Professor, Baylor College of Medicine
Department of Molecular and Human Genetics
ASHG: What non-academic skills would you encourage trainees to develop to prepare for successfully running a lab? What specific skills have proved invaluable for you?
Dr. Nelson: I have often complained that our advancement to the next position in the progression from undergrad to grad student to postdoc to faculty is not dependent on building skills necessary for the next level. It is especially true when beginning one’s own research laboratory. Management skills are not emphasized for postdocs or grad students (other than managing oneself).
It’s important to learn how to hire the right people, how to motivate and reward them, how to mediate disputes, how to manage funds and how to navigate the increasingly complex regulatory hurdles. Some of these skills can be obtained as a student or postdoc, especially in large laboratories with more complicated management structures where the PI must rely on lieutenants.
This was the case for my final postdoc, and it allowed me to have some rudimentary experience in selecting and managing people. I’m still hopeless on the funds part though.
ASHG: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?
Dr. Nelson: Working with bright young minds is by far the best part of my job as a lab director/professor. Managing funds remains my least favorite part!
ASHG: What do you think the future holds for the field of genetics?
Dr. Nelson: Genetics is pervasive in all of biosciences and will continue to underpin the development of applied bioscience. The field remains in its infancy. The gene as a functional unit remains the paradigm, and the field continues to advance with understanding each gene’s contribution to the processes that build and operate living beings, and to the maladies that result from mutation.
Genes will form the building blocks for biological engineering, which has the potential to impact all aspects of life, using the tools discovered by genomic characterization of all the example organisms. It is a rich and exciting future, with ample space for new discovery to augment the efforts aimed at engineering.
Want more interviews? Join the ASHG Trainee Forum to keep up with new ones!