Whether Vein

Jun 14 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

In April I was promoted to Director of my group.

I started in late 2008 as a Research Administration Fellow - basically my third postdoc position, an internship if you will. They covered my postdoc salary so my lab mentor could release me from his clutches into theirs. I had very little understanding of medical and health informatics. I knew nothing about databasing, or coding. I knew virtually nothing about the real trials of clinical medicine.

In mid-2009 my position was made permanent and I was posted as Project Manager for the group. While I was learning as fast as possible about the technical aspects of our work, I had picked up good skills in technical writing, presentation delivery, organising and multi-tasking, etc. All these "transferable" skills proved useful and my duties and responsibilities increased. I made sure to get as much exposure as possible to the world of academic administration and volunteered to help out where possible in the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Faculty Affairs. I helped organise the Postdoc Office, and helped put on career fairs and grant writing seminars in my "Spare Time". Not one whit of this was altruistic. I was learning constantly and everything I did was coordinated to either increase my exposure to new, valuable experiences (not always hard to determine beforehand so there were some big misses), and new valuable people. As Benjamin Franklin might have said, "It's not enough to work hard, you must be seen to be working hard."

In 2010 I was made Associate Director, but unfortunately the Institute that employed me failed to secure long term funding from the National Institutes of Health and the seed money we'd been relying on finally dried up. The Institute was, essentially, disbanded, except for my group - we were too valuable and had started covering our salary line with grant funding. But that was a scary fucking time. I don't think I've ever worked so hard on getting grants out and research-project databases built. We were fighting to prove our worth. Around that time, more than one of us was found crying in the break room, or ranting in the washroom - venting stress at missing another family event. It was much much harder on the "real" staff than on us few PhDs, because we had all gone through a period of postdoc training and thus this was not a new experience. Certainly not welcome - I love my 40hr work week! But not new either. Some people quit.

But, it all paid off. We showed enough promise and so we were made into the newest division of the Office of Research. We've grown back to a decent sized little group, and we got nice new offices, with nice dark wood furniture and some new toys to play with. And I got made Director.

I'm a really good Project Manager.
I'm an OK people manager.
I'm not sure how to Direct a group.

Fortunately my colleagues think I do, and so does our administration. So, here I am - only 37 and Directing a research group with a 7 figure budget and salary line. We're responsible for multiple faculty projects and therefore several millions of dollars of federal funding. We got word that two more major projects are being funded in the next couple of weeks and there are three multimillion dollar projects pending for September. In addition my goal is to make us a University-wide resource. Within a year we'll have a couple of new systems on board (i2b2 & REDCap if you're curious) that will allow us to serve many, many smaller projects for free. And I think I just volunteered us to build a campus-wide student health tracking system.

My Boss, the Vice Chancellor offered me this sage advice when we she offered me the job: "It's a clean sheet. A green field. It's the opportunity of a life time. Only you can fuck this up now. So, don't fuck up."

Wise words indeed.

13 responses so far

  • Dr 27 says:

    "Not one whit of this was altruistic. I was learning constantly and everything I did was coordinated to either increase my exposure to new, valuable experiences (not always hard to determine beforehand so there were some big misses), and new valuable people. As Benjamin Franklin might have said, "It's not enough to work hard, you must be seen to be working hard." " That's exactly how I think of my work. Ever since I started I've been networking like crazy, meeting people, helping them when I can, playing nice, because they've been in this business longer than I have and I want to be somewhat established here and be known as a good resource to my lab and the community at large. I don't know who's going to be my next boss or who may become a valuable resource in the future, so I learn, I'm respectful and I help whenever I can. I showcase what I learned and what I'm good at, because it's the only way I can get ahead.

    Congratulations on the baby and the new position!

    • brooksphd says:

      That's the right attitude! You dont know who the next boss is, or what the next move is. My modus operandi is to work hard at everything, and excell when possible. And be respectful of those around you and above you.

  • Zuska says:

    This is fantastic and certainly well-earned. Congrats!

    Even Directors need mentors. Find yourself an administrator you admire & either get on a committee with them or invite them to lunch 1-2 times a month.

    Keep a line between job & life. Don't let it consume every waking hour. That way lies burnout

    • brooksphd says:

      Thanks Zuska 🙂

      Re - A - i have a couple of folks to talk to, and im working on my external network to help me find other experienced people in this position. Looking forward to big conference in October (AMIA) to make some connections.

      Re -B - with a new, freshly shrieky baby and wife i have a new motivation 🙂

  • Pharm Sci Grad says:

    Congrats on the promotion. You've done well for yourself indeed. And you've certainly earned it.

    That advice made me smile. Ain't it the truth though, everyday?

  • GenomeGal says:

    Long time lurker - first time poster. Congrats! It's super exciting to see one of my favorite science bloggers doing informatics. AMIA is a really fun meeting and has a pretty active group of twitter users, so you will fit right in!

    • brooksphd says:

      Good Lord! Are you sure you have the right science blogger?

      Have been exploring the AMIA working groups and joined the Public/Social outreach one (as well as the clinical informatics which is kind of our forte). I'm excited about the meeting!

      • Genome Gal says:

        Yeah so you've dropped off the face of the planet for a while, but back in the labspaces days your content was a lot of fun to read!

        Some AMIA working groups are more active than others, but I have heard good things about the clinical informatics bunch. I really like this meeting as it is small enough to really get good networking opportunities, but large enough to have variety. Have fun!

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Congrats, dude. No question you've earned the job. The transition doesn't sound too far off from taking a PI job - all of a sudden you are doing a LOT of shit you have no training to do. Learn fast, be fair and don't fuck it up. You'll come out on top.

    • brooksphd says:

      Cheers mate

      I'm brewing a post doing a compare/contrast between this position and being a fresh PI. One major difference is that my extended "third postdoc" as a project manager/associate director really did give me a grounding in what the role asks for - at least more so than being a good postdoc doesn't prepare you for the rigors of *running* a lab.

      And that is a fucked up, ugly sentence. Needz moar coffee.

  • Congrats, dude! Sounds like you're finally growing up. Just in time to teach yer own nipper...
    Gawd only knows how I'm gonna learn to teach mine.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    You the man! Its been a long time coming and well deserved, I'm sure you will succeed.