Pre-NewPI Summer To Do List

As my last postdoc summer begins (holy sh*t), I’ve been thinking a lot about how to prepare for the fall – what should I be doing in now to set myself up for success in my first year on the tenure-track? For those of us in this position, obviously we’re still wrapping up postdocs or PhDs or other jobs, but I’m not the only one trying to answer this question. There is an entire channel dedicated to #PreNewPI questions and planning on the FuturePI Slack.

I’ve read those posts, watched this helpful video from iBiology, talked to friends and co-workers, and I think I’ve got a super comprehensive list, sorted by effort required, for those of us in this position, which you can use as a starting place. As with all of my posts, your mileage will vary – some items on this list may not apply to you, or I may have missed something. But I hope you can take this list, cut the things that don’t apply to you, and have at least the start of a roadmap!

Low Effort

  • Get your new institutional email address set-up*
  • Read advice for your first year on as a faculty
  • Join NewPI slack
  • Sign up for early-career NIH reviewer program and to review for NSF (or whatever your funding agencies are)
  • Start recruiting graduate students
  • Identify if there is a formal mentoring program for faculty at your new institution and find out how to sign-up
  • Put together a list of potential formal and informal mentors, both inside and outside your department
  • Identify a list of people who you can ask politely to invite you for seminars in the next few years so you can start building your national and international reputation
  • Order new business cards
  • Start a twitter/social media account

Medium Effort

  • Set up your lab website
  • Quantify metrics for tenure so you can start planning – check out the CVs of recently tenured faculty and quantify the grants, papers, impact factors, students graduated, talks given, etc.
  • Talk to recently hired faculty to identify what the most significant hiccups or secret tips for success at your institution might be
  • Identify potential grants to apply for and their deadlines – Maybe plan a schedule for grant applications and figure out the submission process at your new institution.
  • Make a loose plan for your first year and your first three-five years, with grant deadlines, society meetings, field seasons, teaching, etc.
  • Talk to your department chair and Associate Dean in charge of your tenure process about your plan
  • Start emailing potential collaborators
  • Sign up for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry – You may be traveling a lot to conferences and to give talks in the next couple of years. I honestly would have done this before interviewing for jobs, but didn’t have the time.
  • Take a grant-writing workshop
  • Take a lab management and/or leadership course – Being a PI, according to common wisdom and anecdata from friends and colleagues, is all about being a good manager. We usually don’t get much training in this area despite entire fields dedicated to this so this feels like a really smart idea to me.
  • Prep the syllabus for any classes you are teaching in your first semester
  • Get your institutional training and other paperwork done (e.g., safety training)
  • Teach yourself a new skill, like Python or R.

Great Effort

  • Identify items you need to purchase, vendors to from which to purchase said items, and collect quotes. Many vendors give NewPI discounts! Maybe even start buying if you have access to your start-up funds early.
  • Write SOPs for chemical and biological safety – use templates from the Environmental Safety Offices at your new and old institutions to make this task easier
  • Write a lab manual that includes some or all of the following:
    • Lab Code of Conduct (see examples here, here, here, here, and collected examples here)
    • Lab Protocols – Both protocols for data storage and organization as well as how to track purchasing, reagents, and samples? Naming conventions, etc.
    • New member To-Do list – what trainings do new lab members need to take? What forms do they need to fill out?
  • Draft at least rough lectures/assignments for the first couple months of class
  • Draft advertisements for hiring technicians and/or postdocs and develop a list of interview questions for identifying good candidates

Herculean Effort

  • Wrap up your current projects to the stage of manuscript submission so you can hit the ground running at your new job – I’m debating rushing this one because I think with COVID many of us are not going to be able to start data collection for new projects as soon as we would like and you need a pipeline of publications.
  • Draft IACUC/IRB/etc protocols and get access to the system for submitting them. Submit them if you’re really ambitious as it can take >6 months for these to be approved.
  • Draft permits for sample collection if you need them from government organizations like USFWS or USDA or CITES.
  • Take a vacation – you deserve it

What is on or was on your pre-start To-Do list? What did you get done before you started and what do you wish you had done?

* Italics indicate what’s on my list. But I will probably look more like this…

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