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  • Kye Campbell-Fox

So You Are Thinking about Being a Research Lab Manager

Research lab management can be a rewarding and interesting job for anyone interested in research. So how do you know if lab management is for you? Trans-ilience lab manager Kye Campbell-Fox has some suggestions for things to think about while considering lab management as a career choice.

Why be a lab manager?

Being a lab manager offers numerous benefits for those interested in it. For individuals considering higher education, lab management can enhance their application to graduate or PhD programs. Having extensive experience in a research lab will also better prepare you for a research-based academic program. Similarly, if you are a recent graduate from either an undergraduate or graduate program, being a lab manager can provide valuable professional experience and help you to decide if research is a career you’d like to pursue. Even if you are not a recent graduate, if you are considering moving into a research career, lab manager can be a good place to start. Depending on the position and its funding, being a lab manager can be a short-term or a long-term position. If you are considering lab management as a break before graduate school, you might be interested in a 1- or 2-year position; if you’re looking for a career, you might be looking for a longer-term position. 

Working in a research lab also necessitates being able to work collaboratively. Often academic programs emphasize individual research work, but the reality is that many research projects outside of the classroom require working in a team and being able to collaborate with other researchers. Being a lab manager also grants you the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of the lab, work on a wide variety of projects, and gain a broader understanding of your field. Because I work 40 hours a week in the lab, I necessarily am working on multiple projects for the lab at a time and am involved throughout the process of each project. Being involved in so many projects also provides opportunities for further training and developing new research skills. And finally, working in a research lab may allow you to present and/or author research studies!

How can I become a lab manager?

The obvious answer to this question, of course, is to apply to lab manager jobs! But if you’re not sure what you may need to do to get to that point, then this section is for you. First, most lab managers positions are going to require either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, so keep that in mind when choosing positions to apply to. If you are currently in college, consider expanding your research experience as most positions require research experience. You may choose to take research-based courses, work as a research assistant in a lab, or volunteer to work with a professor on their research projects. Other helpful skills when applying for a lab manager position may include organizational skills, project management, problem solving skills, a willingness to learn, and the ability to be a team player. 

In terms of looking for lab manager positions, you have a few options. Trans-ilience is a university research lab and universities can be great places to work: plenty of resources, good benefits, and interesting research opportunities are a few of the potential benefits of working in a university lab. Government research labs can offer similar benefits, depending on your field. Alternatively, you may have a specific cause you are interested in, in which case you may be looking at non-profit organizations that conduct research. Or perhaps you are looking at for-profit organizations, which can often offer higher pay and entry into the corporate world. Where you look for a position will depend on your interests and the area you have experience in! Know that some research positions will be grant-dependent, so knowing who has received funding recently can help you identify who may be hiring. You can also find researchers who are doing work you are interested in and reach out to them to see if they have any job openings. 

But what does it actually look like to be a lab manager?

The (admitted unsatisfying) answer to this question is, it depends! Depending on the area of research, the lab’s leader(s), the stipulations of the funding, and various other factors, it will be highly variable. I see my position as broadly covering three categories: research-related activities, scheduling/organization, and miscellaneous. These are necessarily broad, as responsibilities shift with the active projects. In my time with Trans-ilience, I have engaged in research activities such as recruiting and screening participants, conducting focus groups, transcription, qualitative coding, quantitative calculations, survey creation, theme generation, literature review, writing for publication, and more. In terms of scheduling and organization, that refers to the more literal management of the lab, including meetings, working with students, and organizing lab materials and files. And finally, the miscellaneous other tasks that fall to me. In a small lab, this could be anything. For example, I write blog posts, manage the lab’s social media, take meeting minutes, and keep the website up to date. In other labs, you might engage in some, all, or none of these activities - it depends! 

We hope this has been an informative exploration of the lab manager position! We encourage you to explore research opportunities to find the opportunity that is right for you. 

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