9 1/2 weeks

Jun 27 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

You might think the title of this post is a desperate attempt to lure in unsuspecting new readers, innocently searching for 1980s cult erotica. But nine and a half weeks is, in fact, the exact amount of time left until my first official day at New Job.

And  I.    Am.    TERRIFIED.

I have this recurring daydream/nightmare (what would you call a nightmare you have when you're awake? Is there an actual word for this? "Daymare?" Eh.) in which I'm alone in my beautiful new lab that I've painstakingly designed, inch by inch, and it's empty. I sit in my office, paralyzed with fear that I'll buy the wrong kind of microscope, somehow get screwed out of my new lab startup discounts, order too many/not enough...I don't know, bottles or whatever. The point is that I can't make it happen. Failure to launch, as they say.

So, what can I do to avoid a deer-in-the-headlights moment of such epic proportions and potentially catastrophic consequences? I've been working on a list of things to get myself in gear, get my head in Professor Mode. What I've come up with so far is below, but I would looooove your suggestions in the comments. New profs, did you do anything in the few months before starting your position that made the transition easier?  And are any of my list items bad ideas?

1. Talk to vendors. I'm aware that some of my big ticket items can take several months to ship, and so I've been getting in touch with vendors, figuring out who my local reps are, etc. One even has a mini showroom at my current institution, so I was able to go and get at least a cursory look at what my options are from that particular vendor. I officially have access to my startup funds on July 1, so in theory I could start placing orders this Friday. AWESOME/SCARY.

2. Protocols. No matter how much fancy equipment I do manage to get into the lab, I can't run any experiments until I'm cleared by various institutional boards to do so. Getting my protocols written and approved as quickly as possible seems like a no-brainer.

3. Organize my grants. I have several well-received but unfunded grant proposals sitting in my hard drive, collecting dust. Time to tighten them up, reformat for new mechanisms, and get them back out.

4. Email everyone I know (in a professional capacity). A decade of conference attending plus a generally social personality has left me with a decent network of colleagues and peers, many of whom I imagine would be at least a little interested to know that I'll be starting a lab.  I hate sending out mass emails, but if it opens up a dialog that results in even one collaboration, I think it will be worth it.

OK, what else? Have at it!

20 responses so far

  • GEARS says:

    I wouldn't mass email everyone, except to say "hey, FYI, I'm starting a new position and this my new address, email, and phone".

    If there are specific people you want to work with, make sure to separately contact them and say "let's collaboration on _this_". I made sure to do that with some very specific people and it's helped me get the ball rolling on proposals.

    Also, seek out profs at your new place. Generally, you'll meet for lunch (typically a free lunch!) and be able to chat about your big ideas. Now, if you know your Uni is pretty cutthroat, you might want to not share all your big stuff yet. But if it's open and people would rather work with you than against you, go for it.

    There's some pretty big profs at my place (H-index > 35) so I definitely want to get on board with that if possible 😀

    Also, make sure you know what you're going to teach (and when). Are you taking time off your first year or saving it until later. What about students? Have your reached out to anyone that might be looking? The stellar ones are probably all snapped up so you're looking for the diamond in the rough.

    Oh, and be prepared to not sleep. Like, seriously. I wake up pretty often in the middle of the night like "WTF have I gotten myself in to". Then I start worrying about papers/grants/teaching, etc. It's going to happen.

  • Tom says:

    Get animal protocols submitted

  • Genomics Repairman says:

    Get the ACUFs done ASAP as they are a serious pain, you might contact another PI there to get the format of what they use. And pester them for thei IBCs as well.

  • neurowoman says:

    Don't freak out! No one particular thing is going to sink you. Good planning goes a long way, but you also have to be flexible. Spend money to make data. Biggest money/time sink is in personnel, so choose wisely. Go with your gut, but check references & pass on anyone who seems remotely hinky. Don't talk to much when interviewing people, let them talk. Buy what you need, and realize sometimes you may make bad purchases, sometimes things are just the price of doing business. Realize that you need to make yourself available to your people & that will be a big investment in time. Invest in big projects, but also in quick-turn-around projects.

    Boice, "advice for new faculty members"
    HHMI " Making the right moves"
    Kathy Barker "At the Bench" & "At the helm"

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    If you have any manuscripts lingering, get them written up and into the hands of editors now.

    You didn't mention teaching at all. Why?

    • Dr Becca says:

      Good catch, Zen! I won't be teaching first semester, but I will be teaching one course in the spring. Thankfully, I don't have to teach any general intro courses--in fact, I've pitched a new course, and it's making its way through various approval steps right now. The chair seems pretty excited about it, so I'm hoping it's a go!

      • Zen Faulkes says:

        You are indeed fortunate to have a semester to prep. I know your research is the thing that will nail you the job in the end, and everyone is excited for you to do your research, including you.

        But I beseech you: do not ignore the teaching that is coming in Spring. Set aside time to prepare classes. Typically, the first semester with a new class is a semester where you end up doing little else. Before I started teaching, I spent several weeks, fairly full 8 hours days, doing almost nothing but preparing lectures. I stayed ahead of the students, but not by much.

        P.S.-Why are you "thankful" that you don't have to teach introductory courses?

        • Dr Becca says:

          Aside from having 1/3 the number of exams to grade? I guess I'm just happy that I'll get to spend my teaching hours talking in depth about something that I'm passionate about, rather than only taking a superficial look at a broad range of sub-topics, many of which I haven't visited since college.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I'd say animal protocols are first and foremost task. But that's w/o knowing much about your big ticket items. Freezers would seem to be primary, after that things can wait a bit, no?

    For peace of mind I think the second focus is get the minimal lab stuff in place that lets you generate the simplest one or two bits of data in your plan, because it will make you feel grounded and competent. No need to swing for fences, just get on base in the first few months.

    Think about grants...oh, maybe towards the winter at earliest.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Oh and ix-nay on the "I have a job!!!" email. If you have a specific collaboration, fine, but no broad spectrum spammage. People will hear about you soon enough.

  • anon says:

    I actually found that other junior profs were the MOST helpful in this situation. They entered the scene most recently and are acutely aware of challenges that a new person faces (especially in this climate), more so than the crusty older crowd. I had no problem getting students, it was not an issue. What's more important is to get an experienced person on your team (in a post-doc capacity or tech) to get the ball rolling. I did not have enough start-up funds to do this, but in retrospect, it really would have helped.

  • odyssey says:

    Start looking for lab peeps ASAP. All the shiny toys in the world will do you no good without people to use them. A good tech is worth their weight in gold when setting up the lab.

    • Josh says:

      Definitely this. If you can arrange another visit to your new space where you meet up with some potential postdocs or techs, do it! Having someone start around the same time you do that you can trust to take over receiving orders, organizing things, and doing a few experiments will be very useful.

  • RM says:

    I started my position (3 yrs ago), and have a few thoughts.

    I found it helpful to get a lab credit card ASAP and to figure out how budgeting/reconciling purchases works at my institution.

    I emailed the spreadsheet of lab items I needed (microfuges, freezer, test tubes etc...) to my VWR/Fisher/ISC Biosci reps. I asked for their best price on these items, and once they replied, I used this info to make them bid lower against each other.

    Also, if you can afford it, I'd recommend hiring anyone who can help you with time management at home (maid service etc...). Both me and my SO work fairly demanding jobs, and the first few years of a tenure-track job are...shall we say...intense.

    Oh and put your exercise routine in play now, and stick to it.

  • gerty-z says:

    I agree with the above. The animal protocols are key, and then you need PEEPS! Start interviewing ASAP. You will probably get a lot of people to respond to an ad on the New Job HR site, so be prepared. I also hired an undergrad to work hourly the first month or two to unpack boxes and organize the lab. It was much cheaper than having a tech do it, and gave me time to find the tech that I wanted to hire. Don't worry about ordering all the little things that you need in the lab up front. Get the incubators, scopes and such things with a long lead-time ordered then, in the mean time think about what the first experiment you are going to do in your own lab is, and what you need for that. Then buy what you need. The little things show up pretty quick. At least for me, that made stocking the lab less overwhelming. Before I knew it, we had all the glassware and such that we needed, but not a lot of stuff that we weren't ready to use yet.

    It is a scary time. And overwhelming and crazy. But also awesome. Have fun!

  • Get as much of your postdoc work finished as you can before you leave the lab, particularly the lab work, as once you start your TT gig your head will be spinning and you won't have time to get manuscripts written.

    Most of the stuff I had organized before I started here turned out to be a waste of time so I wouldn't sweat too much, although getting a lead on potential students, techs, etc, before you start would be a good thing.

    Finally, make sure you take time for a vacation before your new job starts. It's a long haul from August to Thanksgiving and Christmas and you need to go into your new position as refreshed as you can possibly be if you want to be somewhat sane in the New Year.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Sorry, late to the party! Tons of great advice in here! (Awesome: animal protocols. Boo: big ass e-mail.) I will list what worked me and what didn't work for me-and maybe it helps. I'm about 10 months in.....

    1). Listed a couple of experiments/cloning that I knew would be straightforward and would yield results. I ordered supplies accordingly.
    2). Big stuff like centrifuges/microscopes (objectives!) got those ordered within the first day or two (OR Now).
    3). Had monster spreadsheet of consumables and smaller equipment sent this to reps from Fisher, VWR and Bioexpress. Take note of deals for pipette kits-these can be really awesome sauce
    4) My whole day is mapped out by lists. It kept me from getting overwhelmed. Because if you take a lot of time to ponder the weight of what you are about to do-you find yourself in the weeds quickly.
    5) I just now started thinking about grants. I do have a K that just started, but I really focused on getting the lab up and going.
    6). Grad students will be hard to find at first, so don't underestimate the awesomeness of a motivated undergraduate. I have two and love them both!!
    7) I pushed all teaching responsibility to the second year.

    1). I hired my 1st tech too soon. She had 30+ years experience, so I pounced. I did not vet her enough, nor did I pay attention to my gut that she was not a good fit. It cost me momentum-which is precious stuff. My lab was running in 3 months, no data for the following 4......
    2). Related, just because you need to fill space in your new lab, doesn't mean you let any-ole-one work for you. Be selective. You are new, but worth it! One bad apple and shangrila comes crashing down.
    3). I grossly underestimated the time to properly train people in the lab. However, if you don't take this time: bad things will happen to good PI's. Just relinquish the fact that any new person will suck your time for a bit and temp sideline other things.

  • Dr Becca says:

    You guys rock so hard!

    Thanks so much for all the great advice, this is so, so helpful. And I hear you loud and clear--don't spam my peeps. Done and done.

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