How to Build a Research Group

The steps for building a research group or lab are vague and unclear. For people with a great idea, hoping to build a business on it, there are coaches, start-up programs, business information sessions, incubators, co-working spaces, mentors, seminars, workshops, and more. Yet for research there is very little. In this blog I look at the business advice and translate that into advice for researchers.


Hi there, bakers, writers, and rock stars. Dr. Richard Huysmans here talking to you about how to build a research group. For those interested in turning into building their idea into a research group or lag, I would definitely say that the process is vague and unclear. You know, if you want to take your idea and turn it into a product or a service or a company, there’s lots of incubators out there that help you do that. But there’s very few even within universities that provide guidance on how to go from being an early career researcher or a PhD student into a research group or lab head. So, I’m going to try and fill that gap today. I would also say that in terms of future resources or further resources, thinking of yourself as a small business when you’re running a research lab or a research group is really useful because a lot of the resources I think are transferable. So, here are 5 steps to helping you build your research group and I’ve kind of made these equivalent to what Business Victoria says in terms of how you might set up a business.

So, step 1 is determining whether setting up a research lab or group is for you. So, that’s basically asking a question, “Is this what I want?” So, bear in mind, if you’re the head of a research lab you’re probably spending at most 1 or 2 days a week out of 5 actually doing the research. The other 3 days you’re probably going to be spending managing people. So, if you’re interested in managing people then maybe running a research group is for you. So, understand the question, “Do I want to run a research lab or group or is this just some aspiration that I have?” Because that is where you head as a researcher.

So, step 2, Business Victoria says research your industry. So, I’m saying as a researcher know your topic. I don’t think this relates to track record. I think it’s a better to think of how well you know your area of interest. For most people, most of the time, your PhD will provide you with the knowledge that you need. Indeed theoretically, a PhD is finding new knowledge. Therefore, you should be the expert in your field on the topic of your PhD. They should at the time of publication be very few other people who are more knowledgeable on your topic. Simply because it should be so niche, and you should be so into it. That might not be the case for everyone. I understand there’s some vagaries but certainly understanding your topic thoroughly is really really important to being a successful group head or lab head. Because in most cases like I said, it’s about managing people, and a lot of people will want or need guidance in terms of what to do next. So, knowing those answers are really important as a lab group head, and knowing your field is an easy way of knowing the answer to the question is, “What should I do next?”

Step 3, Business Victoria says, “Write a business and market plan.” So, obviously we don’t need a business plan or a marketing plan, but we probably need a research plan, and a research translation plan. So, how we’re going to collect the data how? Are we going to report it in terms of journal articles? But how we’re going to send it out to the general public? I don’t think these need to be massive. Particularly if you haven’t got a group up and running yet, but understanding what your process is and how you’ll do it can make moving through those steps much quicker and easier.

Step 4, work out costs and finances. I definitely think academics research group heads, lab heads need to think about their budgets more closely. I don’t think that there’s enough training around finance, and finance management within universities for lab and group head. So, I’ll be leaning on your finance area and trying to engage with them about the kinds of things that they see group heads and lab heads do, and what things are useful and what things don’t work.

The fifth step is to apply for the right registrations and licenses. So, this essentially is as a group or a lab head, know what the rules and regulations are. If you know your topic, you’re probably already aware of some of the rules and regs. If you’ve been at the same university for many years, you’re probably aware of the rules and regs. If you’ve been operating in the same kind of marketplace, you’ll know the grant rules and regs as well. So, knowing your rules and rigs is the 5th step.

So, these are just some ideas on how you could build a research lab or group. If you’ve got any questions feel free to send me an email or DM me on social media, Dr. Richard We’ll have all the information.

I’m looking forward to hear from you. Thanks. Bye.