Always be waiting on something: Goal setting for early career

There is a wonderfully intoxicating process of building your lab as an independent investigator. All the decisions are yours now. Who becomes part of your team, how you run the lab, when you have lab meetings, where do you order reagent X from..the possibilities are endless. Then, sometime, you realize you have everything you need to really do some amazing things, and now it’s time to package what your team is doing into papers and grants. Then the question becomes are you doing enough and in the right places. It’s overwhelming to say the least. How many grants, which grants? How many papers, which papers?

Care of the same sage colleague who brought you the “Research talk recipe” comes this advice: “Always be waiting on something”. Ensconced in this mantra is the idea that you are aiming in the first few years to hit a certain level of productivity and a tangible mark of success that suggests you have reached it — i.e. that you are always waiting on the reviews of a grant or the reviews of a paper. I’ve used this consistently in the last few years. The moment I send a paper for review, I’m thinking of the next paper or the next grant and I set a clock based on when I expect the reviews from the last grant or last paper. It’s a mark of constant productivity that also gives you the breathing room to respond to the return of the last paper or grant, without stalling other work. Obviously, the more things in review the better, but “always waiting on something” is a milestone you can hang your hat on and something that gives you a true sense of fulfillment, versus a panicking sense of wondering “am I doing enough?”.