weisser-wuerfel

Part 01 - Hiring

Hiring the right people is absolutely crucial when starting your group – for small groups in particular.

There were a couple of things that I felt require some more thinking when I was putting out my first job adverts and also during the interviews of the candidates.

 

(new) small group vs. big (well know) group

How to attract good people to a small (unknown) group – particularly PhD students, who are not already deep inside a field and do not know you from your work as a postdoc?

Which students and postdocs you can attract depends a lot on what they value. There are studies (e.g. doi.org/10.7717/peerj.989) indicating that there is a (very shallow) positive correlation between group size and numbers of papers published as well as IF. So, if you were someone looking for a lab to join and you were totally focused on maximizing all odds towards your prospective scientific output (remember, it’s only a statistical average), then you would go for the biggest group possible. However, there are also studies indicating that while bigger labs create more output, the number of publications per person decreases as lab size increases (doi.org/10.1038/nj7673-553a; doi.org/10.7717/peerj.989).

However, there is also literature showing that although the above mentioned correlation is true, small groups tend to disrupt science with new ideas and opportunities, whereas large groups tend to build on existing concepts (doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-0941-9).

Anyways, aside from the statistics, the biggest strength of small groups is the more direct and more efficient exchange of knowledge, supervision and mentorship. I feel, it is important to communicate these points, as it helps both sides. Although most of it is just statistics and it is much more important to make a decision on the individual basis (e.g. research of the group, lab culture), it might be helpful for students and postdocs to select the “right” lab. Vice versa, small groups should know their value and advantages compared to large groups to be able to stress them when advertising open positions.

Rainer Kaufmann
Rainer Kaufmann

How to select people, i.e. how to rate grades vs. research experience vs. other skills (such as creativity, quick thinking, dedication etc.)?


Personally, I don’t put much value on grades. I know so many examples of amazing and very successful scientists who not always had the best grades. Often this is due to unforeseeable events that are out of your hands as an undergraduate. If I have someone in the interview with some outstanding bad (not so good) grades, I ask why this is the case. Usually you can learn quite a lot about the person from the answers. I’ve never put effort into finding out what the literature says about the correlation of having good grades and being a good scientist. But I would bet that the skills relevant for doing research are not something you learn in school or university lectures. That said, without a thorough background relevant for the field you are working in/planning to work in, you are obviously lost.

The other question is how to find out about other skills and how to assess them. I once met a young PI who is doing a badass assessment centre for potential PhD students and postdocs to see how they behave under stress, pressure and tiredness. This is maybe a bit extreme, however, you have to challenge people and get them out of their comfort zone to get an idea of how they approach problems, how much creativity (and craziness) they have inside themselves and how well they would fit into your lab culture.

How to select people, i.e. how to rate grades vs. research experience vs. other skills (such as creativity, quick thinking, dedication etc.)?


Personally, I don’t put much value on grades. I know so many examples of amazing and very successful scientists who not always had the best grades. Often this is due to unforeseeable events that are out of your hands as an undergraduate. If I have someone in the interview with some outstanding bad (not so good) grades, I ask why this is the case. Usually you can learn quite a lot about the person from the answers. I’ve never put effort into finding out what the literature says about the correlation of having good grades and being a good scientist. But I would bet that the skills relevant for doing research are not something you learn in school or university lectures. That said, without a thorough background relevant for the field you are working in/planning to work in, you are obviously lost.

The other question is how to find out about other skills and how to assess them. I once met a young PI who is doing a badass assessment centre for potential PhD students and postdocs to see how they behave under stress, pressure and tiredness. This is maybe a bit extreme, however, you have to challenge people and get them out of their comfort zone to get an idea of how they approach problems, how much creativity (and craziness) they have inside themselves and how well they would fit into your lab culture.

Rainer Kaufmann

Clone vs. opposite of myself

I think, for a large lab the answer is very clear: you need both. I found two articles that discuss the pros and cons of hiring your own Mini-Me (entrepreneur.com/article/306705; recruiter.com/i/why-we-should-stop-hiring-clones-of-ourselves/). When you are just starting you group and building it up one by one, the answer to me was not so straight forward. At the beginning, you have to be very efficient and proof yourself to get a tenured position at some point. As I was mentioning in the episode about hiring, having somebody in your team who has a very different mind-set can sometimes be quite challenging.

However, even in a small group it is important to have a broad range of skillsets – not only in terms of technical experience, but also regarding how to approach problems, find creative solutions, humour and so on. So, in the end it probably comes down mainly to the position and what is actually required for the project. In general, I would advocate to diversify your lab (in every sense) as much as possible.

Rainer Kaufmann Hiring

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In the individual episodes and blog entries, I will share my experiences and discuss different topics, which are concerning us in our everyday lives as scientists. Join the discussion, share your opinions and help to solve issues in our scientific culture.