Organizing Your Group: Lab Rules
Does your research group or lab have rules? Codes of conduct? Specific ways you need students to do things, so that science happen faster and things do not get broken? How do these rules or codes get relayed to your students?
When I first started my lab, the codes of conduct for the lab were haphazardly passed from me to student A to student B. But, much like the telephone game, I started noticing things sounding funny out the other end. People didn’t seem to know how to wash dishes or run the autoclave. I started training people with a BootCamp (more on that in another post), and that was helpful to get everyone on the same starting page. But there were still other things that would come up, occur, or happen that made me realize that not all was covered.
I talked to other young faculty about the issue, and one ManOfScience told me that he just made a list of rules and requires everyone to read it. I was intrigued, but not convinced because this seemed very formal for a lab. I wasn’t against increased formality, but the idea of having explicit rules seemed counter to the rebellious and outsider nature of experimental lab work. Does that make sense? You may have felt that way when you read the title. I am sure most people don’t have “rules” for their labs, but I hope this post convinces you that it might be worthwhile.
Here is what convinced me: During our conversation, this ManOfScience told me what sold him on having explicit rules. At some point someone carelessly, accidentally started a fire in the lab. The fire was in the back of the lab, and other people were working in the front of the lab. The person in the back, knew there was a fire, ran out, and called 911 from afar. But, they never told the other people working in the front of the lab! This seems appalling, but panic can do crazy things. You think that you should not have to tell someone to tell the entire lab to evacuate when their is a fire, yet this story says that even the most obvious-seeming things may not be obvious to all people. To this ManOfScience, and to me, it is not worth losing your lab over something you could have easily told to your students. It isn’t worth losing a piece of equipment or a person. All labs have specialized equipment and facilities. You need to clearly tell students how to you these facilities and how to treat the equipment, the strains, cell lines, animals, human subjects. Some of these issues are covered in Environmental Health and Safety courses, but it is still worth reminding.
The following are specific sections that can go in your rules:
- Personnel issues, work hours, vacation policy, and expectations
- Group organization
- Group meetings, seminars, journal clubs, and semester reports
- Reagent preparation, sterilization, storage, and disposal
- Freezer and refrigerator storage
- Ordering and receiveing
- Data collection and archiving
- Lab safety and environmental health
- BIg Equipment
- Other equipment
At the end of the rules, I have a signature page. They have to sign and return the last page to me to verify that they read the rules. If they break the rules, this signature holds them accountable. I have them read and sign 3 times a year. I update the rules when I need to, and periodically review it myself. The rules are great for new people to get up to speed on how the lab works quickly. Most students appreciate being told directly what to expect and what the rules are. Students that don’t like it also don’t last long in the lab.
How about you? Any other rules or categories I missed? How do you tell people what’s up in the lab?