American Society of Hematology

Starting a New Research Position

Anna Marneth, PhD Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA

When you shift from PhD student to postdoctoral or transition from clinical to research fellow, chances are that your workplace and responsibilities will change significantly. Additionally, you may have moved to a different city or even a different country. All of these shifts will require adapting. Here are some tips for dealing with these changes and familiarizing yourself with your new research job as soon as possible.

Be open-minded and embrace the change. You are entering a new position, and even when you have done PhD research, many things will be different in a new lab. Because you do not know exactly what that lab will be like, you might feel insecure, and expectations might be unclear to you. This is totally normal. The fastest way to adapt is to keep an open mind: Ask for critical feedback, ask questions, and try out new things. This will help you acquire experience and self-confidence. Soon, you will be used to a new way of working.

Define your research project and the major goals for the next few months. To prevent floating around in your new environment without a clear mission, make sure you talk to your principal investigator and define your major research goals and strategy with a detailed timeline. Planning your experiments and thinking through the steps required to get to a discovery and publication is a key aspect of research. When working with others, make sure that the contributions everyone will make to the project are clear. This prevents authorship issues later on. Maintain good communication with your mentors and collaborators throughout the project. When an issue arises, solve it as a team.

Find a (more) senior research fellow to team up with. When you transition, especially if you have not worked in research before, you will need a lot of help from others to get started. How do you do research? What laboratory techniques are available, and which ones do you use in specific instances? Those are questions that are often not intuitive for clinical fellows because there are many details about laboratory techniques that make them suitable for one research question, but not another. Having a buddy in your lab, particularly a more senior one, will significantly help you to acclimate more quickly.

Build a network and find peers. Many institutions have peer-to-peer mentoring systems in which more senior research fellows connect with junior fellows to discuss topics of interest either one-on-one or in groups. Because peers have recently gone through the same experiences, they often can identify knowledge that you might be lacking. Additionally, since interactions with peers are usually informal, it may be easier to ask them for advice and feedback. Peer groups are a great way to become familiar with your surroundings, learn of available opportunities, and extend your network.

Persevere. Many hypotheses turn out wrong and many experiments fail in the lab, so starting a new research position may be a difficult journey in the beginning. Compared to clinical work, research usually provides less instant gratification, and the path toward your career goals consists of baby steps. So do not get upset if something does not work; sit down, rethink your experiment, and do it over. Evaluate your results every month or two to determine if you are still on the right track and have all the resources you need.

Starting a new position is exciting but can also be challenging and a bit frightening. However, you learn the most by getting out of your comfort zone. Using the strategies described here and putting effort and time into your new position will increase the likelihood of success. Good luck on your new job!

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