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  • Writer's pictureFreeman Lan

Expectations of lab members: the Lan Lab Creed

Trainees often ask me what are my expectations of time commitment for working in the lab. I've seen many different models ranging from completely hands-off to strict daily timekeeping with signed contracts. Realizing that everyone has different preferences for how they work, I've decided to set my expectations in the form of a lab creed. 

 

Oxford dictionary defines Creed as: 

 

a set of beliefs or aims which guide someone's actions. 

 

In other words, there are no specific expectations of actions, but all of your actions must be guided by these principles or beliefs: 

 

Ensure sound physical health, mental health, and safety 

Times can get stressful and injuries can sometimes occur, that is the reality of life. But science is a marathon and not a sprint, and to get the best work out of you in your lifetime, you must be in good physical and mental health for as much of your life as possible. Therefore, do the best work you can while taking the time and resources to maintain good physical and mental health and ensure safety for you (and your family) and your fellow lab mates. Be constantly aware of your physical and mental health and make adjustments to your life accordingly. Leverage university resources, your peers, and people in the lab to help you do so. 

 

The lab is your main priority 

Academic traineeships are not to be treated as permanent positions. Your time here is limited and you must make the most of it. This is a period of your life that is dedicated to training, advancing science, and learning about yourself. The vast majority of people will never do a second PhD. Therefore, you must be engaged with the lab with your full attention and energy. That means no second degrees, no side-jobs (other than TAing). Hobbies and vacations are encouraged to the extent to which they help you to better conduct your lab duties.

 

Communicate responsibly and with intent 

Communication is one of the most important soft-skills in life. We rely on the cooperation of others for our success and the pre-requisite of productive cooperation is effective communication. People think very differently and have very different background knowledge. It takes real conscious effort to effectively communicate your work to others. This is even more crucial in an interdisciplinary lab where others are guaranteed to think very differently from you. Therefore, think hard and be diligent about how you communicate your work. Do the extra work to make it easy for your audience to understand.  This includes presentations and reports to me, presentations to the lab, and other communications to the broader community. 

 

Invest in the success of your lab mates 

Being part of the lab is a life-time membership. Your relationships with your lab mates and your association with the lab will follow you wherever you go. Success of anyone in the lab benefits everyone in the lab. For example, the success of a lab mate can help bring in funding, making things easier for everyone else in the lab. Successes of any lab member will improve the reputation of the lab, which will benefit your own reputation by association. Therefore, invest in each others' success and the benefits will find its way back to you. This includes taking care of fellow lab members' mental and physical wellbeing. 

 

Reproducibility takes priority over "new progress" 

Your science is useless unless it can be reproduced by others. Therefore, a new technology isn't developed and a new discovery isn't made unless it can be reproduced by others. It is worth the time investment to make your science accessible to others by documenting your work, commenting your code, making complex things user-friendly, making finicky things more robust, or developing standard operating procedures. While It can be tempting to skip these more mundane tasks, the devastating result would be that nobody can understand/reproduce/use your work and it's barely better than having never done it all. 

 

Publishing takes priority over new projects 

Publishing is the primary way of making our work known and useful to the world. As my old supervisor used to say, if it never got published, then it never happened. You must prioritize work that can be published, plan your work around publishable units, and follow through on publishing them before moving on to new projects. 

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