This Values and Expectations Statement is a living document designed to facilitate the continued growth and development of Hammond lab members by providing guidelines on broad cultural values as well as some specifics for implementation. This document outlines role-specific expectations for lab members, as well as guidelines for maintaining key lab values: collegiality, mentorship and onboarding, diversity and inclusion, scientific integrity, mental and physical wellbeing, safety and cleanliness, and best practices for manuscript writing and conference attendance.
The philosophy of our research group is that each and every member of our lab brings something important to the team, and we only achieve academic and research excellence when we allow the individual perspectives that each member brings to be expressed in our work. My hope is to create an environment in which every lab member is unhampered in achieving their potential – which means that every voice should be heard, that we benefit from the inputs of lab members who are informed by their own experiences, that diversity of thought and background are celebrated in our lab, and that all are welcome. Respect for ourselves and each other is key to maintaining this environment, and it is this mutual respect that is a constant part of the theme for the lab culture, values, and policies stated below.
This document is posted and published publicly on our website so we and others can be reminded of the type of environment the Hammond lab is seeking to foster.
I expect all who join our lab to be contributing lab members in accordance with the lab values. Although the expectations of lab members will vary with their time in lab and experience, each member is expected to embrace the spirit of our stated values from the start.
I see my job as facilitating the training and intellectual advancement of lab members so they may discover and pursue the rewarding careers that they seek. You should always communicate your professional goals to me and discuss how they may change over time. Part of my role is to help you think about your interests and career options, and help you examine the possibilities open to you. I also believe it is my role to set standards for excellence in research, and help provide a path for you to learn and grow in your scientific capabilities. A critical aspect of my role is helping you become an independent and ethical researcher and guiding you in development of team-building, mentorship, communication and other skills that you will need regardless of your chosen career path. For this reason, I will try to be present and available to you to have the critical discussions needed to map out your research problem, discuss results and analysis, and in a much broader sense, guide your research and career. I will support your professional development, provide you opportunities to attend conferences to present your work, engage with peers, and connect to the research community. Should you ever have conflicts with fellow lab members, you can feel safe coming to me to see if we can address the issue. If you ever need to speak with me one-on-one, you can let me know and we will set up the time – or you can contact my Administrative Assistant Liz and she will put you on my calendar directly. If there is a time-sensitive matter, you can indicate that a near-time meeting is important. In general, we will work together on your project idea and concepts, and I will seek to see you take on the lead role in executing and leading the project as you advance in your time in the lab.
Just like all new lab members, the early stages of your PhD should revolve around questions! Whether your projects are well-defined or more malleable, this is the time to hammer out a framework for your time in the Hammond lab. Be diligent in crafting ideas and communicating with other lab members and with me. Consider applying for external funding if possible – I will gladly assist! While your projects are developing and classes are in full swing, it is also a good time to get your feet wet with common laboratory techniques by assisting on ongoing projects in the lab. Finally, this stage can seem filled with uncertainty – don’t be afraid to lean on the senior lab members, who have been there before (including myself!).
Before you know it, you will be a senior member of the lab! In this role you will be expected to take on leadership within the lab, mentorship of younger students, and begin executing your own project in a more independent fashion. You may be asked to assist with manuscript and grant preparation as well as preparing for your own thesis.
This stage is about achieving independence and working toward the next stage of your careers. I will readily help with writing postdoctoral fellowship applications, developing project ideas, including independent projects that can be taken with the postdoc, and big-picture project strategies and design. Postdocs are expected to act independently when writing and submitting manuscripts, readily mentor and train more junior members, and act as leaders within the lab. Depending on your career preferences, you may be more or less involved in grant applications as a key component of your own training.
The Hammond Lab is a space for undergraduates to gain training in both laboratory techniques as well as scientific thinking through working with a graduate or postdoc mentor. Paula and the direct mentor will gladly work together to review abstracts and application materials and write letters of recommendation. In return, undergraduates are expected to come to the lab on the days and hours that are pre-arranged each semester, be willing to learn and make corrections when given feedback, and work towards participation in an on-campus undergraduate research symposium by preparing an abstract and poster and attending the symposium.
Technicians are uniquely equipped to execute science without some of the encumbrances of training and education and they are expected to diligently execute and analyze well-established protocols in a timely manner. In most cases, technicians will report to a senior PhD student or a postdoc on a day-to-day basis, but I will also gladly assist them in achieving their own career goals (e.g. meeting to discuss graduate school applications). Importantly, technicians are valued members of the Hammond lab with the same level of participation as people filling other roles. For example, they will receive the same types of general lab responsibilities (e.g. TC Room duty), and they are highly encouraged to take part in Journal Club and other social events sponsored by the lab.
Lab Manager and Administrators
Our lab manager, Xiuyun Hou is key to the day-to-day functioning of the lab and is responsible for items such as keeping protocols up to date, interfacing with EHS, ordering routine supplies, and keeping the lab in good working order. I work with Liz Galoyan, my Administrative Assistant at the Koch Institute, who is vital to keeping me organized and my tasks moving; she is the key touchstone for scheduling meetings, organizing events, and getting documents signed. As Department Head, I also have an Administrative Assistant, Sandra Lopes, who handles things related to the Department and my undergrad and teaching responsibilities, and she can also be reached regarding my schedule and other things should Liz not be available.
It is the responsibility of all lab members to cultivate a collegial, kind, and accessible atmosphere in which each of us can learn and grow. Be welcoming to one another, and proactive in opening up discussions or offering assistance.
Approachability and patience in communication.
When discussing your research, remember to start speaking at a basic level. Members of the lab come from vastly different fields and backgrounds, so you shouldn’t assume that someone understands the fundamental concepts that underlie your projects. To this end, be kind when someone asks you a question or for help, even if the answer seems obvious to you. Understand that your reactions can impact somebody’s self-esteem, confidence, and willingness to ask for help again. From this recognition and appreciation for our diversity of scientific and personal backgrounds, you should also draw grace and patience for working through misunderstandings. Everyone in the lab is trying to do their best science and help one another as much as possible.
Asking for, receiving, and giving help.
If you are struggling with a particular technique or concept, it is far preferable to ask another lab member (with experience in this area) for help than to try to reinvent the wheel. To this end, consider asking newer or less experienced lab members to help on a project that is relevant to their skills. They probably have not yet had many collaboration opportunities, and older lab members may already have their hands full elsewhere.
Fellowship and commiseration.
Finally, don’t forget to celebrate one another’s achievements, and don’t be afraid to share yours with the lab. They will be excited with/for you! On the flip side, when you have a disappointing experimental result or receive a “rejection” on an application or manuscript, remember that your lab mates understand what you’re feeling, and can be a great source of empathy and advice.
Mentorship & Onboarding
In addition to the two designated Onboarding Stewards for the lab, who will broadly assist with introductions and administrative onboarding tasks, I will assign a primary mentor for each new member of the lab. This mentor is in charge of ensuring that newer members of the lab feel welcome. New members may include graduate students, postdocs, visiting students and scientists and technicians/staff. The role of the primary mentor includes but is not limited to: introducing the new member to the rest of the lab, providing a general overview of lab structure and organization, and ensuring that new members are aware of policies laid out by the lab culture document. Mentors are also expected to extend lab social invitations, inform new members of all general lab knowledge (e.g. listservs, Slack, social hour etc.), and answer all questions related to lab culture, conduct, subgroup-specific protocols. In particular, if the newer lab member is a first year graduate student, it is expected that mentors will include mentees on their projects to learn basic, institutional skill sets while the mentee is establishing his/her own unique research project direction. Over time, the mentee, in a collaborative process with input, guidance and approval from me, will be responsible for fully developing and driving their own research directions. If the mentee is a staff technician, mentors will engage them directly in their research projects and provide the background and technical context critical to the project. Technicians are also encouraged to provide their own input and perspectives on the projects that they are working on in the lab, and are expected to work and act independently within the scope of their projects.
Recognize that newer members of the lab are particularly vulnerable to imposter syndrome and that everyone comes in with a unique background. What you may feel to be basic knowledge will not be basic knowledge for everyone. When giving feedback, gauge the response of the mentee. Most importantly, take this as an opportunity to learn from someone that may have valuable knowledge from a different field.
Recognize that at some point, you will be expected to act independently. You are responsible for your success. Asking for help is expected, and you should not feel uncomfortable reaching out to others in the lab that can provide mentorship in other, more specific areas (e.g. manuscript-writing, thesis proposals, grant-writing, professional development etc.). Know that I will expect older members of the lab to provide assistance in these areas if they have expertise. If it is not clear who to ask for help, lab members can post their questions on the group Slack or one of the group email lists.
All lab members
Everyone can be a mentor. And everyone can be a mentee. Good lab culture can only be maintained when lab members are equally willing to help and learn from each other. This includes but is not limited to: inviting new members (who may not be your direct mentee) to shadow you when conducting useful experiments, offering to walk through and discuss difficult or confusing data, helping out or working as a team when equipment breaks down. Bear in mind that the kindness you show others today will be repaid in kind to those that come after. Likewise, those that are treated unkindly may learn that this kind of behavior is acceptable, and unwittingly pass on undesirable habits or norms.
In the case that mentor-mentee relations have become strained to the point where such conflict is interfering with daily research activities and the wellbeing of either party, it is important to let Paula know. Particularly when there are power dynamics involved, it may be impossible to resolve such conflict without mediation.
Diversity & Inclusion
As said best by Dr. Calvin Mackie, “If you do not intentionally, deliberately, and proactively include, you unintentionally exclude.” Lab members are expected to intentionally, deliberately, and proactively include all lab members at all times.
Lab members should recognize and appreciate the diversity of scientific and personal backgrounds of other lab members. Lab members are expected to have patience and understanding for different cultures and backgrounds and have an attitude of forgiveness towards misunderstandings or conflict. Diversity makes our lab stronger. In this lab, everyone has something to contribute and something to learn.
In cases of lab-sponsored and/or lab-centric social events, it is expected that the invitation be extended to all lab members. For example, the Hammond Lab journal club is open to all lab members at all times.
Lab Policy on Discrimination
Lab members are expected to act respectfully towards others at all times. Lab members shall not discriminate or use any behavior or language that might be considered discriminatory against anyone for any reason. This includes, but is not limited to, discrimination on the basis of sex, color, religion, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or age. Lab members are expected to follow the discrimination policy outlined in the MIT Handbook (https://handbook.mit.edu/nondiscrimination). Our lab believes that kindness matters and lab members are expected to act accordingly.
Protocols, Methods, and Lab Notebooks
Lab notebooks – All lab members are required to keep detailed methods and protocols in a lab notebook. This can either be a written lab notebook (dated and signed) or an online eNotebook (as of 3-22-2020, MIT has a free license of LabArchives available). Find it here: https://ist.mit.edu/news/LabArchives
A detailed lab notebook can save a future lab member years of work if they need to repeat your results. That aside, keeping careful record of your experiments will also save you time in the long run. Excellent and detailed recording habits also help should you have an idea or finding that ultimately leads to a patent.
Methods – the methods section of papers and thesis documents can be critical for reproducibility / repeatability of experiments and can impact a lab’s credibility if results are called into question. Therefore, lab members should make every effort to carefully record procedures and to provide complete and thorough methods sections in their writing.
File organization – develop a file system early on and keep all raw data files in a separate folder (don’t save over them!). This will save you the headache of having to sift through years of data later on when you’re about to write a manuscript. No one (including you) should have to guess at which experiment goes with which result. For help, see the MIT libraries’ guide on data management: https://libraries.mit.edu/data-management/
Protocols – New protocols or updates to protocols should be deposited to the Protocols folder on the lab Dropbox, which is overseen and organized by the Protocol Steward. Your protocols should include any small, specific details that you notice have important impacts on the experimental outcome (e.g. order of reagent addition, or other potentially unforeseen parameters that should be controlled). For protocols that are best recorded via video (e.g. layer-by-layer nanoparticle synthesis and layering, liposome formulation etc.) the lab will provide a GoPro camera or similar recording device to allow you to document these procedures. To promote protocol sharing and visibility within the group, you are expected to include a slide at the end of group meeting presentations (after acknowledgements), that highlights the protocols used to obtain the data that you’ve presented, as well as where to find them.
Reporting results – Negative results are just as important as positive results — and can end up saving time and resources for future researchers. To that end, you are required to include all results (including negative ones) as well as detailed notes on failed procedures and methods.
Data Manipulation and Academic Misconduct
Any form of data manipulation will not be tolerated and can ultimately result in the reporting of the violation to the MIT Vice President of Research and/or Provost, and ultimately in expulsion of a student or termination of employment or fellowship stay of postdoctoral staff, fellows and visiting scholars. Please see the MIT policies and procedures for academic misconduct (https://policies.mit.edu/policies-procedures/100-academic-and-research-misconduct-and-dishonesty/101-procedures-dealing). If you believe that someone else is manipulating data, please come directly to me to alert me of the concerns. Note that this process applies to all other modes of academic misconduct, including plagiarism and malicious interference of experiments.
If you have any doubts as to whether you are presenting and interpreting data correctly, you are expected to solicit input from other lab members.
Mental & Physical Wellbeing
MIT is a stressful place full of high expectations, but remember that you are here first and foremost to learn. Your growth and development are paramount. The Hammond lab should be a place where people want to be! Be proactive with help and on the lookout for your lab mates’ wellbeing. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
One common cause of anxiety stems from comparing yourself to others.
Productivity is a better metric than hours in the lab/desk! That being said, please remember that different disciplines have different metrics for productivity and that at the end of the day, I will judge your tenure here more by what you learned and how you grew than by what or where you published. Please make space for your mental and physical wellbeing. Protect yourself and others by staying home when you are sick. Look for alternative uses of your days such as data analysis and, if needed, ask for help with experimental time points.
MIT also has a plethora of great resources for the MIT community including free mental health services and counseling! Some links are provided below:
- Mylife (Resources from counseling to legal assistance)
- ChemE REFS (Resources for Easing Friction and Stress) http://web.mit.edu/refs-x/
- BE REFS http://berefs.com/
- DMSE REFS https://dmserefs.mit.edu/
- OMBUDS (Confidential) https://ombudsoffice.mit.edu/
- Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) https://studentlife.mit.edu/vpr
- IDHR (Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response, formerly Title IX) https://idhr.mit.edu/
Safety & Cleanliness
Authority and duties of the lab manager
The lab manager is our EHS representative and is expected to train all new lab members. Questions related to safety and cleanliness, maintenance of lab equipment, animal protocols, and procedures should go to the lab manager. All lab members are expected to defer to the lab manager’s decisions on anything related to safety & cleanliness and complete any requested actions (ex. cleaning) in a timely manner.
Personal lab benches and samples
All lab members are expected to keep their personal benches organized and safe. The minimum cleanliness level should allow other lab members to feel safe using that area. For example, all tubes and storage containers should be clearly labelled with the chemical name, date, and lab member’s initials.
Group meeting safety requirement
Lab members are required to show a picture of their bench space plus a slide about a relevant safety matter at their group meeting presentation. An example of a safety matter could be a near-miss incident or safety considerations for a common technique or commonly used chemical in the lab.
Cleanliness of shared spaces
All lab members are expected to keep shared equipment and spaces clean and tidy. While each person has a different standard of cleanliness, shared spaces should be kept to the highest standard of organization and tidiness. These spaces should be left in the same condition they were found.
Broken equipment and alarms
If a piece of equipment is broken, lab members are expected to report the situation to the lab manager and/or the equipment steward immediately upon discovery. Similarly, if an alarm is ringing, lab members are expected to address the issue if they feel comfortable doing so, or report the issue to the lab manager immediately. Lab members must not ignore the alarm or wait for someone else to take care of it.
Annual lab safety meetings will be held to assign stewardships and discuss changes in the lab. All lab members must attend these meetings.
Individual Contributions to Overall Lab Cleanliness & Safety
All lab members are expected to contribute equally to maintenance of the lab, including stewarding pieces of equipment, participating in lab cleaning days, and helping with additional organized lab clean ups (ex. cleaning out a fridge). Lab clean-up days are group activities that only work well when everyone participates; for that reason, it is mandatory that every lab member participate in lab clean-up day. If a lab member is planning to be absent from an organized lab cleaning event, they must provide a reason and be excused by the lab manager. In general, experiments should be planned around cleaning events and will only be excusable if there are extenuating circumstances. Lab members who miss cleaning events who are not formally excused by the lab manager will be reported to me.
Authority and Duties of Equipment Stewards
If you are planning on using a piece of equipment, look up the steward for the piece of equipment and contact them before use. If the equipment requires training by the steward, lab members must request and complete training from that steward before attempting to use the equipment. Failure to do so may result in loss of access to that equipment. Stewards are expected to maintain and repair their equipment and train users as necessary.
Manuscripts & Authorship
Writing and publishing papers is the most important way that we disseminate our work to other researchers and the public. Since papers are important for compiling a thesis (as chapters), applying for fellowships, or putting yourself on the job market, you should plan carefully and discuss your timing and strategy with me. You can find the “How to Write a Paper in the Hammond Lab” instructions on the lab Dropbox account, and there are a few things that you should keep in mind from the beginning of your tenure in the lab:
Outline Early and Often
You should begin to visualize contents and concepts for your paper as early as possible in a project and after any major experiment or discovery. As soon as you begin a new line of investigation, start to generate research outlines to predict and guide your future research activity. Of course, outlining early will mean that you will need to be flexible and open to major revisions as you run more experiments and your message evolves. Pay attention to opportunities to adapt and streamline your outlines and projects, for example swapping in different types of experiments to better provide data that supports your take-home messages. As an outline grows, be sure to re-evaluate whether it still provides a single, cohesive story. If not, consider splitting it into two outlines and manuscripts to avoid a single, colossal paper.
Normalize Conversations about Authorship
It can be difficult sometimes to define the threshold between generally giving assistance and making an intellectual contribution to a project or paper. To this end, we want to normalize early and open conversations about authorship in the lab. If someone is advising or helping you with a project, it is important to discuss what contributions would be expected from a co-author. To help guide this discussion, you can look at different ways that research groups assign tasks and roles in papers. One example of this is the CRediT Taxonomy: https://www.cell.com/pb/assets/raw/shared/guidelines/CRediT-taxonomy.pdf
Developing a professional network is an essential part of your training, regardless of career path, so it is expected that each lab member will attend conferences and/or professional society meetings. With the typical exception of one’s first year in the lab, it is reasonable to expect to attend at least one conference per year. Which conference(s) you would like to aim for should be discussed and strategized with me; in cases where you have an interest in multiple meetings, I may ask you to prioritize which ones are key to disseminating your work and advancing your professional development. As you prepare an abstract and conference application, be aware that some submissions are publicly shared and may affect where you can later submit a manuscript on the presented data. Additionally, you will need to plan for any submitted abstracts to be reviewed by all coauthors at least two weeks prior to the submission deadline. While we do not have sufficient group meeting time to run practice talks and poster presentations for each lab member, it is highly encouraged that you ask a handful of lab mates to watch your practice and lend advice or tips for refining the presentation. Finally, remember that you are a representative of the lab when you are attending a conference, and your behavior should reflect the positivity, decorum, and interpersonal respect with which we operate.