Whenever we join a new squad, be it our local sports team or a new work group, it is always good to know where exactly we fit in. Knowing our role within a unit is immensely helpful in focusing our energy in the right direction and gives great satisfaction when we efficiently contribute to that role. Understanding different positions within an organization is also critical to its success.

I’ll be honest, when I began my research at the University I didn’t really know how it worked on the inside, but once I was a part of the system, I started to understand the different roles that individuals can choose to play in a scientific team. There are different positions in the lab: professors, post-docs, research assistants and, of course, the PhD student. I began to think about the different personalities and traits of each of the people in these positions, and where I slotted into this system. It was at this point I noticed that there are three types of people in a scientific team: the creators, the innovators and the supporters. Here are a few helpful characteristics so you can identify each of these people.

Qualities of a Creator

Creators are the people who generate novel ideas and come up with new project themes. In order to be a scientific creator behind a big project, one needs ample and in-depth knowledge in that field of work, and of course enough experience to know the chances of success or failure of a project. The professors or team leaders use their wealth of scientific experience to take all major factors into account to gauge the feasibility of a project. But rest assured, if you have the passion and right amount of knowledge, you can be a creator anytime you want. Brilliant scientific ideas can pop up from many directions and not only by people further up the ladder! Once an idea is set in motion, we need creative and dedicated people to carry the idea forth, and that is where the innovators come in.

Who Are the Innovators?

Innovators are those creative individuals who will work on the ideas of the creators. Innovators not only add to novel ideas put forward by creators but also find out new ways of dealing with unexpected hurdles hindering the idea. In addition, they figure out ways of doing old things more efficiently by, for example, improving established techniques such as protein expression or cloning assays. The innovator position is most likely to be executed by the post-docs or the experienced PhD students. They are either creating ways for a novel idea to develop or old knowledge to expand. Innovators are consistently working to get to the core, add more information to an idea and, therefore, build up vast pools of knowledge.

The Importance of the Supporters

Supporters are those pillars in the team who help in constructing the final results in a project. As we all know, ideas, whether in science or anywhere else, cannot work without support from those who believe in them. Supporters are the people who contribute their time and energy in assisting the creators and innovators build up that idea. Technical assistants and junior research students form this essential core group. Technical assistants already know a great deal about experiments being carried out for a project while junior students learn along the way. Even though they might not be directly involved in the nitty gritty of the project, they sometimes generate enough data for the projects, and hence form the much needed additional workforce and support for the idea to materialize.

Roles Can Be Intertwined in a Lab

Some professors still like to do experiments while planning projects. Students and post-docs can come up with brilliant bold research ideas, and technical assistants, armed with their experience, can offer deep insights into experiments and thus move onto become innovators. This is what makes science so wonderful and fascinating. There is a level of flexibility in everything, depending on where you are, what you have learned and what fascinates you.

How to Build a Successful Team

All these unified workforces definitely constitute a good scientific team. So if you want to build up a successful lab one day, you must pay attention to all these facets of your team. They are all so important for scientific success. Moreover, if you are thinking of doing something within the scientific research community, you now have an idea of all the ways you can contribute to the scientific community ­– as supporter, innovator or a creator. You may start out as a supporter moving around the idea and then proceed to become an innovator or a creator. Whichever way you choose, you will definitely be contributing to science in one way or another. You are going to be leaving behind knowledge that might go down generations, and what can be more wonderful than that?

Don’t forget to tell us where you see yourself in a scientific team right now. Do you think one can contribute in other ways as well, apart from the ones mentioned above? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear your thoughts!