The world of research is fascinating, and those who are drawn to it tend to be highly invested in their jobs. However, if you work in a research lab, it can be difficult to focus on tasks at hand if you’re constantly being distracted by other management requirements. Managing a lab takes a lot of time. Often, leaders find themselves occupied with ordering, helping a troubled graduate student, attending committee meetings, anything but actual research.

In order to manage a lab, you often need to run it as you would a small business. Let’s talk about some top tips for excellent lab management.

Top Lab Management Tips

Start With a Plan

To manage your time effectively, you must be able to plan efficiently. It’s all too easy to confuse productivity with just being busy. They aren’t one and the same. In order to successfully run a lab, you need to plan your time, your research, and what tasks your team members are assigned to. To start, it’s important to have a plan for the path you intend your research to take, often years into the future.

It is much easier to plan experiments once you know where you want your research to go. You may need to manage multiple grants of varying lengths, which requires planning and organization. Additionally, if you work in a research lab that operates in an education institution, faculty on the tenure track need a long-term plan to stay on schedule and fulfill the requirements needed for tenure in a timely manner.

It’s also a good idea to have a mission statement, as this can guide the lab and keep its employees focused. Daily personnel, funding, and administrative decisions can make it hard to keep your eyes on the prize. If you remind yourself what your mission is, you are more likely to identify the tasks that will help you achieve those goals.

Keep Organized

Lab management involves a variety of forms of organization. To conduct research efficiently, you need time, people, and structured systems. To help with organization, start by holding regular meetings. This can keep workers on track and focused. You and members of the lab can also stay updated on events within the laboratory during meetings, as well as brainstorming and troubleshooting.

Nevertheless, if lab meetings are not organized, they can become inefficient wastes of time. Agendas can keep meetings on track and reduce the need for multiple meetings on the same subject. Meeting records can also be used to measure the progress of research.

Lead By Design

All different types of leaders are successful, you don’t have to follow a cookie cutter idea of leadership to manage an effective lab. Understanding your leadership style is the first step to reaching your potential. Do some research to understand your specific leadership style, and then play to your own strengths. It can also be advantageous to identify a mentor who is a model of who you hope to become as a leader, as well as go to for advice.

Leading by design also means staying involved with your team and present enough to practice your leadership style and monitor the behavior you expect to see. Remember, motivation is not the same for everyone. Some people do better when they feel they are receiving lots of attention, while others prefer to have more time to themselves to think about data or their next experiment. To ensure you’re an effective leader for all employees, you need to be present.

Your participation and availability are important to lab members. Visit each lab member every day by walking around the lab. It’s critical to keep up to speed on all lab members’ daily activities and show your interest in their work.

What’s more, you need to follow through in order to lead by design. This involves actually carrying out your promises. In turn, colleagues, employees, and fellow scientists are more likely to trust and respect you.

Bear in mind that leaders are not only responsible for directing and instructing lab members, but also listening to the employees they are managing. Additionally, listening to the members of your lab is crucial since you could learn a lot from their feedback. Arrange brainstorming sessions, as these can help make lab members feel more capable of coming up with good ideas for themselves and the group and inspires creativity. It also gives lab members a feeling of appreciation as well as a learning opportunity.

Focus on Employee Success

Lab management involves taking responsibility for fixing issues when they occur.

Clear expectations and standards from the start are the best methods for preventing issues with employees. Frequently, problems arise because employees are not informed of their responsibilities and don’t know how to carry them out efficiently. Lab members are unlikely to perform exactly how you want them to without clear expectations. Maintaining lab standards is equally important.

When focusing on employee success, you also need to make sure you’re praising lab members for a job well done and encouraging them when they’re struggling with a particular project or task. When people are happy and working toward a goal instead of avoiding punishment, they are more likely to be productive and produce high-quality work.

Last but not least, you should try to give each lab member a sense of control over what they do. Try to avoid micromanaging and instead encourage lab workers to think for themselves and solve their own problems.

Despite being a lab manager, your focus and passion probably still lies with the science and research itself. If you want to be able to focus on research, you need to be able to plan, organize, lead, and control the lab you run. Good management skills are important, and they take a while to hone, but with some time, effort, and patience, you should easily be able to lead your lab to success.