Columns Journey of a YI

Learning to lead from front

Prosenjit Mondal

Prosenjit Mondal is an Assistant Professor, from IIT Mandi, Himachal Pradesh. He attended YIM 2016. as a YI. In this guest post, he shares his tips for better personnel management in laboratories.

Prosenjit Mondal
Prosenjit Mondal 

In the early, heady days of my becoming a PI, armed with some great training and a truck-load of motivation, I was always eager to start acting on new ideas and see them work. I think a lot PIs feel this way (excited and eager to start), but, with time get to know that some hurdles need to be crossed to bring their dreams to fruition. 

Some of the hurdles that came my way were: creating a vision of my research group, figuring out staff recruitments for my lab (screening, interviewing, offering a position), learning to manage my time between teaching, administration, lab management, mentoring students, writing grants and of course, research, However, amongst all these the most challenging was learning to manage & motivate the people in my lab to have them on the same page as myself.

The first step in personnel management is to recruit the right person. I was looking for dynamic team members who would show great initiative for research and have a fair knowledge on the subject. I did some recruitments accordingly, however, I soon realised how difficult it is to bring all the members under one umbrella and keep them constantly motivated even if there are some initial failures. From my experience, I can say one should not accept someone only because you badly need to staff the lab, just to get the work done.

A PI may have many new ideas and his own thought process of how things should be carried out, but the new members in the lab will definitely not be able to anticipate everything at one go. Different members with different background & culture have their own views, own concepts to put forward. 

Differences between members are also a very common problem that one has to come across. If all these issues are not taken care of at an early stage along with other aspects like project application, project management etc, it becomes very difficult for a new PI to execute his research work in a smooth manner. This happened to me as well. 

I think, what finally helped me draw everyone together and bring some order in things is starting an open forum within the lab where I regularly interact with members and communicate about my expectations from each of them. The open forum is not a place for one-way communication. Not only do I give them feedback on their work but I also encourage my team members to give their feedback. I also started lab meetings, once a week and one to one meetings as required. This has helped me know my team members not only in terms of their capabilities but also develop a clear understanding of the person I am dealing with & how can I approach them to get a better outcome. Another thing that has helped me is continuing to carry out experiments on the bench with my lab members. This makes me more accessible to all the members & they also get a chance to learn the necessary skills from me.

I have realised that day-to ‑day operation of the lab requires strong leadership and management skills. Hence, along with these steps, I’m trying to collect as much information as possible on management and motivation applicable to a lab setting, to become a better leader and improve productivity in the lab.