Gold Lab Philosophy
The primary goal of my laboratory is to advance knowledge of how the brain makes flexible decisions. To achieve this goal, everyone in lab must first and foremost maintain the highest scientific and ethical standards. In the long run, our scientific legacy will depend far more on whether or not we got it right than whether or not we got there first or how loudly we proclaimed our findings. And “got it right” does not mean that we cannot make mistakes, but that our hypotheses – which may well end up being wrong – are formulated and tested with the utmost integrity, including not cutting corners and making every effort to avoid letting our expectations and biases obscure our findings.
I also value diversity in background, age, color, disability, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, ability, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, veteran status, and other characteristics that help define who we are. Science needs more voices with more perspectives than it has traditionally embraced. I am committed to not only enhancing the diversity of science but also fostering a stronger sense of inclusion for all scientists via outreach, recruiting, mentoring, and other activities.
What I expect from people in my lab
An important part of my job is to train and mentor young scientists. My goal in this process is not to steer you towards any particular career but rather to make you the best possible scientist while you are in my laboratory. I hope this experience will provide you with a set of skills and experiences that will serve you well in whatever career path you choose. I also take seriously my position as a role model and always strive to live up to the extraordinary responsibility of being a scientist and mentor. To help me to achieve these goals, I expect:
- Open and honest communication. I expect you to keep me up-to-date on issues related to your scientific progress and career goals. I try to be around lab as much as possible with my door open, thus encouraging everyone to meet with me regularly and as needed but not according to a specific schedule. However, I am also happy to provide regularly scheduled meetings, if you prefer.
- Help in establishing level-appropriate career goals for you. For high-school and undergraduate students, the primary goals are to find projects that will allow you to get excited about science and learn more about what a life working in science is like. For technicians, the primary goals are to be productive in lab and figure out how this work fits into your longer-term plans. For graduate students, the primary goals are to be trained to be an ethical and productive scientist and to support and hopefully expand your enthusiasm for science. For post-docs, the primary goals are to continue your training and ensure that your time is spent moving you towards your career goals as efficiently and effectively as possible.
- Help in establishing the right project(s) for you. There are certain constraints we must consider when choosing projects in the lab; e.g., Do we have funding to pursue the proposed project? If not, when and how can we obtain it? Is the proposed project within our realm of expertise? If not, how can we obtain such expertise? What animal/human subject issues are involved? Within these constraints, I will try very hard to find project(s) that match your interests and talents, but I can’t do that without your input.
- Good lab citizenship. The lab works most effectively when everyone lends a hand with community issues: keeping the lab space clean, making sure computers are working and up-to-date, etc. I try to not burden anyone with too many chores, so when I do ask you to do something I expect your cooperation unless there are strong extenuating circumstances. I also expect people in the lab to be able to work out a reasonable division-of-labor for day-to-day chores without always requiring my input. Finally, I hope to maintain a culture of collaboration and cooperation in the lab, such that everyone feels comfortable going to each other to discuss ideas, gain expertise, and receive critical and responsible feedback, and more experienced lab members help newcomers.
- Responsibility. For everyone in the lab, this means keeping readable and complete records (with a back-up copy in at least one separate location), using equipment properly, meeting deadlines, responding to e-mail and other forms of communication in a timely fashion, and owning up to mistakes. For everyone working with monkeys, this mostly means learning from Jean, whose instincts and expertise are second to none. For students, this means keeping up with the requirements of your program without excessive reminders. For post-docs, this means balancing the pursuit of jobs and grants with your ongoing lab work.
- Productivity. Working on something you enjoy will go a long way towards giving you the motivation and drive needed to be productive in this field. You should also keep in mind that our productivity is ultimately is measured in terms of peer-reviewed publications. Therefore, I expect you to use the question, “How is what I am doing moving me closer to producing a peer-reviewed publication?” as a standard reference for gauging your productivity and deciding how to allocate your time and resources. I typically do not keep track of hours you spend in lab or vacation days you take off, but I am generally aware of the time you spend here and can usually see how that time is reflected in your productivity. I also expect you to perform well in courses and other program requirements and take advantage of the many professional development opportunities here at Penn, but to be careful to pursue those activities in a manner that does not cause a complete lack of productivity in the laboratory.
- Carrying projects to completion. Being productive in general is not enough. You need to learn to bring projects – grants, conference presentations, and papers – to completion. To do so, you will need to: 1) set short- and medium-term goals including milestone dates and deliverables to ensure you are always moving towards completion; 2) pay attention to detail, to ensure that “complete” really means “complete”; and 3) get material to me in a timely fashion to allow sufficient time for me to give you constructive feedback. I expect students and post-docs to complete approximately two full projects in four years.
- Learning how to be a scientist. This is, of course, the ultimate goal of everyone in the lab. Achieving this goal means learning how to identify interesting, approachable, and relevant scientific problems; design and conduct experiments; analyze data; write papers; and give talks. You should keep up-to-date on the relevant scientific literature, setting aside a bit of time each week to identify and read papers regardless of whether or not we discuss them in lab meetings or journal clubs. You should sign up for talks or posters at journal clubs, retreats, and other on-campus events. Conferences are another important venue for sharing your findings with others. Although the availability of travel funding varies over time, I will work with you to try to get your work submitted for presentation at approximately one conference per year. Travel fellowships are available through the University if grant money is not available. I will help you identify and apply for these opportunities. A final note on this topic: in my experience, the best scientists are those who are able to take an idea (“here’s how to get from point A to point B”), and not only be able to get from A to B but then on their own go to C, D, and beyond. Science is an iterative process, and so all good scientists need to learn when to get guidance on what to do next, and when to take the initiative to take the next steps alone. I expect you to learn this balance, and not only come to me for guidance but also make progress on your own and move towards becoming a truly independent thinker.
What people in my lab should expect of me
- Open and honest communication. I try hard to balance being critical, which is needed to help people identify and correct weaknesses that otherwise would hinder their scientific progress, and being encouraging, which helps people identify their strengths and of course makes people feel better about themselves and their work. I fully admit that I do not always strike the right balance. You should always feel comfortable talking to me directly about how I can best strike this balance to meet your needs.
- Advice. The most important, general advice I can give is relatively straightforward: 1) Be tenacious. I think this is often the difference between success and mediocrity or failure. Attack problems and keep moving forward. 2) Pay attention to detail. Take time to step back and think through what you are doing. What are you measuring? Is the equipment calibrated appropriately? Are you storing everything you need to? 3) Set goals and do everything you can to reach them.
- Space to operate independently. I do not like to look over people’s shoulders (I know how much I hate people doing that to me). I believe everyone should have room to make progress and make mistakes on their own. But I also do not want anyone to waste their time and emotional energy floundering around, when with some guidance they could be thriving. So again, I try to strike a balance and am always happy to discuss explicitly the appropriate balance for you.
- Advocacy. I am well aware how important I am to your career, in terms of getting you the right project and helping to ensure that it is brought to a successful completion; introducing you and your work to the rest of the field; and providing recommendations. Be confident that I desperately want you to succeed and will therefore do my best to carry out these responsibilities as best I can.
- Evaluations. Each year we will sit down to discuss progress and goals. At that time, you should remember to tell me if you are unhappy with any aspect of your experience as a graduate student or post-doc here. Remember that I am your advocate as well as your advisor. I will be able to help you with any problems you might have with other students, faculty or staff. Similarly, we should discuss any concerns that you have with respect to my role as your advisor. If you feel that you need more guidance, if you feel that I am interfering too much with your work, or if you would like to meet with me more often, tell me. At the same time, I will tell you if I am satisfied with your progress and if I think you are on track to graduate by your target date. It will be my responsibility to explain to you any deficiencies so that you can take steps to fix them. This will be a good time for us to take care of any issues before they become major problems.
Where to go for help and support
- Talk to me. Open, honest communication can solve a lot of problems.
- Talk to other faculty. For students, your qualifying exam and thesis committees are there to help you, and you should feel free to talk with members of those committees about laboratory and career issues. For post-docs, fostering relationships with other faculty in the department will be useful in many ways, including providing you with other sounding boards for lab and career issues and possibly other sources of letters of recommendation, which you will need for jobs and grants.
- Talk to other members of the lab. I have always been extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful group of people be part of my lab.
- Talk to the Department Chair. Part of their jobs is to help students, staff, and post-docs.
- Contact the University of Pennsylvania Ombudsman: http://www.upenn.edu/ombudsman/
- For post-docs: http://www.med.upenn.edu/postdoc/
- For NGG students: http://www.med.upenn.edu/ngg/