Increasingly I have been asked about my experiences of leadership in research and what I see as options for leadership in research – particularly for PhD students and also in the context of increasing competition for grant funding. I reckon there are at least five (maybe more) leadership options for researchers. And I think all of them have their own nuances but also are based on three things.
First the five leadership options:
- Technical Expert – the lone researcher as it were.
- Group Leader – someone who can bring a team together around their expertise. Everyone is work on the same goal, with (essentially) the same or similar research skills.
- Community Leader – the scientist in the news. Happy to have their name against comments in their field of expertise (and even sometimes outside it).
- Collaborative Leader – Brings groups together, to work on high order problems. Often each group has a different skill set or area of expertise.
- Translational Leader – sees the connections between research and practice, or between what (until they saw it) appeared to be two different areas of research.
Each has their own specific skill set, but all get to be Leaders by:
Practice – get good at something. Do your 10,000 hours. If you want to be a good scientist, you’ll need to find something to be good at. Most likely, it will be the topic of your PhD or something closely aligned to it. For example it could be a research technique, the location you worked in (e.g. farm, bush, mangrove, reef), or the subject you worked with (e.g. farmers, community, indigenous peoples, specific plants or animals). It could also be working with others or identifying alternate uses for research findings.
Diversify – there is a wealth of evidence that diversity is important across society and this is also true for research – papers with diverse authors (from different countries) get more citations than papers with homogenous authors. A good scientist will have diverse collaborators, colleagues, co-authors, and/or even research techniques used. Scientists are more likely to develop new and alternative ways of thinking if they interact with scientists with diverse expertise and backgrounds (research paper from 2006). This also relates to your ability to include others and recognise their contribution to the science. If you are regularly taking credit for other people’s work – or perhaps not appropriately giving credit for other peoples’ work – it is highly likely you will not be seen as a good scientist.
Communicate – you’ll need to be a great communicator as either an author (grants, journal articles, web writing) or speaker (conferences, lay-audiences). You won’t get funded if you cannot write grants. You won’t finish your PhD if you cannot write papers (or your thesis itself). No one will listen to you if you cannot speak in front of an audience. If you are not good at these things, practice them. You can do the best research and be making the strongest intellectual argument, but if readers don’t get past the third paragraph you’ve wasted your energy and valuable ink (said by Carl Hiaasen (American Journalist)). You get recognised based on skills/findings (e.g. outstanding research published in a prestigious journal), but forgotten based on behaviour (e.g. poor speaking presence).
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