Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Learning to manage people

As we grow in our careers as scientists, we start to do less research ourselves and instead we start to manage other people to do our research. Eventually, all of our research is done by other people’s hands, but we rarely receive real training in how to interact with these people. 

Currently, we are having quite a situation in the lab that involves me and the technician that works on my project, but because I can’t think of a more anonymous way to write about the problem, I won’t go into any more detail. I emailed my PI about it yesterday and we’re going to talk about it today. 

I do have a question for all of you: do you have any recommendations for books about managing people that I should read? Because right now I feel that I’m just doing something…


  1. is this the same tech who seemed to be asking to get fired? Maybe I misremember.

    1. No it's not. Sadly our lab seems to attract people that don't love science (or work in general). If it were up to me we wouldn't have hired this person, but I'm not the one to make those decisions.

  2. As a general rule I've seen that it is helpful to sit down and talk about expectations and "how we work" together before starting working. That way many smaller situations can be avoided.

    It's also a good way to keep "people who are less self-motivated" on the narrow road of doing work in a timely manner. (It's also called micromanaging to a point... and I personally don't like it, but with some people this is the best way to get them to do things)

    Problem could be that the tech doesn't see you as "the boss" and therefore it might be needed that the PI sit and tlak to the two of you? Then again, some people don't want to 'take orders from X and Y' and then there is only to start collecting their warnings so they can leave eventually...

    (Never understood why you'd want to work in a place you don't like, but it's a job that pays the bills I guess?)

    1. As a general rule I've seen that it is helpful to sit down and talk about expectations and "how we work" together before starting working.
      We actually did this before this person started and ze was very enthusiastic to start working here. That has changed dramatically for some unknown reason... I just talked to PI and he is going to talk to the tech because it's not just my project that is suffering but also general lab tasks.

    2. Sounds like a good conversation to have. I should've said that usually it's the follow-up (say after a few months in the new job, and then within a year etc) that's the probnlem. Most often that not, imho, it's not usual to have these follow-up which leads to smaller problems turning into bigger ones and then no-one wants to have a meeting anymore...

      Keeping my fingers crossed that tech will get the memo from the PI!

  3. I was just told about a book called "At the Helm" from the same people who did "At the Bench," perhaps? Looking into it, as am finding managing a group to be fairly challenging. Will let you know if it's got any good advice!

  4. Just asking, but no one who's working with this tech has said/did something demeaning to this person? (I'm assuming not, because you didn't say there was a potential reason for this conflict, but still something to check. There are people I won't work with because they or their students or post-docs treat techs like shit.)

    Did this person even work in research before? If the person hasn't worked in research before it might be disillusionment. Some people don't get that if you do any kind of research, at least some of the time you will have to do boring repetative stuff and probably on a fairly regular basis. As a tech, you're likely going to be doing a lot of that stuff, but it's sh*t that needs to get done for the lab to function. It should only be a problem if that sh*t is your entire job.

    If you want to look at HR type of blogs, there is Ask a Manager and Evil HR Lady.