I was at a conference last week on ‘Supporting the transitions of research students and staff’. One of the speakers was Professor James Cunningham from the Newcastle Business School at the University of Northumbria. He talked about the research he, and others, have done on what makes a good Principal Investigator (PI). Although much of this research has been carried out with scientists, you can make links to researchers in other disciplines. It gives some insight into what you should be aiming for if you want to pursue an academic career.
The research says that successful research leaders are:
- visionaries, have an absolute clarity of vision for their research
- mobile, willing to go wherever they will be best supported to conduct their research
- strategists, have a clarity of purpose and are able to explain (or ‘sell’) their uniqueness and what differentiates them to research funders, Deans (or other senior managers in universities), policy makers, and other stakeholders, in appropriate language
- boundary spanners, bridge gaps between academia and industry / government
It’s quite a daunting list but you may be able to spot some of these traits in the research leaders around you. It’s probably useful to reflect on your own strengths against this list and to consider how you are, or can be, demonstrating these traits if this is the career route you’d like to follow.
If you want to read more, see below or look at the full list of James Cunningham’s publications on Researchgate:
Vincent Mangematin, Paul O’Reilly, James A Cunningham. PIs as boundary spanners, science and market shapers. Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer Verlag, 2014, 39 (1), pp.1-10.
Anne Casati, Corine Genet. Principal investigators as scientific entrepreneurs. Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer Verlag, 2014, 39 (1), pp.11-32.