Edwards Lab Expectations

This content was developed based on expectations presented on the websites of Prof. Jason Brown and Prof. Jenn Weber.

Some general expectations and lab information:

I am invested in your success. I define success as the ability to graduate and 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/postdocs/undergraduates differently. The relative roles of each are different, and as such, my expectations for each are different in terms of their role in projects, writing and mentoring. Graduate students, for example, are in a graduate program, and need to make progress according to the program they are enrolled in. Our lab participates currently in the Quantitative Systems Biology graduate group (http://qsb.ucmerced.edu/current-students) within the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology focus area. I will have some sections pertaining to each below to be more specific in terms of my expectations relative to rank.

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 occasionally be necessary). Stick to your Strategic Plans and revise as necessary. Have a life outside the lab, exercise, work on your happiness. Make sure you are filling your cup and prioritizing your personal health, wellbeing, especially your mental health, and your personal relationships. Healthy, happy individuals are more productive!

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 week’s notice for short trips (3-4 days) but a much longer head’s up for longer trips (>4 days). I understand that sometimes things will come up and these expectations are difficult to meet in terms of notice. I can be flexible here; these are just rules of thumb.

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 my students to ensure they can make progress. I write letters of reference for lab members (see below for more info). I help troubleshoot so that analyses progress. I help guide and direct projects so that they are comprehensive and will be great work. 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 strive to 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 and I will expect that you will lead the charge.

I am also very busy and cannot take the time to teach you everything. Part of being a good scientist, and learning your trade is to learn how to solve problems. When you come to me for help, I expect that you have thoroughly tried to solve the problem yourself either through online searches, tutorials or asking those around you and in that order. I am happy to help, but I cannot be your first responder here.

I will help you edit and prepare grants, thesis chapters, posters, and talks. I generally return drafts of papers within 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. I do ask that you be lenient with time and allow me 2 weeks to read through things, write a letter etc. I will take last minute requests in emergency situations but may not be able to meet them all.

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. I will also tell you when you have done a good job on the big things — for example, we celebrate when a paper or grant is 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 and don’t be a jerk. I want everyone to treat each other with respect, empathy and be supportive in the lab.

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 want to pry into your private life. If you feel you want to share, this is fine – but I am not a trained psychologist or life-coach. I have lived my own experience and may have faced some of your challenges. I can provide you thoughts and feelings on this, nevertheless because I am not an expert, my advice on these fronts will be biased based on my own experiences. 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

Empathetic


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


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.

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. There is a white folder in the lab that contains Standard Operating Procedures, IACUC protocols and other pertinent information. You will be required to take three courses before working in the lab – Fire Safety Training (https://ehs.ucmerced.edu/general-safety/fire-safety), General Lab Safety Fundamentals and Hazmat Spill and DOT Awareness. You will find the sign up for these trainings at the UC Learning Center (https://hr.ucmerced.edu/uclc). The latter two courses are online, the former course will require in person attendance. I will add you to the lab group and provide electronic access to the lab upon completion of these courses and you will then be able to print out a voucher for associated personal protection equipment (e.g., lab coat etc.). You can take this to EHS and get your stuff. 

General expectations of lab members:

Effort

  • Being present X hours isn’t the same as working X hours, plan your time and use it wisely, track it and make sure you are achieving your goals and working efficiently
  • 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 projects, and progress towards achieving goals
  • Consider presenting data at conferences
  • Search for and apply for funding that is available for research and travel
  • Read papers as assigned by me and independently as associated with your research project
  • I expect to be an author on all work coming from the lab, unless otherwise agreed to by myself
  • I expect to be aware of all other projects you are working on as they develop, and are executed

Scientific Writing:

  • If you are doing a research project, it is never too early to start writing
  • Try starting with 30 min writing per day or week
  • Doesn’t matter what the topic is, just write

Lab 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
  • We also share our challenges and successes, so come prepared to talk about that, these don’t always have to do with work
  • Papers for journal club should be sent out the Wednesday before lab meeting
  • Not all people are expected to read the paper before lab meeting, but it would help if you have at least skimmed it

Seminars:

  • Practice talk with me and lab
  • Practice talk with your colleagues

Dan’s Pet Peeves:

  • Close/lock lab doors
  • Put chairs back underneath tables after using
  • Clean up your own mess
  • Canceling meetings a half hour prior to meetings is too short notice
  • Excessive socializing during lab work
  • Disrespect towards other lab members
  • Messy data collection without being backed-up, organized and documented with extensive notes and metadata
  • Not disclosing or being untruthful about your progress, research and other work commitments
  • Not taking responsibility for mistakes, failure is not failure if it becomes a learning experience that leads to growth

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 outside our weekly meeting if needed as I can
  • 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 on collaborative work outside your main project
  • 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 not met these expectations, then you have the right to call me on it. I try to offer an open environment for discussion of all topics. Please know that I am human too. If you ever find it hard to talk to me, please know that the Ombuds office offers resources to assist in developing tools for difficult conversations.

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. I will of course read and comment on drafts to help you develop your ideas.
  • Investigate and apply for appropriate funding opportunities.
  • Think about opportunities to mentor undergraduates, and mentor your assigned undergrad appropriately (all approvals for undergrads must pass through me if you have sought out an undergrad you want to work with). Undergrads will generally be working with you on projects that are ongoing in The Edwards Lab.
  • By the time you defend your thesis/dissertation, you should be the smartest person in the room on your topic.
  • Communicate your career goals to me as they develop, work with me on developing your Strategic Plan each semester and summer, and your overall Individual Development Plan for your career.
  • Meet with me ~1/wk to provide progress on your project, may be less after projects have been developed. These meetings may take place in person or via Skype (or some other medium). Following each of these meetings I request a summary email summarizing your understanding of our discussion and any action items. If we are to discuss data, I request you send me that data at least 48 hours ahead of our meeting so that I may look through it.
  • I expect that you will first author your thesis chapter papers, but I do not have the expectation that you will completely drive the project, here I expect to have a guidance role in line with training you as a scientist. Authorship will be contracted and revised as necessary. I expect to be an author on all work, unless otherwise agreed to by me.
  • I expect that you will own your own learning and attempt to find ways around problems before asking for help. This does not mean going to your committee for help instead of me, it means that I expect you to problem solve independently before coming to me for help. This is to foster a culture of independence that will teach you the skills needed for becoming a great scientist.
  • I am supportive of collaborative work, and side-projects, but that support is contingent on progress being made toward your degree and dissertation chapters, and on my agreement with research activities (i.e., if you want to bring on a new collaborator). These must be the topics of open discussion between advisor and student.
  • When working with undergraduate researchers and expensive equipment and protocols – the buck stops with you. If you allow an undergrad to use the equipment or undertake a protocol, I expect you to have extensively trained them and be in direct supervision of all their work. This does not mean that I expect you to pay for the item if an accident happens. I just expect you to be accountable and responsible with the lab’s equipment.
  • I expect that you will mentor other graduate students in the lab and undergraduates as needed, within reason.

If a student repeatedly has issues fulfilling these requirements or behaves in any way out of line with the listed expectations, I reserve the right to remove them from the lab. These responsibilities and expectations are the subject of the advisor-grad student contract within the Edwards Lab.

Postdoctoral expectations:

  • I expect you to develop ideas for manuscripts in line with your funding source and in consultation with me. For instance, if you are a postdoc supported by funding from a grant/startup I expect that you will work within the confines of the proposed work but add your own unique perspective and expertise. If you are a postdoc on fellowship, then you will be working on ideas that you developed with me and I expect that will continue, there is a little more intellectual freedom here.
  • I am supportive of developing ideas outside of your main projects, but my support here is contingent on progress being made on the main projects you are assigned and available funding. Without substantive progress on main project and an understanding that you can handle both, there will be no room for additional projects. I also expect open discussion of any changes in research approach or collaboration.
  • More than graduate students I expect you to be independent, resourceful and able to troubleshoot. I do not expect that you will know how to do everything, after all being a postdoc is also about increasing your skill base, but I do expect that you own your own learning and attempt to find ways around problems before asking for help.
  • I expect that you will be a leader, role model and mentor to the graduate students and undergrad’s in the lab.
  • I expect that you will first author the papers from your main project and collaborate on others as is reasonable. First authorship here means you drive the project, write the paper etc. While I do expect that I will have a guidance role, I do not expect to be as involved as I would for a graduate student. Authorship will be contracted and revised as necessary. I expect to be an author on all work, unless otherwise agrees to by me.
  • I expect to be able to meet with you every ~2 weeks to discuss progress toward your goals and your research. Following each of these meetings I request a summary email summarizing your understanding of our discussion and any action items. If we are to discuss data, I request you send me that data at least 48 hours ahead of our meeting so that I may look through it.
  • When working with undergraduate researchers and expensive equipment and protocols – the buck stops with you. If you allow an undergrad to use the equipment or undertake a protocol, I expect you to have extensively trained them and be in direct supervision of all their work.
  • Communicate your career goals to me as they develop.

If a postdoc repeatedly has issues with meeting these expectations or behaves in a way deemed inappropriate and out of line with the behavioral expectations outlined herein, I reserve the right to remove them from the lab and terminate their contract. These responsibilities and expectations are the subject of the advisor-postdoc contract within the Edwards Lab.

Undergraduate expectations:

  • I expect that you will be able to commit to at least 1 semester for 3 hours per week as a trial period. After this time, if I have funding, I may be able to offer paid work. More commonly, if you are working well in the lab, I will offer research credit toward your degree.
  • You will work with an assigned mentor that you are expected to keep in touch with and meet with every week unless otherwise arranged. You will update them with your progress.
  • I can arrange meetings with you and your mentor as needed, but these do not commonly happen. Your mentor is the primary contact for your work in the lab. I do expect a report on your research activities at the end of each period (i.e., Fall Semester, Spring Semester, and Summer) of your research. These should take the form of a standard lab report with Background, Methods, Results, Discussion with appropriate references. These are due in the final week of scheduled classes, or in the last week before the AY starts for summer.
  • I expect that you will seek out opportunities for funding as appropriate and with the help of myself and your mentor.
  • I need to be an author on all work, and while I don’t directly work with you on the day-to-day stuff, I will need to see any and all work that is to be presented.
  • You will need to contact your mentor and myself early in the semester, or before the semester starts, each semester to ensure your continuing spot in the lab. Applying for research credit requires forms to be submitted in the first weeks of the semester and I will require some time to review your progress with your mentor before determining if you will continue.

If an undergraduate does not meet these expectations I reserve the right not to invite them back to work in the lab. These responsibilities and expectations are the subject of the advisor-undergrad-mentor contract within the Edwards Lab.


Lab Policies

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 is terminated and only if I was able to get to know you throughout the semester from office hours etc.
  • Each letter request should come telling me about the due date, and asking me 2 weeks before its due, once I say I can do it, send a calendar invite with all information pertaining to the request.
  • Follow-up 3 days before letter is due to ensure that I know it’s due.
  • 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 waive 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)

Data:

  • All data must be backed up. No excuses.
  • Metadata and data should be entered into Excel/google docs (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. There are external hard drives available for data-intensive projects, Box offers cloud solutions for backing up data, and we have a NAS drive for backups too – Please use ALL of these for safety. When you use google docs, the spreadsheet is automatically backed up.
  • Include metadata along with your data files. 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. It may also be a protocol and additional notes associated with a particular analysis or technique that you did. 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.
  • You will find a data management plan in the Lab Protocols folder, please review it for specifics regarding different datatypes.
  • I must own all folders as the PI of the lab on BOX, no exceptions. Contact me to set up folders for data repository and we can discuss appropriate filing structures if new folders are needed. I welcome suggestions for improvement.

Field work:

  • You must have a buddy when you go into the field! Be conscientious about your surroundings (for example, along roadsides); when I am not present let me know where you are working daily for safety and updates on progress weekly (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 receive an F for associated research credit and then if repeated will be removed from the lab. I am ultimately responsible for your safety and unless you have a reason to be doing this, you SHOULDN’T be.
  • Take care of any and all field equipment, no matter how cheap. Please respect the gear and use it appropriately. I will not be peeved about broken field gear if this is the result of a mistake, but if it is due to a lack of respectful treatment, I will ask you to replace it within reason.
  • If you are a graduate student and your project is field-work heavy, I will require you spend a season in the field with me, prior to working independently. There may be exceptions to this, however, this is generally for me to ensure you can safely lead field work. Postdoctoral researchers will be expected to have the skills necessary to undertake field work independently and this will be part of the selection criteria for funded positions for these projects.

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 portions of lab books are acceptable as long as they are backed up on the cloud (Box) and clearly annotated within the written lab book with reference to file names and locations.  All digital files (i.e., gel photo’s) must be printed prior to completion of project/degree and inserted in the appropriate place in your lab book.
  • 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 write-up your work. 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 into 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 or me. 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, they are in the Box 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, unless you are an absolute expert – making mistakes is easy. Making mistakes is also easy when you are an absolute expert.
  • Develop strategies that help you track where you are and detect any mistakes before they happen. This is easy for repetitive work and will help you catch things before they go wrong.

Field notebooks:

  • Like lab notebooks, you can never write too much information in here. Make a habit while in the field to write for 30 min each evening to record ALL of your observations.
  • Field notebooks belong to the lab and they must stay in the lab after you leave. An exception here is if you work on a project that is independent of my own projects, I will still expect you to leave digital and printed back-ups in the lab.
  • See other rules regarding lab notebooks, these also mostly apply to field notebooks too.
  • Field notebooks should be archived by scanning digital images and backing-up on Box, printed copies and on the Synology NAS storage.

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