(DISCLAIMER: Much of this text has been inspired by (or taken from!) similar content on the Rellán-Álvarez Lab, Moghe Lab, De Pace Lab, and Baucom Lab. It is also based on the manuscript ‘Ten simple rules towards healthier research labs’ by Fernando Maestre (2019). It is great to see that so many colleagues out there care so much about their teams, I learnt a lot from them!).
Welcome to the lab! We’re here to have fun while doing what we like. Because science is conducted in a highly critical culture where the delays between successes can be long, exhausting and hard-won, to me running a successful lab means not only meeting scientific benchmarks — getting the papers published, being successful in grant applications or communicating our results at meetings — but also doing science in a way that is consistent with my values and what I enjoy. This makes the process of doing science fun so my satisfaction isn’t only dependent on getting good results.
Here are a few things that I value very highly: a lack of hierarchy (I believe in a highly collaborative, network-based team rather than hierarchically organized), intellectual rigor, balance between work and other aspects of life, clear communication, teaching, mentoring, and a good sense of humor. I would like to develop a lab culture that reflects all of the above and I expect all team members to contribute to its maintenance.
My responsabilities as PI
I believe my role as a PI is to produce competitive, well-rounded scientists that end up generating a significant impact on their field of interest. Towards that goal, my primary responsibilities will be:
1) Ensuring that my trainees have sufficient funding and space to carry out high-quality research.
2) Ensuring that my trainees, especially graduate students, are well-versed in both wet-lab and/or computational skills.
3) Critiquing scientific outcomes to ensure only the highest-quality research gets published in a timely manner.
4) Making training, collaboration, presentation and networking opportunities available to the team members.
5) Enabling students and postdocs to reach their career goals.
6) Encourage them to develop professional skills (leadership, mentoring, time management, resilience, effective science communication, etc).
7) Give them credit for their achievements.
8) Keep all team members motivated.
What you can expect from me as your advisor
My team is my absolute priority. This is because if you succeed, I succeed with you, and if you fail, I do it too. As a consequence, I am fully invested in your success as a scientist. It is my priority to ensure that your time with me as an advisor or mentor helps you advance your career. In other words, I am always here for you, regardless of whether you are a postdoc, graduate or undergraduate student. It is my responsibility to adapt to each of my lab members, and I will try my best to do it in every case. For that, I strongly believe in a highly communicative environment. Nobody should be afraid of expressing what they think or feel. I will expect you to do your best as well in maintaining a healthy, open and respectful relationship between mentor and mentee.
I tend to advise every graduate student/post-doc/technician/undergraduate slightly differently, because the roles and personalities of each person are different, and while some people like frequent feedback some others prefer to work independently. My goal is to foster a scientific atmosphere where you can learn, but I won’t be able to teach you everything you need to know. This is because each project will need something slightly different, and I am not all-knowing, nor do I want to be an expert in everything. This is precisely why you are in the lab! If there is something you need to learn that I’m not an expert in, I will try and point you in the right direction so that you can get there on your own. Hopefully I can learn something in the process too!
I am running weekly lab meetings where we can catch up on work progress during the week and where you get feedback on ideas or problems you have encountered along the way from me or from other members in the lab. Other than that, I have an “open door” policy, meaning that my door is open for you if you need to ask a quick question or two. If you want to have a longer meeting, for instance to go over a presentation, manuscript or just some tricky analyses, I prefer that we book a time. I can usually arrange a time with rather short notice and I highly prioritise meeting with my team members. There’s also the possibility of sending me an email or using our various online communication channels (Hipchat, Slack, etc.) to get feedback. I like to monitor project progress during our weekly lab meetings to identify if we are stuck at any point and need to reassess how to proceed. We all win if projects get finished, so I expect everyone to be fully transparent about how projects are going: are you done with your project and would like to work on something new? Good! Please let me know. Are you stuck/demotivated/hate your project and it has not been advancing during the last month? That´s OK. Just let me know so as we can find a way of getting it back on track (through new collaborations, new analyses, etc.).
I will help you edit and prepare manuscripts, grants, posters and talks. I generally return drafts of papers within a few days. I prefer to see everything before it is submitted, no matter how minor (conference abstract, poster, paper, grant, etc) — this helps me maintain quality and keep track of the lab achievements.
What I expect from you as a team member
1) You´re first a person, then a scientist. I expect you to work hard while you are in the lab, but most importantly, I expect you to work efficiently and be excited about what you do. Work-life balance is a very important aspect. Have a life outside the lab, exercise, work on your happiness, enjoy time with your family, eat good food, etc.
2) Develop project ideas, including independent projects that can be taken with the postdoc or student after they leave the lab.
3) Analyse data, interpret results, write and submit manuscripts.
4) Focus on a project and finish it. It is fine to collaborate in several projects at the same time. However, sometimes we overcommit and end up juggling too many balls, particularly as we advance in our careers. I expect everyone to finish a project before a new one is assigned to ensure productivity and reduce unnecessary stress.
5) Assist with identifying and writing grants and fellowships.
6) Maintain a set of lab notes, including well-structured directories of data, annotated codes and versions, detailed methods. These need to suffice to reproduce results without additional instructions.
7) Participate in general lab responsibilities (maintain pipelines, common areas, taking turns hosting visitors, sampling and field work, etc).
8) Help train graduate and undergraduate students (for which you will get recognition as coadvisor, coauthor in papers, etc.).
9) Communicate science at conferences, preferably twice a year.
10) Participate in outreach activities.
We are lucky enough to work in an area where flexible working hours are the norm and I would say that flexible work hours are probably the number one perk of working in academia. There will be times when your project requires to work in the weekends or late and you should make sure to take some time off to compensate for this if you feel that it is necessary.
In order to be able to interact with the rest of the persons in the lab, I expect everyone to be physically in the lab for most days, but I will be happy if you need (or want) to work from home some days. I expect everyone to be available through one of the online channels (Hipchat, Slack, or similar) so as we can all communicate efficiently regardless we are working from home or are just based in different floors in the same building. I expect everyone to participate in the weekly lab meeting so as we can all catch up and discuss each others’ progress and pitfalls. If you take holidays, let me know in advance and don’t forget to fill out a vacation request online.
I strongly encourage collaborations between lab members. In principle, the following things are required for inclusion as co-author on a publication from the lab:
Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work;
Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content;
Final approval of the version to be published;
Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.
Projects evolve over time and authorship, inclusion and author order will be re-evaluated accordingly. If you are in any way worried or concerned about anything related to authorship on a manuscript, please come talk to me as soon as possible. I’m sure we can solve it to everyone’s satisfaction.
Every year, we will have a one-on-one meeting between the PI and each trainee to accomplish the following:
1. Motivate people by celebrating their accomplishments
2. Set short-term and long-term research and career goals
3. Help people make rapid progress by prioritizing projects and identifying barriers
4. Clarify and solidify relationships by giving honest constructive criticism
5. Clarify expectations in both directions and address any disagreements
In the process, we will generate documents that are consistent with the requirements for an individualized development plan (IDP)—a defined career goal and steps to attain it.
Conducting yearly planning meetings helps the lab run smoothly. People are excited about their projects and feel supported in meeting their goals. Yearly meetings are inspired by the ones described in Vincent et al. (2015).
Maestre, Fernando T. 2019. “Ten Simple Rules towards Healthier Research Labs.” PLoS Computational Biology 15 (4): e1006914.
Vincent, Ben J., Clarissa Scholes, Max V. Staller, Zeba Wunderlich, Javier Estrada, Jeehae Park, Meghan D. J. Bragdon, Francheska Lopez Rivera, Kelly M. Biette, and Angela H. DePace. 2015. “Yearly Planning Meetings: Individualized Development Plans Aren’t Just More Paperwork.” Molecular Cell. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molcel.2015.04.025.