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Is being a researcher like running a small business?

Posted by: Jenna Ross Updated: November 20, 2012 - 7:16 AM

As I scurried alongside chemist Christy Haynes from her classroom to her research lab to a meeting in the University of Minnesota's medical buildings, a quote came to mind, from U President Eric Kaler:

"You don't become a successful researcher without being entrepreneurial. You've got to write grant requests and hire people. It has much more to do with running a small business than most people think."

I asked Haynes whether she agreed. "Absolutely," she said.

Haynes oversees a research group of about 15 graduate and undergraduate students, who are working on a variety of projects, for which they nab more than $800,000 annually in federal and private funds.

When I shadowed her one day, she checked in on each project, gave a tour of the lab to a grad student who was considering joining her group and spoke to one worker about hiring him full-time.

That's in addition to lecturing in a graduate level course, meeting with a medical doctor and mechanical engineer about treating cancer and finding a few minutes to pump breast milk.


Haynes said that she and her husband, who has an MBA, have talked about the parallels between managing a university research lab and steering a business.

"It's a lot like running your own small business, but you have a lot of support -- salaries to pay TA's, your own salary. Nine months of my salary is paid for by the university," she said. "It's definitely similar, but with more support, which I appreciate."

Given how much of her job is spent managing people and money, Haynes tries to instill those abilities in her graduate students. She guides them as they write grants, present at conferences and mentor undergraduates.

Ph.D. candidate Secil Koseoglu praised that holistic approach. "It's more than just the research," she said. "She makes sure you have all the skills."


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