was an article in the December 22, 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal entitled
“Doctors Seek Aid from Business Schools.” It spoke to the emerging realization
by some medical doctors of the importance of getting business/management
training in order to run a successful medical practice.
the directors of some of the larger laboratories at the National Institutes of
Health also recognized the need for some serious assistance in the business
aspects of running their research programs. They’re spending too much of their
time dealing with budget, personnel, project management and other non-science-related
aspects of running a big operation, which is eating into the time they have to
focus on setting scientific direction.
wonder how many of those professionals considered, as they were setting out on
their science careers, that having business skill training (things like
strategic and tactical thinking, advanced communications skills, and maybe even
some basic project management and financial skills) might actually become
really handy – not so much in launching their careers, but in excelling
in their careers.
scientists I know (myself being one of them) were absolutely convinced that the
excellent didactic training, practical bench experience, unique insight and
creativity, and publications were the ticket to total success. In the short term, that’s absolutely the
case. Our scientific/technical skills
get us recognized, invited to talks, and results in offers for collaborations,
requests for our unique reagents, etc.
this happens, it is easy to think “Boy, we’re really getting somewhere! Total success is right around the
corner.” But that early success is
typically based almost exclusively on our performance at the bench and published
work. Even so, with enough luck, some us finally get our own lab and earn the
title of “Principle Investigator”.
remember thinking that the whole game plan was playing out just as I planned
it. Set up the lab, order supplies,
start doing experiments, and call all the shots. Boy this is great. But then came more and more non-science tasks
that had to be dealt with, seemingly on a daily basis. Interview and hire a
technician. Find a post-doc or two. Train them once they arrive. Track the progress of these post-docs as
multiple projects that are critical to my grand design are running at the same
of that was easy when I was doing all the work, but it got more complicated
when there were multiple people involved.
More and more time out of the day was spent on personnel issues,
budgets, collaborations, management meetings, mentoring new students, and defending
the laboratory’s productivity to department heads. WHAT THE HECK WAS
THIS??? This wasn’t what I signed up
for!! They didn’t teach me this stuff in
are you doing to prepare yourself for the next inevitable steps in your
career? Do you pay attention to the
non-science aspects of your current position?
Have you considered how competent you are at handling the social issues that
come with working with others? How is
the money allocated and doled out to run your lab? Are there difficult personalities that have
to be managed “for the good of the lab?”
How are you at handling these non-science social, organizational and
business issues? How does your advisor
handle these science intangibles?
Well, that’s the reality. Success in science goes beyond the
science. While a graduate student in the
protective confines of someone else’s lab, it is all about the science, or at
least mostly so. But once you set out on
your own, whether in academia or in going over to the dark side (i.e. industry),
there’s an entire aspect of managing the science that you’ve got to figure
out. If you really want to be
successful, and if you want to maximize your options, excel and grow in your
career by looking into acquiring some of those basic business, communications
and management skills.
Continuing education at your current institution or at a local community
college would be a good start. You will
not regret it.