Running a lab

SLForsburg susan_forsburg at
Sat Jan 6 12:26:26 EST 1996

jcoleman at wrote:
>...So I have a provocative
> question for the PI's here...Did you find directing a lab, 
> making the big decisions for your staff and guiding your students
> to be difficult at first?  still? We talked a little bit about 
> the obstacles for women in science from the outside (ie advisors, 
> other professors, general perceptions etc.)
>  what about inside the lab? Is managing harder for women 
> scientists? (either harder due to internalized 
> prejudice/oppression or harder due to perceptions
> within the lab, whatever)

Okay, I'll bite (and happy new year to the members of the group and

I've been a PI for something over two years.  The responsibility
is a bit overwhelming at first but really, I think that is more
a matter of learning how to juggle everything you have to do, keep
track of everyone's experiments, write  grants, do the 
committees, prepare the lectures, write more grants....

Overall, though, I find that I enjoy running a lab.  I remember  
when I finished grad school I couldnt imagine 
being able to run my own group, but after four years of postdoc,
I couldnt wait.  Lab-head type independence, maturity, all that
 comes with experience, although you never realize you are 
developing them. At the end of
my postdoc, I was definitely ready to become An Adult and had
strong ideas of how MY lab would be organized.  All those niggling
little things that really start to bug you can be fixed when it
is your lab!  
There are as many management styles as there are PIs, but
I think women are good managers generally.  I think we tend
to be better organized, and keep track of the details, although of 
course I can immediately think of many exceptions on both sides.
I find that my group runs smoothly, but part of that is because
I dont pull or tolerate prima donna acts and I insist that 
everyone has responsibilities to the group as a whole. 
 I've stated here before that running a lab is really
 about teaching.  On the other hand, I dont do touchy feely
handholding;  my people have to be smart and very independent.

 I'm sure I relate differently to the people in my lab than do the
senior faculty men around me, but most of that is youth,
not gender.   Incidentally, my lab is half male and half female,
 if that matters. There will always be some men who can't handle 
working for women, but they wont join your group, and I am 
 confident my gender is irrelevant to the men who work for me. 
 As it should be.

Still, it's a shock that first time you go into the lab and the
conversation ceases as soon as you appear--and you realise
you are no longer One Of Us but have become One Of Them.


-- susan

S L Forsburg                             
susan_forsburg at
 "I don't speak for the Institute,         
 and the Institute doesnt speak for me."

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