As a junior faculty, I have been well-trained as a scientist and engineer in conducting a very narrow subfield of biomedical research. However, like many of my peers, I have never really been formally taught how to recruit, interview, or manage students. Now, a very large component of my work is not only conducting research and striving to make scientific discoveries myself, but also leading and training a team of students towards these same goals. Particularly as we head into another round of PhD interviews and recruitments, in this blog post, I reflect on my last year of experience learning how to interview, recruit, manage, lead, and support students in conducting biomedical research.
In my opinion, when interviewing student candidates, our primary focus as interviewers is about finding the right “fit.” This may mean “fit” for our labs but also more broadly “fit” for the program or even “fit” for the university. Even the most talented student when put in a suboptimal environment may not reach their full potential. Alternatively, a student who may not be the “best” in terms of standard metrics when put in a suitable environment with the proper mentorship and support can really excel. However, a “fit” doesn’t necessarily mean having an alignment of experience, education, and training (skill fit) or values, beliefs, and behaviors (culture fit) between the candidate and the rest of the team. After all, academia must remain a place of active learning and skill development; otherwise, just go get a job. Perhaps instead of “fit” we can better think of recruiting students on the basis of “skill add” or “culture add” e.g. whether the candidate will bring new, fresh, and different ideas, perspectives, skill sets, and experiences to the team. Still, as faculty in positions of power and leadership, it is important for us to be aware of our own blind spots, biases, as well as general preferences and tendencies in management style.
I have read a number of books this past year to help shape my perspective on best practices for interviewing, recruiting, managing, leading, and supporting a diverse team of students in conducting cutting-edge scientific research. Here are my top 10 recommended books for junior faculty (and even senior faculty) interested in learning more about these topics: