The Brown Lab Handbook!

Content heavily adapted from Gina Baucom, Meg Duffy & Jennifer Weber

My general lab philosophy & some lab specifics

I am invested in your success. I define success as the ability to graduate or move to a new position; this broad definition indicates that I do not care what type of job or position you attain after spending time in my lab, simply that your time with me as an advisor or mentor has helped you advance your career.

I advise graduate students/post-docs/technicians/undergraduates slightly differently. The relative roles of each are somewhat different. Graduate students, for example, are in the graduate program, and need to make progress according to this program.

I want you to work hard while you are in the lab, but to most importantly to work efficiently. Try to hit the goals that we establish for your career without working more than 40 hours a week (more may be occasionally necessary). Have a life outside the lab, exercise, work on your happiness.

On the happiness front, everyone should take their vacation days during the year. Be sure to communicate with me when you would like to be gone for vacation and for how long, and give me at least 2 weeks notice for short trips (3-4 days) but a much longer head’s up for longer trips (>4 days).

My mentorship/collaboration goals (i.e., what you can expect from me)

In general, I see my job as one of advocacy -- I advocate on behalf of the students within the department to ensure they can make progress. I write letters of reference for lab members (see below for more info). I help trouble shoot code so that analyses progress.  I help lab members get their work written up and published. I write grants to fund the lab. I clear the road so that you can get your work done.

I create a scientific atmosphere ripe for learning, but I won’t 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 why you are in the lab!! If there is something you need to learn that is not in my wheelhouse, I will point you in the right direction so that you can get there on your own.

 

I will help you edit and prepare grants, thesis chapters, posters, and talks. I generally return drafts of papers within 3-7 days. Unless I specifically say so, I will want to see everything before it is submitted, no matter how minor (conference abstract, poster, paper, grant, etc) -- this helps me maintain quality and helps ensure our success rate.

 

With regards to feedback: I will be direct with you when I find areas that need improvement. I tend to be pretty clear with my expectations. If you don’t hear from me, it is because I think you are making progress. If I determine that there are performance issues, I will develop a performance improvement plan, and expect weekly and monthly improvements following this rather specific feedback. This is relatively uncommon however. On the other hand, I will tell you when you have done a good job on the big things -- for example, we celebrate when a paper or grant is submitted or accepted, someone gets a job, or graduates, etc.

 

The importance of being professional

There are a couple of important considerations inherent to your success in the lab: first, I am equally committed to the success of everyone in the lab. This means that I make an effort to treat everyone equitably. I do not want some people to feel as if they are less appreciated than others, and further, I want to ensure that lab members do not harbor resentment toward one another -- such a scenario can hurt morale and collaboration within the lab. Second, I value a professional lab atmosphere, which I believe to be crucial to overall lab success. I don’t mean to suggest we have to dress a particular way or make sure we never let an F-bomb slip. I mean we interact with one another in a professional manner -- no gossiping, especially the unkind sort; no projecting bad moods on one another; respect healthy colleague-colleague & mentor/boss-advisee/employee boundaries.

 

While I *do* want to know if you are dealing with a medical condition (physical or mental, or negotiating family problems), and may need to have time off to effectively get things under control, I do not overstep boundaries and pry into your private life. Further, while I care about your general overall health, I am not a trained psychologist or life-coach. My advice on these fronts will be flawed. If you are struggling with general malaise regarding getting your work done, or a mental/emotional block with regards to your work, then you likely need life coaching or counseling, and it is your responsibility to set up and follow through with this. I will happily point you to the appropriate university-related people that CAN help in this way.

How to determine if you are making progress in the lab

Given that I do not give people daily, weekly, or even monthly progress reports, how is one to know if they are making solid progress? Again it depends on your position in the lab. If you are a graduate student, it is fairly clear -- are you developing research ideas, applying for grants to enact these plans, taking courses, collecting data, analyzing it, and writing up your results?

 

This of course means that each person has to be individually guided and resourceful. Get used to being in charge of your own calendar.

Traits of the ideal lab member

Communication:

Able to converse; don’t bottle it up!

Good social sense!

Bridge-builder

Patient

Professionalism

No victim-blaming others; figure it out, personal accountability

Independence

Ethics & integrity

Not bogged down by hurdles

Play well in sandbox

Understand/respect boundaries


General qualities
Efficient & organized
Good social sense

Cleanliness

Work hard!

Collaborative

Important-- work smart!
Keep It Simple
Enthusiastic!
Resourceful


For Brown lab members

General Lab Information
We want everyone in the lab to be excited about their research project and to understand what we do and why we do it. If you’re ever unsure about why something is being done (or why it’s being done in a particular way), PLEASE ASK! Ideally, you should ask right away. But, if you realize later that you are confused, asking later is better than not asking at all. We have a great lab group, and people are always willing to help each other out and to answer questions.

 

Safety

There are signs on the lab doors that tell you about safety equipment and regulations. The lab also contains the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for all the chemicals in the lab.

General expectations

Effort

  • Hard to be successful treating this as a 40-hour week job with paid vacation and benefits

  • Being present 40 hours isn’t the same as working 40 hours

  • If you are not passionate about what you are doing, we need to talk

  • Be your own worst critic

  • Seek to improve yourself without feeling the need to compete against your colleagues

Research

  • I have a zero tolerance policy towards plagiarism and data fabrication

  • Give me updates on your effort, plans for project, and progress towards achieving long term goals

  • Consider presenting data at conferences

  • Search for potentially apply for funding that is available for research and travel

  • Reading

  • Papers as assigned by me and independently as associated with your research project

Scientific Writing

  • If you are doing a research project, it is never too early to start writing

  • Try starting with 300+ new words per day or week

  • Doesn’t matter what the topic is, just write

Citizenship

  • Share your “life hacks” with other members of the lab

  • Give information about career development opportunities as you learn of them

  • Provide support to colleagues in the lab by reading drafts, engaging in discussions, and being a positive influence

  • Acknowledge and build off the work of others in the lab

 

Lab meetings

  • Research / chalk talk / journal club format

  • Papers for journal club should be sent out the Friday before lab meeting

  • All people are expected to read the paper before lab meeting.

Seminars

  • Practice talk with me and lab

  • Practice talk with your colleagues

Letters of reference policy

  • For undergraduates, as a researcher, I will not write a recommendation letter until you have been in my lab 3 months.  As a student, I will not write a recommendation letter until the course if terminated.

  • Each letter request to due date

  • Follow-up 3 days before letter is due to ensure

  • Typically I will notify you when letter is submitted. Thus, if it’s the due date and you are not certain it has been submitted, please ask about your letter

  • Please note that I only agree to write letters for you if you wave right to review my letter recommendation, else you need to find someone else to write letters.  Letters where the student won't waive rights are very difficult to take seriously, as their integrity is very compromised.  If you are worried about this policy and don't trust me to keep your best interests in mind, then you need to find someone else to write your letters

  • The following information must be included with solicitation:

    • Source describing grant/job (i.e. PDF/webpage)

    • When, where, and who to submit letter to

    • Specific items to address in letter

    • A current CV and research proposal (for non-lab members)

 

Jason's Pet Peeves

  • Close lab doors when you leave, regardless if I am in my office or not

  • Put chairs back underneath tables after using

  • Clean up your own mess in public areas

  • Canceling meetings a half hour prior to meetings is too short notice

  • Excessive socializing during lab work

  • Disrespect towards other lab members

Expectations from myself

  • I promise to give a damn

  • Fight like hell to keep funding

  • Review drafts within a timely manner

  • Make room on my schedule to meet with you as needed; and will make room for a weekly meeting if needed.

  • Give information about career development and funding opportunities as I learn of them

  • Be your advocate

  • Nominate you for awards as appropriate

  • Support you to attend conferences as you have data and is logistically feasible (funding, etc)

  • Direct you along a project that is capable of generating papers, and liberally offer authorship to research staff

  • Be enthusiastic about your project

  • Protect confidences and will not discuss you with any other students. I may seek mentoring advice from people I respect and will always do so with your best interest in mind

  • Do my best to maintain a team of scientists that is demographically and scientifically diverse

 

If you think that I have broken any of these promises, then you have the right to call me on it.

Graduate student expectations

  • Obtain at least a B in each of your courses

  • Develop the concepts for your proposal with me, but write it independently of me

  • Investigate and apply for appropriate funding opportunities.

  • Look for opportunities to mentor undergraduates.

  • By the time you defend your thesis/dissertation, you should be the smartest person in the room on your topic

  • You have my priority

  • Communicate your career goals to me as they develop

If a student repeatedly have has issues fulfilling these requirements, I reserve the right to remove them from the lab

 

Lab Policies

Data

  • All data must be backed up.

  • Data should be entered into Excel (and proofed) routinely (aim for daily).
    All computer files (e.g., Excel files, Word documents) should be backed up regularly (at least weekly). Backups should be stored in a location different than where the computer is (generally I have a hard drive for data-intensive projects, check with J Weber). When you use google docs, the spreadsheet is automatically backed up.

  • Include metadata along with your datafiles. What is metadata? It is the data about the data. For example, it might be a text file explaining what data is contained in each of the csv files, and which R scripts go along with those data. For Excel, you can open a new tab and include info about each abbreviation, type of data, sources, etc. Basically ANYTHING that is not obvious to a new viewer.

Field work

  • Try to have a buddy when you go into the field! Be conscientious about your surroundings (for example, along roadsides); when in absence of my presence let me know where you are working daily (or as internet is present).

  • Wear sunscreen and dress appropriately. Don’t forget to have plenty of water and food. If you are taking undergraduates out into the field, you are responsible for their safety!!

  • Unless you are studying venomous snakes, I absolutely prohibit handling of venomous snakes.  Any student violating this policy will first received an F for associated research credit and then if repeated will removed from the lab.

Lab notebooks

  • Lab notebooks (hard copy data/notes) must stay in the lab at all times (including after you finish working in the lab). Lab notebooks should never leave the lab! If you need a copy of information (e.g., to enter data at home), this is a great opportunity to scan it or take a photo of the relevant pages.  Digital lab potions of lab books acceptable as long as they are backed by a reputable cloud (Dropbox).  All digital files must be printed prior to completion of project/degree.

  • Write details for everything you do, and keep things organized. Write lots of details — you can never have too many details and you will remember much less 6 months from now than you think you will! This will help you a lot when you work on your end-of-semester writeup. It will also help everyone later if we need to go back and figure out a specific detail regarding what was done. You should write enough information that we can reproduce what you did without needing to send you any emails. Always write more information than you think you need to write! We’ve never looked back at an old lab notebook and thought, “Wow, I wish they’d written less.” We have definitely looked back at an old lab notebook and thought, “Wow, I wish they’d written more.”

  • Never go back and change anything in your lab notebook at a later date.

  • Don’t leave blank spaces – if you accidentally skip a page, draw a cross through it.

  • Staple attachments in to the lab notebook

  • If you make a mistake (and we all do at some point!), please write details in the lab notebook and notify your mentor. We have all made mistakes. The most important thing is that we acknowledge them, so that we can take that into account when continuing with the study and when looking at the data.

  • Related to the above: we all build on each other’s data. That means that it is very important for you to collect data carefully and to record notes carefully, and to note when mistakes are made. If you have any concerns about data collection, procedures, or anything else, please ask! Keep an open mind when collecting data. If you see something you didn’t expect, record the data and then tell someone else about it. These observations can lead to really cool projects!

 

Lab work

  • Lab Protocols are on Lab PC (by frog images wall), they are in the Dropbox folder labeled 'Lab Protocols'

  • Know what you are doing ahead of time, think through each step before you start

  • Minimize socializing during any lab work

End-of-semester information (mostly for undergraduates):
 

  • All students working on an independent research project should write up a summary of their semester’s work at the end of the semester. This should include a brief introduction to the project, a methods section describing what you did (please be detailed!), a results section, and a brief discussion/conclusions section. You must get a draft of this to your mentor at least two weeks before the end of the semester.

  • IF you are doing a research project: please make sure you communicate with me well ahead of any deadlines. At a minimum, you must get a first draft of your research abstract to your mentor two weeks before it is due. You must also get a draft of your poster to your mentor two weeks before it is due. You must write your own first draft — this must be entirely your work! Your mentor will then help you with editing your abstract and poster. Expect to go back and forth several times — this is completely normal and an important part of developing scientific writing and presentation skills.

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© 2020 by Jason L. Brown