The joy of having a research group

One of the things that keeps me going when the day to day life of an academic feels less than perfect is the fact that I have a fantastic group of people to work with. At the moment, I am blessed with a great group of postdocs and PhD students who are not only productive, but work together well and are proactive about developing their own skills and careers. One of the ways they do this is through a fortnightly “aerosol” group meeting. The purpose of this group meeting is largely to develop their broader knowledge of aerosol-climate interactions rather than to talk about their own work. Each person takes it in turns to suggest a paper that everyone reads, and then this is discussed in the meeting. Such journal clubs are not new of course, but this one works particularly well since the field covered is small enough that everyone has some interest in everyone else’s work, but large enough that by regularly meeting like this, everyone’s horizons are gradually extended. We are also learning a lot about different styles of journal articles, and practicing for reviewing submitted articles for real. Today for example we considered a paper about climate feedbacks involving natural aerosols that required us to learn about gas phase chemistry emissions from plants, as well as our more usual areas. Next time it will be about climate extremes in Europe.

One of the bonuses for me of the recent office moves in our Department that saw my group and some others move to a second Meteorology building,  is that I now see a lot more of my research group on an informal day to day basis rather than only in our scheduled meetings, as they are the people I bump into. Obviously this means I must be bumping into others in the Department less, which has its disadvantages, but generally I am a very happy group leader.

I should say that I have never explicitly set out to “build” a team in any certain way. Every member of our aerosol-climate research team joined at different times and with the skills for particular positions, as well as more general research and communication skills. However  I do believe that it’s important that postdocs are encouraged to take this kind of initiative for themselves – indeed it is often that case that I am not around to attend the meetings (unfortunately for me), and they may indeed be better meetings for that very reason! Athene Donald’s thoughts on these and other skills that might be useful for postgrads and postdocs to develop are definitely worth a read.