Tagged introduction

The scientist as an entrepreneur

In this post, I’ll suggest that as science leaders, we should view ourselves as business owners. Weird? Yuck? Read on…

For many of us, the decision for science was, at the same time, a decision against going into the business world.

And yet, we experience all the time that many business aspects leak into our science world. Getting funding has long become a big competition, and so we try to market our ideas in our grants Salaries include variable, success-oriented components. Our quality as researchers is largely evaluated by quantitative measures like the number of publications we have authored. Funding agencies want us to include real life applications and science-to-business transfer in our grants. I’m sure you can name more.

Enter the entrepreneur…

Many of these business aspects have a negative connotation for us. But I will make the point that there is a connection between science and business that we should embrace: as lab leaders, we are entrepreneurs, and we can deduct lots of ideas from this comparison for our lab management.

What’s an entrepreneur? According to Investopedia, it’s someone “who, rather than working as an employee, runs a small business and assumes all the risk and reward of a given business venture, idea, or good or service offered for sale. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as a business leader and innovator of new ideas and business processes.” These are people who have a vision and a purpose, and who go to great lengths to make a dream reality.

I know it sounds a bit flowery. But still, many of us scientists aren’t any different. We lead our group in trying to gain rewards through more or less risky scientific work. More than anything, we are innovators of new ideas.

…and so what?

Why do I think that the analogy of a science group leader as an entrepreneur is important?

It’s because we face a lot of the same challenges. In his book The E-Myth (also see my post on this book), where E stands for Entrepreneur, Michael Gerber explains how most entrepreneurs start out as “technicians” – experts with some specific know-how (= end of PhD, beginning of PostDoc). At some point, the technician decides he wants to be his own boss and starts his own company (= first grant, first professorship).

Now the technician must become an entrepreneur. He must stop doing technical work, and begin to develop his company, to lead. Gerber calls it working on the business rather than in the business. As scientists, we usually no longer “do the science ourselves”, but lead others in doing it. Our task is now to develop ideas about where we should search next, and to acquire the necessary funding for our research to expand and our group to grow.

Once you see how similar the challenges of a small business owner are to the challenges you face as the leader of a science group, the next logical step is to find out how small business owners attack their everyday hassles. And internet and libraries are full of advice for entrepreneurs! I’ve found many interesting and worthwhile strategies and tactics that can be transferred to the science world.

Not everything. Not always one to one. But many things, and often with surprisingly little adjustment. We’ll look at some of them in posts to come.

Do you see commonalities between business owners and yourself? What are your reservations about the analogy? Leave a comment below!


I’ve posted about Michael Gerber’s book, “The E-Myth Revisited”. You can check it out here.

Michael Gerber gives a quick intro about his ideas in a ~20 min podcast (www/iTunes).


This post is part of the open draft for the Research Group Leader Book [about] [read more].

Introducing the Research Group Leader Book Project

Join in, share your ideas and experiences, and give your feedback on my book in progress about leading a science lab.

typewriter_aboveWhen I started my own research group, I often didn’t know what step should come first, or next. And I had quite a few situations in which I thought: “…if only I had known beforehand!” It’s not that there is no information out there, and my supervisors as well as many other colleagues and friends have been helpful when I asked. Still, there were many aspects that popped up unexpected, or dawned on me over time, almost unnoticeable at first but with increasing urge as time went by, and I wish I had been aware of from the beginning. A book would have been nice, one that talks about all the different aspects of running a science group, but isn’t dry and boring.

So, I’ve decided to write the book I didn’t have.

But I think that the value of such a book is limited if all that goes in it are my own views and my limited experience. Therefore, I am taking a different approach. Instead of writing the book and keeping it locked away until it is done, I will write it here, on the blog, piece by piece. I invite you to read along. More importantly, I invite you to comment, confirm, disagree, make suggestions, provide your own stories, and share links to resources that you have found important. I’ll make it a real book when the blog draft is complete.

Why should you take part?

For one, I hope you will find the content I put up valuable for your own work. Because it’s on the blog, it’s entirely free. Of course, if you like, just come by and read. On the other hand, you can help me in creating a book that I hope will be helpful to the researchers and scientists we are all bringing up in our labs right now, your MScs, PhDs, and PostDocs, as they create their own careers.

The content will be the better the more people give their input. If you know someone who might benefit from the project, or who might be inclined to take part, please share this page with that person.

Ok, so how do I start?

Photo credit: Unsplash

The trouble is… (or: why this blog exists)

It’s a long road. Here’s how it all started, and why I’d like for you to come along.

long road...

Welcome to ScienceLabLife, my blog about leading, supervising, and managing a research team, group, or lab.

How I got here…

If you’re a researcher or scientist who leads a team or group, chances are that the reason you got to where you are now is that you found a passion in the science you (used to) do. That’s how I started, too. I acquired skills to do my research, became expert in analyzing my typical data, and wrote papers about my discoveries. Then I moved on to be a PostDoc and was given responsibility to supervise some PhD students of my supervisor. Shortly after, I wrote two grant proposals that secured my own funding, including several PhD candidates who who are now doing “the real work”.

…and how it’s all different

Here’s the trouble: none of what this new situation of having my own group required of me was in my area of expertise. Sure, I had observed other supervisors and formed some ideas about what I thought they had done well, and what not. I had some ideas and intuitions about what I wanted my group to be like.

My mentors and supervisors had told me that my job would significantly change once I start my own group. I would not be doing much “real scientific work” — experimenting and data analysis — any longer.

Though I’m still doing some of that “old stuff”, most of what I do now is certainly very different from what I used to do as a PhD and beginning PostDoc. I find myself teaching and coaching my group members, evaluating their scientific ideas, making sure they thought of everything when they do their experiments, reading and revising what they have written, and trying to come up with effective and efficient ways to keep track of what everyone is up to.

I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t enjoy the challenge. I’ve found it highly rewarding to build my own thing. To set my own priorities. To make the decisions. But I would also be lying if I said that this all came natural, continually worked well, and that I always knew what I was doing.

Sound familiar?

map If so, then welcome to my blog — I hope that the posts I plan to publish here will be of use to you: help you finding the balance between doing science and leading; suggest strategies and tactics that help you succeed with your group; challenge the way you think about leadership; share some everyday hands-on stuff that, in my experience, works well; and, along the way, perhaps be fun, too.

Sometimes I’ll post things that I have established because I have found them useful. Sometimes I’ll post about ongoing “experiments” and ideas. I’m a curious person, and I’d like to know when you find something helpful, and when you don’t, and when you agree or disagree. So do let me know about your experiences, opinions, and your own tips by leaving comments underneath the posts, or by emailing me directly. I’ll be delighted to have discussions with you!

If you decide that you want to follow along, sign up for email updates. I will then send you a note when I make new content available.

Photo credit: Unsplash (both photos)