Welcome to the Lab!
My lab has three central goals:
- To do quality science
- To develop each lab member to become a successful scientist
- To maintain a collegial and intellectually stimulating environment
As the leader of the lab, I will provide the mentorship and training needed to help you develop into an independent scientist. To accomplish this goal, it is important that we establish effective communication and align expectations with each other. This document provides a framework for communicating the culture of my lab, and how you and I will work together to further your scientific productivity and intellectual development. I believe in mentoring everyone in a manner that best meets their needs, and I look forward to having open discussions about these expectations and revisiting them as necessary to enable your successful professional development. Please note that this document is not a substitute for university and institutional rules and regulations and that those policies and any legal requirements supersede anything in this document.
What you can expect from me
- I will set the scientific direction for the lab and provide the means to pursue those directions. This will include helping you to find a research topic, writing grants to fund the research, and maintaining the necessary protocols for us to utilize the laboratory. Additionally, I will seek out collaborators for our work to further your opportunities.
- I am committed to mentoring you now and in the future. I am committed to your education and training while in my lab, and to advising and guiding your career development. I will work to promote you and your work. You will see that I will be guiding you in your first 1-2 years more intensely than later. This is normal and does not mean I lost interest in your work, but that I can see that you can work more and more independently.
- I will encourage you to attend scientific meetings and make an effort to fund these activities. These meetings are important to showcase your work and for the networking opportunities as you pursue positions after your time in my lab ends. I will never expect you to take part in a meeting if this would mean you would need to travel self-funded. I will either finance your participation or help you acquire your own funding via student grants.
- I will be available for regular meetings and will provide timely review of research. In addition, I will do my best to provide an open-door policy and respond quickly to emails. During our weekly Monday lab meetings, I will always communicate my weekly schedule with the whole lab so that you can see when I am available the most or busy with reports and meetings and should only be contacted in case of urgencies. For abstracts and small data questions, I will generally be able to review in 1-2 days, but for papers and thesis, I will need at least 2 weeks for reading the first draft (followed by several shorter rounds of editing). My preference for this is that you share your draft with me early on (preferentially as a Google Doc), so I can provide fast feedback on parts of your work already. I can be contacted on my cell phone, but I prefer fixed in-person or Zoom meetings for general discussions, and written communication so that I can look things up later on, expecially as the lab grows. When we are close to a deadline or you really just need a very quick glance at a figure or a script, I can also support you “live” via Viber of Whatsapp chat (or on Slack), but I prefer to keep these minimal. My preference for working on a document is through Google Docs, as it enables me to edit a part other than you are working on and saves us possible misunderstanding from conflicted or overlooked copies and corrections. I also regularly do quick sweeps on busy days, jumping into the document and just doing 1-2 paragraphs when I have 15 min free.
- I will provide a work environment that is intellectually stimulating, supportive, safe, and free from harassment. I take seriously any difficulties you experience in relationship to this statement – if there are conflicts with another lab member, please inform me and I will work with you and the other lab member to find a resolution. Inform me immediately when conflicts arise with a colleague, be it at the institute, university or a meeting. I do not tolerate harassment and toxic behavior in my lab and I will do my best to maintain a welcoming and supportive environment for you and the other lab members. I take your mental health very seriously and will try to guide you and advise you according to your specific needs. I will try to understand your unique situation and I am open to your suggestions on how to improve your experience in the lab.
What I expect from you
You will take ownership of your educational experience
- If you are a student (MSc, PhD), you will need to determine the requirements for your individual graduate program or scholarship and are responsible for ensuring that you are in compliance. As you progress, I can help you with selecting courses whenever you feel the need to discuss your choices and might suggest specific courses that I expect you to take if I find them necessary for your professional development. But you need to take the lead and the main responsibility on this.
- You will keep me updated on your research progress and challenges. It is crucial that we do not only have our regular meetings, but you inform me immediately if you are facing difficulties.
- You will meet deadlines and will provide me ample time to provide feedback on your work before you need to submit it. You will keep track of your own deadlines and do not wait for my reminder.
- To earn your degree, you must transition towards independence. We will work together to track this process, but ultimately when you earn a degree it will be up to the work you produce, not simply the time you put in.
- Seek out professional development opportunities. Being a successful scientist involves more than being good at the bench. You must communicate well (presentations, papers, grants), develop personal skills (lab management, mentoring), maintain high ethical standards, and for a faculty career, teach. However, these opportunities must be balanced with the most important element of your career development – research progress towards your thesis.
You will develop your personal research skills
- Begin reading the scientific literature – read the papers I suggest, run a literature search and read papers suggested by this search. Spend some time each week updating your literature and just browsing. Check out important-looking references from the papers you read. Subscribe to Early View Alerts from the most relevant journals (Freshwater Biology, Ecography, Ecology Letters etc.). Create a Twitter account and follow relevant journals and researchers to be among the first to hear about new papers in your field.
- Learn how to plan your experiments so that they help you progress on the overall goal of your project. Make sure your experiments address the question of interest correctly – this includes learning how to do the appropriate controls, techniques, etc. You will also need to learn how to effectively plan and multi-task to prevent down times. Develop plans with short/medium/long-term goals. And once you get the hang of it, develop your own scientific ideas.
- Keep detailed lab notebooks – these are essential to turn your hard work into a finished paper or thesis. There is nothing worse than realizing that you forgot to note down an important detail in the lab while writing the methods section for your paper. Your notes should allow your work to be reproduced (meaning they must be also understandable by people other than yourself) and sometimes might even help to assign credit for authorship in extreme situation. For these reasons and to practice your professional English skills, I strongly encourage you to keep them in English.
- Develop your writing and presentation skills. As you start to make progress, begin outlining a paper’s figures and only draft the text based on them in the second step, once we already agreed on the main figures. Be prepared to go through rounds of revisions before submitting an abstract or paper. Be prepared for many corrections, especially in the first round. This does not mean you did a bad job, as it is normal that you need to acquire these specific skills via learning and doing (and being corrected). Although the availability of travel funds will vary, I encourage you to submit your work for presentation at least at one conference per year. Find and attend relevant seminars to learn both science and how to give a good talk (and other “soft skills”).
- Develop your mentoring and management skills. Mentoring undergraduate researchers during the second part of your PhD and during your postdoc years not only helps you achieve your experimental goals, but also provides an opportunity to further your professional development as a supervisor. As the direct supervisor of an undergraduate student, you will be expected to train them appropriately, provide them with experimental guidance, and ensure that they operate in a safe and respectful manner in the lab.
- Continuously look out for fellowships, traineeships, and travel grants and submit such applications. Not only will a grant help your career and the overall lab funding situation, the experience of writing the proposal will help you think about what you are doing more deeply.
- Learn how to accept and utilize constructive criticism. The feedback from me, colleagues, committee members, and course instructors is intended to improve your work. I will never give you criticism without pointing at the solution. Therefore, when I comment on your written document, I will always provide you a way to improve it. The same goes for presentations. Nobody is born with these skills and you should learn to be grateful for these suggestions as they are given to help you grow.
- Learn how to handle failures and develop a “thick skin”. This is not the easiest part of scientific life but it is unavoidable. Our job comes with rejections – projects, papers, sometimes with harsh comments from the reviewers. The first rejections (even if phrased nicely) hurt a lot, but after some time, you will get used to it. Project proposals regularly have 20-25% success rate or less – this means that only 1 out of 4 or 5 tries is successful. This does not mean you are doing a bad job. You should try to concentrate on how you can grow during the process and use the critics as stepping stones for a better manuscript or proposal in the next round. It helps to put aside reviews on your manuscript for 1-2 days after receiving them. My general experience is that it sounds less harsh and more doable afterwards because the first time you read it, you might get easily overwhelmed by the critical points.
You will contribute to the lab and be a good lab citizen
- “Pay forward”. Senior graduate students are responsible for helping to train new students in the ways of the world (i.a. lab procedures, how individual/group meetings work, literature searching, usage of Zotero and Google Docs etc.). Science is a community – many people will help you along the way and you should return the favor. Share your insider knowledge of techniques with others.
- Team work – I expect you to help your team members voluntarily (as long as it does not harm your project or collides with an important deadline). If someone goes to the field or has a laborious sampling coming up in their experiment, I expect you to take part in it and help as much as possible. In return, they will also help you out when it is your turn to ask for it.
- Data belongs to the lab, not to any one individual – as a result, you will be expected to leave a copy of your original data files you produced from projects supported by my lab when you leave the lab.
- Clean environment – Everyone is expected to help with dishes, making sure that supplies do not run out, and general lab cleanliness. Nobody will tidy up after you, this is not the task of the technicians or anyone else but you.
- You will work safely in the lab. You will follow all safety procedures defined in our lab/institutional protocols and immediately communicate any safety concerns to me or one of the technicians.
- Honesty is not only a virtue, but indispensable in my lab. I expect you to report any error or accident that might happen in the lab. We all make mistakes and break smaller items when working in the lab – it is normal and comes with the job. If such things happen (e.g., a glass vial is broken), it is enough (but necessary) that you report it to one of the technicians so that they can substitute it. What I need to know immediately is when something more serious happens, e.g., a device is broken, a lab culture is lost, samples go bad, or mistakes are made with project management, which might need immediate attention and solution. Procrastinating reporting these issues only hinders their solution.
- You will help to keep lab protocols up-to-date on Google Drive.
- When working in the labs of other colleagues, be polite, neat, and gracious. Always follow their rules and leave a clean desk/lab space after your work. If something breaks during your use, report it immediately to the appropriate person and keep me informed as well.
- The working language in the lab is primarily English. Whenever surrounded by international colleagues, I expect you to switch to English. Long chats in your native language next to your international colleagues are considered rude (except if they have ear/headphones on, of course). If it is unavoidable, apologize in advance and tell them why the discussion is unrelated to their work and why it is necessary to do it in Hungarian or any language other than English. The inner workings of the institute is still heavily based on Hungarian as a working language (HR, general meetings etc.), but it keeps evolving and I am doing my best to contribute to creating an international atmosphere also outside the lab. I am always grateful for any suggestions in this respect that might come from you.
- Be respectful, tolerant of, and work collegially with laboratory colleagues: respect individual differences in values, personalities, and work styles.
Nuts and Bolts
Hours and Vacation
I do not believe in tracking hours – instead, I am interested to see that you are productive. I fully trust you to handle it correctly without the need to track your hours. However, if I sense that this is being taken advantage of, the situation will be addressed. You will quickly recognize that ecology is not an 8-5 proposition – night and weekend hours come with the territory. I ask that you indicate to me at least 1-2 weeks before a planned longer absence – this way we can determine if it is an appropriate time for a vacation given e.g. the status of experiments running, and if there are grant or other deadlines during that period we have ample time to prepare. I expect you to satisfactorily complete all assigned research duties prior to your planned departure.
Come prepared to discuss/present your recent research and next steps. Present to me what you have done and what you propose to do in the next week.
Lab and Other Meetings
I expect you to take part in our weekly lab meetings and any general meeting we hold in the lab or in the institute, including journal clubs, data clubs, seminars, crash courses, and lab retreats. It is acceptable to occasionally miss one, but I expect an excuse for this and that you take these meetings very seriously and as close to a compulsory task as possible. It is not acceptable to make a habit of missing them out – it gives the impression that you are careless about your teammates’ or your personal development.
At the end of each calendar year, we will have an evaluation – this will help us to determine things that are going well or are areas for improvement. I will tell you if I am satisfied with your progress and help identify steps you can take to fix any concerns. This is also an opportunity for you to communicate to me what I can do to help you succeed. Tell me if you feel that you need more guidance, more independence, to meet more often, etc. I will also ask for an annual plan from you afterwards, which helps us plan ahead with manuscripts, conferences and field work. The institute has its own evaluation for employees (usually in mid-February), which is another time to re-think and evaluate the past year’s achievements. I need to check your report when you submit it (I have automatic access via Nextcloud), but we will not do a detailed discussions about it unless some corrections are necessary.
One of the most important tasks in science is disseminating your research through publications and presentations; therefore, authorship on these items is an important indicator to the outside world of your role. Authorship implies a significant contribution to a paper such as intellectual ideas that change the research or experimental contributions (just following instructions and not actively participating in the experimental design/interpretation will be acknowledged, but likely would not result in an authorship). While the order of authors varies by specific field, in general, the first author in ecology 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 (i.a. the second is more important than the third etc.). Failure to complete papers before leaving the lab and leaving without a clear timeplan which we both agreed on to complete it may result in a junior member doing so as the first author in your place.
After arriving to the lab as a PhD student or postdoc
I will assign a lab buddy for each new lab member to help you with getting settled and practicalities in and outside the lab (translation, lodging etc.).
The secretary (Anna) will add you to the list where they keep track of eligibilities. Your lab buddy will help you arrange it.
Should be sent out to the institute’s mailing list. We have a form for this and it will be sent out by Anna. Please ask your lab buddy for details.
Official mailing lists and email account
Me and you lab buddy will help with it.
Our main communication channel is Slack. Please install it on your computer (or also on your phone) and I will add you to the necessary channels.
Please keep your affiliation(s) updated. I expect you to have a profile on Researchgate and Google Scholar, and highly recommend an own Twitter account.
Acknowledgements: The current version of this document is based on the sample document provided by:
Masters, K.S. and Kreeger, P.K., 2017. Ten simple rules for developing a mentor–mentee expectations document. PLoS computational biology, 13(9), p.e1005709.