Science is hard. But it's also fun. It's those aha moments -- be it finding an unexpected pattern, or observing your organism under the microscope doing amazing things -- that lured me, and hopefully you, into this place. To do good science requires a lot of qualities. Here are some of them:
Work on what you're passionate about, work hard on it, and be proud of it.
Nobel laureate Francis Crick wrote in his memoir about his "drunken test": to discover what you are passionate about, notice what is the topic that you like to talk to strangers about in a bar. He found it was physics, or science in general, so there he goes!
A good scientist has to be a little impatient: because you want to see the results so badly, you can't wait until the next "working day".
This is not the same as spending a set amount of hours in the lab per week. More on this later.
Scientists have to be careful. Think about it, implement it, double check and triple check it. Incorporate sanity checks -- should a potato weight 20 kg? Could my mini-prep give 20 ug of DNA?
Yes, I just said you need to be impatient to get your results. But then you have to doubt them -- until you can reproduce them consistently. If the evidence says you are wrong, accept it and form new hypotheses.
There is a lot of pressure, and excitement in getting results published. But we do this honestly.
This means it is never ok to plagiarize, tamper with data, make up data, omit data, or fudge results in any way. Null results and unexpected results must be treated as seriously, if not more, than "positive results" that fit your expectation. In a word: we have zero tolerance for academic misconduct!
Everyone is responsible for keeping the lab tidy and functional.
For shared equipment, return them to where you find them and in the condition you find them in.
If you need to use a piece of equipment in another lab, make sure to tell Bin, and get the explicit consent from the PI of that lab. It's not enough to just tell a member of that lab. And obviously, you shouldn't operate an equipment unless you have been trained on it.
Keep a detailed lab notebook. The criteria for "detailed" is that another person in the lab should be able to repeat your experiments and expect to get consistent results.
Support your fellow lab-mates. Help them out if they need help. You can expect the same when you need help.
Respect your fellow lab-mates. Respect their strengths and weaknesses, respect their desire for quietness if they need it, and for support and a kind ear when they need it. Respect their culture, their religion, their beliefs, their sexual orientation.
If you're struggling, tell someone (feel free to chat with Bin!). Your health and happiness come first. The lab looks out for the well-being of all its members.
If there is any tension or hostility in the lab, something has be done immediately. We can't thrive in an environment we aren't comfortable in, and disrespect or rudeness will not be tolerated in the lab. If you don't feel comfortable confronting the person in question, tell Bin.
If you have a problem with Bin, and are comfortable telling him about it, do! If you aren't comfortable, talk to a fellow lab mate to get advice. You can convey your concerns in any form to Bin, by written or chatting. I know I'm far from being perfect. However, also know that if I take you into the lab, I want to be helpful and want you to succeed.
I take this bit from Megan McClean because I strongly agree with what she says:
Hours and Vacation: I don’t believe in tracking hours. I care about productivity. However, if I sense that this is being taken advantage of the situation will be addressed. Biology is not a 9-5pm proposition. Night and weekend hours come with the territory. There is no getting around the fact that putting in more time often means you get more done. Try to avoid losing entire days waiting for cultures to grow, etc. Utilize your colleagues. If you can’t come in on Sunday to inoculate a culture, ask if someone else can and do them a favor later. 15 minutes on a Sunday can save you wasting all of Monday waiting for your streak plate to grow. Megan is often in lab, or nearby, and will happily do small tasks if that means saving a day of research time. That said, it is important to maintain relationships, exercise, sleep, have hobbies, and take vacation to maintain productivity. Please discuss vacation and holiday leave with me at least 4 weeks before the planned absence. This way we have ample time to prepare for deadlines (papers, grants, etc) that occur during your absence.
I expect you to drive the project.
In the beginning I will help you to find a scientific project that suits your strength and passion, and which fits into the lab objective. I'll teach you the necessary skills, and guide you through the literature. Soon after however, I expect you to own the project and be on the driver's seat. This means you should be the one who comes to me and ask "how can I do this? / here is a paper that suggest we are wrong". If I find myself constantly asking you about your progress, we need to talk seriously.
My own experience and observation is that good science takes time: this includes time to think, to experiment and fail and to communicate (write/present). I respect everyone's different working style and schedule. But if you will stop your experiment/analysis/thinking because it's 5pm or it's Friday, it's just hard for me to see how you can make enough progress in your project. On the flip side, one of the advantages of academia is its flexibility in work time. If you don't feel well or just don't feel productive, take time off to relax, to do things that get the stress off of you. I believe that a healthy personal and social life ensures your physical and mental well-being, which come before your work.
Let me first say that I have been extremely lucky to have had many highly motivated undergraduate students here at U of Iowa. Many of you are bright, dedicated, and good team players. I do understand that unlike graduate students, research is just one of the items on your plate. I realize that each of you come in with different goals: some of you put research at a very high priority, while others may be seeking a research experience to enrich their undergraduate education. I'm happy to advise both types of students. It's just important that you communicate your goal with me upfront. One thing that I ask of you, regardless of your goal, is this: take your responsibility seriously. If we have discussed and agreed to do something, I expect you to finish it on time, and, importantly, be pro-active in discussing the results and plans with me. If you expect to be absent from the lab for a week or more, please let me know in advance.
Here are some of the things you can expect of me: