My new job never ceases to challenge me. I’ve talked about it before, wondering how long it would take for things to calm down after a tumultuous transition from grad student to postdoc. But you know what? I’ve come to the conclusion that things are not going to calm down. Stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are my new normal. I know I’m not alone in dealing with work-related stress, and in the grand scheme of things am doing pretty well in life, but man, this is tough!
I think it’s safe to say that the work I’ve been doing lately is, hands down, the most challenging work I’ve ever done in my life.
The latest challenge? Managing. At 36 years old, this is the first time I’ve been responsible for a bunch of people on a daily basis. This summer I have five students working for me full time, a combination of undergraduates and high school students. Thankfully all the students are wonderful, very bright and motivated, and really a pleasure to work with. The challenging part is keeping everyone moving forward simultaneously.
On any given day, I’m trying to do all of the following:
- Make sure all five students have enough work to keep them busy for 40 hours a week. I’m always trying to identify the next steps on everyone’s projects and set up the appropriate infrastructure so that things are ready when the students get there. This often involves research/reading to develop and type up protocols for the students to execute. Grad students can do their own research, but undergrads need a little more guidance.
- Make sure everyone has the lab supplies that they need. This is a step I’d absolutely love to delegate, but no one else knows exactly which of the dozens of types of filter membranes is the right one for a particular application. I have to scour the web and pick the stuff out myself.
- Be available to answer an endless stream of questions. I’m trying to teach the students how to troubleshoot their own problems, but this is a skill that takes time to develop. Plus, since I’m the one who’s going to be using all their data, I want to provide some level of oversight myself so things get done properly.
- Make sure the students understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. There is some level of education that needs to happen during these summer programs, not just cranking out work in the lab. I’m trying to be a good mentor and actually teach them some science!
- Get my own data analysis and writing done.
- Get my PhD research published.
Those last two have so NOT been happening, ha! The only things I ever get done are things that are due immediately, like answering questions and dealing with things that inevitably go wrong.
Sometimes there are moments when I sit at my desk for five minutes, have a cup of coffee, and marvel at the fact that five people are simultaneously working on my project and generating data that I can use in my next paper. Those moments are pretty awesome.
Sometimes there are moments when I realize that I’ve had to go to the bathroom for the last three hours and haven’t stopped running around like a crazy woman for the five minutes it would take to take care it. This happens on a daily basis.
I’m pretty sure that when it comes to managing people, I’m probably doing a lot of stuff wrong. I’m figuring things out as I go and just trying to keep my head above water. I think I need to start reading management books and learning how to do things properly. Maybe this gets easier over time. Maybe it doesn’t! Maybe all my students hate me. Maybe they think I’m not so bad. Maybe, once in a while, they think I’ve got my shit together. Maybe. 🙂
All I know is that I’m trying. I go to work everyday, run around like a maniac, have endless meetings with the students, and make endless to-do lists that I tackle when they’ve all left for the day. I leave home early and get home late. I work during breakfast, make plans in the shower, review students’ work on my commute, and take care of emails before bed. I dream about work every night.
There is no question that my job has taken over my life.
BUT. Sometimes a student will run into my office with a graph that they made after weeks of tedious work, and we will marvel at it together and talk about science.
And then, all our hard work becomes TOTALLY WORTH IT. 🙂
Any tips for managing a team of people without completely losing your sanity? This rookie is all ears.