Great expectations

Aug 16 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Yesterday I asked on twitter whether or not people had a written "expectations" document in their lab. What I had in mind was much like this "lab philosophy" page that was pointed out by Dr. Becca. If you have a second to go read it, I think you'll find it's worth it.

The response was pretty variable, but more people than I expected answered yes. I don't mean to strictly formalize things in the lab with memos for everything, but I can see how such a document puts everyone on the same page. One could argue that a conversation will do the same, but the document is consistent across anyone who comes into the lab. Additionally, it lets people at different levels get a better feel for what is expected of others.

So, readers, do you have such a document in your lab (as PI or trainee)? If so, do you think it helps? If not, do you think it would help?

12 responses so far

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    Kay's lab philosophy statement is well written (given the many HR limits on what you can and can't say to employees, etc.) and gets people thinking but I'm not sure its a good idea, overall. Trainees and lab members should understand their responsibilities and be enabled to achieve their best. Spelling it out and putting on the web makes those expectations clear but, depending on the reader, could still be interpreted in quite different ways. For example, Kay talks about the importance of work/life balance and its importance, but doesn't really talk about her own balance - which is going to have a lot more influence on the members of her lab than words. Who is the statement aimed at? Prospective lab members (my assumption)? Existing lab members? Fellow faculty? Administration?

    My own bias towards such lists derives from when I was a grad student. My supervisor had an infamous set of lab rules that no one would get away with today. These made their way to Gordon Conferences and so are hardly confidential but they had a polarizing and ultimately self-neutrilizing effect. Some resented and mocked them, others ignored them, others thought them useful. One was to inform the boss if you had to leave the lab floor for more than 15 minutes. One postdoc (now a well known investigator) left a note saying he'd had a potent Vindaloo curry the night before and so if wasn't at the bench was likely in the washroom. Personally, I learned expectations through my peers - who took the time to both help and advise. A lot was unsaid but was crystal clear.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    I've been off the twitts lately do to various reasons, so I've been missing my tweeps. BUT, relative to today's post, I have a 4 page 'Moore Lab Philosophy'--which to some may seem excessive, except it covers close to EVERYTHING.

    From vacations to expectations in the laboratory, how to plan an experiment, how to keep a lab notebook, how to treat various lab members (with respect obvs-but hierarchy), how I see my role in their education and mentorship, how to start becoming a professional (!). As a PI, there are things that will come up that you do not expect-which is what inspired the creation of this document to begin with. No one in my lab needs a cipher to figure out my expectations.

    All students, staff get a copy and sign it when they come in the door. Don't get me wrong, this will never solve all problems and no doubt I will encounter a trainee that will inspire revisions, but at least it gives us a framework in which to have crucial, constructive conversations.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    OH-and good luck with that tenure package, PLS!!

  • proflikesubstance says:


  • DJMH says:

    "My goal is to place all of my post-docs into faculty positions at top-tier institutions in a timely fashion."

    Yeah, so this right here is where the Tye lab's goals may suddenly override personal/professional goals of the trainees. I would *not* be happy with a lab ethos that basically stated, you'd better grow up to be like me or you're a waste of my time--whether or not I actually wanted a faculty position.

    In any case, I'm not sure if writing it down like this accomplishes as much as setting the tone by daily interactions. We've all seen examples of "do as I say, not as I do" and a cynic might think that this could be one of those cases.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm not suggesting adopting these standards, simply providing an example of a thorough plan. Whether or not you agree with it, it is well put together and overall very reasonable.

  • DJMH says:

    Right, I'm saying that (a) I find this specific part a bit scary, and (b) imagine if you join this lab, and discover it's a back-stabbing hate-fest. Is an internet manifesto going to help you? No, I don't think it is. The only thing that really works is for the PI to be encouraging these kinds of behaviors on a day-to-day basis, by word and by example.

    It's not like I go to lab in the morning and check the lab website to see how I should conduct myself during the day...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Agreed, but I think have clear policies WRT communication an work hours helps set a tone. There's nothing binding about such a document, but at least it gets some initial guidelines across.

  • physioprof says:

    That kind of manifesto is delusional. Tye is drunk on her Deisseroth-driven success and thinks it's gonna naturally be like that for her own trainees.

  • outoftune says:

    I would have found it helpful when starting grad school; I started reading blogs like this becuase of a lack of clear expectations and norms. I didn't come from an academic family or have friends who were grad students in my field until I started, and found the uncertainty of the whole thing uncomfortable and a bit nerve-wracking.

    I suppose the main problem is that a PI who thinks about and communicates expectations clearly enough to write such a document is probably already (to some extent) doing that informally. The problem is the ones who don't, and in that case they may be unlikely to write this up seriously anyways.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    DJMH and PP-

    I think you have to extend a little latitude on these two specific issues due to Tye's relative inexperience and noobitood.

  • I never had this kind of document in any lab that I worked in. I feel that such a document is a precursor to a micro-managing-always-on-my-ass kind of PI or a lab.

    If I were to work as a grad/postdoc/fellow in a lab, I want to be able to grow as a scientist **in my own way**. Ofcourse normal scientific decorum is to be expected from anyone but I will expect and give my students the freedom to conduct however they feel comfortable within that circle.

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