CAREER COLUMN

The importance of being introspective in the lab

Question your own point of view first to avoid career-damaging conflict, says Benjamin Tsang.
Benjamin Tsang is the laboratory manager for the Gerlai Behavioural Genetics Research Lab at the University of Toronto in Canada.
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Illustration of a silhouette head with a brain filled with cogs, and a smaller figure adjusting the cogs with a wrench

Credit: Adapted from Akindo/Getty

Respecting others and giving them the space they need is a skill learnt through experience. As a laboratory manager, I’ve helped to manage not only the research in the lab, but the people in it as well.

Confrontations seldom occur — but when they do, it’s important to remember that we are all just human. How to listen and understand different points of view is the most valuable lesson my supervisor taught me, and one that I try to teach students in my lab. Remember, the golden rule never gets old: treat others as you wish to be treated. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are multiple ways of completing a task, and often we can become too ignorant and dismissive of others’ views because we want our own to succeed.

No matter who you are, the ability to be introspective and empathetic is crucial to de-escalating and preventing conflicts. Partisan views often create messy and hostile environments that can make everyone uncomfortable, and is often how tempers flare and fingers get pointed.

Regardless of what you might think of another person, learning to accept their individual differences and personal work ethic is key to reducing arguments, and ensuring yourself a focused and enjoyable lab life. It’s common for everyone to have their own preferences. I, for example, need to be reminded to get things done in the lab. Thankfully, my colleagues have become used to it and are generally happy to nudge me to do something.

In the end, a combination of open-mindedness, acceptance and a degree of introspection will aim you in the right direction for personal growth, and make you a better mentor, protégée and collaborator.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00925-0

This is an article from the Nature Careers Community, a place for Nature readers to share their professional experiences and advice. Guest posts are encouraged. You can get in touch with the editor at naturecareerseditor@nature.com.

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