Over the years, I’ve met many scientists who have a desire to move away from the lab bench, but consistently exhibit behaviors that are destined to keep them there. The following is an example that I use to illustrate behaviors that are likely to keep one in their present bench role, versus others that will get them recognized to be leadership and management material.
Consider a scenario where your manager puts a journal article on your desk with a note saying, “please read, need to discuss first thing tomorrow”. You find this note about 30 minutes before lunch and your afternoon is booked solid. About an hour before, you agreed to have lunch with a business development manager to discuss your thoughts on a potential opportunity they’ve just uncovered with a prospective customer. A quick scan of the article reveals it to be about a 90-minute effort.
You have two options. You can cancel the lunch meeting and spend that time reading the article to prep for tomorrow’s discussion, or you can keep the meeting and read the article after normal work hours instead. If you choose to cancel the meeting, you are behaving in a manner that is more likely to keep you on the bench. Should you be considered for a future leadership role in R&D, or pursue an opportunity outside of R&D, your peers from other functions will be assessing how much value you’ve added to them during your tenure as an R&D contributor. A behavior such as the above would be an example of you missing an opportunity to add such value and creating an image that adding such value is not a priority to you.
If you keep the lunch meeting and work the extra hours, don’t expect any immediate rewards, but others will notice these behaviors if you maintain them consistently over time and you’ll earn a very positive reputation as a value adder to others outside of your primary area of responsibility. That will set you up nicely for a promotion off of the bench when the opportunity arises. A bit of sacrifice in the short term for the potential of a greater return in the long term.