McClean: Lab Expectations

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The purpose of this document is to outline the expectations for all members of the McClean lab. This document will continue to evolve and improve with time.

Expectations of Lab Members

Research Development

Research progress and development is the most important element of your career development. I expect everyone in the lab to take ownership of their research project. Whether you are in the lab for a year or six, you should leave knowing that you fully invested in and pushed along your project, even if your project was only a smaller part of a bigger project. You are expected to:

  • Keep me updated on your research progress and challenges.
  • Read the scientific literature. First read the papers I suggest, then run a literature search and read papers suggested by this search. Spend some time each week updating your literature and just browsing. Subscribe to relevant eTOCs (electronic Table of Contents). Participate in journal curation and journal club through group meeting. Use appropriate reference manager software. You should develop a substantial reference database over the course of your time in the lab. I prefer JabRef, but any reference manager is fine. Spend at least one day a month just reading the literature and browsing.
  • Learn how to plan your project and your experiments. You should have two-week, 1 month, and 6 month goals for your project and these should be discussed at each individual meeting with Megan. When you first begin your project, discuss your experiments carefully and often with Megan or another senior member of the lab. As you progress you need to learn how to plan and multi-task in order to prevent down time.
  • Keep detailed laboratory notebooks. This is critical for turning your hard work into a finished paper or thesis. The strong preference is that you use the electronic notebook Lab Archives. In addition, you may also want a bound laboratory notebook for at the bench, a 3-ring binder for loose pages, and a folder for electronic files. However, note that your electronic notebook needs to be complete (this may mean loading loose notes, etc from your paper sources into Lab Archives). I also recommend keeping a notebook/folder for group meetings and seminars and another for ideas. Your notes should allow your work to be reproduced (which means they must be well written and understandable to another scientifically literate person) and they are critical for author credit. They are required for funding agencies and for any potential patents. If you keep a bound notebook for use at the bench it should record each experiment (in pen, pages in order). At a minimum each experiment should clearly identify the date, purpose, what you did, the results, and your conclusions. If you keep a bound notebook it should establish links to your electronic notebook, electronic files (such as images), and to print-outs of raw data that you keep in a 3-ring binder (flow cytometry plots or western films). Electronic files should at the minimum be labelled with the date and a project identifier. Electronic files need to be uploaded to Lab Archives or if too large, they need to be backed up on the lab server (more information to come). You are required to leave all of your original notebook material behind when you leave the lab. Physical laboratory notebooks should be left on your bench in the lab or on your desk in the office. Megan McClean needs to be the owner of your Electronic Notebook. Megan will spot check notebooks as well as schedule checkups at weekly individual meetings. Read the NIH’s notebook guidelines ( ).
  • Transition towards scientific independence. This means that you must become an expert in your chosen field and research topic. This means fully understanding the literature, planning and analyzing your own experiments, troubleshooting, formulating hypothesis, learning relevant techniques, seeking out collaborators, and presenting your research in written and oral forms.
  • Develop your writing and presentation skills. Begin outlining a paper’s figures and drafting the text. Bug Megan early and often about what you think the story should be. Be prepared to go through many rounds of revision before submitting a paper or abstract. I will work hard to fund travel. In return, I expect you to submit your work for presentation at roughly two major conferences during your tenure in the lab, and at roughly one minor conference per year (e.g. UW meetings like the Raper Symposium, regional meetings like qBio and Central Syn Bio). I expect you to prepare and polish posters or talks well in advance of the conference and represent the lab well.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open. Attend research seminars on campus. Talk to fellow students and post-docs about their research. Keep an eye out for useful technology or techniques. In addition to becoming an expert in your research project, you want to keep abreast of what else is out there.
  • Accept and utilize constructive criticism. You will be constantly criticized as a scientist. By Megan, by your committee, by the audience at a conference, by reviewers, etc. Learn to take the useful bits and use them to make you a better scientist without letting the onslaught crush your soul.
  • Completion of your degree is dependent on the work you produce, not simply the time you put in. That said, there is a very strong correlation between the two. You must produce in order to graduate and/or receive a strong letter of recommendation.

Educational Experience

  • You are responsible for determining and meeting the requirements of your individual program. As you progress I will work with you to select courses, qualifying exams, and committee members. It is your responsibility to stay on top of me and your committee members. For example, if you need to set a meeting, bug us until it gets done.

Professional Development

Being a successful scientist involves more than being good at the bench, so take advantage of the professional development opportunities that come along. That said, your main goal needs to be research progress, so check with me before taking on significant activities that require more than 4 hours/month. The following are expected:

  • Communication! This is the skill on which scientific careers are made or broken. If you are the most intelligent scientist in the world you will get nowhere if you can’t explain to other people why your research is awesome/exciting/important. Take advantage of presentation opportunities. Apply for funding to attend and present at scientific meetings. Prepare your talks well in advance and practice them at group meeting. Write early and often. Put together drafts of papers WELL before you think your research is ready to publish. The act of thinking through the story and outlining it can often help direct your research. Assist Megan with writing grants, write for fellowships or traineeships, and write for small grants (such as those available through Write clear protocols on openwetware.
  • Learn to teach. Whether you TA a course or mentor a junior lab member, practice teaching and training others. There is a non-trivial connection between good teaching abilities and having a firm grasp of your subject matter.
  • Good interpersonal skills. Science is social. Learn to navigate the social landscape. This includes other lab members, administrators, instructors, committee members, staff, etc. Your connections can make or break you. Treat everyone fairly but take very little crap. Talk to Megan if there are any interpersonal issues.
  • Involvement in outreach activities. Occasionally the laboratory or some members of the laboratory will be involved in outreach activities such as public science presentations, table top activities, or lab tours. These are requirements of funding agencies, as well as necessary as socially responsible scientists. Consider these activities opportunities to practice presenting your research and science to the general public. This is a skill that will serve you well regardless of your career trajectory.
  • Maintain high ethical standards. Be honest in reporting your experiments. Keep good records. Give credit where credit is due. Follow safety and ethics protocols.

Lab Citizenship

The whole ship sinks if we do not maintain a well-run laboratory.

  • Senior lab members are responsible for helping to train new students in the ways of the world (i.e. lab procedures, where things go, etc). Megan will continue to meddle in this process until a consistent lab culture is established.
  • You are expected to work safely in the lab. Before beginning in the lab you must complete biological and chemical safety training as outlined in the “Joining the Lab” document. You are responsible for reading the MSDS and other safety material for any reagent you use. If you are ever unsure, ask Megan or another senior member of the lab. If you are training a more junior member of the lab, pay particular attention to providing them with the relevant safety information.
  • Data belongs to the lab and not to any one individual. You are expected to keep meticulous records in keeping with funding agency requirements. You will be expected to leave ALL of your original notebooks and files when you leave the lab. You will be asked to assist me in submitting grant applications by providing data, figures, and text.
  • Share your knowledge and techniques with others. This may include researchers outside of the McClean lab. Science is a community and it is impossible to succeed without social capital. Lend your time and resources to others and it will come back to you. However, if you feel that a collaboration is becoming parasitic talk to Megan immediately.
  • Maintain protocols and other information in OpenWetWare. Everyone is expected to add new protocols and update existing protocols with notes or modifications.
  • Work clean. You are responsible for keeping your bench space and common areas of the lab tidy. Take special care with common reagents. Maintain equipment and report problems immediately. Guard the -80C and the microscopes.
  • Help with lab chores. If you have an assigned lab chore, you must complete it on time and correctly. If we continue without assigned chores you will be expected to pitch in when you see that something needs to be done. EVERYONE will help with glassware, ordering supplies, restocking the supplies, and general lab cleanliness.
  • When working in common lab space or in the lab of another investigator be polite, neat, and gracious. Always follow the “house rules”. If something breaks during your use or if you simply discover something broken report it to the appropriate person and cc Megan. Even minor issues need to be reported (sticky doors, slightly warm freezers, etc). You want to earn a reputation as a conscientious laboratory member, not as someone who slinks away when they run into or cause a problem.
  • Be respectful and tolerant of your colleagues.
  • If you have a question, ask. Even when your colleagues seem busy and/or stressed out. If you break something, report it immediately. If you think you accidentally “screwed everything up” report it to Megan immediately. There’s not much she hasn’t seen (or done) and coming clean immediately is always the best course of action. Any kind of dishonesty will not be tolerated.

Expectations for M. McClean

As an associate professor I am expected to excel in three areas:

  • Research (publications, speaking engagements, funding)
  • Teaching (formal courses, training of students)
  • Service (university and departmental committees, professional societies)

If it ever seems like I am being pulled in multiple directions, it’s because I am. That said, the absolutely most important thing to me is that everyone in the lab "does well". To me, “doing well” means that your time in the lab puts you on the right path to achieving your professional goals. I pride myself on the excellent employment and graduate school record obtained by previous members of the McClean Lab. Therefore, this is what you can expect from me as the lab's principal investigator:

  • I will set the scientific direction of the lab. This means that I will:
    • help you find a research topic
    • attend conferences to stay up-to-date on relevant fields
    • read extensively to stay up-to-date on relevant fields
    • write grants to fund research and "test-the-waters"
    • seek out potential collaborators
  • I will provide the financial means with which to pursue the lab's scientific direction. I will do this through grant writing and management of the lab's budget. I need your assistance to maintain a financially healthy lab. You must utilize lab resources wisely and help provide figures/data/text/ideas for grants. When possible you should apply for fellowships (NSF, DOD, etc) and traineeships (GSTP, CIBM, etc).
  • I will commit to mentoring you now and in the future. I want you to get the maximum out of your education and training while in the McClean Lab. This means that I will push you (hard) to do excellent research, excel in courses, and take advantage of professional development opportunities while at Wisconsin. I will work to promote you and your work both formally (conference presentations, references) and informally (conversations with colleagues). Once you leave the McClean Lab you can expect that I will continue to promote your career in any way possible (references, award nominations) assuming you have lived up to or surpassed the expectations set for you.
  • I will assist you in establishing professional contacts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and beyond. This means that I will assist you in finding collaborators, committee members, future post-doctoral advisers and future employers.
  • I will be available to discuss your research and professional development. I will do my best to provide an open door policy and respond promptly to emails. Please understand that there will be times that I am unavailable due to other obligations, including teaching, grant writing, and attending conferences. Do your best to provide me with ample time to review written material (abstracts, fellowship applications, papers, posters). BE PERSISTENT in asking for my attention. If I fail to reply to an email, bug me again. And again. You should all have my cell phone number. If you don’t, get it now
  • I will be your ally. I want you to do well. Ask me immediately if you need help. Ask me if you don’t understand something. Tell me if you broke something. Let me know that so-and-so from X lab is taking up too much of your time. Selfishly, my career goes down the shitter if you don’t do well. Less selflessly, I was once in your place and had an excellent advisor so it’s my turn to give back. You will probably not always like me nor agree with everything I say or do, but we are on the same team.
  • I will maintain a work environment that is intellectually stimulating, supportive, safe, and free from harassment. If you are having any difficulties with the laboratory environment or with a colleague please do not hesitate to inform me. We will work through the situation. It is important to me to understand your unique personal and professional situation and I am also open to your suggestions on how to improve your experience in the laboratory.

Some Nuts and Bolts

  • Hours and Vacation: I don’t believe in tracking hours. I care about productivity. However, if I sense that this is being taken advantage of the situation will be addressed. Biology is not a 9-5pm proposition. Night and weekend hours come with the territory. There is no getting around the fact that putting in more time often means you get more done. Try to avoid losing entire days waiting for cultures to grow, etc. Utilize your colleagues. If you can’t come in on Sunday to inoculate a culture, ask if someone else can and do them a favor later. 15 minutes on a Sunday can save you wasting all of Monday waiting for your streak plate to grow. That said, it is important to maintain relationships, exercise, sleep, have hobbies, and take vacation! You are not expected to be a science robot. Please discuss vacation and holiday leave with me at least 4 weeks before the planned absence. This way we have ample time to prepare for deadlines (papers, grants, etc) that occur during your absence. UW RA appointment sick and vacation leave is described here:
  • Individual Meetings: Come prepared to discuss/present your recent research and next steps. A written agenda including what you have done (preferably with relevant figures) and your two-week, 1 month, and 6 month plan should be posted in your Lab Archives "Updates" folder by 3pm the day before the meeting. Bring your lab notebook to each meeting.
  • Group Meetings: Group meetings will rotate between a variety of formats: research updates (the wheel), longer research presentations, journal curation, and journal clubs. Attendance is mandatory and active participation is essential.
  • Annual Evaluations: Each year we will have an evaluation. This is a formal opportunity to determine things that are going well or areas for improvement. Tentatively these evaluations will happen in January before the start of the Spring semester. This is an opportunity for you to communicate to me what I can do to help you succeed. It is also an opportunity for me to communicate any concerns to you.
  • Authorship: Authorship on papers is an important indicator to the outside world that you are accomplishing something. You can expect to receive authorship on papers when you make a significant contribution such as intellectual ideas, experimental contributions, or data analysis. Just following instructions without active participation will result in acknowledgement but not authorship. In general for bioengineering the first author is the student/post-doc who took the lead and wrote the paper, the last author is the PI, and the authors in between are in order of decreasing contribution. If you fail to complete papers before leaving the lab be aware that a junior member who completes the project may take the 1st author place.