Businessman sinking in heap of documentsDo you need help? Do you know how to ask for help?

I just got back from setting up another young PI. I could easily see that he was feeling a little overwhelmed. It’s not easy to start a lab. There’s so much to do.

One of his major issues was trying to do all the work by himself. During my site visit, he invited a guest speaker to come out and give a talk. He was arranging the itinerary, accommodations, and marketing, while still trying to handle the myriad of other operational lab necessities.

I offered to help him with the guest speaker. He said, “No. That’s okay. I’ve got this.”

It was clear he was having some difficulty. This was an opportunity for him to get help.

Taking initiative, I helped him by handling the marketing. He thanked me, admitting that he wanted help, but felt he couldn’t ask for it. He thought it was his responsibility, because it’s his lab.

I’ve heard this so many times from multiple junior research investigators. I understand that you’re ultimately the responsible one. I know you’re trying to be an ”INDEPENDENT” researcher.

But in the early days, there’s going to be TOO much. You won’t have enough time to do it all. So, you’ll have to learn how to ask for help.

For those that are introverts, it’s not an easy thing to go up to someone and just ask for help. Approaching people may make you anxious. Knowing that, you’ll need to prepare when asking for help.

How, exactly, is one supposed to prepare?

First things first, change your mindset about asking for help. You’ll reach your scientific goals faster with help.

Second, define what actionable steps you need to achieve to reach those goals.

Here are 5 suggestions on how to ask for help without feeling like it’ll cost you money, face, or energy:

  1. Be direct.
    Start off by just asking, “Can I get your help with something?” According to a Stanford Business School study, by Francis Flynn, people often underestimate how willing others are to extend a hand rather than risk losing face by saying “no.” We all want to be seen as helpful and collaborative. This especially true in a close-knit academic setting. So, just ask.
  2. Offer help.
    The law of reciprocation holds highly in small communities. Offering help or doing things for others will start to earn you communal points. Over time, your willingness to assist others will lend to easily receiving assistance from them. Research done by Wharton School of Business’ Adam Grant, illustrates that being a giving person will pay out huge dividends in the long run.
  3. Find common ground.
    This may be most obvious and easiest strategy for successfully published investigators, evident by the long list of contributing authors found in any published article. However, in the world of business and management, it may not be so obvious. Find a mutual benefit, or something that you can offer in return. Your common ground may fall in the realm of supplies, equipment, network, or even an exchange of knowledge. This is your classic quid pro quo.
  4. Be specific.
    What are the specific tasks they would need to do in order to help? How much time will it take? We’re all busy and emotionally taxed by the requests from our own lab, so to help another lab can be especially overwhelming. Be cognizant of the time and tasks that you’re asking from others. What do you need done and by when do you need it? Provide the option to say no by simply saying, “it’s alright to say no”. You’ll be showing them respect and appreciation. We all like to help those who we like and respect.
  5. Swallow your pride and have courage.
    We all try to save face, or we’re just too scared. We think we can, or should be, doing it all. However trying to take on everything is neither humanly possible, nor financially responsible. It will ultimately hurt your research goals. Don’t be so prideful that you stop yourself from asking for help.

You may not want your new colleagues to think you’re incapable of running a lab. However, the likelihood of someone thinking that, is very low. If there is that 0.1% that do, then they’re not the kind of support you need. You’ll quickly find people who do care for you, when they come to your aid.

There are many more ways, but much of asking for help is all cognitive. It’s how you perceive asking for help. It’s built in us to want to help each other.

In our next post, we’ll explore how to delegate to your team.

How do you ask for help? Leave a comment.

Do you need help to set up your lab? Reach out to us.