This is an overview of what my expectations are for everyone in our lab, and further what you should expect from me as your mentor and PI. If you are considering joining my lab, you should read this!
Everyone in our group will always:
Treat everyone respectfully and make everyone feel included.
Honestly represent experiments.
Be genuine in what you know and don’t know.
Be enthusiastic to learn about what you don't know.
Maintain all required trainings.
Ask if you are unsure about anything.
As the Principal Investigator, I will:
Create funding to support your paycheck, your experiments and our university infrastructure.
Help you achieve your career objectives, whatever they might be.
Facilitate publishing your work by:
a. Providing ideas for experiments.
b. Showing you how to do some experiments.
c. Being available everyday to discuss your work.
d. Meeting with you formally once a week.
As a PhD student, I expect you to:
Take ownership of your training.
Take initiative to meet with me weekly, and say hi everyday.
Read, read and read (this is how you learn).
Learn how to plan, design, and execute high-quality scientific research.
Listen when your committee and/or mentors try to help you.
Learn how to document your experiments properly.
Learn how to communicate your experiments in writing and orally.
Publish about a paper every year (Vanderbilt average PhD = 5.7 years and 5.1 papers).
As a Postdoc Fellow, I expect you to:
Publish high impact papers. This is your time to shine.
Use the PI’s funding to create your own funding.
Whenever possible, "buy data".
Refine and expand your technical, writing and oral presentation skills.
Quickly define a career focus.
Develop the skills required for that career with my help.
As an Undergrad Researcher, I expect you to:
Maintain your required trainings.
Be respectful of the scientists in the lab doing high level research.
Always ask if you are unsure of anything in the lab.
Be a “doer” - have a desire to work and get your hands dirty!
Be willing to do rote lab tasks to gain real-life lab experience.
Show up. This is actually the main thing.
More details about what you should expect from me:
Many labs specialize in a few techniques the PI is an expert in applying. I have always used new techniques previously foreign to me and for which I’ve had no formal training, enjoying these challenges and how they tested my abilities. Our lab has many protocols on our resources page for techniques previously applied in our lab, which I can train you to use. Outside these techniques, other mentors can help if you want more supervised, formal training. I am super-extra happy to identify these mentors with you and to meet with them regularly when your work expands beyond techniques I am familiar with. In fact, I strongly believe this is what you should be doing! It's good to test the limits of what you think is possible for you to do and learn!
1. I will work tirelessly to support your work. It’s my job to provide you with a paycheck (postdocs for a defined period of time), an operational lab space, and the supplies you need to do your experiments. This does NOT mean I will support your paycheck forever, and pay for everything and anything your little heart desires! I pay for direct and indirect overhead costs and I need to be aware of the financial consequences of the work you are doing in the lab. These financial considerations are above your paygrade, but the more you become aware of them the better. Importantly, managing finances is not limited to PI’s in academia (in fact, we have it pretty easy). No matter what career you choose, so long as you have someone working for you, you will have to know about finances, overhead, budget projections, salary encumbrances, etc. I’m happy to help you get familiar with these responsibilities!
2. We will collaboratively determine your projects. It is very important to me that you feel scientifically motivated to work on your research problem. To that end, I do not simply assign aims of my grants for people to work on. I want to collaboratively determine which research questions you work on in lab, such that you have considerable input on your project. The only limitation is that someone must be able to secure funding to pay for the project (probably myself, but it could be you too). Just working on an aim of a funded grant is an easy way to do that, however it’s not the only way!
4. I will be available to chat everyday. I want to talk to you everyday about your experiments, your career, your life and/or any challenges you might be having. Without communicating its very hard to have a happy workplace. Please say hi to me everyday!
5. I will show you how to execute some experiments. My daughter often asks me, "Daddy, what was it like in the olden days?" Well, back in the olden days I used to do research and was pretty good at it! I can help you get started with your work if you prefer that kind of mentorship. Still, you will always mainly be “teaching yourself” to do things in the lab, with my help and some guidance from others. I will always encourage you to try new things, and will always help you find mentors for techniques outside my expertise.
6. I will help you achieve your career goals. Regardless of what your career goal is, I will do my best to help you get there. I want you to be happy in your life and career, to that end I will support any career choice you make - yes, even if those career choices that are outside academia, industry or research altogether.
7. I will be your life-long advocate. Even after I am dead (through letter writing services), you can count on getting a letter of recommendation from me for your career advancement. That’s part of my job and I have written hundreds of letters. Of course, what the letter says reflects what you've done in the lab.
8. I will not rush to judge you. You will have reasonable time and space to develop as a scientist in the lab. I expect you to make mistakes as everyone does when they are learning new things, but I similarly expect your mistakes will decrease as your experience increases, and as you hone your lab skills.
More details about what I expect from you:
I've compiled this list of expectations I have for you when you work in my lab. Projects sometimes fail, and even the best hypotheses are often proven wrong (which is why we do research). However, you always must meet these basic expectations. If you do so, no matter what the results of your experiments are, you will always be in good standing in my eyes. These actions will ensure you are doing the best you can, and that you are taking advantage of your scientific potential.
1. Develop elite research skills:
Read, read, read. Most of what you learn will be from reading the literature, that includes how to do experiments in the lab. This point cannot be emphasized enough.
Ensure your data are reproducible. Directly from the NIH website: "When a result can be reproduced by multiple scientists, it validates the original results and readiness to progress to the next phase of research." This is the standard for your scientific conclusions in my lab, e.g. someone in another lab should be able to re-do your experiment, analyze the data and make the same conclusions you make. This point cannot be emphasized enough.
Take advantage of our world-class facilities. You should take the initiative to learn what resources are available at Vanderbilt, and how you can take advantage of them to increase your skills and the impact of your research.
Be scientifically brave. I want you to challenge yourself to do better, learn more and push the boundaries of your research capabilities. With that bravery comes a higher risk of failure, but I want you to test the boundaries of your research capabilities by learning new techniques and doing new experiments. By doing this you will learn about the boundaries of your own work ethic, your ability to learn new things and about how creative you are scientifically. You are in an environment that encourages independent thought and action - take advantage of it!
2. Communicate honestly:
Say hi everyday. My door is always open for a reason. I want everyone to talk to me everyday, even if it’s not about science or research or the lab. At least come say hi everyday. This is not to keep track of you, but to maintain an open flow of communication, and is simply good workplace practice.
Initiate our weekly meeting. Saying hi everyday does not take the place of a meeting about science every week, and it is your responsibility to see to it that we meet, every week. I don’t want to have to chase you down in lab, check on when our last meeting was, or in any other way treat you like a child. It’s your responsibility to meet with me, at least once a week, so do it!
Communicate with your lab mates. Keep up daily communication with your lab mates. Don’t let problems stew, even if you don’t feel comfortable bringing things up directly, you must at least talk to me about problems so we can figure out a solution. No worries!
Be responsive to criticism. You are expected to use the feedback you get from everyone around you to improve your work. Try not to take criticism personally, even if you are deeply personally invested in your work. Similarly, be very respectful and conscientious when criticizing the work of others.
Maintain detailed, organized lab records. You notebook should be written in a way that if someone wants to exactly repeat an experiment 10 years from now, they could do exactly what you did based on what you've written in your notebook. Be aware that your notes, records and research data are lab property. When you leave you are welcome to make copies, but the originals must stay in the lab forever. You should keep your data regularly backed up in the cloud using the lab IDrive account.
3. Take ownership:
You have the primary responsibility for your success. This includes your work in lab and in class if you are a student. No one can do science on their own, such that myself, other mentors, your friends and colleagues will help you. But, in the end, it is you and only you who are responsible for your experience, what you learn in lab and what you get out of the lab. No one can do it for you!
Ensure you meet with me weekly. Use these meetings to communicate new ideas and challenges you are facing. It is very hard for me to help you address issues that I don’t know about.
Be knowledgeable of policies, deadlines, and requirements. You should be aware and comply with research policies and requirements. It is part of your job to comply with all institutional policies, including any academic program milestones, all lab practices, all lab rules and all lab safety regulations. If you’re ever unsure - just ask me!
4. Be part of the group:
Participate in group meeting and seminars in a friendly way. Attending and supporting others at group meetings enriches everyone’s experience. Avoid using your phone, be sure to pay attention, don’t make strange faces when someone is presenting. Criticize someone’s work respectfully, politely and supportively. Our group has a lot of technical diversity and different project foci, so we can all learn something at every meeting! Embrace this attitude and come with an open mind, ready to learn something new.
Be a good lab citizen. Leave each work site in better condition than you found it. Leave no trace when using shared equipment. Take part in shared lab tasks and use lab resources carefully. Maintain a safe, clean lab space. Be respectful and tolerant of your colleagues.
Remember we are all new! I am junior faculty and we are all new at what we are doing to various degrees. I fully expect you will feel uncertain, overwhelmed and as unsure as I do at various points during your time in the lab, but be sure to talk to me about these feelings! If I can help support you I will in every way possible!
5. Set goals and meet deadlines:
Manage your progress by establishing your own daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals and deadlines. Most important are the daily and weekly goals and deadlines. I expect you to generate these on your own. I do not need to know what these deadlines are, however you will not make progress without goals and deadlines. It is your responsibility to set them, lest I would be forced to set them for you, which absolutely no one wants and is not good for anyone!
6. Work hard:
Take full advantage of your protected time. In all of human history, you are one of only a handful of people given the opportunity to completely devote their time to expanding knowledge. It is an enormous privilege to do research without the distraction of having to pay for the research (not just reagents, but also your paycheck). These limited, handful of years are your “protected time” to do research, and that privilege only lasts a few years. Take full advantage of these years before they are gone!