Since starting my group in 2008, I have attempted to create an environment that is conducive to collaborative science. Reflecting this, our manuscripts typically have several authors and take advantage of numerous approaches. To define mechanism, I believe that one cannot depend entirely on a single methodology, and members of my lab work together to combine areas of expertise. My expectations for people in the lab are high, and I encourage creativity, productivity, and a willingness to take risks. The rationale for this is simple – I strongly believe that everyone in the lab is working for themselves, for their future, and not just for me. In this regard, positions in the lab should not be considered as jobs. Instead, they are opportunities to explore areas of common interest in a rigorous training environment. I maintain an open door policy, meaning that members of my lab can approach me at anytime, to discuss both successes and difficulties at the bench.
The training period in my lab ranges from 1-5 years. This is relatively short, but can vary significantly depending on the goals of the individual. My hope is to collaboratively define the set of experiments necessary to address one or a few key biological questions and then allow the graduate student or postdoctoral fellow freedom to further explore the problem as he or she desires. I believe this approach encourages creative thinking and independence, characteristics that are essential for any future position, regardless of whether it is in academia, industry, or an alternative venue.
We hold weekly group meetings in which one member of the lab presents recent data. Typically, this translates into a presentation once every 3 months, which is a good timepoint to gauge progress on research projects. In addition, I hold one-on-one meetings with all students and postdocs every 2 weeks. These meetings are sometimes as short as 5 minutes, but can extend to more than an hour, depending on the focus of the discussion, which ranges from work in the lab to dialogues on future career plans. Finally, given the breadth in the lab, I have found it useful to hold subgroup meetings every other week, where lab personnel that work on a specific area come together for discussion of collaborative work and/or recently published articles that may suggest new directions for research.
I encourage students and postdocs to write fellowship applications. This serves multiple purposes – providing opportunities to develop critical writing skills, reviewing the literature thoroughly, and supporting the lab so that we can use resources most effectively. In many cases, these exercises can lead to the synthesis of a review article that nicely puts into context the work being pursued. I also encourage members of the lab to attend scientific conferences, where they can present their data (improving communication skills) and obtain important feedback for future studies. Finally, I support the development of mentoring skills, which usually takes the form of recruiting undergraduate students to work together with graduate students or postdocs. I believe this form of training is highly important (both for the mentor and the mentee).