Trainee Orientation Document
author: Sean Gibbons
last updated: July 24, 2019
It is my responsibility to provide you with the resources and support you need to carry out and publish high-quality research and assist you in achieving your career goals. I am here to serve you.
It is your responsibility to be passionate about your work and advance your career by doing the best, most reproducible science possible.
Every person and every project has different needs that change over time. Please keep me updated on your scientific and personal aspirations. If you need anything (a piece of equipment, more time with me, collaborators, etc.), ask and I’ll do my best to provide.
Please help me create and maintain a vibrant research environment that is intellectually stimulating, productive, collaborative, fun, emotionally supportive, and conducive to learning and personal growth.
In addition to the above:
- Be generous and kind (most other points follow from this one)
- Maintain the highest level of scientific integrity (it’s OK to make mistakes -- honesty will always be rewared)
- Be willing and available to assist other members in the lab in both formal and informal ways and solicit help from me or other lab members if you are stuck
- Actively participate in lab meetings
- Give lab members ample credit when it comes to acknowledgements or authorships on papers (always err on the side of generosity)
- Work from lab/office at least 3-4 days of a normal work week, but feel free to work remotely 1-2 days a week
- Be responsive on email and/or Slack during work hours (except when on vacation, maternity/paternity leave, or sick leave)
- Don’t overwork. Look out for your mental health and take time to cultivate your life outside of work. Academic life can be stressful. Arrange vacation time. Keep me in the loop if you feel burnt out
Commitment to excellence
Hold yourself to the highest standards in terms of reproducibility, innovation, and clarity. With gentleness and compassion, hold other lab members to these standards as well. Let’s work together to produce high quality science that our colleagues can look up to.
For at least the first month or two, I’d like to meet with you once per week. After two months, meetings will likely be as needed. If you’d like a formal meeting schedule beyond this period of time, we can arrange that. My goal is not to burden you with meetings, but if you would like to meet more frequently let me know.
We will meet formally once a year to touch base on your progress and plans. My objective with these meetings is to make sure you are effectively working towards your career goals. When the time comes for you to start looking for another position, we can discuss how to put together your application and how to best highight your strengths.
Timelines and productivity
Postdocs: It is perfectly fine if you need to spend some time in lab finishing up papers from your previous position. It is also expected that you will spend a significant amount of your time applying for your next position. I expect that you have at least one full year where research in this lab is your primary focus (>80-90% effort). I expect that you will have at least one first-author manuscript submitted before moving on to your next position.
Most postdocs should apply for at least one fellowship at the beginning of their time in the lab. While the likelihood of winning a fellowship is low, the effort required for fellowship applications is minimal compared to the potential gains. They look great on a resume and will help demonstrate your ability to win independent funding.
If you are interested in gaining grant writing experience, please let me know and we can discuss proposal opportunities.
Graduate Students: I expect that you have at least 3-5 full years where research in this lab is your primary focus. I expect that you will have at least 2-3 first-author manuscripts submitted before moving on to your next position (this may vary somewhat depending on whether your work is experimental or computational). We should meet 1-2 years before your estimated graduation date to discuss your next career stage so that we can secure an optimal situation for you after you graduate.
Most graduate students should apply for at least one fellowship at the beginning of their time in the lab. As stated above, the likelihood of winning a fellowship is low, but the effort required for fellowship applications is minimal compared to the potential gains.
Graduate students should take full advantage of this time to learn new skills, take courses, and go to seminars. It will be rare in the future to have so much protected time to learn.
Senior graduate students, if you are interested in gaining grant writing experience, please let me know and we can discuss proposal opportunities.
Informal and formal mentorship and collaboration
Senior graduate students and postdocs play an important role in the education of more junior trainees. You should be willing to help other members of the lab and informally advise them on their work (e.g. show them how you organize and strategize, give them advice on methods, chat with them about science, etc.). I hope that you will be heavily involved in at least one project beyond your main project in collaboration with another lab member. Experience in mentorship and collaboration will be useful to you when moving forward in your career. If you see a student/postdoc struggling and/or hear that they are having personal trouble, please bring this to my attention right away.
More formal mentorship experiences can also be arranged. Undergraduate or high school students often reach out asking for formal internships with our group. You are welcome to mentor an intern (depending on your workload) and design projects for them. Internships can take many forms. The only requirement is that they must present their projects at least once at lab meeting.
Working with collaborators
Please let me know before you reach out to a potential collaborator and CC me on key emails. When contacting collaborators, you are representing the lab, so please be curteous and professional.
I will provide financial assistance for you to attend about 1 big conference per year and multiple small, local ones -- we should strategize together about which meetings make the most sense. Try to apply for travel awards. I expect you to practice talks in front of a group at least once before presenting for wider audiences.
Documentation of experiments and analysis
Be sure to document your wet-lab and dry-lab work so that another scientist is able to reproduce your experiments/analyses. I prefer that this documentation be digital, rather than analogue. Keeping a physical lab notebook is great, but please transfer relevant information into a digital format that can be easily shared with others. Documenting your computational work (e.g. ipython notebooks or R markdown) on a Github repository is a great way to keep track of your code with version control.
Sharing data and code
Writing code that is useable by others is hard, but I hope we can work together to minimize duplication. Take the time to write basic documentation and highlight potential pitfalls. The first attempt should be to use, improve, and extend existing pipelines in the lab rather than to create new pipelines. Barring any major legal hurdles, all code and data involved in a peer-reviewed publication should be made freely available to the research community and be directly referenced in the publication itself (regardless of journal policies). Unpublished data and code can be made available to labmembers and collaborators, as needed. I encourage you to make your code publically available when preprints are uploaded.
Communicating your science to the public
I encourage people to write blog posts and popular science articles to highlight your work to a broader audience. I would prefer that you share these summaries with myself and other lab members for feedback and edits prior to publication (always best to have another pair of eyes take a look). Blog posts can be published on our lab website, and we can also look for opportunities to publish posts on other platforms. You should feel free to talk with journalists about your work, but try to let me know beforehand. Always be mindful that you are representing the lab. Be engaging, but try not to over-hype your results.
Project ownership when leaving lab
If you embark on a project of your own design when in the lab and want to extend in this direction for your own academic career, please bring this up with me in the early stages so that we can plan accordingly. I will be as flexible as possible to ensure your onging success.
Special thanks to Tami Lieberman for providing me with her lab orientation document, which I have used as inspiration. This is a living document that is subject to change.