Who are you?
I have always had trouble with this question in reference to my lab. I guess my lab is a little divided. We have two kind of different research projects, which make it difficult for me to describe our lab in 3 minutes. This has led to deeper problems as well. It is so important to have an identity. It is how others will perceive you. It defines who your peers (and tenure letter writers)are. When applying for "young investigator" awards, it is helpful to concisely describe your focus. And who you are sets the direction for the lab. This helps to attract collaborators, students, and funding.
The last week or so, as I prepare for another CAREER submission, I have been trying to gather my thoughts together to answer this question. It is more difficult in my second year than my first because we have more of everything, successful and unsuccessful projects. Should I talk about the successful high impact project that I also proposed last year, or the cool new project with less data? Or, should I strike out in a new direction?
Understanding who you are helps to answer all of these questions, and it lays the groundwork for future plans. This is the major thing that we have been missing over the last year. The funny thing is, I used to know. I remember talking to a friend who is a little behind me and was applying to faculty positions while I was finishing my postdoc and getting ready to start mine. We had an entire phone conversation where I discussed how passionate I was about X.
And then, I got to campus and X kind of slipped away. I had a lot of good project ideas and individually I think the things we are working on are great, but what do they represent as a sum? I was preparing for the Class in Subject Area that I am teaching and I came across a paper about X. Suddenly, everything came crashing together and I realized that X is what we do, X is what I love, and X is what we should be exploring.
I guess I never really thought much about it before now. I'm hoping this new direction somehow translates into funding success.