Stratton lab manual

General Information:
My goal is to foster a lab environment of scientific excellence and personal development that supports every lab member in reaching their potential, and helps us have fun while doing great science. I want you to be happy and productive while you are here. I take this seriously and value you as a person.

I have an open door policy for anything. If it is closed, knock – it’s probably closed because I was on a phone call and forgot to open it after the call. If I haven’t responded to an email, ask me about it. Below are general guidelines to help communicate some basics in the lab. There are likely exceptions under special circumstances to most of below (except the code of conduct and never making up or fudging data) and don’t let these guidelines get in the way of common sense. If you have questions, ask.

Keys to success in the lab (no particular order):


Scientific integrity:
We do not make up data or fudge data to get the result that we want. No exceptions – EVER. Removing outliers is allowable (not preferred) but must be statistically justified and must be transparently declared internally and at publication. Paying close attention to your samples/animals/data is helpful to avoid cases where you might otherwise have to remove an outlier later on. If something is very different about a sample/animal/dish, note it before proceeding and come get me or a more senior scientist (examples include: cells plated too thick/too thin, slow growing contamination, poorly perfused/fixed/dissected tissue, animal with lots of wounds from fighting…).

Conducting reproducible research is more difficult than it sounds, because it requires that you are organized and possess sufficient foresight to document each step of your research process. Even if you think this is a “one-off experiment” that is not intended for publication, document every step. It stinks when you get an awesome result in a one-off experiment but can’t reproduce it or it isn’t documented well enough to publish.

Everyone has his or her own specific notebooking style and that is fine with me. However, in the era of modern science, it is critical that labs have a documentation quality control program. Notebooks are to be countersigned by another lab member, preferably near peer, on a monthly basis (initials and dates at bottom of each page and signature on the last page completed during the countersign session). The countersigner should verify that adequate detail is present to 1) repeat the experiment (e.g. what cells/passage number/animal ages/antibody cat# and dilutions…) and 2) find original data files (e.g. western blot images, qPCR raw results…). I prefer that data/experiments are documented the day of an experiment, but it must get into the notebook within 2 weeks. To insure that you understand what I expect, please bring your notebook to me at least once a month during your first 6 months in the lab so we can discuss your documentation style and overall progress. Please also maintain a running powerpoint file (or similar) with results grouped by project. This helps both you and me prepare manuscripts and talks. As a group, we have definitely gotten away from this and I want to reprioritize.

All technical protocols should be added to the protocols folder on the shared drive. Minor modifications/personal preferences are allowed but they need to be documented and marked as a new version of the protocol with your modifications. I prefer these are kept to a minimum and please run it by me first.

We do not publish anything that doesn’t repeat. The only exceptions to this may be when repeating the experiment would be very costly – e.g. aging animals to 2+ years, or big data experiments. In these cases, we will be transparent in these facts at publication and will have a mountain of orthogonal data to support our claims.

You need to publish and I need to publish. This is how everyone advances and turns their work efforts into something that is hopefully useful to the world.

Final decisions on authorship inclusion and order are reserved for the lab PI. Generally, a main driver (typically a postdoc, graduate student, or senior research associate) for a particular project will be chosen at the beginning of the project. That individual is understood to have first author status on the manuscript assuming they are able to see the project through to publication. If the original driver of the project cannot see the project through publication, first author status may be shared or replaced with another individual depending on specific circumstances. If you make technical and/or intellectual contributions to a project, you will almost certainly be included as an author. I will have corresponding author status for all manuscripts originating from our laboratory, though this may be shared with senior postdocs who have been very productive on a case by case basis, especially if the postdoc was the main intellectual driver for initiation of the project.

When a project is taking shape and we think you are close to publication, I will ask you to prepare potential figures and write a rough draft. We will discuss it together to identify additional experiments or revisions that might be needed. I will handle final manuscript submissions/resubmissions.

No one will ever be placed in a situation where they are competing for first author on a project. You are expected to help on projects that are not your own. This helps everyone and adds to your publication list. As a smaller lab, this is the only way to succeed. “Guarding” your first author position on a project (not being open with data/not teaching others critical techniques/not allowing help when of obvious benefit) or conversely, attempting to take over someone else’s project is not acceptable. Trust that I know what is going on in the lab and that I will take care of you. If there is any confusion or you think you or someone else is in a grey area, come talk to me and we will work it out. Open and honest communication is critical.

All ordering, with rare exception, is done by Lynn or myself. Place your requested items in the lab order spreadsheet in the shared drive (please provide as much detail as possible). Lynn will place orders from this sheet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please plan your experiments accordingly to avoid last minute/rush orders. For non-routine or expensive reagents, please get my approval first. Do take some time to make sure we are not grossly overpaying for items and use the distribution center in the Biosciences building when possible to save on shipping charges.

Shared reagents:
We do not purchase individual reagents for individual lab members. Stock tubes of all inhibitors, agonists, antibodies, plasmids, oligonucleotides, enzymes etc., are catalogued (shared drive and binder) and stored in labeled boxes at the appropriate temperature. Please familiarize yourself with what is already available before purchasing new. This ensures efficient use of funds and also ensures that everyone in the lab is invested in making sure others in the lab are competent. Never take the last of something without reordering and do not leave a tiny amount of reagent without reordering (generally should be enough for two experiments of average size remaining to ensure time for delivery of replacement). Please make sure that reagents are catalogued as acquired, and if a reagent didn’t work for you – tell people and note it in the database for follow-up discussion in lab meeting.
Individuals can/should maintain their own dilutions/working stocks of reagents (e.g. diluted antibodies, primers, plasmids, drugs…).

Please don’t be robots. Engage your brain and help make the lab better, more productive, more impactful, and smarter. When in doubt – DO THE EXPERIMENT (assuming it is legal). Be proactive and keep me in the loop on what you are doing. That said, the lab is funded on existing ideas/projects and this work needs to get done. Most of your time, at least initially, should be spent on the experiments/projects that you are given and that the lab has already been funded to do.

As intelligent individuals passionate about science, disagreements and friction may arise. This is OK. Keep communication open, professional, and honest.

All new hires and volunteers need to complete a syllabus of relevant training modules. Some of this is driven by HR, EHS, IACUC, ULAR, COM, and some by me. This training is geared toward maintaining a safe and ethical work environment (from multiple perspectives) and though at times painful, is important. Complete ASAP. Please see me or Lynn for the most recent set of required trainings. Much of this training is computer based and does not replace face to face training on specific techniques or commonly used chemicals in the lab, especially for less experienced individuals. Please honestly communicate with me regarding your level of experience/knowledge with specific techniques and potential hazards associated with them. Intervene if you see a lab-mate doing something unsafe.

Depending on your experience and knowledge, you will be expected to help teach graduate students, undergraduates, and staff. This is how science works and is very rewarding. If you are entrusted with a project to lead, take this responsibility and opportunity seriously. Work aggressively, respectfully, and with integrity to conduct the experiments, coordinate with staff/collaborators/cores, and prepare the results for publication.

Lab Meetings:
Attendance at lab meetings is a must. We are small enough to be able to work around schedules. Currently, lab meetings are set for 12:30pm every other Wednesday. If this is a problem, let me know. We rotate between journal article presentations and data presentations. Every lab meeting includes time for general discussion of lab/equipment/processes, followed by a 30-45 minute presentation. The meetings conclude with an “around the room” update of goals for the coming week.
This is a low-threat/informal presentation (though powerpoint based) to help us communicate our science, receive feedback, and brainstorm. Do not put hours and hours into preparation, though you should be able to logically walk us through your project and be able to field questions. As members progress, accumulate data and move toward their next steps, the quality of data and presentation is expected to improve.

Collaborations are critical in modern science. Given their importance, care must be taken to ensure the relationship is productive/beneficial for both parties. Importantly, trust/reputation is not to be put at risk. If we tell a collaborator we will do something, we have to do it very well, quickly, and the data must be rock solid reproducible. Please coordinate any communications that provide data, agree to do something, discuss capabilities, or ask for something from the collaborator through me. Please CC me on all other communication with collaborating laboratories.

Travel to meetings and conferences is not a given. These are occasions to reward hard work and increase the visibility/reputation of the lab. We must put our best foot forward. Data included in abstracts for meetings should be unpublished, important, and mature enough that we expect to submit for publication before or near the time of the actual meeting (often registration is 6 month prior to the meeting). Talk to me first. Presentations (oral and poster) will be rehearsed in lab meeting the week before departure.

Work Hours:
Please refrain from facebook/twitter/internet shopping/instagram/whatever else you darn kids are up to these days… if you find that you’re not able to resist, limit this to lunch time etc. on your phone (not a lab computer).

Do not waste time in the lab just to be here. There is always something that needs done (regrowing/tittering virus/plasmids, next step in whatever you are cloning, catching up on notebook, mining publically available or internal data sets, reading, writing…). If you are away from your family, make the time count.

Delayed arrivals/early departures related to child care pickups/drop offs (or elder care) are understood and a part of my life also and we need to figure out how to still be productive.

Please work the hours dictated in your offer letter. There is some flexibility in when those hours are worked but please ensure that your schedule is consistent with having significant enough overlap with the PI, graduate students, postdocs such that communication of ordering and other tasks is convenient (i.e. don’t work night shift). Overtime is acceptable so long as it is warranted and should be approved by me (verbally is fine) prior to submission of the timesheet. Standard sick/vacation time guidance from OSUCOM/HR applies. Please familiarize yourself with these policies. You are integral to the success of our lab and the careers of the trainees that join our lab. I am as committed to seeing you succeed and grow as with official “trainees.” Please keep me informed of your personal and career goals so I can help you get to where you want to be.

Thank you for choosing to work in the lab. I hope that it is a rewarding experience from which you learn a great deal. The science that is going on around you can sometimes be difficult to follow. That is OK. Stick with it, be engaged, and go with the flow. Do not, however, take this opportunity/responsibility lightly. The career of the postdoc or graduate student you are working with (and mine) can be positively or negatively impacted by the quality of your work. If you are not sure of what you are doing or are unsure of a result, it is very important that you admit this and seek instruction/clarification. We were all undergraduates once and will not judge. We will be grateful that you were secure enough to ask. In the course of working in a laboratory you will be exposed to potentially dangerous substances. Make sure that before you do such work, you have been properly trained by your assigned mentor and that I know what you are doing. You will initially be trained on reagent preparation and genotyping and are expected to do these tasks well. Undergraduates who demonstrate reliability and ability will be encouraged to take on additional tasks.

Postdoc and Graduate Student specific information:

Work hours:
Do what you need to do to be productive! Know that there are times to pull all-nighters and times to leave early to have fun with friends and family. Too much time in the lab and you will die miserable and alone (unless the love of your life is just like you – proximity is the best predictor of romance). Too little time in the lab and we will both be unsuccessful. I will try to provide direct feedback related to this during your first six months based on data (and not me clock watching) – but if you haven’t generated meaningful data in a while, you probably shouldn’t be working short weekdays and no weekends. You are in the driver’s seat for your career. Figure out how to make it work… be flexible.

Weekends are a great time to get a lot done with fewer people around in the lab. Also, it stinks (and makes us less successful) to put off an experiment until the next week because something would need to be done on the weekend. Teamwork solution: if you are going to be in the lab on the weekend, I encourage you to let others know so you can help them with small tasks to prevent them from coming in while still advancing the project (e.g. change media, take down small batch of cells, split cells, separate breeders or wean a cage…). This arrangement is not obligatory and should be reciprocated. I suggest not asking someone to do things that would take more than 30 minutes and clear instructions with prepared reagents/labeled tubes should be provided. If you do agree to help someone – do it well.

Please do apply for grants. I prefer at least one application go out the door per year (first year for postdocs – second year for graduate students). This helps you learn how to write and think about good science. Fellowships also free up money for the lab that would otherwise go toward your salary. We will work together to revise your applications, but please provide the initial version once we agree on general aims. As an assistant professor, I strongly recommend inclusion of a senior professor to serve as a co-mentor for fellowship applications. A final note on grants: figuring out how to write grants and papers while also planning and conducting experiments is a critical skill, the results of which will separate you from your peers. Do not spend large chunks of time (e.g. weeks) only focused on writing your grant.

If you are in the lab, I already talked to you about the need to be a great team player. You will be asked to contribute (technically and intellectually) to other people’s projects but you will be rewarded as a coauthor and by mention in presentations (and they will help your project too). This also contributes to an overall environment that lifts all boats (which will benefit you even more once you leave the lab).

Next Steps/Departures:
Communicate with me regularly about your career goals and where you want to be. I am committed to mentoring you and being in your corner. This is easier for me if you regularly communicate with me, have a great work ethic, and are productive. Regardless, I want what is best for you and want you to be happy and successful. Faculty positions are extremely competitive and not ideal for everyone. I support nontraditional career choices and will work with you to find opportunities and build/identify transferrable skills – but you still need to be productive on lab projects.

Postdocs: Please start applying to jobs no later than your 4th year (depending on specific circumstances) and talk with me about it. Not to scare you, but at a minimum, independent funding, at least 2+ high quality first author research manuscripts, a mix of review article and coauthor manuscripts as a postdoc (on top of good grad student productivity) are typically necessary before being considered for the next step (that doesn’t guarantee you will actually land a faculty job). Ideally, a novel side project or offshoot of a lab project will grow into a K99/K01/SDG level project that you can take with you. Please ensure that you stay productive throughout your time in the lab. It can be hard to write a glowing recommendation letter if the individual has only focused on independent grants or finding/applying to jobs and hasn’t produced data/publications in recent memory.

Graduate Students: The length of your time in the lab is dependent on your pace of productivity and grasp of the literature. The minimum requirement for graduation from the lab (which demonstrates the ability to plan and execute experiments, communicate, learn, lead, and synthesize ideas at a PhD level) is 2 solid first author research manuscripts and intimate understanding of literature pertinent to your project. You will be more likely to get a good postdoc or industry job with 3 high quality first author research manuscripts and a handful of coauthor publications. I prefer this to be done within 4-5 years and it’s not good for either of us if you stay past 6 years.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE: keep me aware (with ample notice) of graduate school/department deadlines for registrations, prelim exams, final exams, dissertation submission…

Code of conduct (all):
All members of the lab, and guests in the lab, are expected to carry themselves in accord with the following code of conduct. All members of the lab will help ensure a safe environment for everybody. Also, see appropriate OSU/COM/DHLRI/PCB relevant policies and procedures. If you find that this document does not agree with guidance from higher local authority, please bring it to my attention immediately and know that this document would be superseded.

The lab is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of lab members in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate in any lab venue, including lab meetings, presentations, discussions, or lab sponsored travel/outings and should be reported appropriately as potential sexual harassment.

Harassment includes offensive comments (verbal or written) related to gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. As a lab, we cannot afford these distractions not to mention the individual harm inflicted by even rumors of such behavior. Do not even get close to crossing the line – EVER.

If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact Matt Stratton immediately or report through appropriate channels as directed by DHLRI/PCB/OSU/COM policy. If Matt is the cause of your concern, then please reach out to a faculty member you trust, the department chair, or appropriate channels as directed by DHLRI/PCB/OSU/COM policy.

Disclaimer: parts of this manual include text from other lab manuals found on the web