Lab Expectations

Overview

We are a team. I consider it a great privilege to lead this team and serve as your mentor and colleague. In that role, I hold myself to high standards. I, in turn, have high expectations for you, because I am invested in your development as a scientist, a teacher, and a community member. These expectations often go unspoken in labs, creating friction and a culture of exclusion. The objective of this document is to make explicit these expectations, for myself and for you, so that all of us can be happy, successful, and productive as members of this team. We will review this document as a lab at the start of each academic year and revise it as needed. I will also review it individually with new members.

Expectations for my (Mandy’s) role

General

  • I will care about you! My job is to be your advocate during and after your time in the lab, and I intend for you to be successful. To me, successful means that you’re happy, engaged, and productive while you’re in the lab, and that your time here helps you advance to the next step in your career. You can expect to have more conversations with me about what “successful” means to you and how I can help you get there
  • I’m a guide, not a sage. I want you to come to me with questions and problems. Quite often, I won’t have the answer, but I’ll talk about the issue with you and do my best to guide you to people or resources that can help you figure it out.
  • I will always be honest with you. Open lines of communication are the foundation of our lab.

Working with me

  • I will push publications forward. Some stories are worth waiting for, but I will typically encourage you to publish targeted data sets, rather than prolonging data collection indefinitely.
  • I will work really hard to secure grants to fund you and your research.
  • It is my job to write recommendation letters for you. Please provide at least two weeks’ notice for a new letter; one week if I have a letter that I can tweak. Please include clear directions on when and where to submit the letter.
  • You can expect to meet with me weekly for 30-60 minutes. I will let you know in advance if I need to miss a week.
  • I will respond to you promptly if you contact me during working hours. In person or on Slack are the most effective ways to reach me.
  • I will give you extensive feedback on your work, especially papers, grants, posters, and talks. Be proactive in scheduling early deadlines with me to get feedback. I’ll get back to you promptly, or tell you when I can respond if I’m delayed.

Our work environment

  • I will uphold our Lab Values and welcome you raising ideas for how we can do better.
  • I will conduct myself professionally and ethically. It’s my job to help you navigate issues related to research ethics, professional conflicts, and mentorship. I appreciate opportunities to learn more about these issues (e.g., targeted lab meetings).
  • I will treat you with respect. That means many things, including basic stuff like: I won’t mandate particular hours or micromanage your time in the lab. I will value your opinion, and I do want you to respectfully disagree with me.
  • I will not pry into your personal life, but I will inquire if I sense you are struggling. I do want to hear from you if you are experiencing physical, mental, family, or other challenges so that I can help with any accommodations that may be necessary. Please bear in mind that I am a Responsible Employee, which means that I am required to report to the University any cases of harassment or abuse involving a student.

Expectations for you

We have a lot of career stages in the lab, from undergraduate to postdoc. The expectations below don’t apply equally to all stages – they are most inspired by the needs of graduate students and postdocs, so a few may not apply to undergraduates or technicians depending on their stage and goals. See below for notes on those specific roles.

Self-motivation

  • This is your journey. To make the most of it, be self-motivated. Be proactive about pursuing opportunities that will get you to your next step. These could be grants, collaborations, teaching and mentoring opportunities, or career training (check out PhD Plus!).
  • Be independent, bearing in mind that independence doesn’t mean that you go at it alone, but that you take it upon yourself to seek help, from me and others, when you need it.
  • ASK QUESTIONS. We often don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Be honest and communicate actively with me and other members of the lab. We can’t solve problems if we don’t know about them. We can’t help you succeed if we don’t know what your goals are.
  • Map out your timeline and keep an eye on it. I’ll also do this to some extent, so major milestones don’t sneak up on you. Schedule annual check-ins with me to discuss your Individual Development Plan. The graduate program requires grad students to do this.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes and course correct. No one in the lab will get upset with you for making a mistake, but we will be upset if you make a mistake and don’t pause to discuss it with us.

Our community

  • Attend weekly lab meetings and actively participate. We typically use these to discuss papers and give feedback on manuscripts and talks. We’re also always looking for volunteers to lead lab meetings on topics (e.g. data management) or skills (e.g. how to make a great poster).
  • Attend weekly Departmental and EEBio seminars, even when they’re outside your field. In person when possible. These are important events for our community and great opportunities to engage more broadly with science. Practice jotting down questions for the speaker, and work your way up to asking them! Sign up to eat lunch or meet with speakers – they love meeting students and it’s a great chance for you to network. Suggest speakers to invite – we often have open slots, especially for EEBio.
  • We work on a lot of different organisms and questions in the lab. It’s not your job to be an expert in all of it, but make connections with your colleagues and take advantage of the diversity of ideas and approaches to advance and generalize your own work. If you want to work on an organism that’s not already in the lab, let’s talk – doing so may change the type of support I can provide.
  • Take advantage of faculty and colleagues in other labs and in other departments. They have knowledge, skills and equipment that we don’t, and they are generous with it. Don’t waste your time re-inventing the wheel when there’s an expert or the perfect machine next door.
  • Uphold our Lab Values. Hold others to them, with a generous spirit, and be grateful when others hold you to them. Contribute to our annual lab meeting where we update these values
  • Be professional. “Professional” in our world doesn’t mean you have to dress a certain way. It means: Treat others with respect. Be positive. Clean up after yourself. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Show up on time. Communicate in advance if you need to miss a meeting or change your schedule.

Skills

  • Read. If you don’t know where to start, ask. Check out our Box folder with papers and our Slack channel where we post new papers.
  • Write. If you can write clearly and efficiently, you’ll be successful in lots of career paths. Regular practice helps (e.g., writing for 30 minutes a day or drafting a summary of your work each week. I’m always happy to give feedback, even on informal weekly writings).
  • Seek out opportunities and training in mentoring and teaching. Most career paths require you to be a skilled and thoughtful teacher and mentor. Check out our Center for Teaching Excellence.
  • Pursue feedback. Your work is always better for it.

Productivity

  • Publish. How you engage in the publication process depends on your role (see below), but everyone in the lab contributes. This is how our lab and our field make progress.
  • Attend conferences. For grad students and postdocs, aim for ~one per year, depending on circumstances. Seek out funding to attend. If you’re giving a poster or a talk, I’ll contribute to funding your travel and registration to the extent I can.
  • Apply for grants and awards. Fellowships, small grants, internal or external, all of it! Even if you don’t get it, writing the application is a valuable exercise.
  • Seek out collaborations in the department and beyond. I can help navigate these.

Data

  • Don’t disappoint the data1. Treat them with honesty and integrity. Keep them organized. Publish them.
  • Review our Data Management Policy in Box. Help us keep this policy updated and make it better.
  • Back up your data daily. Take photos of hard data sheets; store files on a cloud server, not on your hard drive
  • Keep a lab notebook and organize it so that someone other than you (or you in 6 months) can make sense of what you did. See our Data Management Policy for guidelines. Lab notebooks and hard data sheets do not leave the lab.
  • Write up your protocols with clear, detailed instructions and upload them to Box for others to review.

Taking care of yourself

  • Take proper safety precautions in the lab. In the onboarding process, you’ll be required to take tutorials on BSL-1 safety, chemical and waste management, autoclaving safely, and housekeeping practices via EHS
  • Take proper safety precautions in the field. Always bring a buddy. Questions to ask before heading into the field. Safe fieldwork strategies.
  • Prioritize your physical and mental health. This comes first. Communicate with me so that I can help you arrange accommodations.
  • Take advantage of university resources like CAPS, TimelyCare, Madison House, the Women’s Center, and the Student Disability Access Center

For technicians: You make the lab run! Once you’re established in the lab, you’ll be an expert in areas that I know relatively little about, so I’m looking for you to be assertive when you know more about something than me (this will happen frequently), propose new directions, advocate for yourself and others in the lab, and fill me in about issues that come up. The job typically requires a lot of interaction with others in the lab and the department, organization, detailed note-taking, careful management of data and materials, and honest and open communication. I find that technicians readily earn authorship on publications, and I like to hear from you about how else I can help you advance your career.

For undergraduates: Your time in the lab is what you make of it. Typically, you’ll start out with small tasks, then work your way up to independence if you demonstrate your ability, interest in, and commitment to research in the lab. ASK QUESTIONS. If we’re talking about something you don’t understand, ask – you’re rarely the only one who didn’t get it and we’re all here to learn. Start reading the literature right away. Ask us for papers, and write up summaries to practice interpretation and writing. Classes are your top priority, so be assertive and proactive with us about your time limitations and communicate in advance if you need to take some time off for studying. If your course schedule allows, we want to see you at lab meeting and lab events. You can expect to meet regularly with your direct mentor, and you can and should ask for their guidance and feedback. You’ll meet less regularly with me, unless you’re doing a Distinguished Majors project (DMP), in which case we’ll meet every couple of weeks at minimum. At the end of each semester, you’ll summarize your work, either as a written document (Fall) or a poster presentation (Spring). Aim for co-authorship on a paper during your time in the lab, or for a first author position if you’re doing a DMP.

Onboarding process:

This is just a heads up. When you’re joining the lab, you’ll receive specifics about how to complete each of these steps.

  • If you’re new to UVA, obtain a NetBadge ID and UVA email address. Get a UVA ID card and let us know when you get it so we can authorize you for access to our spaces.
  • Create a UVA Box account, join the Gibson Lab Box folder, and explore. The Papers and Safety folders are good places to start
  • Complete mandatory safety trainings via EHS: Autoclaving Safely, Housekeeping Practice, Chemical Safety and Waste Training, and BSL-1 Training
  • Join our Slack Channel
  • Send a photo and a blurb so we can add you to the webpage (https://coevolving.org/people/)
  • Add yourself to our shared calendars, like the autoclave scheduler
  • Add yourself to the relevant listservs (e.g., Bio-all and EEBio-seminar).

1 credit to Curt Lively and Lynda Delph for this invaluable advice.