant applications, you can also learn about teaching from peers, senior colleagues,
and others at your institution as well as from feedback provided by your students.
Ask a peer for feedback. You might want to consider a reciprocal arrangement
with another junior professor in which you visit each other’s classes. When you are
being observed, ask your colleague to provide a frank assessment of your teaching
skills. He or she can give you information and advice informally or by completing a
written checklist that contains specific categories, such as structure and goals of the
class, teaching behaviors, rapport with students, and subject matter and instruction.
Observe a senior colleague. Seek out senior colleagues who are reputed to be
good teachers and ask them if you can attend their classes to see what they do
that is effective. If you would like a faculty member to observe your teaching, and
possibly serve as a “teaching mentor,” choose someone who seems enthusiastic
and knowledgeable about teaching at departmental meetings and who has developed a reputation for creative teaching. Experienced colleagues can offer suggestions for dealing with particular topics and give you additional ways to clarify and
enliven the material.
Enlist an outside observer. An instructional consultant on your campus might be
available to be an outside observer. Although the consultant might not be familiar
with the content of your science courses, he or she usually has enough teaching
expertise to comment on your techniques and give you suggestions.
Seek feedback through a formal peer review project. As you become a more
experienced teacher, you might want to participate in more formal peer review of
teaching projects, which aim to engage faculty in capturing the intellectual work of
teaching by helping instructors document, assess, and reflect upon ways to improve
student learning and performance. (A list of peer review projects and ideas can be
found at
Ask your students for feedback. Student evaluations of teaching effectiveness,
now required at the vast majority of college campuses, can offer valuable clues as
to what you are—and are not—doing well. However, many standard assessments,
which contain quantitative questions designed to be analyzed by computer (e.g.,
“Overall, how would you rate the quality of the instructor’s teaching?”), might not
provide enough specific information. You might want to create an informal survey,
with plenty of room for comments. The students’ critiques can help you make any
necessary course corrections. Bear in mind, though, that student ratings for your
first course might be low but should quickly improve as you gain experience and
confidence as a teacher.
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he following sections of this chapter will describe the concept of active learning, how to design a science course, and how to involve TAs in the process. But
before you can even start writing your course outline or think about how many
active-learning exercises you want to include in your lessons, you should ask yourself, What will the course accomplish? Below is a possible answer.
The goals of this course are
to teach the following three components(x, y, and z) in a deep and meaningful way;
to provide an understanding of the method and principles of the scientific process for
those not continuing with the subject; and
to sustain the interest of students who are planning to major in science;
to provide a strong preparation for the next course in the series.
Once you have clearly defined the goals for the course, the next question you need
to ask is, “How will I know I have accomplished these goals?” Methods for assessment are discussed in the section “Assessing Student Learning,” on page 223. But
keep in mind that assessment is something you need to think about from the start
of the planning process. It is an important component of designing a course rather
than something that is tacked on at the end.
hether you teach at a large research university a medical school, or a smaller,
liberal arts college, you can aim to create a classroom that reflects the process of
science and captures the rigor, iterative nature, and spirit of discovery of science at
its best. (See the box “Active Learning in Small and Large Settings” on page 216.)
Active-learning strategies are at the core of this approach.
People learn best when they can apply knowledge to a practical
situation immediately.
—Jo Handelsman, University of Wisconsin–
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What Is Active Learning?
Active learning uses a variety of problem-solving techniques to help students
become active participants in the learning process, giving them the chance to clarify, question, apply, and consolidate new knowledge. The concept was originated by
John Dewey, a philosopher of education who contended that learning must be built
upon the experience of the learner, who actively integrates new knowledge into an
existing conceptual framework. Today, broad support exists for the core elements
of active learning, and a growing body of research has made it clear that supplementing or replacing lectures with active-learning techniques and engaging students
in discovery and scientific process improve their abilities to understand concepts,
think critically, and retain knowledge.
In the classroom, the principal tools of active learning are
Cooperative learning: Students work in groups and the teacher is the facilitator.
Cooperative learning builds a sense of community in the classroom that
enables students to work together in noncompetitive ways.
Inquiry-based learning: Students ask and answer questions and engage in the
process of science.
Assessment: The instructor continually assesses what students are learning
and uses the feedback to make revisions as the course progresses.
Active Learning in Small and Large Settings
Active learning presents different opportunities and challenges, depending on the size of the institution at
which you teach, and the format of the class you are teaching. At a liberal arts college, small classes and
frequent contact with undergraduates, both in and out of class, will make a range of active-learning techniques easier to employ. At a large research institution, with much larger classes and far less contact with
undergraduates, you will have to try harder to introduce active-learning strategies and assessments, particularly in introductory science courses. In addition, many classes are “team taught,” and getting agreement to use active learning in the classroom from all team members might be a challenge. Upper-level
courses and other small-size classes are excellent opportunities for departures from straight lectures.
The information in this chapter offers many workable techniques to change your lectures into more
dynamic experiences for students. Although you might not teach the labs associated with your courses,
you can train the graduate students teaching your tutorials or lab sections to use a range of inquirybased strategies to help students understand the practice of science.
Implementing Active Learning in the Classroom
Most scientists will have experienced learning as undergraduates or even graduate
students with the “sage on the stage” approach. If you are like most, delivering a
lecture is the way of teaching that will be most natural to you. You can, however,
start to integrate some active-learning components in your lectures to make the
material more engaging to your students. You might lecture for 10 to 15 minutes
and then carry out an activity, or conduct an activity first and then lecture for
another 10 to 15 minutes. You might present the results of a scientific study and
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ask students to make a prediction, or ask students to write the most important concept they learned in the class on a note card. Or, you could present the class as a
whole with a problem and ask students to consult and debate with other students
who are sitting near them and then report to the whole class—a strategy that
requires students to critique the understanding of others in the group and to
explain concepts to each other. (Three useful articles on effective lecture preparation and delivery can be found at
lecture1.html,, and
As you incorporate active learning in your classroom, keep the following pointers
in mind:
Don’t try to cover too many topics. To make active learning work well, especially
within the large lecture format, pare down each lecture to the core concepts you
want or are required to introduce and organize the concepts in a meaningful
sequence. (See page 226, “Course Design,” for more about course structure and
Provide an appealing context for the concepts you highlight. While you might
find a lecture on metabolic pathways exciting, your students would probably prefer
to learn about an absorbing case problem to which the metabolic pathway might
hold a key.
Start gradually and then add more. You can introduce active-learning components slowly and experiment with different ways of teaching the material to engage
students. For example, you could start by stopping your lecture for a few moments
to ask students questions, which you can formulate in advance, about the content
you are teaching:
Description: What do you see? What happened?
Procedures: How was this done? What will have to be done?
Common purpose: What is the purpose or function of ?
Possibilities: What else could…? How could we…?
Prediction: What will happen next?
Justification: How can you tell? What evidence led you to…?
Rationale: Why? What is the reason?
Generalization: What is the same about…and…? What could you generalize
from these events?
Definition: What does…mean?
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Encourage student questions.
u Don’t ask, “Any questions so far?” Rather, answer a question with a
question to encourage students to define concepts in their own words. For
example, if a student asks, “What is polymerase chain reaction (PCR)?,”
answer the question but then ask a related question that will test the student’s ability to apply the knowledge that you just gave them: “Can anyone
think of why a researcher would want to use PCR?”
Encourage students to question concepts, ideas, and theories by using
examples from your own research to explain how the scientific process is
carried out.
One of the problems of asking someone to answer questions in class is
that it can become a private conversation with a few students who volunteer answers. Instead, you may try asking students to write the answers individually or work on the answers in a group.
At the end of a class, ask students to write down two good questions or
test problems related to the material you presented, and start your next lecture with a reference to those questions. You can also ask a question that
can be answered by those who read the material for the next class, and then
ask any student to present his or her answer at the beginning of the next
Use Web-based resources such as a discussion board to encourage students to go through the reading material before class and come up
with questions.
Question: How do I get students to respond to my
questions and not be met with thundering silence?
Answer: Make it clear that you expect participation,
but develop the patience to deal with at least 10 or
15 seconds of silence when you ask a question. Even
if you feel frustrated when no one speaks up, refrain
from answering the question yourself, or you will set
the wrong tone for the rest of the course. Frame an
opening question in the form of “Choose one of
these answers.” Call for a vote, either by a show of
hands or through the “clicker” system described on
page 223.To encourage more discussion, ask students
to explain why they voted the way they did.
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Use a variety of in-class exercises.
u Assign a task and give students—working in pairs or small groups—time to
write responses. You can also ask students to work individually and then to
form pairs in order to combine and
improve their individual responses
(called the “think-pair-share” approach).
Then you can randomly call upon a few
pairs to give brief summaries of their
joint answers. (For general guidelines
and suggestions for paired activities, go
to the University of Minnesota’s Center
for Teaching and Learning Services at
Use case-based problems that develop critical thinking and analytical behavior. Find examples of cases that are meaningful and relevant to students—
on topics such as human pathologies, bioterrorism, cancer, genetically modified foods, mad-cow disease, or other current issues. Use cases not only to
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teach concepts but also to start students thinking about the relevance of
science and its impact on society. (For examples, go to The National Center
for Case Study Teaching in Science, which has case ideas and a case study
collection, at
Ask students to create a drawing, diagram, or chart to help explain an idea,
relationship, or process. Tell them to share their drawing and discuss it with
a classmate.
Use real-world examples.
u Use current newspaper and magazine articles to show the relevance of the
topics students are studying. For example, if you are teaching about DNA
sequencing, bring in articles about the sequencing of the human genome or
ask students to locate relevant articles by searching the Internet and bring
them to class.
Involve the class in assessing the biological implications of a real or
planned community project, such as a plan to control communicable diseases or to manage the deer population. Assign student groups to investigate various aspects of the project, collect field data, and present evidencebased recommendations to the class.
Use technology to enhance teaching.
u Provide some historical background to key discoveries in biology by showing films or news clips of early, groundbreaking experiments.
Integrate new media technology such as animations or virtual labs to make
biology more vivid and accessible to a generation raised on video games.
Slides, photos, and film clips will also get your students’ attention and will
open familiar material to surprising new questions.
Use interactive demonstrations and simulations to illustrate concepts. Or
show maps, photographs, or diagrams and ask students to make their own
observations and interpretations.
Use an online discussion/bulletin board as a forum to talk about ideas. Be
active in the discussion without dominating it.
Engage students by having them use electronic keypads (clickers) to answer
your questions (see page 223 for more about clickers).
If you decide to use PowerPoint in class, learn to make your presentations
visually dynamic and engaging to students. (For an online tutorial on active
learning with PowerPoint, go to
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Set the stage for active learning.
u Arrange the lecture classroom to encourage active participation. If chairs
are bolted to the floor and cannot be moved, use a microphone with a long
extension cord so you can move around the lecture hall while you are talking and listening. If chairs can be moved, arrange them in circles and banish the lectern to a corner of the room.
Set the pattern for active participation from the very first day. Remind students of the value of active learning, ask questions that call for genuine
discussion, and get students talking several times during the first session.
Learn as many students’ names as you can. At the first class, tell students to
choose their seats for the semester and then make a seating chart, which
you can study while students are working on in-class exercises.
Active Learning in the Lab
Going from Passive to Active
It’s easy to shift from making passive statements in a
lecture to asking questions that encourage student
discussion. Here are two examples:
The passive approach: Every cell in an organism
has the same DNA, but different genes are
expressed at different times and under various
conditions.This is called gene expression.
The active learning approach: If every cell in a
plant has the same DNA, how can different
parts of a plant look different? Work with a
neighbor to generate a hypothesis.
Passive: Based on the data shown in this slide,
researchers concluded the following.
Active: Let’s look at the data from this experiment I just described.Which of the following
conclusions can you draw from the data? Let’s
take a vote and then discuss it.
The college laboratory is the perfect place for
students to actually practice science by designing experiments, gathering and analyzing data,
and presenting their findings. Too many labs
rely on “cookbook” experiments—experiments that have been done thousands of times
before and whose outcomes are already wellknown. What do students learn from cookbook experiments? They chiefly learn to follow
instructions so that they can complete the lab
successfully and earn a good grade.
If you want your students to experience the
thrill of science, consider taking a different
approach by either designing or adapting existing inquiry-based experiments. When they are
properly designed with discovery-based learning
activities, labs can provide rich learning experiences for students that help them develop a
variety of professional and technical skills.
Most inquiry-based labs begin with a question—either one generated by the teacher or
preferably one generated by the students—that
Source: Jo Handelsman, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
provides students with a specific issue or topic
to explore. Students research the topic, offer a
hypothesis, design an experiment to test the hypothesis, analyze the collected data, and
determine if their hypothesis was confirmed. The students then present and explain
their findings to the class as a whole.
As students start to understand and apply the scientific method, they can begin to
experience the joy of discovery. From inquiry-based labs, students can also develop
better communication and critical-thinking skills and learn to work together as part of
a problem-solving team.
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A well-designed inquiry lab takes time and resources to develop, however, so it
might be best to start small. Below is one example of an approach you can take to
“uncooking the lab,” and you can find additional ideas, tools, and references for
developing inquiry-based labs at
In a standard laboratory exercise, students may be instructed to make 10-fold
dilutions of soil samples and apply each solution to a culture medium. After
incubation, students count the number of colonies on each plate and calculate the
number of bacterial organisms in the sample.
A similar laboratory exercise using an inquiry-based approach would ask students
to bring in two soil samples. The instructor would then challenge the students to
generate a hypothesis about the microbes in the soil samples and design an experiment to test it.
Many of the principles of using active learning discussed above apply to teaching
at a medical school, but, as an instructor, you must be aware of the challenging
examinations your students will soon face and their need to be rigorously prepared.
Medical students carry a heavy course load in the basic sciences during most of their
first two years, but unlike undergraduate students, who take exams prepared by their
teachers (or, occasionally, by their departments) on specific semester-long courses,
medical students completing their second year take step 1 of a national exam—the
three-part United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)—which will test
their knowledge of basic sciences and their ability to interpret data. (This is in addition to one or two midterm tests as well as a final examination.) After the fourth
year of medical school, they take step 2 of the USMLE, which will test their knowledge of clinical care and their ability to interpret clinical data.
In incorporating active-learning components, you should carefully consider two fundamental educational needs of medical students: to master core science concepts
and to gain the skills they will need to become doctors. One good approach is to
couple a lecture—which might be necessary to explain core concepts—with a smallgroup discussion of a medical case or disease—a method called case-based learning.
—Curtis Altmann, Florida State University College
of Medicine
Most of us use lectures because it’s what we know. If teaching
is to be considered valuable and not just necessary, we should
invest the time to design active-learning strategies. These strategies don’t have to be done in the absence of lectures; they can be
used when students break up into small groups for case-based
discussion following a lecture.
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Case-Based Learning
Case-based learning allows students to learn science in a very practical way, by
exploring the kind of issues they might actually confront in medical practice.
Students meet in small groups with a faculty member who acts as a facilitator. They
are then assigned roles, such as discussion leader, reader, scribe, or timekeeper. For
each case, which they will have read and thought about ahead of time, they receive
a list of objectives; a narrative description of a medical issue, a disease, or an
advance in biomedical science; and a list of questions to address and problems
posed by the narrative. The exercises are designed to integrate previously learned
curriculum content, so students are expected to refer to material they have studied
before to answer the questions. In addition, students are encouraged to pose
hypotheses, access information on the Internet, present new information, reach
conclusions as a group, and evaluate each exercise. Typically, each group completes
two exercises in every two-hour session.
Your role as facilitator. In a case-based learning setting, you role is likely to be
that of a faculty facilitator. Your goal should be to assist your group to function
smoothly to maximize learning. You should not assume the role of an instructor or
a lecturer, but should, in fact, consider yourself a co-learner who happens to be
especially experienced in scientific inquiry and in assisting others to learn. You
should, however, correct any misinformation that might arise during student discussions. Below are some tips for facilitating successfully (obtained from Guide to
Small Group CBL Exercises, BMS6204: Medical Biochemistry and Genetics, Florida State
University College of Medicine).
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Encourage the group to recognize and formulate problems—by asking students to brainstorm and make a list of possible causes of the disease being
Give group members opportunities to demonstrate their learning—by asking them to describe new information they might have learned from the
Internet or other research.
Ensure that all group members have a chance to contribute—by delaying
the “talkers” from answering too quickly while encouraging quieter students to participate. If that strategy does not work, break up the larger
questions into smaller segments and go around the room, calling on each
student. Don’t dominate the discussion.
Encourage the group to critically evaluate ideas—by asking probing questions and suggesting other avenues to explore.
Provide timely, constructive feedback—-by helping the group analyze what
went well and what went wrong in the discussion.
Model respectful and professional behavior—by showing respect and support to all students while making the rules of small-group discussion very
Chapter 13 Teaching and Course Design
ssessment is an important part of your job as a teacher, as you will use the
information to evaluate students and also to determine what teaching strategies
worked best and which ones you want to refine. While you can use end-of-semester
multiple-choice examinations as one evaluation component, you will also want to
use small, more frequent, and informal assessments of knowledge. So-called
“active” assessments can give you frequent readings on students’ levels of understanding, so that you can make midcourse corrections when you see the need. (See
appendix 1 for a variety of ideas for active assessments that are easy to use.) You
can also get immediate feedback by using innovative technology such as clickers to
ask students questions and find out how much they know or don’t know.
Clicker Technology
“Clickers,” known as personal, audience, or classroom response or performance systems, allow teachers
to inject active learning into a lecture and to immediately assess whether students understand the material being presented.The clicker technology can also be used to create multiple-choice and other questions, to take attendance, and to grade quizzes and exams.
Similar to a television remote control, the clicker is a wireless handset with a variety of response buttons. Students use it to answer questions posed by the instructor.Their answers are sent by infrared signals to a receiver, where the data are instantly tallied and analyzed by a computer, and the results are displayed graphically.Teachers can display the responses on a screen, post them on a Web site, or save them
for later reference. Students can respond anonymously or can be identified by a serial number in each
Several manufacturers, including GTCO CalComp in Maryland and eInstruction Corporation in Texas,
offer the technology. Prices vary depending on arrangements an institution might make with a manufacturer or a textbook publisher, if the clicker system is used with required texts.
If you are interested in using the technology, contact your campus teaching and learning center or
instructional technology department. (For an article about one university’s use of classroom clickers, go
Bear in mind, however, that it is not always easy to tease out the specific impact of
your innovative learning techniques. In a classroom setting, you will generally not
be able to implement a true experimental design, in which students are randomly
assigned to different groups, where only one variable (the learning innovation)
changes. However, by using a variety of techniques, such as pretests and control
groups, you might get a better sense of the ways in which your active-learning
strategies are improving your students’ learning. (For a more in-depth discussion of
these issues, challenges, and steps involved in developing and appropriately using
assessment tools, see the articles on assessment and educational research at )
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Developing Exam Questions
Regardless of the types of assessment tools you favor, you will not be able to
escape midterm and final examinations. Bloom’s Taxonomy (described more fully
in appendix 2) can be a useful guide for preparing examination questions. It depicts
six successive levels or categories of learning—knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation—that ascend in difficulty from factual
knowledge to evaluation. Many tests that faculty administer rely too heavily on students’ recall of information. But Bloom contended that it is important to measure
higher learning as well.
Use a wide variety of questions to evaluate students’ different content and skill levels so you can make sure students are deepening, broadening, and integrating their
knowledge as well as learning factual information. Here are some standard kinds of
test questions, with their advantages and disadvantages and correlations to Bloom’s
Taxonomy, obtained from the University of Wisconsin Teaching Academy Short
Course in Exam Question Types and Student Competencies
( ).
True/false questions. These present a statement and ask the student to decide
whether the statement is true or false. While the tests are among the easiest to write
and score, they are limited in the kinds of student mastery they assess and have a
relatively high probability of students guessing the right answer. They correspond
to Bloom’s levels of knowledge and comprehension.
Short-answer questions. These are “constructed response” or open-ended questions that ask students to create a short answer (one sentence or several sentences),
fill in a blank, or complete a sentence. Although the questions are relatively easy to
write, they are harder to score because students are free to answer the question in
any way they choose. They correspond to Bloom’s levels of knowledge, comprehension, and application.
Multiple-choice questions. These present a question and ask students to choose
from a list of answers. Questions can be statements or complex cases or scenarios
that require careful consideration on the part of students. The questions can be
more challenging to answer (if they require both one correct answer and several
false “distracter” questions) but easy to score. They correspond to Bloom’s levels
of knowledge, comprehension, application, and analysis. (See the box “MultipleChoice Questions” for an example of a case-based multiple-choice question.)
Essay questions. These allow students to focus on broad issues, general concepts,
and interrelationships, rather than on specific facts or details. The advantage is that
the tests allow you to see the quality and depth of each student’s thinking.
However, they can be difficult and very time-consuming to score, because the
answers vary in length and variety and you might tend to give students a better
grade if they have strong writing skills. Essay tests can effectively assess all six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
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If you find Bloom’s Taxonomy too cumbersome to use, you can choose a simplified version that collapses the taxonomy into three general levels:
Knowledge (recall or recognition of specific information)
Problem-solving, or transferring existing knowledge and skills to new
Comprehension and application
Other types of exams. You can also consider using alternative types of exams,
such as group exams, which can be given either in class or as take-home exams and
which use open-ended questions that
have no right or wrong answers.
However, since you will be giving
Multiple-Choice Questions
each individual a grade for the course,
Short case studies that use authentic data
you will want to allow each student to
can make powerful multiple-choice questions
write an answer to a question or
that test scientific literacy and fluency, as well
questions, as well as to participate
as core concepts. Here is an example:
with the group.
The sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea
is becoming difficult to treat because the
causative bacteria, Neisseria gonorrhoeae,
are evolving resistance to antibiotics. For
example, in Hawaii between 1997 and 1999
resistance to fluoroquinolones increased
from 1.4 to 9.5 percent. Scientists attribute
this to natural selection.What does natural
selection mean in this context?
A. Neisseria gonorrhoeae have learned to
avoid that particular class of antibiotic.
B.The antibiotic has changed the genetic
structure of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae,
allowing them to become antibioticresistant.
C.The Neisseria gonorrhoeae changed their
genetic code in order to avoid being
killed by the antibiotic.
D.The antibiotic created an environment in
which Neisseria gonorrhoeae harboring
antibiotic-resistant genes could thrive at
the expense of those susceptible to the
E.The mutation rate for antibiotic resistance increased during this time period.
[Answer: D.]
Whatever exam or combinations of
exams you use, remember that writing exam questions takes time; don’t
try to “throw it together” at the end.
Before you start, make sure you ask
your institution if it has any established formats to which your exam
questions must conform. For example, in medical schools, tests might
need to conform to standards set by
the Liaison Committee on Medical
Education, which accredits medical
schools in the United States. Think
carefully about the learning outcomes
you want to measure, so you can
match your questions to the content.
If you are working with graduate students who are your TAs, involve
them in writing the exam or in
reviewing a draft of it to make sure
your instructions are clear and that
the test can be completed in the time
allowed. (For a comprehensive book
chapter on quizzes, tests, and exams,
go to
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S ome of you will be asked to design a new course from scratch or will want to
redesign an existing course to better suit your teaching style and knowledge. Since
course design is a complex and time-consuming undertaking, give considerable
thought to a wide range of issues and questions before starting down this path.
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
Improving an Existing Course
I would highly recommend that you try, when you are assigned a
course, to negotiate up front to be able to teach it for three or
four consecutive years. That way you will make the most of the
time and effort you put into preparing your material and will
have a chance to refine it each year.
As a new teacher, you will most likely be asked to teach a course previously taught
by another faculty member. You might find that the course is a perfect fit for you
and that you will have to change very little. More likely, however, you will want to
undertake some revisions. Here are some tips for helping you achieve your goal:
Do your homework.
Clarify your department’s expectations for this course. If you are teaching a
course for only one year and must hand it back to your colleague when he
returns from a sabbatical, you might want to invest minimal time and
effort. If you can get a commitment to teach the course for several years,
revising it will make more sense.
Review and evaluate the course syllabus, lecture notes, textbooks, and other
assigned readings, assessment questions, and other materials the faculty
member who previously taught the course will make available to you.
Review students’ final exams to learn where the course was strong or weak
in teaching key concepts. Skim a few years’ worth of students’ course evaluations if they are available.
If possible, ask the faculty member who is turning the course over to you
to describe his or her impressions of what worked and what didn’t, or
observe this person teaching a class and jot down your thoughts about
what you would keep or change.
Determine what changes to make. If you do decide to make changes to the
course, figure out what and how much you want to change. Even if the faculty
member who previously taught the course makes his or her notes available to you,
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you should rewrite them in your own style. This will help you master the material
and allow you to insert your own examples and active-learning exercises.
If the content of the course seems satisfactory overall, you can focus more on your
presentation. But if you think it’s necessary to introduce a substantial amount of
new content or make major structural changes, then it may be helpful to read the
section below on designing a new course.
Remember that it’s advisable to make changes incrementally, based on student
Designing a New Course
Creating a new course is more difficult and time-consuming than revising an existing one. Before starting, ask yourself why you want to design a new course. Has
your department chair requested you to fill a gap—and can you earn good will for
being viewed as a team player? Do you have a special research interest that is not
represented in the curriculum? If so, can you acquire educational support funds
that will enable you both to teach the course and buy a piece of equipment for
your research lab that can also be used in the lab component of the course?
Most large research schools allow new faculty members one or two semesters to set
up a lab and write research grant applications. Liberal arts colleges may not be able
to give such an opportunity. Try to at least negotiate part of your workload during
the first semester to allow you the time to construct the course so that you can
teach it second semester. If you try to do too much too soon, the balance of your
teaching and research responsibilities might get out of sync.
You will face three critical decisions: what to teach, how to teach it, and how to
ensure that students are learning what is being taught. Ideally, you should begin
planning your course several months ahead of the semester in which it is taught to
give yourself time to order textbooks and request other resources and prepare your
course handouts. But even if you are assigned a course at the last minute, you can
still use many of the planning guidelines described below.
Determine what to teach.
1. Determine how the course relates to other courses in the departmental curriculum by asking these questions:
Will the course be a prerequisite for higher-level courses? If so, talk to the
instructors of the advanced courses to see what kinds of knowledge and
skills they expect from students.
Is it an advanced course? If so, talk to the instructors who are teaching
prerequisite courses so you can better understand what skills students will
have when entering your course.
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Are there major departmental changes under way that might affect your
course? If, for example, your university is considering new approaches—
such as doing away with introductory biology and chemistry and replacing
them with a multidisciplinary life sciences course—you will want to keep
that long-term agenda in mind.
Knowing how your course fits into the entire structure is important and will call
for discussions with other faculty and perhaps a collaborative or interdisciplinary
2. Establish course content goals. Identify three to five general goals (e.g., “understanding the concept of antibiotic resistance”) for the course that will explain what
you want your students to know and do when the course is over. If you include
noncontent goals (such as “work collaboratively with other students”), keep in
mind that these are harder to assess.
3. Identify major course themes. These principles or fundamental postulates lend
continuity and provide perspective on the entire course. For example, a year-long
course in introductory biology might involve three broad themes: information and
evolution in living systems, development and homeostasis, and energy and
4. Identify core concepts within your major themes. Try to provide a balance of
concrete information and abstract concepts, and balance material that emphasizes practical problem-solving with material that emphasizes fundamental
5. Define the objectives of individual units or lessons. For example, one objective
might be that students will be able to propose tests of evolutionary hypotheses or
critique arguments pertaining to evolutionary evidence. Such definitions will help
structure the content of each lesson
Note: Your opportunity to develop new courses in a medical school will likely be
very limited due to the need to prepare students for the USMLE step 1 exam.
—Manju Hingorani, Wesleyan University
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When you plan your course, don’t overdo it. We feel we have so
much to teach, but when we impart too much knowledge, students get the impression that everything is known and that there
is nothing interesting left for them to discover.
Chapter 13 Teaching and Course Design
Determine how to teach it.
1. Determine the general structure of your course. Ask yourself these kinds of
What combination of lecture and assignments, lab, seminars, and journal
club do you want to use?
What will be the balance of faculty lecture and demonstrations versus student presentation or student-led discussion or laboratory work in the
Can you incorporate any extracurricular activities into the course to
enhance learning?
Do you want or have to include other faculty presenters?
2. Select resources. Choose textbooks—-using letterhead to contact publishers for
review copies—and journal articles, and investigate the use of technology enhancements, such as animations, videos, simulations, or virtual labs. Make sure the textbooks match your idea of the goals and objectives, or be prepared to tell students
how to make the best use of the reading resources. Think about guest speakers or
faculty members who might be appropriate and willing to teach several classes.
Determine what other resources you need—such as TAs, laboratory space and supplies, and library resources—and determine whether these will be available.
3. If you plan to have a Web site for your course, familiarize yourself with your
institution’s course management system, which will enable you to put various components, such as lecture notes and discussion forums, online. See the box “Setting
Up a Course Web Site” for further details.
Setting Up a Course Web Site
Increasingly, faculty members are using Web-based course management systems (CMSs) to deliver entire
courses or certain components of courses online. In essence, a CMS allows an instructor to post information on the Web without having to know HTML or other computer languages and provides a set of
tools and a framework for teaching and managing the course and evaluating student progress. Such a site
can also be used to field questions from students and then to post answers for all others to see. For
ideas about using a CMS to its fullest potential, see “Course Management Systems and the Reinvention of
Instruction,” by Craig Ullman and Mitchell Rabinowitz, at
CMSs can be commercial, campus-specific, or open source. (Open-source systems have no upfront
license fees, but the software is not necessarily free.) Popular systems include those developed by
Blackboard (, Moodle ( ), and the Sakai Project
( learn more about the different CMS options that are available, you can go
to EduTools ( Speak with colleagues and administrators to determine what is already available at your campus.To see the components of one university’s Blackboard support site, go to
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4. Determine how you will assess student learning for each goal. Do this on the
basis of the goals of the course. You can use the kinds of “active assessments”
described in appendix 1, as well as more traditional quizzes, in-class or at-home
examinations, papers, problem sets, in-class presentations, and projects.
5. Divide the course into manageable pieces. Divide the larger units into individual class sessions with objectives, methods, and evaluations for each. Choose
activities for each class and create a table or grid for each class to plan each of
these elements.
6. Check your college or university’s calendar. Look for exam dates, holidays, and
other events that might affect class schedules. Try to avoid having sessions that
cover related material span major holidays.
7. Prepare your syllabus using the checklist below as a guide.
Name of the course, number of credits, classroom meeting place and time,
and semester and year the course is given
Name and contact information for you and any other faculty or TAs
Course Web site, if there is one
A brief course description and statement of overall course goals
A brief statement of objectives
A description of course format
A statement of assessment techniques
A schedule of class dates and topics
A schedule of due dates for papers, tests, and projects
Pertinent information about academic policies and procedures such as class
attendance, make-up assignments, late work, group projects, and grading
Determine if students are learning.
Feedback can be obtained by reviewing student performance; student evaluations,
from informal consultations with students; and evaluations from your peers. In
addition, you might want to have an informal consultation with your teaching mentor. It might be useful to conduct such evaluations periodically during the course,
particularly if it is a new one.
Once you have taught your course, you will probably want to revise it based on
your sense of whether the objectives were met and on feedback from students and
colleagues, but resist the urge to change or correct everything all at once. Instead,
make small adjustments over time.
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s principal investigator of a laboratory you will mentor graduate students and
postdoctoral fellows to be successful in the lab and in their future endeavors. You
may also have opportunities to help them get teaching experience and improve
their skills as teachers.
Teaching the Teaching Assistants
Graduate student or postdoctoral fellows are often so immersed in their own
research projects that they may regard teaching as something to stay away from or
to quickly get out of the way. You will need to reinforce the value of teaching
effectively—for the sake of their own careers and the undergraduates they teach—
and involve them in the process of developing a course. Start by scheduling weekly
(or more frequent) meetings with all TAs. At these meetings you can describe your
goals for the course and for the coming week, and give TAs an opportunity to discuss problems they are encountering and ask for your advice. Other ways to get
them involved include the folllowing:
Encourage TAs to seek professional training.
u Encourage TAs to take advantage of any formal training offered by your
college or university, which can range from a short orientation to a weeklong program.
Invite faculty from other disciplines or outside speakers who can talk about
such topics as inquiry-based learning or the innovative educational projects
in which they are involved.
Foster “scientific” teaching.
u If you are developing a new course, build in a component that is designed
to be taught by a TA. Be sure to provide TAs with all resources (e.g., textbooks, readings, your lecture notes) necessary.
Review a range of active-learning strategies and assessments with TAs, and
brainstorm about which ones might work best.
Don’t expect TAs to be comfortable using teaching techniques that they
have never used as students. Demonstrate active-learning techniques with
the TAs being the students. You may spend only an hour running through
a few examples, but it will make the difference between your TAs shying
away from these methods and being willing to experiment with them.
Help TAs understand that teaching is an experimental situation and emphasize that they don’t have to be perfect teachers. Scientific teachers continue
to experiment and revise their courses, even after years in the classroom.
Support TAs’ classroom efforts.
u Visit sections led by TAs often and offer useful feedback soon after you
visit, but be sure to provide the feedback privately to the TA.
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Before allowing a TA to grade papers, circulate a sample of papers and
have each TA grade them independently, using a rubric developed in
advance. Devote a TA meeting to discussing and resolving differences in
grading on that sample.
Tell your TAs to come to you when serious problems arise—such as
encountering students with obvious behavior or psychological problems or
situations that could lead to litigation or violence. Direct your TA to the
right professionals on campus or call in the professionals to help resolve
the situation.
Be sure you brief your TAs on professional standards of behavior, such as
treating students with fairness; maintaining confidentiality (e.g., not talking
about students with other students; not talking about students in public
places); refraining from socializing with students (including, but not limited
to, dating them); and conducting meetings with students in an office with
the doors open and other people around to protect themselves from being
physically vulnerable or falsely accused of inappropriate behavior.
Provide or suggest opportunities to teach.
u Allow postdocs, or in some cases, advanced graduate students, to occasionally give a lecture—either by taking over one of your class sessions and
modifying the lecture you might have given, or giving a lecture in their own
areas of interest or specialty. You would have to be sure that the lecture
complements the course. Give the postdocs or graduate students constructive criticism on their teaching style and presentation of content.
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Make other teaching opportunities available. For example, encourage your
graduate students or postdocs to go to a local high school and give a presentation, or invite high school students to your lab and allow the grad students or postdocs to answer questions and prepare presentations of the
research in your lab.
Encourage postdocs to become adjunct professors at community colleges,
to teach summer-school courses, or to teach a session at your institution’s
“mini-med school,” a program for public education that exists on many
Arrange to have your graduate students and postdocs mentor high school
science teachers in a public or private school in your community. Since high
school teachers often use active-learning strategies, they might give your
postdocs some valuable teaching tips in return for gaining a better understanding of contemporary science content from your postdocs.
Create an education group that meets monthly or quarterly in your lab as a
resource for postdocs and graduate students looking for more opportunities to become involved in teaching.
Chapter 13 Teaching and Course Design
Creating a Learning Environment in Your Lab
In a very real sense, your laboratory is also a classroom—one in which the scientific process often results in something new, exciting, or unexpected. In the lab, as in
the classroom, you will want to avoid lecturing and giving students answers too
quickly and, instead, emphasize questions and encourage reflection. You can create
a culture of learning in your lab for all the students—from postdocs to undergraduates—by using active-learning strategies and by encouraging members of your lab
group to learn from each other. Try not to turn away anyone who is asking a question—even if you are in the middle of an experiment. Here are some other ideas to
encourage active learning in the lab:
Start a journal club. It’s a great way to examine current literature and to let students know there are many questions left to be answered. Ask a postdoc or grad
student to select an original peer-reviewed journal article, distribute it in advance to
the group, prepare an introduction to the paper, and provide any relevant or background information. If you have a large group, lab members can break up into
smaller groups to discuss research-related issues (How good are the data? Should
more experiments have been done?), reconvene, and share their thoughts with the
group as a whole. While your students are learning about experimental design and
other research issues, they will also be learning to collaborate and communicate.
Ideally, journal club should be held on a weekly basis, but if that’s not possible, one
good way to keep everyone up on current literature is to ask each member of the
group to present briefly the abstract of at least one paper at the beginning of
weekly lab meetings.
Start a monthly film club. Bring popcorn and invite your laboratory group to
watch a science-related film such as the 1987 movie, “The Race for the Double
Helix,” which depicts the events leading to the 1953 discovery of the structure of
the DNA molecule. Ask questions that stimulate thinking about a range of science
issues. For more film ideas, go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “Science
in the Cinema” site at, or to the NIH site
on historical video collections, administered by the National Library of Medicine,
More advice on creating a culture of teaching in your lab can be found in chapter
5, “Mentoring and Being Mentored.”
—Thomas Cech, HHMI
When students come to you with research results, let them
explain their data before you tell them what it means. Then you
can nod appreciatively and say, “Well, could be, or have you
thought of…?” Students who have put in hard work on an
experiment deserve—and need, for their own professional development—the chance to interpret and communicate their data.
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B alancing research, teaching, and service is not easy, and requires the time man-
agement skills noted in other chapters of Making the Right Moves. At a research university, most tenure requirements generally give greater weight to research and publications than to teaching. But that situation is changing, as an increasing number of
colleges and universities begin to embrace the concept of the scholar-teacher in
promotion and tenure decisions.
However, as a practical matter, particularly in the pretenure years of your career,
you will want to teach effectively while minimizing the time spent on it and maximizing the recognition you will get.
Time Management
The amount of time you devote to developing a course or teaching it will depend
in part on what priority your institution places on teaching. If your institution
makes research its top priority, keep in mind that; while you will want to be the best
teacher you can in the time allowed, you should not permit your teaching obligations to undercut your commitment to research. Volunteer to teach the courses
your department particularly needs but are not as difficult to teach—that way you
can legitimately say, “Sorry, I am already committed” when you are asked to teach a
course that would be more time-consuming to develop or teach. For example, you
may choose to teach a graduate class or seminar in your research area, or use a simplification of your research problem as a project for an undergraduate class. Or you
may teach a course without a lab or a class with fewer students. Regardless of the
course you teach, here are some tips for making the most of your time.
Borrow, adapt, and recycle.
u Teach the same course several times, so that you are making adjustments to
it rather than starting from scratch every year.
Teach a course previously taught by someone who is willing to lend you
copies of his or her notes, exams, and homework assignments.
Borrow or adapt high-quality curricula that are already available. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is gradually making available
on the Internet the primary materials for nearly all of its 2,000 courses
through its OpenCourseWare Initiative ( Currently,
more than 900 courses, such as experimental biology, are available. These
materials include lecture notes, syllabi, problem sets, and exams, which you
can use to prepare your own classes.
Know yourself.
u Consider your personal rhythms. Choose a class that does not disrupt your
day. For example, you could teach two back-to-back classes or schedule
days without classes so you can find time for your research.
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Set realistic limits on class preparation and don’t be a perfectionist.
Chapter 13 Teaching and Course Design
Question: Is it possible to ask for a reduced teaching load when I negotiate the terms for a faculty position?
Answer: It is certainly possible, but your chances of negotiating a reduced load will likely be better at a university that stresses research productivity than at a liberal arts college that puts its chief emphasis on teaching.
Even at a research university, however, this is not easy to do.A new faculty member may be given some free
time to write grant proposals, especially if the time between the decision about the appointment and the
arrival of the new faculty member was brief. If you are successful in obtaining a reduced teaching load during
the job negotiations it is important to get it in writing. It might be easier to negotiate specific courses than
fewer courses.
Even if you cannot reduce the number of hours, perhaps you may be able to stack your teaching load so that
you teach all classes in one semester and arrange to have a term with no teaching.You might also ask to teach
multiple sections of the same course to reduce your preparation time, and request graduate assistants to help
you grade exams.At the very least, you should try to clarify your teaching load: How many classes will you
have each term? What are typical enrollments in each class? How much time will you be expected to spend
advising students or supervising theses or dissertations? Does supervising undergraduate research count as
teaching? How much credit do you receive for teaching the lab sections of a course? Armed with that knowledge, you might be able to make trade-offs that help you manage your teaching load more effectively.
The Teaching Portfolio
You want to make sure that your teaching successes are favorably considered as
part of your tenure review. One way to do this is to develop a teaching portfolio.
This document is an important asset not only for your career but also for your own
professional development. Compiling your portfolio will force you to reflect on
your teaching so you can continue to analyze and improve it.
While there are many ways to compile a teaching portfolio and many items you can
include, typical portfolios include a personal statement about your teaching philosophy, evidence of your teaching, and supporting materials. Unlike your scientific curriculum vitae (CV), which lists all publications you have ever written, the teaching
portfolio is more selective and has been compared with an artist’s portfolio—a
sampling of the breadth and depth of your work (see box “Sample Teaching
Portfolio” on page 236).
Becoming a good teacher may seem like a lot of work with little reward, but
remember that your research and teaching careers can work hand-in-hand. Your
research can inform your teaching, and your teaching can inform your research.
Learning to be an effective teacher is worth the time and effort. Not only will you
be instrumental in inspiring and educating a new generation of scientists, but you
will also enhance your own skills, confidence, and creativity. Remember, too, that
teaching can be a stabilizing force in your life, especially if your research becomes
discouraging or you lose ground in the laboratory. The time you spend in preparing
an effective course with active-learning activities can give great personal rewards, as
your students demonstrate their knowledge on a test or tell you that, for the first
time, they really understand DNA structure and function. And, since teaching is
one of the three pillars on which decisions about tenure and certain grants are
made, your success in teaching and course design will only improve your chances of
having a long, productive, and well-funded career in academia.
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Sample Teaching Portfolio
A teaching portfolio includes these items:
u Personal material: A short statement of your teaching philosophy, a broader statement of your teaching
responsibilities, representative course syllabi, and steps you have taken to enhance your teaching skills
or background knowledge
u Materials from others: Student and course evaluation data from present and former classes, statements
from colleagues who have observed your classroom teaching, statements from TAs you have supervised, and any honors or other recognition you received for teaching
u Products of teaching: Student scores on class, departmental, and national certification exams, samples of
student work, and testimonials from alumni or employers of former students
While the list might seem overwhelming at first and could take years to develop to the fullest, it is manageable if you take it in steps.The most important thing is to start collecting and organizing data related
to your teaching philosophy and accomplishments and to start compiling those materials in a box, a
loose-leaf notebook, or another format that can easily be updated and supplemented. (For a good introduction to teaching portfolios, go to The Teaching Portfolio, by Hannelore B. Rodriquez-Farrar, Harriet W.
Sheridan Center, Brown University, at
teacport.html, or Preparing a Teaching Portfolio, a Guidebook, Center for Teaching Effectiveness, University of
Texas at Austin,
Brinkley, Alan, et al. The Chicago Handbook for Teachers: A Practical Guide to the College
Classroom. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Handelsman, Jo, Sarah Miller Lauffer, and Christine Pfund. Scientific Teaching: A
Guide to Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education. Greenwood Village, CO:
Roberts and Company Publishers, in press.
McKeachie, Wilbert J., et al. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for
College and University Teachers. 11th ed. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Resources for
Science Education
Go to
index.html for links to animations, curricula, and
other resources developed by HHMI staff and
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National Academy of Sciences. Bio 2010:
Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future
Research Biologists. Washington, DC: The
National Academies Press, 2003,
Chapter 13 Teaching and Course Design
National Academy of Sciences. Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of
Educational Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2001,
Reis, Richard M. Tomorrow’s Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and
Engineering. Piscataway, NJ: IEEE Press, 1997.
Uno, Gordon E. Handbook on Teaching Undergraduate Science Courses: A Survival
Training Manual. Stamford, CT: Thompson Custom Publishing, 1997,
Articles and Web Sites
Active Learning
Drummond, Tom. “A Brief Summary of the Best Practices in Teaching.”
Felder, Richard. Resources in Science and Engineering. Articles and papers on
active and cooperative learning by Richard Felder, professor emeritus at North
Carolina State University and codirector of the National Effective Teaching
Ommundsen, Peter. “Biology Case Studies in Multiple-choice Questions.”
Ommundsen, Peter. “Biology Teaching: Three Measures of Success.”
The Active Learning Site. A comprehensive bibliography of articles about active
University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning Services. General guidelines for paired activities,
University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning Services. Online tutorial
on active learning with PowerPoint,
Art of Teaching
Curran-Everett, Douglas. “Learning How to Teach: How to Do It and Why You
Want To.”,
Kuther, Tara. “Teaching 101: Getting By.”,
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Reis, Richard M. “How to Get All-Important Teaching Experience.” Chronicle of
Higher Education’s Career Network,
Assessment, Examinations, and Education Research
American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Invention and Impact:
Building Excellence in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering and
Mathematics Education.”
Davis, Barbara Gross. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
“Quizzes, Tests and Exams” chapter,
University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Classroom ‘Clickers’ Catching on as Instant
Assessment Tool.”
University of Wisconsin Teaching Academy. Short course, “Exam Question Types
and Student Competencies.”
National Center for Biotechnology Information. “NCBI Handbook,” guide to a
multitude of databases, literature, and other resources,
National Center for Biotechnology Information. Online Mendelian Inheritance in
Man. Database is a catalog of human genes and genetic disorders containing
textual information and references as well as links to MEDLINE, sequence records
in the Entrez system, and additional related resources,
National Center for Biotechnology Information. Resource for molecular biology
information. It creates public databases, conducts research in computational
biology, develops software tools for analyzing genome data, and disseminates biomedical information,
National Institutes of Health. GenBank. NIH genetic sequence database, an annotated collection of all publicly available DNA sequences,
Comparisons Between Liberal Arts Colleges and Research Institutions
Astin, Alexander W. “How the Liberal Arts College Affects Students.”,
Cech, Thomas R. “Science at Liberal Arts Colleges: A Better Education?”,
Wright, Dorothy. “Teaching Science at Liberal Arts Institutions.” Science and
Technology (January 2005),
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Course Design
Chung, Stephen. “Transition to Academia III: Designing a New Course.”,
Davis, Barbara Gross. “Preparing and Revising a Course.” Tools for Teaching. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
Smith, Ann C., Richard Stewart, Patricia Shields, Jennifer Hayes-Klosteridis,
Paulette Robinson, and Robert Yuan. “Introductory Biology Courses: A
Framework to Support Active Learning in Large Enrollment Introductory Science
Courses.” Cell Biology Education 4:143, 2005.
Course Management Systems/Course Web Sites
EduTools. Web-based tools for evaluating electronic learning products and policies,
Ullman, Craig, and Mitchell Rabinowitz. “Course Management Systems and the
Reinvention of Instruction.”
University of Texas. Support site for Blackboard’s course management system,
van de Pol, Jeff. “A Look at Course Management Systems.”
Graduate Students and Postdocs as Teachers
Gabriel, Jerry. “Educating Postdocs About the Other Part of Their Future Faculty
Inquiry-Based Labs
Howard, David R., and Jennifer A. Miskowski. “Using a Module-Based Lab to
Incorporate Inquiry into a Large Cell Biology Course.” Cell Biology Education 4:249, 2005.
Lecture Preparation and Delivery
Davis, Barbara Gross. “Preparing to Teach the Large Lecture Course.” Tools for
Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
Felder, Richard M. “Beating the Numbers Game: Effective Teaching in Large
Classes.” Resources in Science and Engineering.
University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning Services. “Suggestions
for Effective Lecture Preparation and Delivery.”
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Multimedia Resources
American Society for Microbiology. MicrobeLibrary,
BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium.
Handelsman, Jo, et al., “Scientific Teaching.” Science 304: 521–522, 2004.
DNA Interactive.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Biointeractive. Virtual labs, animations, and
other resources.
MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching).
Awards program for exemplary online learning resources,
National Science Digital Library. A free online resource for education and research
in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering,
Negotiating Reduced Teaching Loads
Chung, Stephen. “Transition to Academia: Negotiating Your Way to Teaching
Reis, Richard M. “The Right Start-Up Package for Beginning Science Professors.”
Chronicle of Higher Education’s Career Network,
Peer Review Projects and Ideas
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Center for Teaching
Excellence. Annotated links,
Problem- and Case-Based Learning
University of Delaware. Problem-based learning,
National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
Teaching and Learning Centers
Comprehensive list,
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Teaching Portfolios
Chung, Stephen. “Transition to Academia II: The Teaching Portfolio.”,
Wright, Robin. “The Art of Teaching, Session 2: Using Portfolios to Improve and
Evaluate Teaching,”,
University of Texas at Austin Center for Teaching Effectiveness. “Preparing a
Teaching Portfolio, A Guidebook.”
Rodriquez-Farrar, Hannelore B. “The Teaching Portfolio,” Harriet W. Sheridan
Center for Teaching and Learning, Brown University,
University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning Services. “Document
Your Teaching.”
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The goal of active assessments is to provide feedback about learning to both
instructors and students. While instructors may choose to grade these assessments,
they are also helpful to give context to the topic they are lecturing about, motivate
students to participate in and take responsibility for their own learning, and offer
them the opportunity to think critically. Many of the active assessments work best
when students work together in pairs or groups of three to five, but some work
best as individual activities. In addition, the active assessments can help instructors
determine what works best for their own teaching style.
Brainstorm. Brainstorming is possibly the fastest and easiest way to incorporate
active learning into a large lecture, and it is a quick way for students to assess what
they already do or don’t know.
Example: What does a plant need to survive? This activity works well for any organism
and drives home the point that students already know more than they think they
do. The list can go on and on, if students start to list individual minerals and other
components. But no matter what they come up with for the brainstorm list, it can
always be separated into two categories. For example, abiotic versus biotic factors
or environmental versus genetic requirements. These categories can then be used as
the basis for a subsequent lecture or laboratory exercise.
Pre/posttest. Pre/posttest is another simple way to help students gauge what
they’ve learned. If their answers don’t change over time, it tells the instructor that
something is amiss with the learning, the teaching, or the assessment.
Example: Describe two ways a bacterium could harm a plant. Have students write down
their answers during the lecture, and then finish the class and have them answer
again (posttest). Have students compare their two answers.
Think-pair-share. Think-pair-share activities work well to encourage group learning. Students answer a question individually, then share their answers with other
students nearby and discuss which answers make the most sense. After 35 minutes,
some of the groups report their conclusions. An optional step can be added to
include experimental results. It’s helpful to compare student answers from before
and after discussion. This activity works well with electronic audience response systems, or “clickers.”
Example: Experimental design consists of three treatments of radish seed sets:
(1) light, no water
(2) light, water
(3) no light, water
Which set of plants will have the lowest dry weight after 3 days?
First, students answer the question individually for one to two minutes. Next, they
work as groups to share and discuss their answers and come to consensus. After
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three to five minutes of discussion, the students answer the question again. Finally,
show the actual experimental results: Treatment #3 has lowest biomass.
It’s important that students discuss the experimental results with their group so
they can figure out themselves that the result makes sense only if they understand
that respiration, in addition to photosynthesis, occurs in plant cells. (This example
is used with permission from Ebert-May, et al. 2003)
One-minute paper. One-minute papers are a great way to capture what students
are thinking. For example, when used at the end of class, the instructor can gauge
what students have learned by asking them to list the three most important things
they learned that day in class. At the beginning of class, the instructor can gauge
what students retained from the previous lecture or a reading assignment.
Example: At the end of a lecture about the structure of DNA, have students read
about the structure of DNA online ( in a textbook chapter. Students are expected to write a one-minute paper at the beginning
of the next class period about DNA replication: What about the structure of DNA
suggests a mechanism for replication?
Predict-observe-explain. A predict-observe-explain activity is a simplified version
of the scientific method in which students make predictions based on a hypothesis,
observe results, and explain how the predictions and observations relate to each
other. In this activity, students need to identify what they don’t understand about
bacterial growth.
Example: Microbes are everywhere. Touch an agar medium with your fingers and predict what
you’ll see in a week. A week later, observe what grew on the medium, describe whether the observations support the hypothesis and match the predictions, and explain why.
Alternatively, the instructor provides data for an experiment that students explain.
Concept map. Concept maps can be a powerful tool for students to assess their
own learning because they need to create a visual representation and verbal explanation for complex concepts.
Example: Explain how these terms relate to each other by arranging them in a logical order:
Protein, tRNA, DNA, transcription, amino acid, translation, replication, gene expression, promoter, nucleotide.
What’s wrong with this statement? One of the most powerful learning tools is
to have students explain why a statement is incorrect.
Example: I don’t want to be eating any viruses or bacteria in my food, so I won’t eat genetically
modified plants.
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Cases. Cases offer the opportunity for rich exploration into many concepts in the
context of a real-world scenario.
Example: A patient had itchy, goopy eyes, so he went to the doctor. The doctor diagnosed the irritation as conjunctivitis and prescribed antibiotics. Symptoms cleared up within a few days. The infection reoccurred two weeks later. The patient called the doctor, and she advised taking antibiotics
again. The patient washed his sheets in hot water, washed his hands incessantly, cleaned his keyboard
with soap and water, and bleached the washcloths he used to wash his face. The infection reoccurred
again two weeks later. The patient called the doctor, who advised taking antibiotics again.
(1) Write three hypotheses to explain why the infection reoccurred.
(2) What should the patient do? Should he take the doctor’s advice? Describe any
assumptions you make and justify your recommendation with biological reasons and principles.
Source: Handelsman, Jo, Sarah Miller Lauffer, and Christine Pfund. Scientific Teaching: A Guide to Transforming
Undergraduate Biology Education, Greenwood Village, CO: Roberts and Company Publishers, in press.
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Bloom’s Taxonomy is a well-known way to classify and test cognitive abilities.
Developed by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom and four colleagues, the system is based on the premise that students engage in distinct behaviors that are central
to the learning process. Bloom classified the behaviors into six categories that
become increasingly more complex as they ascend from knowledge to evaluation.
Knowledge. Knowledge questions require students to recognize or recall pieces of
either concrete or abstract information, such as concepts, dates, definitions, events,
facts, formulae, ideas, terms, persons, and places. Typical exam wording includes
choose, define, find, identify, label, list, match, name, recall, select, show, state,
translate, true/false, who, what, where, when, why, and which.
Example: Which of the following is not an event that occurs during the first division of meiosis?
1. Replication of DNA
2. Pairing of homologous chromosomes
3. Formation of haploid chromosome complements
4. Crossing over
5. Separation of sister chromatids
Comprehension. Comprehension questions ask students to demonstrate their
understanding of the subject matter. Typical exam wording includes arrange, classify, compare, compute, contrast, demonstrate, describe, discuss, distinguish, explain,
extrapolate, group, interpret, illustrate, order, outline, paraphrase, provide example
of, relate, rephrase, show, summarize, and translate.
Example: How are proteins destined for export from a cell typically modified prior to secretion?
Application. Application questions challenge students to use and apply abstractions (e.g., ideas, concepts, principles, models, methods, theories, and formulae) to
explain concrete situations or solve problems. Typical exam wording includes apply,
build, calculate, choose, classify, demonstrate, experiment with, how, interpret, make
use of, organize, relate, solve, and utilize.
Example: Given what you know about the life cycle of a virus, what effects would you predict
antiviral drugs to have on viruses?
Analysis. Analysis questions ask students to break down a whole into identifiable
parts so that organizational structures, patterns, and relationships between the parts
can be made explicit. Typical exam wording includes analyze (e.g., a case study), categorize, classify, compare, contrast, differentiate, discover, dissect, distinguish,
divide, examine, inspect, recognize, relate, separate, solve, survey, and test.
Example: What distinguishes the replication processes of RNA and DNA viruses?
HHMI 245
Making the Right Moves A Practical Guide to Scientific Management
Synthesis. Synthesis questions ask students to recognize relationships between
parts, combine and organize components, and create a new whole. Typical exam
wording includes build, combine, compile, compose, create, construct, design,
develop, estimate, formulate, imagine, improve, invent, modify, order, predict, propose, reconstruct, solve, summarize, and theorize.
Example: Propose a way in which viruses could be used to treat a human disease.
Evaluation. Evaluation questions challenge students to use certain criteria in order
to appraise the degree to which a concept (e.g., ideas, solutions, work, theory) is satisfying, effective, or valid. Typical exam wording includes appraise, assess, choose,
conclude, critique, decide, defend, determine, dispute, estimate, evaluate, judge, justify, measure, opinion, prioritize, prove, rate, recommend, select, and support.
Example: Should the classification of living things be based on their genetic similarities or their
morphology/physiology? What are the reasons for your choice?
Source: Allen, Deborah, and Kimberley Tanner. Cell Biology Education 1:63 (Fall 2002); adapted from Bloom,
Benjamin S., ed. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook 1, Cognitive Domain. New York, NY: McKay, 1956.
246 BWF
absences, prolonged, 65
for grant applications, 165
for research papers, 179, 180
academic health center, 28–29
accommodating, in managing conflicts, 70
accomplishment, measures of, 100
active assessments, for large lectures, 223, 242–244
active learning
in the classroom, 216–220
defining, 216
in the lab, 220–221, 233
at a medical school, 221–222
principles of, 215–221
reviewing with teaching assistants, 231
setting the stage for, 220
in small and large settings, 216
tools of, 216
activities, in project management, 129, 131
activities plan, 131, 141
administrative budget supplement, 169
administrative structure, of medical school, 29
administrators, getting acquainted with, 30
admissions committees, 36
advance preparation, for job interviews, 11–12
advertising for staff, 79
versus mentor, 99–100
relationship with, 11
American Association of University Professors
(AAUP), 17, 20
American Chemical Society, salary survey, 20
analysis questions, 245
animal studies, requirements for, 32
application questions, 245
archival software, for storing data, 152
archiving data, 148, 150, 152
assertiveness, in managing conflict, 70
by the instructor, 216
of student learning, 223–225
Association of American Medical Colleges, salary
survey, 20
assumptions, of a statement of work, 128
“at will” appointments, 18
audience, for a project, 128–129
authority, delegating, 56–57
authorship, 9. See also journals; papers
and collaborations, 206–207
first, 179–180
guidelines for, 65
and postdoc qualifications, 82
setting expectations for, 65
avoiding, managing conflicts, 70
Bayh-Dole Act, 33, 187
modifying for leadership development, 51
rules for, 63–67
benchwork, planning, 131–132
benefits, employee, 20
best practices, in consulting agreements, 197–198
billable hours, for physician-scientists, 21
Blackboard, course management systems from, 229
Blanchard and Hershey model, 55–56
bloodborne pathogens, requirements for using, 32
Bloom’s Taxonomy, 224, 225, 245–246
board of trustees, 26
bottlenecks, identifying in project management, 132
budgeting, 32, 168–170
Career Awards in Biomedical Sciences (CABS), 19
career development, for junior faculty, 213
career summary, for job interview, 9
career trajectory, for tenure-track physicianscientists, 45
case-based learning, 222
case-based problems, 218–219
Center for Scientific Review (CSR), 154
chalk talk, 15
championing a project, 134
chancellor, university, 26
chemicals, requirements for using, 32
chief executive officers, of academic health
centers, 29
childcare arrangements, 122–123
choices, time management, 115
citation index, 176
classroom, active learning in, 216–220
classroom clickers. See clickers
classroom time, controlling, 120
clickers, 219, 223, 242
clinical duties, of tenure-track physician-scientists, 45
clinical settings, research in. See physician-scientists
clinical time, “buying out” of, 21
coaching behavior, 56
collaborating, in managing conflicts, 70–71
collaborations, 201–210
agreements, 204–205
assessing opportunities for, 202–203
failure of, 209
ingredients of successful, 205–207
international, 208–209
resources, 210
setting up, 2, 203–205
special challenges for beginning
investigator, 207–208
and sponsored research agreements, 196
and technology transfer issues, 205–207
and tenure issues, 203, 207
varieties of, 201
collaborator, personal qualities of a good, 207
HHMI 247
colleagues, meeting potential, 15
college laboratory. See laboratory
college-level responsibility, within university
structure, 27–28
comments, soliciting from trainees, 40
of research results, 187
as step in technology transfer, 188
university record on, 192
committees, 30–31
accepting responsibilities for, 42
and gender equity issues, 109, 120
strategy for joining, 36–37
committee work, 35–37. See also service
and time management, 120
between collaborators, 203–205
family, 121–122
within the lab, 57–60
communication formats, in journals, 175–176
community service, of tenure-track physicianscientists, 45
budget supplements, 169
as a conflict-handling mode, 70
comprehension questions, 245
compromising, in managing conflicts, 71
concept maps, in active assessment, 243
confidentiality, in mentoring, 98
confirmation letters, for grant applications, 170
conflict of commitment, 198
conflict of interest (COI)
and consulting agreements, 198
and multiple collaborations, 208
with technology transfer, 198–199
conflict resolution, 107
management of, 69
resolving, 71–72
styles of handling, 69–72
constraints section, of a statement of work, 128
consulting, 37–38
agreements, 197–198
when making a decision, 63
contingency plans, for projects, 135
contracts office, 32–33
contractual requirements, 144
cooperative learning, 216
cooperativeness, in managing conflicts, 70
copyright, 191
core concepts, within course themes, 228
core facilities, university, 31
costs, direct versus indirect, 168
cost sharing, and equipment, 170
The Council of Graduate Schools, 99
couples, two-academic career, 9
course design, 226–230
course management systems (CMSs), 229
designing new, 227–230
determining how to teach, 229–230
determining if students are learning, 230
248 BWF
determining what to teach, 227–228
dividing into pieces, 230
goals for, 228
to improve leadership skills, 52
improving existing, 226–227
planning to teach, 215
structure of, 229
teaching several times, 234
themes of, 228
course syllabus, preparing, 230
cover letters
grant application, 165
job application, 8–9
for publication submissions, 179, 180
creativity, encouragement of, 100–101
CRISP database (NIH), 164
cultural diversity, 86, 109. See also diversity
cultural issues, in mentoring, 108–109
curricula, borrowing or adapting, 234
curriculum vitae (CV), 9
compared to a teaching portfolio, 235
as part of tenure dossier, 40
database programs, for lab protocol tracking, 150
databases, for data management, 151
data management, 2, 143–152
resources, 144, 145, 152
data management system
assigning responsibility for, 148
developing, 147–148
how long to keep information in, 148, 150
selecting, 150–152
what to store, 148, 150
data storage, 150–152
date of discovery, documentation of, 144
medical school, 29
university, 27
decisions, making
in complete isolation, 62
consulting with other individuals, 63
with the group, 63
passing on to others, 63
as the principal investigator, 62–63
steps in making, 63
delegating responsibility, 56–57
departmental administrators, 30
departmental business manager, 30
departmental committees, 31
department chairs
of medical school, 29
receiving feedback from, 62
role in review process, 40, 43
at a university, 28
design patents, 189
development office, 33
direct costs, versus indirect, 168
directive behavior, 55–56
directive questions, for interviewing, 83
disclosure, invention, 189, 190
disconnecting, in time management, 115
avoiding, 78
employment, 78
and gender and minority issues, 108–109
discussion, in technology transfer, 188
dismissals, staff, 91–94, 104
diversity. See also cultural diversity
and science, 212
division chiefs, of medical school, 29
documentation. See also laboratory notebooks; record
and dismissal proceedings, 93–94
laboratory, 101
document-naming protocols, 148–149
dossier, tenure, 40–41
dress code, for job interview, 12
drivers, of a project, 129
editorial guidelines, 179
editors, journal, 129, 176
electronic document file names, 149
electronic keypads. See clickers
electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs), 145
electronic records, 145, 148
electronic submission of papers, 180–181
managing, 115
to potential collaborators, 203–204
employee benefits, 20
employees, versus students, 77–78
employment discrimination, 78
employment termination, 93–94, 104
environmental health and safety office, 32
and grant applications, 170
maintenance, 150
equity income, 192
errors, documentation of, 146
essay questions, 224–225
ethics. See research ethics
evaluation, in technology transfer, 188
evaluation questions, 246
events, in project management, 129–131
examination questions, developing, 224–225
examinations, types of, 225
examples, real-world
in active learning, 219
in project management, 137
exercises, in-class, 218–219
communicating to lab members, 57–58, 61
examples of, 63–67
facilitator, teacher as, 216, 222
career development for, 213
getting acquainted with, 30
meeting with, 15
professional responsibilities of, 25
recruitment, and technology transfer, 192
faculty appointments, 18, 23
at medical centers, 23
to more than one department, 18
obtaining details about, 18
partner-hire packages, 9
at will, 18
faculty facilitator. See facilitator
faculty governing bodies, 30–31
faculty handbook, 27
faculty mentor, 42
faculty position
interview for, 11–16
negotiating, 2, 16–23, 191, 197, 235
obtaining, 2, 191, 197
obtaining and negotiating, 5–23
faculty recruitment, technology transfer and, 192
faculty senate, 30
family responsibilities
and gender equity issues, 109
and time management, 121–123
Federal Advisory Committee Act, 157
about learning, 242
giving and receiving in the lab, 60–62
providing to teaching assistants, 231
staff performance, 75–76
on teaching, 214
figures, in research proposals, 10
FileMaker Pro, 151
filing decisions, as step in technology transfer, 188
financial support. See funding
five-year plan, for tenure, 41–45
focus, maintaining, 116
follow-up, to job interview, 16
Food and Drug Administration (FDA), data storage
guidelines, 144, 145, 152
foreign applicants, 88, 91, 94
foreign patent rights, 190, 192
materials request and transfer, 150
performance review, 75–76
telephone interview, 84, 96
fraud, avoiding, 144
front matter (publication format), 176
funding, 153–174. See also R01 grant
and collaboration agreements, 205
for international collaborations, 208–209
obtaining, 2
resources, 170, 172, 173–174
and staff recruitment, 80
university, 26, 32
Gantt chart, in project management, 131, 142
gender issues, in mentoring, 108–109
genomics, record-keeping methods for, 144
giving feedback, in the lab, 60–61
of accomplishment, for lab members, 100
of a course, 215
for course content, 228
defining, 113–114
HHMI 249
in a lab mission statement, 54
for leadership development, 51
governing board
role in review process, 40
university, 26
governing bodies, faculty, 30–31
grading, by teaching assistants, 232
graduate students. See also students; teaching
assistants (TAs)
assisting with collaborations, 208
gaining access to, 36
lab status of, 77–78
mentoring, 80–81, 103–104
protecting the rights of, 197
recruiting, 80–81
screening applicants, 82–83
staffing needs for, 78–79
grants, 42. See also R01 grant
modular, 168
proposals, 101–102
record keeping associated with, 144
support of, 38–39
grants and contracts office, 32–33
group activities, informal, 60
group examinations, 225
guidelines, for authorship, 65
halo effect, during interviewing, 89
harassment, 108–109
hard money, versus soft money, 20
health and safety guidelines, 32
human resources (HR) office, 33, 77, 81
human subjects research, 32, 37
image files, manuscript submission of, 181
immigration law, 88, 91
impact factors, journal, 175–176
in-class exercises, 218–219
income sharing, university, 192
indicators, for a project, 135
industry, material transfers between academia
and, 195
informal group activities, in the lab, 60
information, tracking and storing, 147–150
information management systems, 150–152
inquiry-based labs, 220–221
inquiry-based learning, 216
Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), 27, 32, 36, 37
instrument logs, 150
Integrated Review Groups (IRGs), 156
intellectual property, 187. See also technology transfer
joint, 206
unpatented licensing of, 190–191
intermediate-term goals, in time management, 113–114
international collaborations, 208–209
interviews, job, 11–16. See also staff interviews
inventions, 188
disclosure of, 188–190
documentation for, 144
licensing of, 188–189, 193 (See also patents)
250 BWF
ownership of at the university level, 191
and sponsored research agreements, 196
isolation, making decisions in, 62
job application, 8–11
job descriptions, 79
job flexibility, and staff recruitment, 80
job interviews, 11–16. See also staff interviews
job offers
evaluating and negotiating, 16–17
letters, 74
making, 91
for staff, 91
job search, 5–7
narrowing, 7
resources, 6, 19, 20, 24
job talk
delivering, 12, 13–14
preparing, 12–13
joint intellectual property, 206
journal club, 60, 233
journal editors, 176
journals. See also authorship; papers; publications
advertising for staff in, 79
choosing for publication, 177–178
communication formats in, 175–176
editorial guidelines, 179
impact factors, 175–176
paper review process, 181–183
presubmission inquiries to, 179
submitting papers to, 180–181
types of, 175
key events schedule, in project management, 131
know-how, licensing of, 191
knowledge questions, 245
active learning in, 220–221
communication within, 57–60
creating a learning environment in, 233
designing and equipping, 44
interactions within, 57–58
managing conflicts in, 69
material transfers, 194–195
potential students for, 212
setup, 42, 44
laboratory information management systems,
laboratory leader, 50–54. See also leader and principal
laboratory leadership, 49–76
resources for, 72, 73–76
laboratory management, teaching staff about, 102
laboratory meetings, 58–60
laboratory members
keeping motivated, 67–68
resolving conflicts between, 71–72
laboratory notebooks, 143–147. See also record
electronic, 145
good practice for, 145–146
how long to keep, 147
where to keep, 147
witnesses for, 146
laboratory protocols, systems for tracking, 150
laboratory safety, 3, 32
laboratory team, building and sustaining, 57–72
laboratory technicians
mentoring, 105
recruiting, 80
screening applicants for, 82
staff development for, 100
staffing needs for, 78
status of, 77–78
creating a vision, 53–54
versus managers, 51
role of, 50–53
definition of, 50–51
development, 51–52
involving a vision and relationships, 50
laboratory, 49–76
styles of, 55–56
leadership skills
developing, 51–52
improving, 52–53
resources, 52–53, 72
leadership style
developing in the lab, 55–57
getting feedback, 58–59
environment in a laboratory, 233
levels or categories of, 224
lectures, assessments for large, 242–244
legal terms and agreements, in technology transfer,
189–195, 206–207
confirmation, for grant applications, 170
cover (See cover letters)
to the editor (publication format), 175
job offer, 91
rebuttal, for grant applications, 182
of recommendation, 10–11
soliciting from experts during tenure review, 40–41
termination, 94
Liaison Committee on Medical Education, 225
liberal arts college, active learning at, 216
licensing, 32, 33, 193
agreements, 193, 194
and sponsored research agreements, 196
technology, 187–189 (See also patents)
of unpatented intellectual property, 190–191
loading chart, in project management, 142
logbooks, instrument, 150
long-term goals, in time management, 113–114
loyalties, as a university-based scientist, 37–38
manager checklist, on performance feedback, 76
managerial responsibilities, delegating, 102
managers, versus leaders, 51
marketing, in technology transfer, 188
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, courses
from, 234
material transfer agreement (MTA), 150, 194–195
maternity leave, 65, 88, 191
maximizing returns, in time management, 115
media technology, 219
medical center career tracks, 23
medical school
active learning at, 221–222
administrative structure of, 29
collaboration, 205
employee dismissal, 94
with faculty members, 15
guidelines for effective, 58
of journal club, 60
one-on-one, 58
with postdoctoral students, 15
with potential colleagues, 15
of research group, 58
with residents, 15
small-group, 59
with students, 15
study section, 156–157
taking staff to, 102
with teaching assistants (TAs), 231
with trainees, 15
versus adviser, 99–100
changing, 107
defining role as, 99
finding your own, 2, 52, 106–107
responsibilities of, 98–100
traits of, 98
mentoring, 2, 97–112
choosing candidates for, 98–99
commitment to staff, 80
confidentiality in, 98
cultural issues in, 108–109
definition of, 97–98
different needs for, 103–105
effective, 100–103
gender issues in, 108–109
graduate students, 80–81, 103–104
how to receive, 107
individuals outside your lab, 105–106
lab technicians, 105
physician-scientists, 105
postdoctoral fellows, 104
resources, 99, 109, 110–111
and staff recruitment, 80
strategies for, 100–103
undergraduate students, 103
Microsoft Project, for project management, 132–133
milestone events, in project management, 129
minorities, mentoring, 108
mission statements, creating for the lab, 53–54
HHMI 251
modular grants, 168
monitoring, projects, 135
Moodle, 229
moral support, for staff, 103
motivation, of lab members, 67–68
multiple-choice questions, 224–225
multiple offers, handling, 23
multitasking, 115–116
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), 52, 73–74
names, learning students’, 220
National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, 219
National Institutes of Health (NIH), 42
auditing of records by, 144
common abbreviations, 156
CRISP database, 164
funding plans, 159–160
funding process, 154–160 (See also R01 grant)
Guide to Grants and Contracts, 160, 164, 167
institutes and centers, 154, 164
National Advisory Councils/Boards, 158–159
National Science Foundation (NSF), 42, 172
negotiating tips, 22
nervousness, techniques to control, 13–14
and gender and minority issues, 108
providing staff with opportunities, 102
new laboratory, designing and equipping, 44
NIH R01 grant. See R01 grant
non-tenure-track positions, 7
of course units or lessons, 228
defining for a project, 126
evaluating a project against, 135
in a statement of work, 128
objectivity, when evaluating job applicants, 89
enlisting outside, to improve teaching, 214
in project management, 129
offer letters, to job applicants, 22, 28, 91
Office Action, in patent application, 192
Office of Extramural Research, 170
one-minute papers, 243
one-on-one meetings, 58
online discussion/bulletin board, 219
OpenCourseWare Initiative, 234
open-ended questions, for interviewing, 83, 84
open-source systems, for teaching, 229
option agreements, in technology transfer, 194
organizational culture
and mentoring, 100
and staff recruitment, 80
“original” record, for patent purposes, 144
overhead, versus direct costs, 168
ownership, and material transfer issues, 195
252 BWF
paired activities, inclass exercises, 218
papers. See also authorship; journals; publications
resubmission of, 183
submission of, 180–181
writing, 179–183
partner hire packages, 9
passive statements, versus active learning approach, 220
pass-through royalties, in technology transfer, 193
patentability, 190–191
patent attorneys, 191
Patent Cooperation Treaty application, 190
patents, 187, 189–193. See also licensing;
technology transfer
application for, 191
and collaborations, 206–207
costs of, 191
defending, documentation for, 144, 146
and disclosure rules, 190, 192
documentation for, 144, 146
provisional, 192–193
types of, 189
paternity leave, 65, 88
patient care, by tenure-track physician-scientists, 46
peer review, to improve teaching, 214
percentiling, for R01 grants, 156
performance feedback, checklist for managers, 76
performance reviews
forms, 75–76
for lab communication, 58–59
personal rhythms, knowing, 234
PERT chart, in project management, 131
PHS 398 Grant Application Kit, 166
increasing visibility and security, 46
mentoring, 105
negotiating a position, 21
plotting out a career trajectory, 45
research and patient care, 46
time management issues for, 121
projects, 126
research and publication, 178
postdoctoral fellows. See also graduate students;
teaching assistants (TAs)
assisting with collaborations, 208
dismissing, 92, 104
foreign applicants, 88
interviewing, 83
job-hunting goals, 100, 104
meeting with, 15
mentoring, 104
presentations by, 84
publications by, 82, 100, 177
recruiting, 79–80, 81
screening applicants, 82
staffing needs for, 79
status of, 77–78
predict-observe-explain activities, 243
pregnancy, 65, 88
pre/posttests, in teaching assessment, 242
encouraging staff, 102
for job applications, 84
by postdoc applicants, 84
president, university, 26, 40
presubmission inquiries to journals, 179
primary appointments, 29
principal investigator (PI)
as both leader and manager, 51
developing leadership skills, 51–52
improving leadership skills, 52–53
making decisions, 62–63
responsibilities of, 50–53
tasks of, 134–135
printed records, archives of, 148
priorities, setting, in time management, 117
priority scores, for R01 grants, 156, 158
procurement office, 33
professional considerations, of teaching, 234–236
professional societies, educating faculty, 213
professional standards
briefing teaching assistants on, 232
upholding, 101
professional training
for becoming a better teacher, 213
for teaching assistants, 231
Program Announcement (NIH), 154
program officers, NIH, 164–165, 169
progress, assessing for leadership development,
project management, 2, 125
software, 132–133
steps of, 125, 126
as a training and communication tool, 133
project ownership, 66
controlling, 134–135
expectations on leaving the lab, 66–67
getting started on, 127–130
planning, 126
tracking, 131–132, 134–135
tracking spending for, 133
project team, supporting, 134
prolonged absences, for members of the lab, 65
promotion. See also tenure
planning for, 38–45
review process, 40
proposed costs, in grant applications, 169
protected research time, negotiating, 21
provost, university, 26–27
publications, 175–186. See also authorship; journals;
choosing journal for, 177–178
integration of research and, 178
involving staff in, 101–102
on a job application, 9
making pitch for, 179
and material transfers issues, 195
overview of, 175–176
as part of tenure dossier, 41
planning for, 177–179
by postdocs, 82, 100
process of, 101–102
promotion of, 183–184
resources, 176, 185
review process for, 181–183
and sponsored research agreements, 196
strategies for, 179–183
timing of, 177
public education, participation in, 38
public relations office, 33
public service obligations, 38
publishers, contacting for review copies of
textbooks, 229
purpose section, of a statement of work, 127–128
in Bloom’s Taxonomy, 245–246
developing for examinations, 224–225
directive, 83
encouraging from students, 218
to get student response, 218
handling during job talk, 14
open-ended for interviewing, 83, 84
radiation safety requirements, 32
rating of R01 grants, 156, 158, 167
reading, to improve leadership skills, 52
reagents, tracking system for, 150
rebuttal letters, to publication reviews, 182
receiving feedback, in the lab, 62
recombinant DNA research, requirements for
working with, 32
record keeping. See also documentation; laboratory
assisting staff with, 101, 145–146
day-to-day, 143–147
and dismissal proceedings, 92
recruitment, staff, 79–81
reduction to practice, in technology transfer, 146,
checking, for hiring staff, 83
for dismissed employees, 94
in research proposals, 9–10
reflective questions, for interviewing staff, 83
regulatory compliance, 32, 34
relationships, role in leadership, 50
reporting requirements, 28
and material transfers issues, 195
and sponsored research agreements, 196
reprints, in job applications, 10
Request for Applications (RFA), 154
Request for Materials forms, 150
in clinical settings (See physician-scientists)
commercialization of, 187
costs of, 26
as criteria for tenure, 38–39
integration of publication and, 178
protected time for, 21
HHMI 253
and teaching, 235
of tenure-track physician-scientists, 46
research agreements, sponsored by industry, 196–198
research ethics, 34, 66, 188, 195
research group, meetings, 58
research plans, in a research proposal, 10
research proposal, 10
research responsibilities, balancing with teaching
responsibilities, 36
resource conflicts, in managing projects, 132
assigning for projects, 131–132
for becoming a better teacher, 213
collaborations, 210
data management, 144, 145, 152
funding for resources, 170
funding, obtaining grants, 172, 173–174
job search, 6, 19, 20, 24
laboratory leadership skills, 52–53, 73–76
mentoring, 109, 110–111
project management, 135–136
publications, 185
regulatory compliance, 34
R01 grants, 160, 164, 167–168
scientific ethics, 66
selecting for courses, 229
staffing, 79, 95
on submitting images, 181
teaching, 236–241
technology transfer, 190, 199
time management, 123
undergraduate biology, 236
university structure, 46–47
visas, 88
balancing of, 36
of committees, 42
outside the laboratory, 35–37
school- or college-level, 27–28
university-wide, 26–27
from job applicants, 82
preparing your own, 9
revenue, university, 26
invitation to serve as, 182
receiving comments from, 181
review process, for promotion and tenure, 40
of performance, 58–59
of publications, 181–182
reviews (publication format), 176
R01 grant applications, 39, 42–43, 153, 161–168
budgeting on, 168–170
common abbreviations, 156
components of, 161–168
deferrals, 158
determining appropriate institute for, 161
equipment issues, 170
first, 154, 160, 161
funding cycles, 159–160
preparing, 161–168, 166–168
254 BWF
priority scores, 156, 158
resources, 160, 164, 167–168
resubmission of, 171–172
streamlining, 158
submission of, 170–172
R01 grant review process, 154–155
first-level, 156, 158
mistakes during, 171
second-level, 158–159
timeline for, 159
risks, defining, in project management, 127
role models, and gender and minority issues, 108
royalties, in technology transfer, 192
rules of behavior, setting and communicating, 63–67
Sakai Project, 229
evaluating, 19–20
obtaining details about, 18–19
staff, 91
surveys, 19–20
salary cap summary, 170
scenarios, for projects, 134
schedules, for projects, 131–132
school-level responsibility, within university
structure, 27–28
science literacy, 212
scientific ethics, 34, 66, 188, 195
scientific journals, editors of, 129
Scientific Review Group (SRG), 154. See also study
scientific teaching, 231
screening job applicants, 81–83
search committee, university, 17
secondary appointments, 29
second job interview, 17
security, physician-scientists increasing, 46
select pay, 160
self-knowledge, improving leadership skills, 52–53
self-promotion, 183–184
senate, faculty, 30
senior colleagues, as teachers, 214
service. See also committee work
as criteria for tenure, 39
description of in tenure dossier, 41
public, 38
responsibilities, 35–37
Shared Instrumentation Grant Program (S10), 170
short-answer questions, 224
short-term goals, in time management, 113–114
situational leadership, 55–56
Skillscope questionnaire, 52–53
small-group meetings, 59
Small Instrumentation Grants Program (S15), 170
archival, 152
project management, 132–133
sponsored research agreements, 196–198
collaboration among, 201–210
competition among, 70
departure of, 147
development, 101–102
dismissing, 91–94, 104
job descriptions for, 79
morale of, 60
performance reviews, 75–76
record keeping by, 145–146
recruitment of, 79–81
resolving conflicts among, 71–72
salary ranges for, 91
setting examples for, 64
setting expectations for, 64–67
time management by, 101, 119
staffing, 2, 77–94
determining needs for, 78–79
resources, 79–80, 95
staff interviews, 83–88
questions for, 82–83
telephone, 83, 96
tips for conducting, 87–88
warning signs during, 90
staff job applicants
evaluating, 89–90
offer letters for, 91
screening, 81–83
start-up package, 20
statement of work, in project management, 127–128,
avoiding subjective in the lab, 61
explaining incorrect, 243
strategic thinking, encouragement of, 100–101
planning, 113–115
sessions, 59
streamlining, R01 grants, 158
assessing as a teacher, 213
recognizing to improve leadership skills, 52–53
student learning, assessing, 223–225, 230
students. See also graduate students; undergraduate
asking for feedback, 214
dismissing from lab, 92
versus employees, 77–78
encouraging questions from, 218
learning names of, 220
meeting with, 15
study section, 156–159
assignment of, 165
chartered, 157
meetings, 157, 164
service on, 158
summary statements by, 157, 169
sublicenses, in technology transfer, 193
summary statements, 157, 169
supporters, in project management, 129
support facilities and services, university, 31–34
supportive behavior, 55–56
syllabus, 230
synthesis questions, in Bloom’s Taxonomy, 246
tangible property, licensing of, 190
delegating, 56–57
role in leadership, 50–51
teacher, becoming an effective, 211, 212–214
teaching, 42
controlling class-related hours, 120
as criteria for tenure, 39
enhancing with technology, 219
feedback on, 214
fostering scientific, 231
others to teach, 231–233
reasons for doing well, 211–212
statement of, 10
students and postdocs appropriate social
behavior, 108
technical skills, 102, 143
and tenure review, 235
and tenure-track physician-scientists, 45
teaching and learning centers, 213
teaching assistants (TAs). See also graduate students;
postdoctoral fellows
education group for, 232
meetings with, 231
teaching, 231–232
teaching load, negotiating a reduced, 235
teaching mentor, selecting, 214
teaching opportunities, providing to teaching
assistants, 232
teaching portfolio
developing, 235–236
sample, 236
teaching responsibilities, 35–36
balancing with research responsibilities, 36
reducing, 35, 235
statement about, 20–21
teaching skills, improving, 213
technical comments (publication format), 175
technical representatives, and material transfer issues, 196
technical skills, teaching, 102, 143
technology, enhancing teaching, 219
technology licensing, 187–189. See also patents
technology transfer, 2, 187–200
and collaboration agreements, 205
conflicts of commitment and interest with,
and faculty recruitment, 192
legal terms and agreements in, 189–195, 206–207
process of, 188–189
resources, 190, 199
sponsorship and consultation issues, 196–198
Technology Transfer Office (TTO), 33, 187
telephone interviews, 83, 96
addressing issues hindering, 44
attaining, 42
and collaborations, 203, 207
criteria for, 18, 38–39
dossier, 40–41
and funding, 160
and multiple department appointments, 18
HHMI 255
open versus closed process, 40
planning for, 2, 25–46, 38–45
process for obtaining, 18
publication as criteria for, 177–179
review, 40, 235
strong teaching record helping, 212
and study section service, 158
tenured faculty, vote for reappointment, 43
tenure track
positions, 7
progress along, 41–45
employment, 93–94
mentoring relationship, 107
test questions, 224–225
textbooks, selecting, 229
themes, of courses, 228
think-pair-share approach, 218, 242–243
Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model, 69–72
Thompson Scientific, impact factors, 176
time frame, for tenure track progress, 41–45
for leadership development, 51
planning for projects, 130
time management, 2, 113–124
assisting staff with, 101, 119
and collaborations, 207–208
committee service commitments, 120
day-to-day, 115–119
efficient, 117–118
and family responsibilities, 121–123
grid for, 117
making choices, 115
resources, 123
rotating tasks, 116
strategies for, 113–115
and teaching, 234–235
time off, avoiding misunderstandings, 64
titles of papers, 180
trainees, meeting with, 15
true/false questions, in teaching, 224
trustees, board of, 26
undergraduate students. See also graduate students;
interaction with, 36
lab status of, 77–78
mentoring, 103
recruiting, 81
staffing needs for, 79
United States Medical Licensing Examination
(USMLE), 221
faculty handbook, 27
organization of, 26–28
service, 20
support facilities and services, 31–34
university commercialization record, 192
university committees. See committees
university governing board, 26
256 BWF
University of Minnesota, Center for Teaching and
Learning Services, 218
university policy
on income sharing, 192
on outside activities, 37–38, 170
university structure, 25–46
people to know within, 29–30
resources, 46–47
university-wide responsibilities, 26–27
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), 189
utility patents, 189
vacation, 65
values, 66
maintaining in the lab, 57–58
as part of the lab mission statement, 54
vice presidents
academic health center, 28
university, 26–27
video collections, NIH site on historical, 233
visas, 88, 91, 94
visibility, increasing, 46, 175, 183–184
creating as a leader, 53–54
keeping by motivating lab members, 67–68
role in leadership, 50
vote, by tenured faculty, 40, 43
warnings, for employee misbehavior, 93
assessing as a teacher, 213
recognizing to improve leadership skills, 52–53
Web site, for teaching a course, 229
witnesses, for laboratory notebooks, 146
work breakdown structure (WBS), in project
management, 129–130, 139–140
work hours, 64–65
workload, negotiating, 227
work practices, establishing good, 143
years, of tenure track, 41–45
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