Luna Lab for RNA Systems Virology Dept. of Biochemistry & RNA Center, Case Western Reserve University

Luna Lab Charter

Last edited 2024-07-01 v2

Welcome to the Luna lab! The team and I are excited you want to work with us.

Below are details on how the lab functions. These ideas reflect the values and expectations that as a group we feel are important to creating and maintaining a healthy work environment. As this is a living document, we will revisit these ideas periodically and collaboratively as new lab members join and provide valuable feedback.

Table of Contents

Safety and Health

These items are paramount. Team members must follow safety regulations at all times and without negligence. Your physical and mental health are also critical for your ability to work well together and perform high-quality science.

We work with BSL2 pathogens and radioisotopes and you must take these using these tools with safety in mind seriously. Lab members are expected to adhere to lab safety rules, as set by lab protocols, Institutional biosafety committee (IBC) protocols, institutional and NIH guidelines, at all times. This will ensure that you and your lab mates are working in a safe environment. Lab members must complete all required lab, biosafety, and radiation safety training modules from Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), read and sign our lab Exposure Control Plan (ECP), and be familiar with our Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) before beginning lab work. These documents are revised and updated institutionally once a year, and we all refresh our memories annually with dedicated training from EHS, and in-lab refresher training.

Maintaining physical and mental health is important for good science. The better supported we are, the more productive we tend to be. Many aspects of science can be stressful, but always remember that you are not alone. If you are experiencing a hard time, CWRU has many resources that may be able to help at: CWRU Mental Health Resources

Other excellent resources can be found at the Division of Student Affairs: Division of Student Affairs

I am always here to help you find the resources you need when challenges arise.

Collegiality, Teamwork, and Lab Citizenship

Curiosity + kindness + team spirit = good science

A supportive and collaborative environment is essential for our lab’s success. Each member brings unique perspectives and contributions, and we believe that by working together with open communication and mutual respect, we can achieve more than any individual could alone.

To foster collegiality, be the kind of lab member you would want to work with. Take initiative in maintaining shared spaces and resources, be mindful of scheduled time on equipment, and communicate effectively with your colleagues. Offer help willingly and ask for assistance when needed. Address any issues directly and respectfully.

We have established practices to strengthen ease of collaboration, such as participating in the recruitment process, maintaining transparent electronic notebooks, attending lab meetings, and developing project plans. I encourage open communication among all lab members to create a sense of community and facilitate productive collaborations.

Work Hours

Flexibility in working hours is a key feature of our lab, as long as it doesn’t hinder the lab’s functioning or your individual progress. We understand that everyone has different work styles and goes through various phases of intensity. While we expect a full-time commitment (typically around 8 hours per day), the specific schedule is flexible.

To ensure effective collaboration and safety, we encourage everyone to be physically present during core overlap hours (M-F, 10 AM to 4 PM). This doesn’t mean these are the only hours you should work, but rather a period when we can expect everyone to be available for meetings, experimental advice, and shared resources. Some may prefer to start early and finish early, while others might choose to come in later and work into the evening. The key is to find a schedule that optimizes your productivity while ensuring availability to the team.

If you’ll be out of the lab for a day or more, inform me via email or Slack. If you’re feeling ill, stay home, rest, and coordinate with colleagues to cover your responsibilities. We’re a team, and supporting each other is crucial.

While hard work is important, maintaining work-life balance is equally vital. Take vacations during winter and summer, discussing plans with me in advance. Summer vacations are best scheduled after conference season. Remember, taking time to recharge is essential for your well-being and helps you find the right balance.

Race and Diversity

We are committed to fostering an inclusive and equitable environment that welcomes and values individuals from all backgrounds.

Our lab recognizes that diversity is a key driver of scientific excellence. By bringing together a multitude of perspectives, experiences, and approaches, we can tackle complex problems without groupthink to more effectively innovate in ways that would be impossible otherwise.

We also acknowledge that academia has long struggled with issues of systemic bias and underrepresentation. As a lab, we are committed to being part of the solution. We actively work to identify and dismantle biases, promote mutual understanding, and create a space where everyone feels supported and empowered to succeed.

To help in this ongoing process, I encourage you to explore the resources in our lab library on topics such as representation, crucial conversations, and emotional intelligence. These tools can help us navigate challenges, have productive discussions, and maintain an inclusive culture.

Additionally, I strongly recommend attending school-wide events related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. These are valuable opportunities to learn, engage with the broader community, and bring new ideas back to our lab.

Lastly, we believe that food brings people together! We regularly share treats and dishes from the various places we call home. Have a special treat that you made too much of? Family sent you home with too many tamales / kimchi / soan papdi / cannoli? Bring them on over!

Meetings

We have several types of lab meetings, and their frequency and scheduling are based on the current needs of the lab.

Lab Meetings / Journal Clubs: These meetings occur weekly on Wednesday mornings from 9:30-10:30 AM. They are mandatory for everyone except undergraduates, who may have coursework, though all are welcome to attend. We typically start with a few minutes of lab business and announcements. For these meetings, we alternate between data meetings and interactive journal clubs.

Individual Meetings with Joe: This is your standing protected time with me. I will never cancel these meetings, though you are absolutely allowed to reschedule if needed. I will speak up if cancellations occur frequently. Meetings are ~30-60 minutes long. The primary purpose is to discuss data, formulate testable hypotheses, banter about favorite papers, and anything on your mind. Ensure your experiments have positive and negative controls, and bring ideas for discussion if you’re unsure about which controls to use. We can also discuss any other concerns. To maximize efficiency, come prepared with a rough agenda of what you’d like to discuss. Bring data in the form of slides or a printout, and start by recapping where we left off on that topic previously.

Biochemistry Department Student Seminars: These seminars are mandatory for all graduate students in the department. They are usually scheduled during the fall, winter, and spring on Mondays around noon.

Biochemistry / RNA Center Departmental Seminars: Typically held on Thursdays at 4 PM during the fall, winter, and spring. While not expressly mandatory, they are highly recommended for all lab members.

Ad-hoc meetings: Send me an email or schedule a meeting on our Google Calendar if you need to talk for any reason. Even better, feel free to stop by my office; unless I’m in a meeting, my door is always open!

The Great Luna Lab Cookout: Usually in May / June around graduation, we take a Monday off and go to the park and have a cookout. It’s always a fun time!

Electronic Lab Notebooks

“Because even the faintest ink is better than the sharpest memory”

Maintaining a meticulous and up-to-date electronic lab notebook is not only good scientific practice but also a legal requirement. It is crucial for the reproducibility of our work and for meeting the obligations set by grant institutions, publishers, and the School.

We currently use “Benchling” as our primary electronic lab notebook platform, with Microsoft Word versions serving as a backup. Your notes should be detailed enough to allow someone else to reproduce your results without needing additional instructions. Make sure to pair raw data and analyzed data (graphs) with the corresponding experiments. I can provide you with templates to help you get started.

Here’s a helpful workflow to ensure your notebook is always up to date:

  1. Before starting an experiment, map out the entire procedure in your notebook.
  2. Print out the protocol and take it with you to the bench where you perform the wet lab work.
  3. After completing the experiment, edit the document as needed and add the data files.

By following this practice, you’ll be able to keep your notebook current and well-organized. Make sure to allocate dedicated time each week to update your notebook.

Remember, a well-maintained lab notebook is invaluable for your own reference, for sharing your work with others, and for documenting our lab’s intellectual output. If you have any questions or need assistance with your notebook, don’t hesitate to ask me or your colleagues for help.

Career Development

As PI, it is a privilege and responsibility to support your intellectual growth and help you work towards your individual career goals. The lab and I are here to offer guidance, suggest directions, and provide resources, but ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat of your own career journey. Always remember that you are not working “for” me or the lab, but rather working “with” us as valued members of a team.

I am committed to supporting lab members with diverse career aspirations, whether within academia or in other industries. I understand that your goals may change over time, and that’s completely normal. If you find yourself reevaluating your career path, please don’t hesitate to discuss these changes with me. Together, we can realign your training plan to better suit your new trajectory.

When you join the lab, we will work together to draft an individualized career plan and timeline. This plan will serve as a roadmap for your professional development, and we will regularly update it throughout your tenure in the lab. Your success and growth are among my top priorities, and I am dedicated to helping you achieve your goals.

In addition to our one-on-one discussions, I encourage you to take advantage of the many professional development resources available at our institution and within our scientific community. Attend workshops, seminars, and conferences to expand your knowledge and network with other scientists. Seek out mentorship opportunities, both within and outside the lab, to gain new perspectives and advice.

Remember, your career development is a collaborative effort. I am here to support you, but it’s up to you to take initiative, communicate your goals and needs, and actively pursue opportunities for growth. I have full confidence in your abilities and potential, and I look forward to celebrating your successes along the way.

Authorship

We follow the IJME rules for authorship:

For projects driven primarily by PhD students or postdocs, there will typically be a lead author (first author) responsible for drafting the initial manuscript, with my guidance. However, the approach may be more collaborative for other projects depending on their nature. Regardless of the project, I’m here to mentor you through the entire process - from conception to publication - including project management aspects.

As the work progresses, all authors are expected to be involved in revising, approving the final version, and taking responsibility for the published work (criteria 2-4). Authorship order and inclusion will be reevaluated periodically, incorporating input from all contributors as the project evolves.

Open communication is key for a transparent authorship process. I encourage everyone to voice any concerns, and I will address them promptly and fairly to ensure a collaborative and equitable experience.

Revisions for Abstracts, Grants, Presentations and Manuscripts

Conference abstracts, presentations, grant applications, and manuscripts are the primary outputs of our lab, showcasing our research to the scientific community. Papers, in particular, are major milestones where we have the luxury of setting our own deadlines. This allows us to ensure our work is of the highest quality before submission.

To ensure that these materials effectively convey our work in a clear, honest, and compelling manner, it’s essential that you share them with me well in advance for meaningful feedback and revisions. For papers, expect multiple rounds of iteration - this is normal and necessary for producing excellent work.

I understand that each of you will develop your own unique writing style and design aesthetic. My role is to guide you in honing these skills, helping you craft your scientific message for various audiences. This mentorship is a crucial aspect of your training, and I am committed to providing you with the tools and support you need to excel in these areas.

Guidelines for grants and papers:

Guidelines for abstracts, posters, and talks:

I understand that this level of preparation and revision may seem daunting at first, but I assure you that it will become more manageable with practice. By investing time and effort into this process, you will not only improve the quality of your individual work but also contribute to the overall success and reputation of our lab. Remember, high-quality papers are one of the most enduring products of your scientific work - they’re worth the effort!

Conferences

Attending conferences is an essential part of your scientific growth and professional development. It provides opportunities to share your research, learn about the latest advancements in your field, and network with fellow scientists. Everyone in the lab is encouraged to attend at least one conference per year, provided that you present a poster or give a talk.

To help offset the costs associated with conference attendance, lab members are expected to make a good-faith effort to secure partial or full funding for meeting and travel expenses. This can be achieved by:

I’ll make every effort to try to avoid needing reimbursements but sometimes this may be unavoidable. Preparing for a conference can be stressful, but remember that you have the full support of your lab mates and myself. We are all invested in your success and want to help you make the most of these valuable experiences.

Lastly, remember to have fun and enjoy the experience! Conferences are not only about presenting your work but also about immersing yourself in new ways of thinking, forging new connections, and finding inspiration for your future research. I’ve met and made so many friends at these over the years and you never know how these connections will pay off later in your journey.

A Word on Mistakes

Always remember: you are not your experiment!

Everyone (students, postdocs, and myself) will make mistakes in the lab. Think of mistakes as a natural part of becoming an expert; the truism that you can’t fully master a technique until you’ve messed up each step at least once is apt here. Be honest and forthright when you have made a mistake so we can learn together. Apologize if warranted. The critical thing is to learn from your mistakes and strive not to make the same mistake twice. But most of all, be kind to yourself. Science is hard and mistakes are a natural, and dare I say it, celebrated part of the learning process.

Specific Expectations for the Different Members of the Lab

In this section, I want to close with what are some specific expectations for everyone in the lab. Think of this as a sort of compact, where unwritten norms are spelled out in the interest of transparency, for all of us. This is not meant to be a rigid set of rules but rather a foundation for open communication, mutual respect, and shared growth. My hope is that by clearly expressing our expectations, we can foster a supportive and collaborative environment where every member feels valued, heard, and empowered to reach their full potential.

My commitments to you (in the broadest sense):

Expectations for postdocs:

Science

Funding

Stakeholder management and teamwork

Leadership

My responsibilities to you as postdoc:

Career development and training

Science

Funding

Expectations for PhD and MD/PhD students:

Science

Funding

Professional Development

My responsibilities to you as PhD and MD/PhD students:

Career development and training

Science and Publications

Funding

Expectations for Master’s students and undergraduates:

Coursework and Research Balance

Research Skills Development

Scientific Communication

My responsibilities to you as a Master’s student or undergraduate:

Mentorship and Guidance

Skill Development

Career Exploration and Preparation

Colophon

This lab charter draws inspiration from the collective wisdom of many scientific mentors and leaders. I am particularly grateful to Dr. Meike Dittmann, whose lab charter provided a valuable foundation (text adapted with permission).

Science thrives on the open exchange of ideas, and we hope this charter will, in turn, inspire and assist current and future PIs in developing their own lab cultures. We encourage the adaptation and evolution of this charter to suit the unique needs of other research groups. If you find this document helpful in crafting your own lab policies, we’d be delighted to hear about it.