Lab Guidelines

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An Introduction to the Duffy Lab

This is an attempt to gather information that might be useful for people who are new to the lab to know when they first start out. I’m sure this will evolve over time! Note: some of this is borrowed from the Important Info for Duffy Lab Undergrads website.

“No sample is worth your life”

This is Rule #2 for Grace Wilkinson’s lab at Iowa State. (Fun fact: Grace was the first Duffy Lab REU! Also, if you’re wondering what Rule #1 is, it’s “Do your work, don’t be a jerk”, which is also solid advice.) Take safety seriously. Make sure you are up to date on your lab safety trainings (more on those below). 

If you feel unsafe or something doesn’t feel right, stop! Afterwards, please discuss it with Meghan so we can figure out a way to avoid a similar situation in the future, including thinking about whether we need to change lab procedures.

If there is a true emergency, call 911, then call Meghan if possible. If there is a lab emergency (e.g., the lab is unusually hot, there’s a mysterious puddle on the floor, an environmental chamber is misbehaving), call Meghan. It would probably also help to text other lab folks (in case Meghan isn’t available and someone else is around to help).

More safety info: There are signs on the lab doors that tell you about safety equipment and regulations. The lab also contains the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for all the chemicals in the lab. These are in a blue binder in the microscope room. If you are ever unsure about whether something is safe or have concerns about safety, please ask!

Everyone who works in the lab needs to complete online lab safety training. To do that, go here:

http://ehs.umich.edu/education/ehs-training-login/

-Then select ‘Log in to My LINC’

After entering your umich username and password, you can search for the two required training modules:

  1. BLS025w :General Lab Safety Training
  2. BLS101w: Biosafety and Bloodborne Pathogen Training

You must complete the lab safety training by the end of your first week working in the lab. Email the certificates of completion (a screen cap or pdf) to Meghan & Becca when you have finished the training.

Think about what you know and what you don’t know (Corollaries: ask questions and don’t make assumptions!)

It’s very important to know what you know and what you don’t know. I have a whole blog post on this topic, because it’s really important. One of the most important things to do in the lab is to ask questions! If you are ever unsure about what you should be doing or why you should be doing it, don’t just guess — ask someone! 

Thinking about what you know and what you don’t know applies to interpersonal interactions. First, don’t gossip. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it includes that often the gossip you hear is wrong. Second, when someone does something that negatively impacts us, a common reaction is to think they did it intentionally, to benefit themselves and/or harm us. But it is at least as likely (probably more likely!) that the problem arose because they weren’t considering the impact on you. That doesn’t mean behavior that harms you is okay — just that it might not have been done intentionally. So, please try hard not to assume the worst motivations for others’ behavior.

Be courteous

Follow on the previous: think about others! Think about how what you do and say might impact others in the lab. Check with other people as you plan experiments.

Expected conduct (a.k.a. Lab Code of Conduct)

Other parts of this document cover the general expectations for how to act, but, after seeing the code of conduct for Dr. Davide Oppo’s lab, I realized it would help to have a specific Code of Conduct section. And, Dr. Oppo’s was so well done (and released as CC-BY 4.0!) that I am copying it, with some slight modifications. To indicate that, I will put the copied section in blue: 

We value the participation of every member of our community and want to ensure everyone has an enjoyable and fulfilling experience, both professionally and personally. Accordingly, all members of the Duffy Lab are expected to show respect and courtesy to others at all times. We create our culture, and our culture is inclusive.

Please note that this code of conduct is not a legal document, supplementing, but not trumping, Department, College, Rackham, and University policies.

Inclusivity and diversity

Enjoyable, high-quality research can only be conducted when you feel safe, secure, and supported. All group members are thus dedicated to a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, and/or religion. We do not tolerate harassment by and/or of members of our group in any form, and we ask all members of the community to conform to the following Code of Conduct:

  • All communication, be it online or in person, should be appropriate for a professional audience, and be considerate of people from different cultural backgrounds. Sexual language and imagery are not appropriate at any time.
  • Be kind to others and do not insult or put down other group members.
  • Behave professionally. Remember that harassment and sexist, racist, or exclusionary jokes are not appropriate.
  • Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of discussions, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.
  • Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.
  • Contribute to discussions in meetings with a constructive, positive approach.
  • Be mindful of talking over others when discussing in groups and be willing to hear out the ideas of others.

Besides making group members feel safe and secure, diversity and inclusivity has many benefits to us all. The greater the mix of people in our group, the greater the mix of skills, experiences, perspectives, and ideas we can collectively draw on. But we cannot fully achieve the benefits of diversity and equality without creating an inclusive environment.

We all benefit from feedback: ask for it early, and give it constructively

One specific piece of advice is that criticism is easier to take if it’s delivered as part of a sandwich, where positive feedback is the bread and the (constructively phrased!) suggestions for improvement are in the middle. At the risk of being formulaic about it: compliment, suggestions, compliment.

Support other lab folks!

We have a really supportive lab, which is wonderful! People help each other out–for example, if someone has a big day for an experiment or doesn’t know how to use a piece of equipment or needs feedback on a talk. Over time, try to make sure things balance out so that you are giving as much help as you are receiving. 

Honesty & integrity are absolutely essential

Do the right thing. If you make a mistake (and we all do at some point), do your best to acknowledge it and to correct it if possible. If the mistake is science-related, record all the details in your lab notebook and notify your mentor and/or Meghan. We all make mistakes; the most important thing is that we acknowledge them so we can take them into account when continuing the study and when looking at the data, and so we can adjust things in the future if needed. Remember that we all build on each other’s data. 

We also sometimes make mistakes in our interactions with others. Again, this is something we all do. If you’re unsure how to apologize, there are resources to help. And a general excellent resource for having difficult conversations is the book Crucial Conversations

Be open to new ideas and perspectives 

People in the lab come from lots of different backgrounds. We think this is a strength! One reason why it’s a strength is that people from different backgrounds bring different ideas and perspectives to the table, and those are really useful for doing good science. So, be open to new ideas and perspectives, and please contribute your ideas and perspectives! Finally, it can sometimes feel daunting to share your ideas, but remember that the worst thing that can happen is you learn something new (e.g., that what you were thinking won’t actually work, and why). The best thing that will happen is we improve our lab practices/science!

Be mindful of power imbalances

Academia is a highly structured system. This means that, broadly speaking, faculty have more power than postdocs who have more power than grad students who have more power than undergrads. (Where technicians and lab managers fit in is variable.) However, there are other things that create power imbalances, too, including gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc. It’s important for us to keep potential power imbalances in mind so that we do not put someone in a position where they don’t feel safe (for example, to say no to something or to voice a concern). If anyone in the lab is making you feel unsafe, please tell Meghan!

Also, note this official UMich policy:

faculty members, GSIs, and other teachers are prohibited from having sexual, romantic, amorous, and/or dating relationships with any student in a class, lab, online, field, or other setting in which they have academic or supervisory authority over the student.

For purposes of this policy and our lab, technicians, lab managers, graduate students, and postdocs are all considered to have academic or supervisory authority over all undergraduates working in the lab.

Unfortunately, harassment, including sexual and gender-based harassment, is common in science. Harassment is behavior that interferes with someone’s ability to work or that creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment. Bullying and other workplace incivilities also create intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environments. Harassment, bullying, and incivility will not be tolerated in the lab. This includes harassment, bullying, and incivility related to racial or ethnic background, citizenship status, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, mental health, religion (or lack thereof), political orientation, appearance, and dis/ability status.

If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact Meghan. You can also report harassment to the department chair or another member of the department administration or to the Office for Institutional Equity

Approach your work in the lab with a growth mindset, and consider what is good enough

Two things that can be a challenge for all of us are: 1) thinking we need to do things perfectly, and 2) feeling like there are certain things we are bad at and never will be good at. In reality, the more we work on something, the better we get at it. This article on growth mindsets (by Carol Dweck, who developed the concept) lays out what they are and what they aren’t. If you want to read more about what we know about developing abilities, Chapter 5 in Influencer covers more, including about how to develop complex skills.

An important ability in science (and life!) is recognizing what is good enough. If you are sending a text to a friend, you do not need to word it as carefully as if you are writing a manuscript. This is another topic Meghan has covered in a blog post.

So if we don’t need to be perfect but also want to get better at something, what can we do? Aim for improvement, not perfection. Aim to do one thing that you couldn’t do before. Meghan has a blog post on this, too.

Sharing is caring…

Everyone in the lab is expected to share protocols and other resources.

…except when it’s not

But please remember that, while we enjoy transmitting parasites to small crustaceans, we don’t want to transmit parasites to each other. In other words: if you’re sick, please stay home. It’s good for your health, the work you do while ill won’t be good anyway, and it reduces disease transmission.

Work at the times that work for you (but also make sure you get enough sleep, exercise, and breaks)

This is another topic Meghan has a blog post on! Find the hours that work for you to work, and make sure you are leaving time for non-work activities. It’s good to be in the building during typical work hours some of the time (including so you can interact with lab mates), but it’s totally fine if you take some time during “normal” work hours to do other things (including exercise, meet a friend, see a therapist, etc.)

However, it’s important to note that work-life balance and self-care benefit substantially from planning ahead. Meghan is happy to discuss this more with folks, including possible strategies that might help with planning ahead.

Timelines

Speaking of planning ahead & deadlines: you should run abstracts, proposals, manuscripts, etc. by Meghan before you submit them, and need to factor in time for editing things before the deadline. Things like proposals and manuscripts often take many many drafts before they get submitted, so, if something has a deadline, we should work out a plan early in terms of when to have drafts ready by. For meeting abstracts, you should get those to Meghan at least two weeks ahead of the deadline. 

Related: if you need a letter of recommendation for something, please let me know at least a month ahead of time. 

Please check email at least once per weekday (excluding holidays and vacations)

We all get too many emails, but it’s also an important means of communication for the lab. Please check your umich email account once per weekday, except for holidays or when you are on vacation.

Not really a guideline, but good to know re: Travel

When we develop & update your mentoring plan, we’ll discuss possible meetings you might want to attend. Other information that is generally useful and important to know is that 1) the folks in the admin suite can help you when you register so you don’t have to front money for that, and 2) you can also work with them to book your plane tickets, again so you don’t have to front that money.

Finally, if you need help finding help, ask Meghan

Michigan is a big place. The good thing about that is that pretty much anything you need is here. The bad thing is that you might not know about it. Meghan is happy to try to connect you to resources that relate to science (did you know Chemistry has a glassblower?) or to life (did you know that tiny.cc/distresssignals has an updated list of on campus resources related to mental health and that you can search the Community Provider Database to find local therapists?)

These guidelines are released as CC-BY 4.0.