Starting a lab is an exciting moment for an early career researcher, but it can also be overwhelming. Biological anthropologist Tina Lasisi recently started a new lab at the University of Michigan. Lasisi shared some of the lessons she learned while setting up her lab, where she will study the diversity of human hair and skin.  

     Headshot of Tina Lasisi
Tina Lasisi, a biological anthropologist at the University of Michigan, studies the diversity of human hair and skin traits.
Justin Shaifer

How did you feel about transitioning to a principal investigator role?

I was excited. During my graduate and postdoctoral training, I was involved in many lab management tasks such as mentoring students and hiring staff. Those experiences made this transition feel less like a big change and more like finally getting resources for what I was already doing.

What are the most challenging aspects of starting your own laboratory?

I find the unwritten parts of the job the most challenging. When I first became a principal investigator, there was no manual to follow or list of milestones to accomplish. Since every lab is different, it's impossible for people in the institution to give one-size-fits-all advice. Ultimately, the most difficult thing about being independent is discerning what is important and needs to be done urgently from what just needs to be done eventually. 

What tips do you have for other researchers who are starting labs?

Put all the information from human resources, finance, or people in the new department in one place. Also, start thinking about hiring a team since this process can take a long time. Define who you want in your group. In some cases, it might make sense to have many graduate students, but in other cases, it might be better to have more postdoctoral researchers. Make sure to understand what each position means, how much it costs in terms of salary, and how much you can expect a person to do in the lab. Finally, think about team dynamics and how to build an environment that allows those people to succeed.       

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.