Establishing an independent research group is an important milestone in the professional life of many scientists. This is a challenging endeavor that requires careful planning and preparation. Many questions will arise at different stages of this process: about the application, attending interviews, deciding which one is the best position to accept if one has several offers, and about negotiating the best possible deal before signing a contract. This will be followed by another phase of completely different challenges that relate to setting up a lab, such as the hiring and supervision of trainees and staff.
This workshop addressed the most relevant of these challenges that many post-docs and newly appointed principal investigators (PI) are facing. Three experienced PIs (Florian Markowetz, Gary Bader and Phil Bourne) provided insight into the transition from trainee to PI and share advice on how to make the best out it. They are now generously sharing their presentations:
Session 1: Applying (Florian Markowetz)
So you have a PhD and have been a post-doc for a while or you are close to finishing up your PhD and you start wondering: “What’s next”? Do you want to stay in academia or are there any other options available? If you want to stay in academia, is it required to do a post-doc or can you move straight to the a more independent position of a PI? After careful deliberation you decide you want to work as a PI. Now what?
A number of things need to be sorted out. First of all, you need to define the position within the scientific world you want to occupy. Then you need to let your peers know what your place is and why they should care. It is important to figure out what you want to accomplish in the next 5 years and what your long-term goals are.
You are now your own ‘product’, time to start selling. First stop: prospective customers, also known as universities and institutes that may be interested in your services. Which institutes are relevant to your expertise? Do they have interesting jobs? Well, what are you waiting for?
Session 2: Interviewing, Deciding and Negotiating (Gary Bader)
Now that you’ve landed an interview or two or ten it is time to figure out what it really means to interview for a faculty job. What is the difference between the job talk and the chalk talk? Who should you talk to and what are the crucial questions that you should ask about? Do you need to know what each and every faculty member is working on? What is it that the search committee is looking for in you? What qualities should you highlight and emphasize? Should you prepare differently for different kinds of departments (CS vs biology vs med school)?
No worries - you’ll get an offer. But not only one, you’ll get five! So it’s time for negotiations and you start wondering how you make sure that you get yourself a good start up package. What are you worth? How do you negotiate your own salary and can you get money for an administrator? What about travel funding or money to cover publication costs? And besides the money, what other criteria should you take into account before accepting an offer? Is money more important that for instance an opportunity to establish a group of local collaborators and access to excellent shared facilities? It is better to have little to no teaching commitments instead of access to outstanding students? What role should the tenure criteria play in your decision?
Session 3: Hiring and Supervising (Phil Bourne)
Congratulations! You made it into a junior PI position, and you even got some money to employ one or two students. Of course, you intend to find and hire the smartest and most hard-working students in the universe to carry out your brilliant ideas. Yet, you have no experience differentiating between the suitable and unsuitable candidates. And to be honest, you do not even exactly know what ‘suitable’ means. How to determine the criteria for the perfect candidate, what are appropriate questions to ask? Do you hire someone with a lot of experience, or someone that is a fast learner?
You found someone! It was (scientific) love at first sight! There is just one catch: how to supervise this person? Surely, the new PhD student/post-doc is bright, but how to motivate him/her after a set-back or entice him/her to become more creative? It turns out to be much harder than you thought to stimulate a potentially brilliant student/post-doc to actually produce brilliant work.
This workshop was organized by Nils Gehlenborg, Thomas Abeel, Magali Michaut, Venkata P. Satagopam and Jeroen de Ridder