MTP Cases: Leadership Skills - How to Build a Research Team

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Leadership Skills: How to Build a Research Team

The following case scenarios show how leadership challenges can be handled effectively. The cases provide useful tools for mentors and information how to best pass on such knowledge to their mentees.

Presentation: Developing Leadership Skills and Team Building — view as PowerPoint (79KB) or view as PDF (30KB)

Leadership Skills: How to Build a Research Team

Different leadership styles

You are a mentor to a newly hired junior faculty member, who is to coordinate another faculty's research project as well as develop his/her own research interests. His/her new faculty person is replacing a previous junior faculty member. The previous and now the new faculty member have different management/leadership styles. Neither is better than the other, they are just different. However, some staff members are not happy with the new faculty member's style. What advice would you give the mentee?

Comment 1: Confirm that picking up supervision of previous work is useful for their career. What are the components that will advance the mentee's career? Initially, the mentee may work on another senior faculty's research project and become part of that faculty's research team, a useful strategy in the beginning as the mentee is analyzing data or specimens from studies on which the senior faculty plays a major role. However, the primary goal is that the mentee moves on from this experience to develop an independent research program. Why did the prior coordinator leave? Did it advance their career to independence?

Comment 2: I recommend that the mentee meets with each of the staff to discuss the projects and what the staff member felt. What is common ground and where do they differ?

Comment 3: Presuming the staff are the PI's staff, what is the leadership style of the PI? It also seems important that the PI and junior faculty member agree on a management style and do they match?

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Your mentee is an "absent leader"

Your mentee is having a hard time finding and keeping qualified staff. Reviews indicate that your mentee is an "absent leader". How would you coach the mentee about their style and the need to change it (or find staff who like that style)?

Comment 1: Review with the mentee their percentage effort for research and if they have adequate time to be successful. Also discuss their management style and share the impression that they are an "absent leader". What are their insights on this? How to be an effective leader but not micromanage? What goals would they set for themselves? Refer them to the Leadership Skills Workshop offered by the UCSF Office of Career & Professional Development.

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Understanding discovery and authorship

Your mentee comes to you for advice about a situation. After working on a project for several years, s/he found what s/he thought was her discovery published under the name of her advisor. Her/his contribution was acknowledged in a footnote. It appears that while s/he was working on the project s/he assumed s/he would be the lead author, but she never did confirm that assumption with her/his advisor.

Comment 1: Having clear understanding of authorship, discovery, etc. at the start of a project is important. It is certainly important to encourage this with the mentee to clarify in the future for themselves and others. This situation sounds quite serious and may need further investigation.

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Mentee has to share resources with advisor

Funds have become quite tight in your mentee's research group and the mentee and his advisor now have to share research resources, including staff, supplies, and space. What advice would you give the mentee to ensure resources are protected?

Comment 1: The definition of a lead mentor is sharing of staff, supplies, space, and resources. If the advisor is not acting in that capacity—perhaps a new advisor is needed?

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Improve efficiency of lab meetings

Your mentee complains that lab meetings in her research group feel unfocused and issues related to the project are never resolved. What advice would you give this mentee about leading meetings?

Comment 1: Never attend a meeting without an agenda! Set an agenda, consider using a minutes format template (Word 31KB), stick to starting on time, finishing on time, and having approximate amount of time for each agenda item so you get through them all.

Comment 2: Another useful tool for running efficient meetings is the OARRs template: Outcomes (set common goals, decide what you need to accomplish during the meeting), Agenda (what is the plan or process for addressing the outcomes?), Roles (who will do what? Faciliator, recorder, timekeeper, participants), and Responsibilities (what guildelins govern the interactions – e.g., all participate, no one dominates).

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Perception of lacking authority

Your mentee is a new faculty member and has started his/her own research group right out of fellowship. Your mentee wants to be on equal terms/friends with the grad students and postdocs in the group in part because s/he doesn't feel that s/he has the authority to be a leader in a different style. However, s/he is finding that the students are not taking her seriously and the goals and needs of the research are not being met. How would you advise him/her to address this?

Comment 1: As a new faculty member, your mentee needs to develop a research plan and develop goals as described in seminar 1.

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Advice on hiring and salary

Your mentee is hiring two new grad students/postdocs at the same level for his research group. One of the new trainees has a family and the other is single. Your mentee wants to hire the one with the family at a higher salary because he feels that they will need more resources. However, your mentee's colleagues have suggested that this is not appropriate or ethical and may also lead to morale problems. Your mentee comes to you for advice.

Comment 1: I'd suggest the success of your mentee's research career depends on morale and productivity of staff. Hiring decisions should be based the candidate's suitability to fulfill outlined tasks in the job description and add to the productivity of the research team.

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How to build a research team

You have on your research team a masters level student who is working on a research project that will also be part of his master's thesis, for which you have agreed to mentor. He comes highly recommended and has done similar research in the past. The project is under contract with a federal agency and needs to be finished in a timely manner. He starts full time during the summer, and as the summer progresses, it becomes more challenging for him to meet deadlines and produce work. He is also appears to have some challenges in his personal life, which you suspect, but he has not disclosed. The research is at a critical stage, and his activity and productivity has declined to the point where you are not sure that he will complete the work.

How should you proceed as his mentor and as the PI responsible for finishing the research project?

Comment 1: I would review with the mentee the specific aims of the project, the timeline, and progress toward project goals. Explore the nature of current impediments, whether additional help or resources are needed, and whether the level of contribution by the mentee needs to be reassessed.

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Mentee needs help resolving a conflict with data collection staff

Your mentee was hired to develop the clinical research program for your department, and has recommended implementation of quality assurance protocols for data collection. Data collection staff has resisted this change and the attending physician sides with the staff. What advice can you give to your mentee to resolve this conflict?

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No funding for post doctoral studies in your budget

As a mentor, you have been contacted by Sarah who will be defending her doctoral thesis in about nine months. Much of her work is based on your prior publications. She wants to work with your group and receive mentorship from you, with the ultimate goal of securing a faculty appointment at UCSF. After several conversations, and an in-person meeting during a national conference, you see substantial potential, both for Sarah to benefit from working in your group as a postdoctoral fellow, and for your group to benefit from Sarah's insights. You have no funding for postdocs in your budget and there are no appropriate UCSF postdoctoral fellowships for Sarah.

What are the available options for junior investigators like Sarah? What are the pros/cons for each option?

Comment 1: One option is to hire Sarah as a project director on one of your studies. There are both pros and cons to consider when taking this option:

Pros: Cons:
  • Sarah has the opportunity to work with your group, gain experience in academia and become familiar with UCSF
  • You have the opportunity to learn from Sarah's insights and decide if she is a good match for your group, which could potentially lead to your support of a future faculty appointment for her
  • No dedicated time for Sarah to publish or develop new ideas for future research
  • Many UCSF resources for career development are limited to official post doctoral fellows
  • If Sarah dedicates time to developing her thesis work, your project may suffer
  • Sarah may have neither the appropriate experience nor the enthusiasm for this type of work

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Defining leadership

How do you define leadership?

Comment 1:

L = V + T + R

Leadership = Vision + Task + Relationship

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Your mentee is not meeting expected tasks and developmental timelines

Your mentee has a two-year, combined research and clinical fellowship split equally, 50/50. Mentees with this arrangement are encouraged, but not required, to apply for additional funding through NRSA to complete within the first six months of fellowship. As the career mentor and primary clinical supervisor, you meet weekly with your mentee. During the first months of mentorship you notice that your mentee shows early signs of trouble, most notably in that research timelines are not met. Within the first month, feasibility issues were not considered until, you, as the mentor raised them which resulted in a selection of a different target population and clinic. After two months on the study, the mentee showed continued lack of advanced planning in clinical settings by following some instructions and forgetting others. In addition to those concerns, this mentee did not provide constructive feedback in seminars on other participants' written work. Even after four months, the mentee had not yet requested problem prevalence data from the selected clinic.

What suggestions could be made for motivating and helping this mentee to meet expected tasks and timelines?

Comment 1: The Leadership Lab Book: A Discovery Guide for Developing and Motivating Others, (see Seminar 9) is helpful in guiding the mentor through situational leadership scenarios. All leadership is basically situational according to leadership professionals, and to lead effectively, you must be able to exhibit the correct leadership style given what each employee [mentee] responds to. Read more about this seminar case (pdf 12KB).

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