... plays an important role in science: From day-to-day research, to supervising junior colleagues, winning grants, managing a research group, planing long-term research endeavors, assembling an energetic team, to taking responsibility. Here I want to share my vision of leadership in the group.
Good leaders in science…
…communicate their expectations clearly. It’s the responsibility of the leader, to communicate goals and tasks. A student can only perform as well as the expectations are communicated by the PI. It’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure the expectations and tasks have been correctly understood.
…are motivators! We can only work at our best, if we are motivated to do so. Over-critical supervisors can do more harm than good. Likewise, a good leader doesn’t compromise kind words for scientific rigor.
…are Female / Male / … . Our abilities matter — not who we are, or where we come from.
…always find alternatives. A thought-through concept is important. But: research must be creative and take risks — Nobody can plan the unforeseeable! A good leader keeps track of projects and recognizes when the time comes to adjust the plan.
…are aware of biases. It’s human to be subject to biases. Being aware of them, and consciously re-evaluating decisions for any biases, makes for a good leader.
…are good listeners. The only way for leaders to learn about the team’s unbiased opinion is to listen to their team members.
…are inclusive. In scientific discussions, all team members should be given the opportunity to join if they are interested. That said, sensitive matters are addressed by good leaders in the appropriate setting.
…learn from their students. The best way to learn about the latest ideas, is from the experts working on the topic — which good students quickly become. Good leaders don't make the mistake to think of themselves as being the best.
…don’t ask for acknowledgement. Good leaders can silently find joy in their student’s success.
…don’t judge when they don’t have to. Careless judgement is often unfair and not productive. Good leaders communicate objective concerns in a sensitive way.
…share their vision. A team can only reach the goal envisioned by its leaders, if every member knows the overall goal and shares a vision.
…give constructive feedback. Feedback is only useful, if it’s constructive and leads somewhere. Arguments for the sake of the argument just create unnecessary tensions.
…welcome critical feedback. A good leader does not give arguments to counter critical feedback, unless in extreme cases. It’s up to the leaders to consider any feedback critically and draw the right conclusions from it.
…acknowledge their students’ contributions. Good leaders understand that scientific discoveries are only possible in a team. The way we promote young researchers is by acknowledging their contributions on all levels.
…are aware of their students' fears. Good leaders can still understand the worries of their own students: Finding a job, a PhD or postdoc position, or simply the fear of “not being smart enough” (everyone can make an important contribution!). Good leaders help their students to face and overcome such fears.
…know their students strengths and weaknesses. Good leaders can optimally support their students because they know where to help them out.
…have learnt from good leaders. Watching good leaders and working with them is inspiring. Everyone needs role models to learn from!
…avoid micromanagement whenever possible. Micromanagement in science is largely a waste of time: Leaders who micromanage typically have less motivated students and are better off just solving all the problems on their own.
…have faith in their student's capabilities. Good leaders only hire students they believe are capable of solving the problems at hand.
…know that successful scientists have independent minds. Doing research means uncovering new corners of the unknown. Good leaders know that only independent thinkers can truly manage to make new discoveries.
Personal leadership experience.
Before finishing my PhD, I have reached out to younger students and motivated them to join the team I was part of at the time. I strongly encourage my own students to do the same, thus taking part in finding their own peers. As a graduate student, I have had the honor to study in an environment that valued leadership, which allowed me to take the lead in several research collaborations at a young age. Providing the same opportunities to my own students is of utmost importance to me.
As a Postdoc in the US and Germany, I have had the luck to guide a young graduate student to a PhD. As part of this endeavor, I was the lead-PI on seven joint publications and with more projects ongoing. I managed to keep spirits up when we faced challenges, which I view as essential for always bringing our projects across the finish line. I was also involved in critical steps of the supervision of several younger students (varying from junior PhD students to research interns), including the proposal, day-to-day management and finalization of various research projects. As a postdoc I also took on leading roles in several theory-experiment collaborations. In several cases I have led pioneering theoretical work that enabled some of the experimental works in the first place. The lesson I learnt was that good leaders ask questions: this can initiate projects and provoke key decisions at crucial turning points of projects.
As a DFG project leader and senior researcher at LMU, I have brought together a highly skilled and motivated group of young students (Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD’s) pursuing closely connected research projects. We have regular meetings, and the group knows their common goals: Collaborations are most explicitly encouraged and it is important to me that everyone has the chance to contribute to our long-term goals.