Overview, Values, and Expectations
Last updated Apr 11 2023
Hello! This living document was written collaboratively to describe how our research group operates. Sections describing expectations are intended to provide a list of general principles for how lab members should interact, rather than a set of rigid rules.
Group members can find more detailed information on many of these topics through our group’s git repository.
Please feel welcome to contact Michael with any questions or suggested changes.
What’s it like to work here
Our group primarily studies biological patterns and processes through the design of statistical models and computational tools to test evolutionary and ecological hypotheses. We typically do this within a phylogenetic framework, working with a wide variety of species –- from animals and plants to bacteria and viruses –- and depending on what the research question is. We also collaborate with experts in different fields whenever possible.
Much of the daily research in our group involves writing code for scripts and software, designing probabilistic models, developing inference strategies, testing methods, analyzing biological and simulated datasets, writing manuscripts and tutorials, and, for enjoyment, hacking around with computers, playing with numbers, and learning about weird organisms.
What skills will you gain
You’ll learn to translate biological hypotheses into statistical hypotheses; how to design, apply, and interpret statistical models; how to design, program, validate, and apply computational methods; how to program in a variety of languages, including C++, Python, R, and Julia; how to build shell-based computational pipelines to organize and analyze large datasets using high-performance computing facilities (clusters); how to write and present for a variety of scientific audiences; how to teach and/or mentor other scientists; how to set and reach professional goals; how to apply for different types of jobs; and how to work collaboratively on complicated problems.
Lab members are expected to be good lab citizens. This means being supportive and considerate of one another, which includes being generous with time to assist one another, responding to messages, honoring appointments, providing constructive criticism, and accommodating one another’s needs, and more. We try to keep shared spaces quiet and clean.
We are also aware that being a scientist is just one part of a person’s identity. We help each other balance their personal needs with their professional goals. We also actively learn about and consider how differences in our race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, abilities, and other factors, impact how we and our colleagues experience the world.
I strongly believe that the research experience is greatly enriched through personal interactions in the lab, sharing ideas, helping each other solve problems, etc. Because of this, lab members are encouraged (but not required) to spend at least three days in the office per week. Personally, I try to be in the office 9-5 every day unless I am traveling or unless there’s a personal emergency (e.g., childcare).
Our lab has one regular lab meeting per week during regular working hours. Lab meetings generally involve the presentation of new research or results, critically reading and discussing a new paper, learning about new software, giving practice talks, or developing professional skills. Some semesters, we merge our lab meeting with other labs that study similar biodiversity questions. Lab members are expected to attend, participate in discussions, nominate new topics, and volunteer to lead sessions. In-person attendance is preferred, but virtual attendance via Zoom is also an option. Our lab has an internal meeting over Zoom on Tuesdays from 9:00 - 10:00am Central by scheduled appointment only. To schedule an internal meeting, announce the meeting in the #lab_meeting channel in our Slack group (ideally) >2 days before Tuesday.
Beginning Spring 2023, our lab also has a joint lab meeting with the Myers and Tello Labs in-person in McDonnell 412 on Wednesdays from 2:30 - 4:30pm Central. Generally, we don’t have lab meetings during winter and summer breaks, meaning attendance is not expected during those times if off-schedule meetings occur.
I am normally able to respond to urgent emails within 2 hours, but it may take up to 24 hours. Emails with complicated requests may take longer. I need one month to prepare a letter of recommendation. I can often provide general feedback from a short (10-minute) reading for fellowship applications, papers, etc. within 7 days. Detailed reading and feedback normally requires 2-4 weeks. Other lab members should strive to respond within similar timeframes. If something unusual prevents timely responses, provide others with an estimate of the delay so they can plan accordingly. It is always better to provide an explicit date for when you need feedback rather than “as soon as possible”.
We generally use email and Slack to communicate within the group. Email should be preferred for professional correspondences, particularly concerning issues that need involvement from outsiders who do not have access to the Slack group. Slack may be preferred for informal discussions that require rapid back-and-forth correspondence to resolve. Understand that lab members will have different preferences for which medium they use.
Reasonable work hours
Lab members should aim to work 35 hours per week, on average. You will be busier and/or more motivated to work on some weeks versus others, and prefer a more-leisurely pace other weeks. To ensure that you’re available to others and that they’re available to you, I prefer that we work from 9am to 5pm during Monday through Friday. That said, not everyone works best or is able to work exclusively during typical business hours, so adjust your schedule to suit your needs. Taking lunch breaks, weekends, and holidays off is important. Taking time for vacation is also recommended, but please notify the lab and your collaborators ahead of time so we can plan accordingly. Come talk to me if you’re finding it difficult to complete your work in a timely manner or difficult relax outside of work hours, and we’ll devise a better strategy.
Lab members should attend relevant seminars throughout the semester. All members should try to attend at least one seminar per week. Seminars expose you to new research ideas and techniques, teach you new presentation techniques, and provide networking opportunities. Those who are considering pursuing careers in academia should attend job talks whenever possible.
Seminars from the Living Earth Collaborative series feature high-quality talks on relevant topics, with many speakers coming from the St. Louis area. Monday Biology seminars are also excellent, but focused a range of broader topics than only biodiversity. Attend these to learn more about how to communicate complex ideas across disciplines. Computer Science & Engineering, Math & Statistics, Earth & Planetary Sciences, and Anthropology also often have interesting seminars.
Lab members should be proactive in sharing relevant papers with others in the lab. Volunteer to present papers that are especially relevant/interesting/timely to the group for lab meeting. Graduate students especially should take the opportunity to read several papers in detail per week. Use this protected time to immerse yourself in the literature, think carefully about confusing topics, develop future research questions, and study what qualities make for a compelling manuscript.
I individually meet with each graduate student and postdoc in the lab for one hour per week. These meetings are normally used to discuss research ideas, review new results, overcome research obstacles, review writing for papers or applications, and develop strategies to attain career goals. The best way to make use of this time is to come with an agenda of items to discuss and to leave with a list of “to-do” tasks to work on before we meet the next time. Also, feel free to contact me for mentoring advice outside of our meeting. However, it may take me longer than usual to provide detailed responses.
Undergrads in the lab are encouraged to complete an honors research thesis. Undergrads primarily work with a grad student or postdoc mentor and attend lab meetings. I also meet with undergrads once per semester to check-in on progress, and as needed for research and/or professional advice. I am always happy to write letters for undergrads who are active in the lab.
Graduate students (lab members)
Graduate school is the time you learn to become an independent researcher. I generally work with each entering graduate student to develop one starter project based on their interests, skills, and professional goals. I also like more-established students to develop at least one project idea independently that we work on together. Students should aim to write at least three first-author publication-quality papers to graduate. (This might seem intimidating to some, but I promise it is entirely achievable!) I expect graduate students to apply to larger fellowship awards, including NSF GRFP, DOE CSGF, etc. and to apply for smaller awards, such as travel awards or dissertation support awards. I normally have funds to send graduate students to at least one conference per year, so long as they have new research to present. Graduate students are also encouraged to mentor undergraduate researchers and to collaborate with others outside of the lab (you can collaborate with me on these as well, but at least notify me so we can make sure that priorities are balanced). Funding is guaranteed for 5 years through DBBS. Funding beyond 5 years is often available, on a case-by-case basis.
Graduate students (rotation)
Typical rotations last 4-12 weeks. Each week, rotating students are generally assigned to read 2-3 modeling papers on topics that are relevant to the student’s interests. Also weekly, I have students complete 1-2 phylogenetic modeling exercises in RevBayes by following tutorials. Alternatively, I am happy to instead use the rotation to work on a specific phylogenetic analysis problem of the student’s choosing, so long as they have an appropriate dataset and question in mind. I meet with rotating students on average one hour per week.
Most postdoctoral researchers join the lab to learn new research skills and publish high-quality studies as a stepping stone to secure permanent research positions, either in academia or industry. Postdocs are generally expected to lead the design and execution of research projects, disseminate results in peer-reviewed journals and conferences, and coordinate project logistics with collaborators. Postdocs that are hired through grants and/or fellowships normally need to complete specific research tasks by certain deadlines to meet the grant objectives. Although those tasks must be prioritized, postdocs are also encouraged to pursue additional research projects with others inside and outside the lab, so long as the main project goals do not suffer. When possible, I also expect that postdocs apply for appropriate fellowships (e.g. NSF PRFB), as this helps the individual postdoc and the entire lab grow. Postdocs interested in academic careers are also expected to apply for jobs during “job season” with the understanding that it is a time-consuming process that understandably may result in lost productivity. Postdocs are also encouraged to explore non-academic positions (e.g. programming in industry) as either primary or secondary career options. Postdocs are expected to help mentor graduate students, particularly for day-to-day research obstacles, outside advice on setting goals, etc.
New graduate student or postdoctoral lab members will be provided with a high-performance laptop, laptop stand, external monitor, mouse, and keyboard, along with a permanent workspace in the lab. Lab members also have access to dedicated computational servers for lab use-only and access to the university-wide high performance computing facilities.
I try to establish the list of authors and expected authorship order early in the project so that people can fairly assess their contributions to the project. Adding new authors is generally a joint decision of all authors. All coauthors must contribute substantially to the research itself, typically through project design, data collection, analysis, and/or writing.