The mission of the Oglesby-Sherrouse laboratory is to 1) perform high quality research to define the impact of iron and other essential metals on bacterial physiology and pathogenesis, and 2) to train the next generation of diverse scientists for meaningful careers in or related to microbial research. Our mission is dependent upon maintaining high standards in how we conduct and report our research, as well as how we interact with one another. I have high expectations in both of these regards, and I started this guide to ensure my philosophy and expectations are clear for current and prospective lab members. Some aspects of this guide will undoubtedly evolve as our research program grows, but my commitment to high quality science in an inclusive work environment will not change.
Work Ethic. I am passionate about science, but I am also passionate about my life outside of the lab, including my family. I expect individuals in my lab to enjoy this same balanced perspective. Scientific integrity, critical thinking, high quality results, and a positive attitude are far more important than long work hours. That said, we all must be present and motivated to work hard (and smart) for great science to happen. If you find yourself in a position where this is not possible, please communicate this with me as soon as possible. I may not be able to help you myself, but I will work with you to identify resources that you need to figure out your next steps.
Teamwork is important for moving science forward, but I also expect lab members to develop independence and their own research projects. Ask questions when you do not understand something, but do not depend on others to answer all your questions – finding answers to your questions is part of your job description. Remember that every time you walk into the lab, you have the opportunity to discover something that NOBODY ELSE IN THE WORLD KNOWS. Have fun and be proud of this – it’s an awesome way to spend your days. Above all, give your best and smartest effort while you are here, and I promise in return we will give you our best and smartest effort to support your development as a scientist.
Professionalism and Inclusion. The OS Lab is a team (Team Iron?). I expect everyone on the team to contribute their best, and to respect the contributions and individuality of others on our team. Diversity is critical to conducting high impact science that benefits everyone, and I deeply value the diversity of our research program, our department, and our University. I will not tolerate exclusion based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or belief system. Nor will I tolerate malicious gossip, harassment, or crude behavior. I expect lab members to inform me about these destructive behaviors if and when they occur, and to trust that I will work my hardest to protect individuals who have been discriminated against in any way.
Everyone is expected to contribute to a positive laboratory environment that promotes critical thinking and scientific development. At times we will find ourselves “put on the spot” during lab meetings or seminars as we discuss our research. This is not meant to embarrass or belittle anyone, but to force each of us to think critically about our research, and to learn how to communicate our results clearly and effectively. This is hard work, and it takes time and practice to develop these skills! In order for this practice to be effective and not destructive, we must maintain an environment where we trust and respect each other’s intentions and efforts. Remember, the people doing science next to you are your peers and your colleagues, and it is your job to earn their respect, trust, and support by demonstrating hard work, integrity, and enthusiasm for their efforts.
Lab Meetings, Departmental Seminars, and Journal Clubs. The OS Lab holds weekly lab meetings throughout the year. These meetings are critical to our mission, and attendance at all lab meetings is required except in the case of illness or vacation. Lab members (myself included) are expected to plan experiments and personal appointments accordingly, and to communicate unavoidable absences as much in advance as possible. I also expect lab members to make every effort to attend regular departmental seminars, journal clubs, and group meetings with our collaborators. Attendance at these meetings is crucial for supporting the broader mission of our department and University, for placing our research in broader scientific context, and for expanding our technical and scientific horizons.
Progress and Training. My success is dependent upon my trainees’ success. I am committed to making sure that each of my trainees enjoys a productive and positive experience in our lab, and that this experience helps you grow and advance to the next stage of your career. Success will be defined differently based on each individual’s training and career development goals. I therefore expect each trainee to develop and maintain an individual development plan in partnership with me. While I do not track how much time each lab member spends in the lab, I do keep track of individual productivity and progress toward their stated goals, and I will speak privately with individuals when I am concerned about their progress.
Lab members should be proactive about discussing their progress with me. The amount of time that individual lab members will need for one-on-one meetings with me will vary dramatically based on their research progress, stage of training, and career development goals. While I strive to make myself available for one-on-one meetings whenever needed, my availability does vary throughout the year. Making an appointment is the best way to ensure you will get my undivided attention, but impromptu meetings are also a good option for getting rapid feedback or sharing exciting results. At times that I am traveling or more involved with teaching, I urge lab members to take advantage of their peers and the scientific literature. This lead time will sharpen your perspectives and goals for your project, making our one-on-one meetings much more productive.
Lab Notebooks. Lab notebooks should be updated regularly, as experiments are performed (not weeks or months later). I am very flexible as to the type of notebook that is used – handwritten or typed, bound or in a 3-ring binder, even electronic formats are all acceptable. I am also okay with multiple types of organization for lab notebooks. However, the lab notebook should be accessible, legible, clear, and inclusive of all methods that are needed to repeat the same experiment or to find the product (strains, data, etc) of the experiment. Lab notebooks are the property of the lab and therefore the University. They should never leave the lab, and they will remain in the lab after you have moved on.
Lab members should also maintain and update detailed logs of their freezer strains, including all genetic constructs (original clones, recombinant intermediates, and donor strains for allelic exchange). Take care to indicate in your lab notebook where strains are stored, and to reference strain logs back to your lab notebook so others can take advantage of these resources once you have moved on.
Electronic data files should also be treated with care and linked to the appropriate place in your lab notebook. Data on individual computers should be backed up to a second secure source (external hard drive or the School of Pharmacy’s M Drive). When you leave the lab, you will be expected to deposit all of your data files in our lab folder on the School’s M Drive, and each file should be dated so that we can easily find all raw data that was generated in our lab.
Authorship. Authorship on manuscripts is earned based on meeting ALL of the following four criteria from The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE):
- Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
- Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
- Final approval of the version to be published; AND
- Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.
Order of authors will be based on the degree and importance of their scientific input, with the trainee who conducted the majority of the study design, data analysis, and manuscript preparation listed as first author and the mentor who played the most prominent role in guiding the development of the study listed as the corresponding (last) author. Authorship inclusion and order may change throughout the course of a study due to the evolving roles of individuals on different studies, the decision to split a study into two or to combine two convergent studies, or the addition of new experiments during manuscript review.
I will make every effort to openly communicate how authorship decisions are made with trainees as studies develop, and I will listen and take any trainees’ concerns into consideration as manuscripts are prepared. When participating in collaborative studies, trainees must understand that their individual effort, though large, may be outweighed by the effort of a collaborator. Co-first authorships will be considered when the efforts of two persons involved in a study are considered equivalently important to the initiation, development, or eventual publication of the study.
Ideally, all of my trainees will take a lead role in guiding the design, analysis, and preparation of their own studies for publication, resulting in 2-3 first author publications during their tenure in my lab. Trainees are also expected to work collaboratively with their colleagues, resulting in co-authorships on additional studies. This is a goal that I strive to meet when considering the career development of each individual in my lab, but it is also a goal that trainees play a critical role in achieving.
Vacations and Personal Days. I expect everyone in the lab to work hard, but I also expect you to know your limits and take a break when needed. While it is often necessary to come in on the weekends to keep cloning projects going or to start cultures for the upcoming week, weekends and holidays are times that we should all take advantage of to unwind, rest our brains, and do something for ourselves. I also expect trainees to use their vacation days and holidays to get away from the lab, but you should give me advance notice and make sure I have it added to my calendar. I have rarely refused a vacation or time off request, and will usually only express concern if absences are becoming more commonplace, affecting lab morale, or impeding trainee progress.
Meetings and Conferences. Meeting and conference attendance by lab members is dependent upon available funds and the presentation of your research as either or a poster or presentation. The intent to attend and register for a meeting or conference must be approved by me and submitted for approval by the University prior to registering or making travel arrangements. Final abstracts must be approved by myself and any collaborators prior to submission. While last minute decisions to travel do sometimes occur, please plan well in advance (>3-4 months) to ensure travel arrangements are made according to University policy and to avoid unnecessary added costs.
Scientific Literacy. “A week in the library can save you a year in the lab.” Or as I heard recently “A year in the lab can save you a week in the library.” These sayings developed because we too often neglect to research what other scientists have done, and we waste money and time when we repeat experiments that were published 5, 10, or 30 years earlier. I strive to stay current on the literature, but I am not necessarily an expert or up-to-date on every aspect of work being performed in our laboratory. Therefore, all lab members are expected to stay up to date on scientific literature. In general, I will have a higher expectation of scientific literacy from graduate students and postdoctoral fellows than from technicians and interns. However, it is critical for all lab members to be able to place their project within the broader context of work that has been published in their immediate and broader field. Lab members should also strive to read primary literature and not depend on reviews to develop understanding of the field. Use the literature to identify critical gaps in the field, to think about new ways to conduct your own research, and to challenge your own hypotheses and methods. If you read about something that you think we should be doing, write up a plan and share it with the rest of us!!!
Experimental Design. Before you conduct an experiment, sit down and think about what the possible outcomes are, e.g. growth/no growth, reduced/increased expression, loss of a particular biological activity, etc. Think about how you will interpret those outcomes, and decide before doing the experiment if you have included the necessary controls for those interpretations to be valid. For instance, if you want to perform a growth curve with a mutant to see if it is defective for growth in low iron, have you included control strains that will tell you if your media is too iron-depleted, or not iron-depleted enough? Talk through your design with a labmate and see if they can find a flaw that you did not see. Working through this process on a regular basis will save you time in the long run, and will avoid many uncomfortable meetings with your PI, collaborators, and committee members.
I also caution against performing experiments that are meant to answer several questions at once. This becomes particularly problematic as trainees begin to gain comfort with their bench technique and familiarity with their research topic. They design an experiment that will answer all of the questions they have RIGHT NOW, and only to realize later that they sacrificed quality for quantity. Always remember that a small, well-designed experiment can tell you much more than a heap of data lacking sufficient controls and plagued with technical errors!
Advice, Support, and Letters. Once your mentor, always your mentor. That is my firm belief. Regardless of whether you worked for me as a graduate student, a postdoctoral fellow, or a technician in the lab, my goal is to always be available to write a letter or advise you as you advance from one career stage to the next. Current and past trainees should never hesitate to contact me for a letter. I just need you to give me ample time (generally at least 3 weeks) and information to update the last letter I prepared for you; more time is needed to draft a letter from scratch. Please note that writing letters for my trainees is not an inconvenience…it is an integral part of my job that I value and take extreme pride in doing well. If I do not feel I can write you a favorable letter, or if I believe another mentor’s letter will make a bigger impact, I will make this clear at the outset.