Project management: How not to lose friends and alienate people

I've been quite lucky in getting my grants funded. I've also been incredibly lucky with the team members I've managed to assemble. They get along with each other and I get along with them. They are my family. However, we have now reached a stage where I have to start making sure there is output. And if I am honest, I don't really know how to do that.

I have always worked for PIs who were very hands off. I have also always worked for PIs who were senior, male, tenured and financially secure. And while I was very happy to discover that I am not a natural micro-manager, I realise that I have to be way more on top of things than my own mentors have ever been with me. For them, it was okay if output came after 5 years. Or 6. In my case, I need output after a maximum of 4 or my contract will run out before my papers are in press. 

The thing is, I have some awesome people working on a very demanding project. And because I also have other obligations I just haven't been able to put any practical time in on it myself, although part of it really is my expertise. My peeps are doing the best they can, but there is just a lot more work than they can handle (plus the usual setbacks and sideways that need to be explored before we can pick things back up on the main road) and it is super clear to me that we need an extra pair of hands. I've got the funding to hire someone, but this is not going to be a 100% natural and organic merger. It needs active management from my side, because it is clear that my peeps see it as an intrusion on "their" project. They feel someone else may run off with "their" data. That he or she may interfere with "their" publications. And it doesn't matter how many times I turn "their" back into "our" in the conversations that we are having - they just don't see it that way. 
The thing is, I cannot blame them. I would have had exactly the same defensive response if it had been me as the person working on the project. And as they get defensive I become insecure as to how to handle this.

I need help. 

How am I going to make sure that this is going to improve output from the project instead of destroying everything I've built so far? Of course I have everybody's best interest in mind, but guiding all of this into a situation where everybody gets the papers that he or she deserves requires leadership on my part that I am not sure I am comfortable displaying yet. 
I think we need to sit down together and divide work - but I've never done this: predicting who goes where on papers that are still completely up in the air and that may look entirely different tomorrow? It's basic science. Who knows what we will find. And even if that's the way to go - how do I get them on my side, not just logically but also psychologically? I know they will probably see (once everything is sketched out) that there is too much work to do for just the folks we have now, but that doesn't mean they will just welcome another wheel on the wagon. They are working hard, they are tired. I want to treat them as equals. But in the end, I am in charge. They don't need a friend right now, they need a boss. And I need to figure out how to do that.

The midway point

I have reached the point in my tenure track where I really need to start thinking about output. It's not that I haven't been doing that, obviously. Believe me, the first 2.5 years have been no picnic. While I continuously try to think of this whole business as a really long postdoc (after all, my 6-year tenure track contract is the longest I've ever head), I also know that I cannot just ignore the fine print. After all, my contract stipulates quite precisely (or, if you want to know my real opinion: my contract lists everything I need to achieve in order to get tenure down to the last insane decimal in terms of impact factors) what I need to achieve. On a good day, I will look at the list and be like: "well, that is what I, as an ambitious person would want to achieve anyway". On a bad day, I look at the same list and get a panic attack, because deep down I know that giving it my best just may not be good enough - in the end it is completely out of my control as to whether I get the grant or whether my paper is accepted for publication.

I have a serious mid-term assessment coming up and things are looking good (administrative surprises pending). In fact, I was ready about half a year before the scheduled date and started to prepare my package around that time because I know the bureaucracy at my University. It turns out that was wise: no one had any ideas about the procedures that needed to be followed and while everyone gave me the "oh it will be fine", no one actually gave me a hand to make sure I got to the only "fine" that counts: a positive evaluation in writing signed off by the proper, responsible person.

Would I have done things differently if it hadn't been for this mid-term assessment? No, not really. But I might have done things in a different order. I constantly got the advise: "the most important thing is to focus on your research". I am sure it was all well intended. I am sure they probably knew that I was not so naive as to think otherwise. But with demands on an X amount of teaching to be done and teaching certificate Y to be obtained and Z amount of cold-hard-cash to be brought in by the end of year three, you have very little choice to postpone course development and grant writing until your lab is up and running. What the administrative bureaucratic trolls seem to forget when they are drafting their list of bullet points is, for instance, that a course only comes around once in an academic year. Obviously, you are not magically teaching an X amount of hours in the curriculum when you are hired mid-way through the academic year. And all those people who say "you'll be fine" don't just offer you things on a gold platter. So, I used that first (incomplete) academic year to make sure I carved a niche for myself in the teaching curriculum in the second year, so that could actually fulfil X and Y by the time of my mid-term assessment. If I had not given priority to these things and had been only slightly more naive, it would have been practically impossible to meet my mid-term requirements.
Would I have been fine without doing it this way? Well, let's just say I saw what happened to another junior faculty member who didn't tick these boxes. Our tenure track is "up or out" and apparently that also holds true mid-term.
Did my research suffer? I did my best, but I am only human and if I am honest I have not been able to devote as much time to research and my awesome lab members as I wanted to. And so I am now getting to a point where I really need to make this my main priority for the second half of my tenure track. It's "up or out" and if I want to move up, the papers need to go out.

The Young Ones

I've been spending quite some time away from the lab, attending conferences and so on. It was useful to get the latest on what's going on in my field (I am a bit secluded from other going ons in my area where I am at) - but more than that, it has given me time for reflection. Not in terms of planning my next few months of work (as I had hoped) and not in terms of crystallising my thoughts for big grant proposals that are due in the coming year (as I had also hoped), but in terms of how the different generations of scientists look at academia - more precisely: how they look at academic careers.

I must say that I really tink that "my generation" (i.e. the ones that have had there labs for less than say 5-7 years) have the best of both worlds. They still remember what it's like to struggle as a postdoc, but they also know what it's like to have made that next step (something you cannot possibly completely envision if you haven't done it yet - no matter how much you prepare yourself). Now I am not patting myself and my contemporaries on the back: this is just how it is. In another 5-10 years, I will no longer really know what the current academic climate is like - although I would like to believe that I will keep up with "the real world" by interacting with the younger generations. But I'm afraid, that I will inevitably follow in the footsteps of my predecessors.

So when do you get out touch? I honestly think that after 10 years it just becomes more difficult to put yourself in the shoes of the younger generation. In the same way that you cannot relate to their music preferences and their online viral videos, you cannot really know what it is like to be in their position. Unless you try really, really hard.
Over lunch and dinner, almost invariably, professors over the age of 50 would utter phrases like "I think the young people are just to negative. We just did it, even if we didn't know where our careers would take us" (fact check: none of them spent 2 years on the TT market after a successful postdoc like I did, growing closer and closer to desperation with funding running out and no job on the horizon). They would sigh and wonder why postdocs and even PhD students are so focussed on their CV and their output, rather than on the fun of doing science (fact check: because they see people like me crash and burn, the lucky ones succeeding, but with plenty of good people not being able to build the academic career they always dreamed of).

And where do I find myself? I find myself wanting to fight a system that is overly hung up on publication output in an easy-to-check numbers game, while not taking the time to care about actual content. A system that expects me to spent ample time on teaching and outreach activities, while at the same time ultimately not rewarding those efforts because, well, high impact papers. A system that literally demands that I publish papers in high-impact journals of the CNS family (because we all know that is something that just happens when you work hard enough, right?), while at the same time pretending to promote open access. A system that I have to fit myself into if I want to get tenure in a few years, even if I keep telling myself that I will fight the system after I've passed that hurdle. But will I? Or will I ultimately fall victim to the system, and be assimilated by it? Even Jean-Luc eventually could only fight off the Borg for so long.

And as for the young ones? I tell them not to be naive. I tell them that yes, it is hard. And if their heart isn't in it for 100%, then no perhaps it is not worth the struggle. And I tell them that if they really want to be in science, that they then have to make sure they position themselves in the best possible way. But I also tell them to do science for the sake of doing science. To not build their CVs by just ticking of boxes, but by developing themselves into the scientist that they want to be. Because the system may be a rat race, but it should not be occupied by rats. It should be rebuilt by original and creative individuals, who each bring something different and unique to the table. And I hope that as long as I keep telling them that - as long as I keep telling myself that - that then, one day, the system will change.