As a new principal investigator, you now have a leadership role, guiding your lab members toward a common research goal. Each team member may bring their own unique strengths and weaknesses that you should be aware of to ensure your research goes smoothly.
In addition to the various roles, the timing of when certain positions are filled should be thought out. Understanding how each position can contribute to your early lab is very important in assembling your team.
In the eBook How to start your own lab, 8 principal investigators share their thoughts on the roles you’ll be looking to fill in our young lab.
Here are the most common positions and some considerations:
Lab technician – Sometimes referred to as “The Tech,” the lab technician is versatile and reliable — your best all-around player. They can act as a lab manager and help ensure that the lab’s day-to-day processes run smoothly. Technicians generally fulfill routine tasks and experiments, but can also specialize and focus on specific projects. The technician will play a great support role in your lab, so they’ll likely be one of your first hires. And consider investing in them for the long term.
Undergraduate students – “Undergrads” are young, eager, and are generally excited to help out with research. However, they can require a considerable amount of training, especially on more delicate experiments. More established members, like postdocs and graduate students, may benefit from the help of undergrads and can also learn leadership skills by guiding them. Consider recruiting undergrads once you have things up and running, and keep their projects reasonably short and simple.
Graduate students – Graduate students are smart, motivated, and reasonably experienced. Many of them may also come with funding. They will require supervision and training, but this investment can be rewarded with productivity and innovation. With the right guidance, graduate students can bring fresh new ideas and the dedication to help move the work forward. Like with undergraduates, you can also enlist the aid of more experienced members to help mentor them.
Postdocs – Postdocs are seasoned research veterans equipped with technical skills and knowledge. Their skills can be indispensable in getting your research program underway. However, some postdocs may be interested in joining more established labs, which could pose a challenge in recruiting them in the early stage. A postdoc can be a very useful addition to your lab, especially if they come with their own funding, so take time to find someone who meets your expectations.
To fill these positions, carefully determine what qualities are most valuable to you. Some desired qualities in candidates include: independence, attention to detail, specific technical skills, ability to communicate and collaborate with others, and work ethic. It may also help to take into account which projects or roles require more immediate attention.
For more help with recruiting players in your soon-to-be all-star team, check out this eBook on how to start a lab, written with valuable input from established principal investigators. Among other useful information, the eBook includes recruiting strategies, such as how to convince people to work in a new lab or where to find new candidates.