Running a “Team”

What’s common between running a lab&projects vs. being a captain for a basketball team?

I have an idea that being part of a lab/project is like being part of a team game (However, interestingly, when I gave this example in my first grad school interview at 2016, I was misunderstood and they kindly let me go.).

“Working together is as important as improving individual skills.

The team got the bronze despite me not able to play due to an injury

Playing basketball has been one of my favorite sports activities since 5th grade. On the other hand, NUS has something called Inter-Faculty-Games (IFG) where different faculties of the university compete with each other in different sports including basketball. As most of the restrictions has been lifted here and IFG has come back after two years of pandemic restrictions on group activities, I decided to apply to compete in Basketball-W team of the faculty I bonded by PhD program. However, there were a few applicants for W-team, so I ended up with captain of team, captain-nowhere, being afraid of team to disband due to missing leadership (despite trying to pass this duty to more experienced&younger undergrads later after building up the team, none accepted).

Then, I have suddenly had the idea of “ what if this is a simulation to lead a group of researchers for a project in the lab?”. Let me share my experiences and similarities to a research group I have observed while taking a responsibility of a team.

Group Leader is not always the Smartest

Captain does not always mean the best player in the team, as group leaders does not always the best/smartest researcher in the group.

Potential Energy of a Team

This means there might be more talented players in your team, as your group might have more experienced grads and post-docs in specific fields/techniques of their project. For example, you might hire excellent dry-labbers and excellence wet-labbers, however you might be somewhere in the middle of both fields in terms of experience compared to your teammates.

Having Multiple Experts is not a Disadvantage

This is not a disadvantage for a group leader. It is an opportunity to improve yourself, projects and your team.

Give Credit to A Talent

Therefore, it would be better to discuss and come up with strategies towards common goal/your projects with these talented minds to strengthen the idea instead of insisting on your own thoughts.

Challenges are Opportunities

Challenges are part of the process. It would be good to neither under/over-estimate them nor yourself/your team. They will unlock the potential of your team towards something better.

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome In

Some of your players/members might not be aware of their potential. It is important to help them to discover their and team’s potential.

People Left the Team at the Beginning

Some of your teammates might change their thoughts about academia/goals during at the very beginning of projects. To exemplify, they do not like the projects or they might get better offers from somewhere else that suits them more. They might want to quit to pursue something else. Although this might be disappointing, no need to take it too personal. It would be nice to understand them and let them find their way.

Open Minded Leadership

Feedback are part of process, too! Not only your feedback as a team leader to team, but also your team’s feedback on you and your skills. There is no shame to learn from your colleagues. Better to keep open-minded.

Team Spirit

It is important for a team to build a team chemistry. Trainings/ meetings/lab retreats create and maintain the connections while improving the well-being and resilience of a team. Meanwhile, it helps to be more inclusive. Collaborations can start within your own team!

Mentor-ship within

Less experienced team members can be trained by more experienced members to create flow of information process/experience within the lab.

Milestones and Celebrating Every Success

Brainstorming and having endless idea might sound cool. However, setting short term goals, completing and rewarding these small accomplishments might be more important to keep progressing, whether smaller or bigger, than trying to achieve a big dream immediately or everything simultaneously.

Doing sports was one of my favorite de-stressing activity. I think being part of a sports team has lot of in common with being a researcher in a lab. Moreover, leading a sports team is like leading a research group: sometimes frustrating yet most of the times exciting and full of learning opportunities from your peers. Hence, I believe being part of sports teams outside of the lab might help us to develop better researcher skills.



Ortaya Karışık (Fatma Betul Dincaslan)

FeBe/ Molecular Biologist and Geneticist / Bioinformatician/ Single Cell Assayist / Socially developed nerd