Lab Culture

I try my very best to make our lab a happy and highly interactive work environment, and I have been incredibly fortunate to work with a fantastic group of postdocs and students, who come from every corner of the world and are just a lot of fun to work with. Our lab is very collaborative. It is commonplace that our papers have multiple co-first authors, and in all cases this is the most logical and fair outcome, as the work is truly a team effort. We brainstorm together a lot (which is a lot of fun and incredibly productive), not only about ideas for new projects, but also about experimental design, data analysis, modeling, and the writing and making of figures. The lab eats lunch together everyday in the West Campus cafeteria, and we all go have an espresso (tea/chocolate/etc) afterwards. There are fewer structured meetings than I have found are commonplace in other labs, but a lot more organic and spontaneous discussions over coffee, lunch, or just as we discuss recent results. All lab members are actively encouraged to work in the project they are most excited about and to share their excitement with the rest of us.

I have found that self-motivation and self-direction are really critical in our group, as all lab members are driving their projects forward (in collaboration with other lab members) and all make independent decisions without having to check with me at every step. I could not agree more with the points raised in this essay: You are not workin for me, I will be working with you. Occasionally, I will have to ask lab members to do tasks that are necessary for the functioning of the lab, typically maintaining our facilities, or other tasks that involve being good citizens with the rest of our community, our institute, our department, or our community at large. From helping to organize retreats, to hosting visitors to Yale, to handle requisitions or keep up their biosafety training up to date. It is my aspiration that these tasks will be shared evenly among people (according to experience and readiness for the task at hand) and to not burden anyone with more than their share.

We are also a very quantitative lab. We seek to be as precise as possible in our understanding of biological phenomena, and this means that the kinds of questions we formulate are quantitative in nature. Our papers nearly always address Theory inspired questions and they all contain mathematical models, ideally “Figure 1” models but sometimes the “Figure 7” kind.

Achieving a healthy balance between work and the rest of one’s life is extremely important to me. All lab members have ownership of how they spend their time, and I particularly encourage everybody to take vacations. I do take them during the summer, and I find them essential not only to function during the year, but for my overall happiness and stability. I also do not work most weekends, and my impression is that people in the lab don’t either unless they have an experiment running that requires some manipulation to be made at those times. That being said I do work very hard and am very focused during the week. I try to work smarter, rather than piling up hours. Thinking carefully about what needs to be done and what is essential (and what isn’t) saves you a lot of work and time in the end. Therefore, we do spend substantial amount of time planning before doing.

The latter also helps with keeping us honest. Scientific rigor and honesty are of the utmost importance. I am adamant about keeping an organized and transparent lab notebook, commenting code for reproducibility, and standardizing all data analysis procedures. All of our published data is (and will be) made available to anyone who asks for it. The same applies to all of our protocols. Our papers will all be posted as preprints in bioRxiv at the time of submission to a journal. The highest standard of integrity is expected from all lab members.

All lab members have ownership of their work, and all postdocs and students in the lab are absolutely welcome to take their projects with them when they leave. I am also happy to back off from a specific project if a recently graduating postdoc or student decides they want to work on it independently after they are gone.

We have also had wonderful collaborations with friends and colleagues who have enriched us enormously. All lab members have the freedom (and are indeed encouraged!) to collaborate with friends and colleagues elsewhere who could provide to them training and expertise we lack in the lab. We all benefit greatly from that!

Finally, I absolutely love my job, and I try my best to do it well. I aim to give fair and constructive criticism in a respectful manner, when I have to. That being said, I am certain that I have room for improvement. Any and all advice from lab members is also welcome and valued.