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.