A Manual for Leading a Research Group

Photo from http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/article/research-opens-doors-to-great-possibilities/

David Chettle, Professor of Medical Physics & Applied Radiation Sciences at McMaster University

In September 2012, James Peterson hosted a CSCA student and faculty reception at McMaster that was centred on a discussion of the article “What I Wish My Pastor Knew About…The Life of a Scientist”, by Andy Crouch. At one point, Andy Crouch writes, “With the collaborative practice of science come the joys as well as the challenges of managing many people’s priorities, expectations, egos, abilities, and limitations” (page 4, column 2). This reminded me of my long held opinion that Paul wrote the best manual for leading a research group, that is 1 Corinthians 12.

Paraphrasing: “A research group should work together as a team, although it comprises disparate individuals, each with her/his own needs, desires, talents and sources of motivation.” (Loosely derived from 1 Corinthians 12:12.) The task of the group leader is to recognise these different talents and types of motivation and seek to engineer the situation in which each person is operating in the realm of her/his strengths, while continuing to acknowledge the importance of those individual desires and needs.

This requires that the group leader has a clear idea of where the research group is headed and why, which is nevertheless sufficiently loosely held to be adjusted in response to new ideas and insights contributed by research group members. Equally, the research group leader must be adept at listening, discerning and affirming those strengths and recognising those often unexpressed needs and desires.

In my experience in secular universities, it doesn’t help to acknowledge Paul as the author of this manual or to make it explicit that the research group leader should immerse her/his efforts in watchful prayer for the enterprise of the research group as a whole and particularly for the individual members.

When I voiced something like this opinion, one senior and experienced colleague pointed out that research groups don’t usually work like this. That’s true; perhaps Paul should be read more widely and more prayer certainly wouldn’t go amiss!

Finally, for research group, one can equally well read Department, Faculty … Also, I wonder could we be sufficiently radical as to run a church along the lines of this sort of research group?!

Contributed by CSCA member David Chettle, Professor of Medical Physics & Applied Radiation Sciences at McMaster University