Lab culture and expectations
Current students, please read this entire document and revisit it at least once a year.
At the HPML lab we strive to do rigorous science, but recognize that researchers are all people with experiences, interests, and goals that go beyond the lab. Everyone has a lot to learn, and a lot to share. Emily Bernhardt wrote a wonderful piece on what it means to be kind in science, which everyone in the lab should strive for.
- Critique ideas and work; compliment people
- Take agency in your education
- When you’re unsure of something, see if you can find a previous example to help guide you. If you can’t figure it out, ask questions!
- Ask for changes in advising style if you want them. Some students find they want individual meetings more or less often, some critique they’re not getting on certain aspects of their work, etc.
- Pay attention to details. Everyone makes mistakes, of course, but when we’re doing science it is important to double-triple-check everything.
- Consider accessibility and inclusion in every aspect of research by thinking about questions like:
- Can this research be explained with less technical jargon?
- Is this paper/website/etc. suitable for assistive technologies like screen readers?
- Will this project result in outcomes that are affordable for all individuals (or schools)?
- Read lots of papers. It can be daunting at first, but the more you read the more you will be familiar with terminology, projects, and people in the field. Familiarity makes it much easier to pick out the new pieces of papers and incorporate them into your existing knowledge.
It is critical to respond to emails from collaborators quickly. Even if all you have to say is “Got it!”, that is tremendously helpful so your collaborators know you’re paying attention. Emails can get a bit overwhelming and distracting, however. If you check and respond three times a day on weekdays and once a day on weekends, you will be ahead of the curve.
Emails to lab members can be informal, but of course still be kind. Emails to people outside the lab (such as university administrators, professors of your courses, or collaborators your don’t know well) need to be more formal. For example:
Dear [Dr. Lastname, or Firstname Lastname if they do not have a doctorate], [some important, brief message] Regards, [your full name]
If someone responds to your message and signs their email with some variation of their name, err in favor of using that name in the future.
Students typically participate in up to three main types of meetings:
- One-on-one (1+1) meetings
- Graduate students will typically meet with Nigel weekly, or more or less often on request
- Undergraduate students will typically meet regularly with graduate students
- Project meetings
- Students working on large projects involving several researchers will often attend regular project meetings
- Lab meetings
- We occasionally have lab meetings where students give brief updates on their research so everyone has an idea of what other students are up to
Write things down during meetings. Use your working memory for figuring things out, not for memorizing them. Furiously scribble during meetings – it’s fine!
For 1+1 meetings it is important for students to have an agenda. Whoever you’re meeting with will likely not remember every detail of the project (especially if it’s Nigel!). Start the meeting with a brief reminder of what the project is, then talk about what you’ve done recently, and finally plan some future work. Creating an agenda is also a great motivating exercise to remind you to make regular progress. Create a rolling agenda by making a Word or Markdown document, organized by meeting date, with newest meetings first. Share this agenda with whoever you’re meeting with so they are in the loop and can revisit your progress if needed.
Doing things last minute causes unnecessary stress for everyone. It is a tough habit to break, but it can be done! Eventually everyone gets involved in so many projects that it is impossible to wait until things are due to do them. Experiment with short- and long-term time management methods and see what works for you. Ask others for ideas if you like!
- Try to be 3 minutes early to every meeting, or give a heads up if it seems like that might not be possible
- Submit papers for publication at least 1 day early; you never know if the submission system might crash, or a life emergency could happen
- Generally, it is a good idea to keep a to-do list and set all deadlines for yourself 1 day in advance of the actual deadline