I started my management career in a place where people would probably not expect – a vision science research lab. (No, not the one in the picture... but I must say that my research supervisor does have a lot of plants. Plants rock.) I haven’t had ‘formal’ education in management, but learned entirely through practice. (So if someone tells you that you must go to school before becoming a manager, that's false by the way.)
In university, one of the requirements of my undergraduate program was to do directed studies at a real research lab (to gain research experience) so I was looking for potential labs I could volunteer at in my 3rd year. I found two labs that were interesting to me, mainly because I was starstruck by the professors (I am still starstruck by those people). One was a neuroimaging lab and I did my directed studies there. The other one was the vision science lab that I didn’t end up doing directed studies in, but stayed for much longer because I fell in love with the lab’s culture there.
The thing that I liked about the vision science lab was that it struck a neat balance between order and chaos. The way things were run was organized and orderly, yet there was a lot of autonomy and flexibility. Another thing I liked about the lab was that the people there were fun to work together and hang out together. As I was working on projects with these great, scary-intelligent people, I started thinking of little ways that I can help these people do even better. And I started doing little things (that consisted of mainly organizing) that would save people a little bit of time and labor here and there. Apparently that was one of the things my manager liked about me, and I was appointed as successor.
So what does a lab manager do? I suspect there's high variance among different labs, but some of the things I did were: counting money and refilling the safe (so that we can pay people who participated in our experiments), organizing the lab space, organizing lab meetings and socials, and bringing the right talent in as volunteers and directed studies students.
The most important thing I learned about management from this lab was management is not about telling people what to do; it’s supporting the great people that you’ve brought into your organization and creating an environment that enables them to do even better. It’s freaking magical. Here's what prominent figures have to say about this matter:
"It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."
"I hire people brighter than me and get out of their way."
The other important lesson I learned was that hiring is vitally important. You need to make sure that the people you bring into the organization are the ones that fit the way the organization runs (i.e. the ones that flourish when you get out of the way, because not everyone works like that).
...Of course, I learned it the hard way! (I should elaborate on this in a later post.) But those mistakes didn't happen for nothing. Based on the lessons learned, I created the lab’s hiring guidebook which is still used by the lab managers today.
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I'm Candice and I doodle with the intensity of the doomguy.