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Learning to Be a Boss

Occasionally, I receive e-mails advertising workshops that provide grant-writing assistance. Those e-mails usually say something about how good grantsmanship “isn’t something they teach in graduate school.” Perhaps I was fortunate, but I actually learned a lot about grant writing in graduate school and my early postdoctoral years, and that training has yielded results throughout my career. What I really wish I’d gotten in graduate school, however, is management and supervisory training.

During my career I have served as director of a clinical-psychology service in an academic health center, as a principal investigator of grants with 10 to 15 staff members, and as an associate dean with several staff members who report directly and indirectly to me. All of those positions require supervisory and project-management skills.

While the organizational and interpersonal skills that I learned as a graduate research and teaching assistant transferred fairly well, I have struggled at times with some thorny personnel challenges, budgetary conundrums, and badly disrupted timelines. I want to be a good colleague to my peers, but also a good supervisor to those who report to me, and although I think I often meet that goal, I sometimes worry that I fall short.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to turn to my university’s human-resources office for advice on dealing with certain personnel challenges, and my colleagues and mentors have generously shared their ideas for dealing with other management issues. I also have participated in a few workshops offered by my university’s HR office and was lucky enough to attend and benefit from a development program specifically for academic leaders.

Each of those experiences was worthwhile. But such experiences may be somewhat haphazard and are not always available to those who need or want them. Shouldn’t we do more in our doctoral and postdoctoral-training programs to prepare students for the management and supervisory responsibilities that they are likely to take on, regardless of their career path?

We hear often about the “graying” of academe and the need for succession planning. Such planning includes ensuring that younger faculty members become good managers and supervisors, so that they can work as productively as possible with their colleagues and the people who report to them, whether that work is on research or service grants, in large teaching programs, or in administrative roles.

What types of practical management training have benefited you in your career? What training do you offer to students or new faculty members? What type of training do you wish you’d received?

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