Negotiating your first job is a challenging, but exciting time. As a new faculty member you want to ensure that you have the necessary tools to set yourself up for success. But, you also want to be a reasonable person who easily integrates into the new team without having unrealistic demands. When setting up a basic science lab, a few items are absolutely necessary.
Mentorship is critical in the development of the young investigator. Identified mentor(s) need not be within the Department of Surgery. More often mentors can be identified in other Departments. It is possible to have multiple mentors, and to shift mentors as you develop. However, at least one or two possible mentors should be identified prior to joining a new institution, and you should have to opportunity to meet in person and discuss your research plan. Seeking out mentorship on a wider scale, such as through the AAS can also be extremely helpful to the young surgeon-scientist.
Financial resources are also an absolute requirement to start a basic science research program. Typically funds are needed for a research assistant or laboratory technician’s salary and benefits. Money will also be needed to purchase reagents and equipment. Prior to taking a new position it is imperative to identify the space in which you will be working, and the equipment and cores to which you have access. It is perfectly acceptable (and maybe preferable) to be housed within an established laboratory, while for others they may begin with their own independent laboratory space. In both cases collaborations and good relationships with your new research colleagues are fundamental to early success. The exact dollar amount will vary depending upon the institution, and whether you are expected to be independent from the start. However, a minimum of 3-5 years of financial support should be encouraged in order to assist you in developing your research program.
It is important to have “protected time” in which to perform your experiments, write grants, and publish abstracts and papers. “Protected time” may sound like a mythical beast, but it can be a reality and is easily accomplished in a Department that is focused upon your success. During the final stages of a job negotiation building a structured calendar of your work week is very helpful. Days may be assigned to either clinical duties (clinic and OR) or research time. Lab time should be viewed as important and fixed as one’s clinic day. A typical work week for a new surgeon scientist who is interested in securing National Institute of Health funding is usually 50% clinical, 50% protected. Those values will alter depending upon grant success and requirements over time. This time guarantee should be supported for at least 3 years after initial hire.
It may feel overwhelming at times, but it is possible. Having a basic science research program is a wonderfully fulfilling aspect to my career as a surgeon.