Most scientists love science, and they love their research. But love for leading other scientists in a lab isn’t universal. Leadership skills aren’t second nature to many researchers, but thankfully, say the organizers of a respected lab leadership course, these are skills you can learn.
To help new PIs become effective and productive team leaders, the American Society for Cell Biology and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, have partnered to offer a discount on the intensive laboratory leadership courses created by the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO). ASCB members receive $200 off the registration fee for the courses, which will be offered this year on July 26-29 at Stowers. The deadline to apply is June 26.
“We build on the strengths that most scientists already have—critical thinking, the ability to make careful observations, the ability to plan and be strategic, the ability to consider and communicate complex ideas—and help them deepen their understanding and application of those skills in their leadership roles,” said Samuel Krahl, project coordinator and trainer for EMBO Laboratory Leadership at EMBO Solutions GmbH. “We also introduce them to tools and concepts from other fields of research that will broaden their repertoire and empower them to be effective leaders. Scientists have always taken their scientific skills seriously, and we are encouraged that so many are now also taking their leadership and communication skills seriously as well.”
The four-day course covers topics such as your role as a group leader, giving feedback and criticism, motivating your team, managing conflict, running meetings, interviewing and hiring, and much more. Attendees have the opportunity to evaluate their leadership style, improve their interpersonal communications skills, and have their questions answered during these full-day sessions.
The course fills a deficiency that many scientists didn’t realize they had until after they were hired. CJ Fitzsimons, CEO of Leadership Sculptor and developer of the EMBO Laboratory Leadership course, said this stems, in part, from the way PIs are chosen in the first place.
“PIs are selected mostly based on how well they express two fitness factors: publication record and the ability to acquire funding,” Fitzsimmons said. ”Once in the job, they realize they need to express a lot of other fitness factors, for which they were never screened: the ability to develop medium-to-long-term visions and strategies, supervising staff, mentoring staff, developing staff, to name a few. Formalized training helps them acquire the skills they need in these and other areas so that they can perform well scientifically and take care of their people’s development.”
As with anything, individual results may vary. But there are certain outcomes the EMBO team hopes lab leaders will realize when they apply what they have learned. Fitzsimons stated that PIs regularly report back more time to focus on their own tasks during working hours; improved recruitment; trainees with better problem-solving skills, greater confidence in handling difficult conversations and in conflict resolution, and an increase in the quality and quantity of the science coming from the group.
“They also report leaving the course with a greater awareness and appreciation that everyone is in the same boat, which helps make the challenges feel more manageable and more ‘normal’, and that talking about the difficulties they are facing is an important and often neglected part of being a PI,” Krahl said. And he added, it is also important training to ensure the future of science.
“Learning leadership and developing your self-awareness and self-management so that you can lead well is some of the hardest work you will do in your life,” Krahl said. “The good news is that it’s almost as much fun as science, and you don’t have to publish to be good at it! More seriously, when we take on leadership roles and become responsible for nurturing and teaching the next generation of scientists, we are taking on a responsibility bigger than just our own scientific success. Meeting this challenge with thoughtfulness, kindness, and a willingness to learn is critical if we are to improve the health and well-being of scientists at all levels.” For more information about the EMBO Lab Leadership course at Stowers Institute for Medical Research and to register, visit: https://lab-management.embo.org/dates/stowers-leadership-2022
About the Author:
Mary Spiro is ASCB's Strategic Communications Manager.