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Management Skills in Science

Posted in: Dealing with Fellow Scientists
Management Skills in Science

science leadership

Amid growing recognition that a successful scientific career requires skills beyond scientific acumen, institutions are racing to provide management training for newly minted principal investigators. Young scientists spend years conducting complicated experiments and crunching data, but when they are finally given the keys to their own lab, they suddenly face tasks they were never trained for in graduate school.

That’s the opening snippet of the analysis article in the March 21st issue of Cell about Managing to Excel at Science.

I’ve heard (and felt) the often-repeated sentiment that grad school and postdoctoral work fails to prepare most scientists for the leadership role of a faculty member. Sure, the lab skills and theoretical fundamentals are solid, but everything from negotiating your first position to navigating tenure, hiring and managing lab members, teaching and mentoring, project management, and collaborations, are bewildering.

Led by HHMI, a course was established to help teach these skills. This course became so successful, that it was clear to them (as it should be) that they had to get universities and similar institutions to teach them instead, and began to ‘train the trainers’ for the course.

This need for management experience extends beyond the academic realm however. Many scientists leave academia for the business, non-profit, and political worlds. Being technically proficient and inept at management and leadership is a recipe for career stagnation, wherever you are.

There are a number of other related programs out there also, directed at helping scientists become media savvy, and build political influence, to name two.

  1. Christie Aschwanden (2008) Managing to Excel at Science. Cell 132(6): 911-913. DOI
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  1. Lisa B. Marshall on May 20, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Another for “shameless commerce division”…
    I blog about professional development skills for professionals in the sciences The Art of Speaking Science. On my blog you’ll find links to two very well written HHMI books on lab management. You’ll also find other great resources including the slides from some talks (public speaking, networking, conflict management, poster presentations, etc.) I have delivered at major research institutions (UPenn, Stanford, Harvard, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, etc.)

  2. Jim H on April 1, 2008 at 5:53 pm


    Some of the worst Managers I have ever encountered in the Biotech trade have come out of some of the best, most highly respected research institutions.

    R&D labs in Biotech have different rules with regard to “boundaries” and the amount of “hand-holding” mandated by shareholders and customers than in academia. So if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the Bioreactor, for god’s sake!

  3. Dan on April 1, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Shameless though it may be, it’s entirely welcome and appropriate! Thanks for the contribution.

  4. David Crotty on April 1, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Shameless plug here, but we publish an excellent book on laboratory management skills, “Lab Dynamics” cowritten by a scientist/lab head and a psychotherapist. It’s full of practical, hands-on advice. What I particularly like about it is it talks about managing not only from the point of view of a boss managing employees/students, but from the point of view of students managing their boss, managing your peers, etc. Full info here:

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