Starting your own laboratory can be both an exciting and overwhelming undertaking. While you have spent years accumulating a wealth of scientific knowledge, there are numerous financial aspects to manage while running a laboratory. From funding applications to resource allocation for equipment and staff, running a lab is in many ways just like running a business.
Applying for grants and managing funds can be a complicated matter for a new laboratory. It is important to consider the immediate and future needs of the lab when allocating resources and applying for additional funding. Start-up funding packages are designed to allow newly hired researchers to set-up a basic laboratory and begin to generate data to secure additional grant funding. These packages range dramatically across different countries, fields, and institutions.
Prior to negotiating a start-up funding package, consider all the resources you will require to conduct your research including staff, equipment, samples and reagents. It may also be helpful to do some research on what resources are already available to you. If the institution has a core facility, for example, you may have access to various instruments and equipment and can allocate funds toward other resources.
When discussing start-up funds, it is important to ascertain how long the funds are available and what resources they are meant to cover- equipment, graduate students, technicians, etc. Careful planning is required to allocate these funds toward assets that will ensure the first few years of research will yield sufficient data for grant applications.
The difficulty lies in navigating this process with no prior experience. For graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, grant applications are often limited to individual projects, and there are few opportunities to learn the intricacies of budgeting for equipment and staff. A good starting place is to speak with mentors, colleagues and peers. These individuals can offer insight on how to negotiate funding packages, how to allocate funds in the short-term and plan for long-term needs.
As you plan your list of laboratory necessities, keep in mind that short-term investments can determine the long-term research direction of your laboratory, and either be a help or hinderance to future grant applications. You may wish to investigate well-funded areas and topics in your field of research and determine if your research interests align. Investing in the appropriate resources can leave room for future exploration in well-funded areas and can help secure additional grant funding. It is also important to consider human resources, and ensure you budget for the appropriate staff to support laboratory operations.
Finances are an essential aspect of operating a lab. Laboratory finances may be challenging for new investigators, however reaching out to your network for advice and support, along with some careful planning, can help you navigate the financial realm and run your lab like a successful business.