Leading a Research Team

I was writing a chapter of Beautiful Evidence on the subject of the sculptural pedestal, which led to my thinking about what’s up on the pedestal - the great leader. - Edward Tufte

One of the speacial parts of this research team is the comprehensive leadership development program. The experience of leading a research team can define your career for many years after you graduate from Purdue.

The CAM2 team has two types of leaders:

  • Project leader: A leader manages a specific project (for example, active learning, drone video, crowdsourcing …). A project leader needs to know the project’s goal (write a research paper, build software, create data …) and guide members toward the goal. A leader needs to know enough about different parts of the project but does not need to know all details of everyone’s work. A project leader is a technical leader.

  • CAM2 leader: The CAM2 team has multiple project and tne entire team needs a leader. The CAM2 leader needs to think about the entire team strategically, for example, how to recruit and screen new members and how to reorganize future projects. The CAM2 leader represents all project leaders and communicate with the advisers. It is typical that the CAM2 leader is also a project leader.

Benefits of Being a Leader

  • You get the opportunity to develop the skills that cannot be obtained in classrooms. In classrooms, most students are used to “mind their own business”. Their success depends only on their own abilities and efforts. A leader’s success depends on the team members. This is a completely different experience and requires new sets of skills.

  • Leading a research project or the entire research team gives you new prospects about how to interact with people (team members, other leaders, professors, external collaborators, sponsors …).

  • Leaders need to understand their members: their abilities, their long-term aspiration, their short-term constraints.

  • Leaders need to understand the projects’ and the team’s needs, such as paper deadlines.

  • A leader has to think about the project’s needs and plan ahead.

  • If the research project publishes a conference paper, the leader is the first choice to present the paper.

  • If you need recommendation letters from the advisers, the letters will be much, much, much stronger if you are an excellent leader.

How to Become a Leader

  • Talk to the advisers, often. The leaders are selected by the advisers. If you do not talk to the advisers, you will not be selected.

  • Talk to team members often and know their skills.

  • In most cases, new members are not leaders. A leader has to be in the project for at least one semester.