My graduate school advisor, Kay Tye, was the first PI that I knew who had a Philosophy page on her website. I loved that she made sure her lab had its own guiding principles, and now that I'm lucky enough to start my own lab, I want to outline my principles as well...
Teamwork at the core of science
There's no such thing as genius in science. To put it another way, there's nothing that a single person can do that a team of people can't do better. We all have our individual strengths and weaknesses, and when combined, our collective strengths overcome our collective weaknesses. Every successful project I've ever worked on and every paper that I've ever published was the result of a team. I might have provided the in vivo electrophysiology expertise, but someone else brought their skills in patch-clamp, someone else their skills in fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, someone else their skills in histology, and so on. In the Nieh lab, we recognize that we all have our strengths, and we pursue science with the collective strength in mind. Practically, this means:
- Understanding how to work with one another is paramount. We support each other, celebrate our similarities AND differences, and when one of us wins, we all win.
- We DO NOT tolerate individuals that create toxic environments and hurt the team.
- You can expect me to build teams to tackle projects together. Each permanent lab member will have their own lead project, but they will also be expected to help others on their projects, and vice versa. You will learn how to lead AND support because we all take both roles in different aspects/stages of our careers.
There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all in mentorship. No two people are alike, thus no two people should be mentored in the exact same way. I've mentored students and postdocs from all walks of life in my academic career, and I have had many different types of mentors myself. As a result, I've learned that there are many effective AND ineffective ways to mentor. I will do my best to mentor each lab member the way that's most effective for them, while also acknowledging that mentorship relationships change over time, i.e. what a new grad student needs is different than what a senior grad student needs and similar for postdocs. I will also take a personalized approach to students and postdocs with different goals in their careers, i.e. going into industry or looking for a faculty job. Practically, this means:
- I am always looking for feedback and criticism. I will constantly be asking you for ways that I can improve during our interactions. This is my first time running a lab, and I don't expect to be perfect at it right off the bat. Your criticism is my best resource for improvement.
- I'll adjust my mentorship style over time depending on the experience level of my mentees. More junior grad students need more direction in experimental setup and training, while postdocs looking to stay in academia need more advice on landing a job on the faculty market. See my primer on getting a job in academia.
- I'll adjust my mentorship style depending on the goals of the student/postdoc. Depending on whether you're looking to continue in academia or land a variety of different industry jobs, we'll work together to make sure you're equipped for whatever future you're aiming for.
- My door is always open. I want you to be able to talk to me about anything. And if I'm unable to help you myself, I will find out who can.
Science is NOT above all
I like to think that I have four pillars that make up 80% of the time that I spend in life - family, basketball, music, and science. As I go through various stages in life, how that 80% is distributed between the four pillars changes, but they all play a role in how fulfilled I feel. As scientists, it's easy for us to forget that science isn't the only important thing in life. There's many parts of life that make us who we are, and science is only one of them. Don't forget to embrace those other aspects of life and keep them in balance with your science. Practically, this means:
- Maintaining an ideal work-life balance is important. Your balance may differ from my balance, which may differ from other students'/postdocs' balance. It's important for you to know what your balance is, and we will work together to maintain that balance.
- Studying and working in academia inevitably ebbs and flows. When your qualifying exam is coming up, we'll be more busy. When we get reviews for our paper, we'll be more busy. But when we push to hit those milestones, it's important to celebrate and take the time to recharge afterwards.
It's a personal belief of mine that oftentimes what's seen as a failure in science is not actually a failure in science, but a failure in communication. Science is imperfect; it's a meandering road that never fully reaches its destination but we hope is bringing us closer. Scientific communication means learning how to disseminate our science to other scientists in our field, other scientists in general, and the general public. Becoming a great scientist means learning how to convey our message at each of these levels. What good is a discovery if no one else understands? Practically, this means:
- Lab meetings will be our best chances to learn how to communicate in a closed environment. We will help each other become better speakers and communicators of our science.
- I expect full-time lab members to attend conferences and give talks/posters. The best way to learn how to communicate science is to do it. We'll help each other practice our talks.
- I will help you learn how to write scientific papers and grants. There is an art to the process - one that is opaque in many ways, but I will help you understand the tips and tricks for success.