This week is a big week at The Crick. We have the official opening ceremony on Wednesday at which our new building will be shown off to visiting royals, dignitaries and the press. Then on Thursday, at midnight, applications close in our first round of group leader recruitment. Although this will happen with less pomp and pageantry then the festivities on Wednesday it is, to many of us, a much more significant event. Buildings – the laboratories, offices and facilities – are of course important for an institute. I’ve written in a previous blog about the thinking and effort that went to the design of our new building and I’m eager to move in. But, in the end, research institutes are people, not bricks and mortar. No matter how fancy or sophisticated a building, what determines whether an institute is a success or failure is the researchers who occupy it.
That’s why I’m more excited about the group leader recruitment than I am about Wednesday’s formalities. Hiring new group leaders is always a complicated process and with this being the first recruitments at The Crick there’s added attention and pressure on us. We’re trying to find people with the potential to make substantial and significant contributions in their fields of research. They will need intelligence, creativity, ambition and a scientific plan. Indeed one of the long term aims of The Crick is to train and develop future science leaders. This is important, not least because when I think about the most successful research institutes around the world one of first things that comes to mind, second only to scientific discoveries, are the people that have trained there and what they’ve gone on to achieve. Making the right hiring decisions now is, I hope, the first step on this road for The Crick.
But there’s also a much more straightforward reason why I’m interested in the recruitment. Hiring new group leaders is an opportunity to find new colleagues with whom to interact and collaborate. The Crick, similar to the MRC-NIMR and LRI-CRUK – the two institutes that merged to form the Crick, is organised into small independent research groups. Each of us has our own programme of research but shares space and equipment with neighbouring groups. Having a new lab move in is a refreshing experience, bringing new people, new ideas and expertise. When I’m sitting in recruitment seminars and interviews I often find myself thinking what it would be like if this person was in the lab next to me. I’m looking for someone who will be collegiate, open and interactive. Someone who will make me think about a problem in a different way and broaden my knowledge. One of the hopes with this round of recruitment is that we can find people who will strengthen the institute’s interdisciplinarity as well as deepen our current areas of research. I’m looking forward to seeing who has applied and what they might bring to the institute.
It sometimes seems that the criteria we set out for new group leaders are so varied and demanding that no one will meet them. I remember my own search for a group leader position and wondering which if any of the requirements I satisfied. However, I’ve realised from experience that many of the skills can be learned along the way. Most of the group leaders I’ve seen develop successful careers have grown into the role rather than started fully formed. In the early years I relied on colleagues for advice on things such as managing people, when to apply for grants, how to attract students and post-docs. Gradually over time I picked up the skills and gained confidence. One of the advantages of an institute such as The Crick is that there is readily available peer support for new group leaders with plenty of people able to offer advice and to provide mentoring. This means that, for those of us already in The Crick, the real work starts once we’ve made our hiring decisions and the new people arrive. Now that construction is complete, we can start the crucial job of assembling and building the institute by recruiting and nurturing new group leaders.