As a junior principal investigator, it’s your job to make sure those individuals are the ones working for you.
The most successful PI’s know how to leverage their techs’ talents by understanding what motivates them.
So when it comes to hiring, finding the right kind of research assistant (or technician) is critical.
I’ll give you 2 scenarios;
Martin is a recent BS graduate w/ some industry experience. He just started in your lab and is there to help you set up. He’s great at following protocols and can move through experiments with speed and accuracy. However, you find that he’s unable to troubleshoot experimental questions, or strategize future experiments with his findings.
Contrast this with Sunithi, a recent BS graduate w/ some lab experience from her undergraduate thesis work. She just started in your lab and is there to help you set up. She’s great at being able to strategize and think critically about the biological processes and how they relate to experimental design. As time goes on, however, she loses interest with repetitious experiments and has difficulty retaining focus or interest.
These are 2 types of techs that I find have unique talents that are perfectly situated for very different types of positions.
I would call Martin a career technician, and Suniti is a stepping-stone technician.
Career techs usually have a set of specific skills that they’re looking to develop and to potentially monetize. For example, I’ve found that career techs, like Martin, have a tendency to want to work toward an industry position or within the technical aspects of laboratory research.
Whereas, stepping-stone techs, like Suniti, are looking to develop critical thinking skills in order to further their scientific development. This may lead into graduate training, medical school, or business/entrepreneurial development.
While there are some overlaps in their development, the difference lies more in their end goals for developing their skills.
Whatever their goal is, understanding what a tech is working toward is helpful for motivating, training, and selecting him/her.
Young, motivated techs are more productive than one that is demotivated. They’re also more affordable than an experienced tech.
Since a start-up lab can’t really afford leveraging financial incentives, hiring seasoned technicians may not be the most viable solution. However, if you train and mentor one of these types of young techs, the return on their investment can be great.
My prescription for mentoring and training a career technician would be to offer to help develop their skills, which will help them increase their market value. This is an opportunity for you to leverage to train them technically and to introduce them to industry professionals. This can be a greater value to a young professional rather than a higher paid salary.
For training a stepping-stone technician, leverage your experimental and intellectual training. This also can include your academic and network recommendations. This is a more obviously sought out value that most graduate and medical school bound techs look for.
Each of these types of techs ultimately may want to leave for bigger, brighter career pastures. However, as a teacher, this is an opportunity to hone your own skills training and mentor young, scientific careers.
So be aware of an applicant’s career motives when interviewing and training a technical position. Hiring the right technician is critical in building a successful lab.
What type of tech would you look to hire for your lab? What has been your experience with other technicians? If you were one, what was your experience as a technician? Leave a comment below.