I (Alison Bell) agree with Dan Bolnick’s lab values. I will not plagiarize them here, but I will emphasize a few key points: 1) It is my job to help you succeed; 2) We strive to make the lab a diverse and inclusive environment; 3) Communication is key! 

In addition to those values, here are some points specific to the Bell lab.

  • How we do science
    • My PhD adviser – Judy Stamps – advised her students to try to address at least two of Tinbergen’s Four Questions over the course of a PhD. In my mind, this is what it means to be integrative.
    • We happen to work on a fabulous supermodel organism. I recommend two specific activities to fully take advantage of the strengths of stickleback: 1) read the classic ethological literature; 2) go to the stickleback meetings at least once during your tenure in the lab; the stickleback meeting can be a great crash course on all things stickleback
  • Communication
    • Please check your email at least every 24 hours as that is our primary method for staying in touch 
    • Always reply to emails that are personally directed to you, even if only to say “OK!” or “I’m looking forward to reading this next week” or “Got it!”
    • We will meet in person regularly. Once a week tends to be good during the early and late stages of a project/PhD. We will probably meet less frequently in the middle of a project when data collection is in high gear. I am always happy to meet with you if you would like.
    • Please send me material to read/think about BEFORE we meet rather than during the meeting so I have a chance to think about it. My brain is slow J
    • We use a Google calendar to keep track of lab meetings, fish feeding duties, etc. Please write when you will be away on the lab calendar in case someone needs to reach you
  • Writing papers
    • I tend to be pretty-hands on while writing and have found it effective to provide feedback at every stage of writing a manuscript. Together, we break down the steps of preparing a manuscript into smaller and more do-able chunks, and set a timeline for completing all of the steps. I’ve found that starting a paper can feel paralyzing, and one way to lower the barrier to entry is by starting with the easiest part of the paper – the Methods section. Once you have a draft of the Methods section, send it to me for feedback. Ideally this will happen before data collection begins in earnest. Next comes Results. I encourage you to send me figures/stats before we meet, then we can discuss them and think about the best ways of visualizing the data, the most appropriate ways to analyze and interpret them and ultimately settle on the final figures and tables to go in the paper. Then, send me a draft of the Methods + Results (which incorporates comments on the methods). Intro and Discussion typically come last, either together or Introduction first. Again, by sending me drafts at each step of the process there is an opportunity to get feedback on all of the sections before moving on to the next one, and to incorporate feedback on the MS as a whole as it begins to take shape. 
    • Sometimes I will make suggestions that you don’t agree with – that’s fine! The track changes function in MS Word is a great venue for responding to one another’s Comments in writing. Of course ultimately it’s best to discuss points of contention in person but the Comments section can be a good way to get the ball rolling on paper.
  • Time management
    • In my experience, experiments usually take at least three times as long as you think they will. Data analysis and writing are even worse; they will probably take at least five times as long as you think. Budget your time accordingly
    • I am uneasy about procrastination and try to structure our working environment to avoid working at the very last minute as much as possible. Some people like the thrill of the last minute rush; I am not one of them 🙂 I will do my best to get feedback to you and to help you in as expedient and efficient a manner as possible; in exchange I ask you to follow through on self-imposed deadlines and do not wait until the last minute to send me things for feedback. I will be able to help you a lot more effectively if we have time. A great task to save for the very end is triple checking the formatting of the reference list.
  • Lab meeting
    • All members of the lab are expected to attend and participate in lab meeting
    • You should sign up to lead a lab meeting at least once a semester. Leading a lab meeting might involve activities such as the following: showing and discussing recent results, leading the discussion of a published paper, brainstorming about how to design an experiment, practicing a talk, asking for feedback on a MS or grant application, etc. If you are asking the lab to read something for lab meeting, please give us enough time to read it before we meet.
    • Plan ahead – if you know you have a deadline, reserve your spot for lab meeting at least two weeks before the deadline
  • Working with animals
    • It is likely that one of the reasons why you are studying animal behavior is because you love animals. So do I. We work with live, often wild, animals. Please don’t forget that it is a privilege to work with live animals, and it is our moral – and legal – responsibility to consider the welfare of the animals in our care. It is also our responsibility to make sure that each of their lives contributes to scientific understanding.
      • What this means: treat your animal subjects responsibly and ethically, obtain all necessary permits for collection and study of animals in the wild and in captivity, maximize the quality and amount of data collected on each individual subject and publish your results so the scientific community can benefit from your studies.
    • Give yourself plenty of time to apply for necessary permits (collection, import/export, etc) to carry out your research
    • Read and become familiar with our Animal Care and Use protocol, and keep it up to date and accurate 
  • Behavior methods and training helpers
    • We do a lot of behavior experiments in the lab, and often rely on multiple observers for collecting behavior data. Luckily, there are good methods for assessing both inter- and intraobserver reliability of your behavior data recording methods. Before starting to collect data, make sure that reliability is good (>90%) both within and among observers
    • Once data collection is underway, keep close tabs on anyone collecting data for you, and check their work periodically to be sure that all of the people involved are being consistent 
    • Back up your data!!!!!
  • Evaluation
    • At the end of the academic school year we will complete an evaluation. First, you will complete a self evaluation (typically provided by the graduate program). I will read your self evaluation, offer feedback, and offer my own evaluation. Then we will meet to talk about it. I especially like the question about what do YOU think will be your biggest challenge over the next year, and what are things that I can do to help you over the next year.
    • I also encourage you to communicate with me about what have been your challenges with independent research to date – what do you think is your Achilles’ heel/rate limiting step/barrier to progress? This could be, for example, perfectionism, time management, procrastination, imposter syndrome. I really appreciate knowing what you think are going to be challenges so that we can discuss ways of dealing with them together, so I can be on the lookout for ways that I can help.
  • General rules and tips about the upstairs lab
    • Close the doors and turn off the lights if you are the last to leave the lab. Beware of theft (especially at the beginning and end of the semester)– do not leave valuables (laptops, videocameras) visible on the countertops.
    • In general, this is YOUR lab – take responsibility for it. If you break something, fix it. Always clean up every tool that you used as well as the lab bench after yourself. If you use the last of some supply or you notice that the supply is running low, order more, or let the lab manager know so that he/she can order more (it takes time to replace things!). If something needs to be improved, suggest an alternative. If you move something, put it back. Don’t steal sharpies! Throw away pens that don’t work. If you have a cool idea, share it.
    • Keep the protocols up to date on the Bell lab folder on Box. If you develop a new procedure, make a protocol to share it with the lab.
    • Solutions should be clearly labeled with what it is, date it was prepared, who made it and replaced often. 
    • Clean up your space when you leave the lab, dispose of all solutions. If you’re not sure how to dispose of a solution, ask the lab manager!
  • General rules and tips about the fish lab in the basement
    • We all take turns feeding the fish. Do a good job — treat all the animals as though they are your precious experimental subjects. Record your initials and time on the clipboard. Dispose of dead fish immediately. Don’t leave dead fish in the food freezer. 
    • If you see something funny or unusual in one of the tanks, tell someone (ideally the person responsible for those fish)
    • If you are keeping fish in the fish room it is your responsibility to let the fish feeder know the requirements for your animals, i.e. extra food, no food, special food, etc. It is also your responsibility to make sure that the fish count is accurate on the tank card and that visibility is clear so that the fish feeder and DAR can assess fish health/numbers
    • Put dead fish label on tanks with dead fish even when you are not feeding and inform the person responsible for those fish that there has been a death
    • Never fill tanks with water from the sink
    • Recycle as much sand and gravel as possible; don’t let it go down the drain
    • Return things to their original place if you borrowed them 
    • Make sure over-tank lights are off in 43 when you leave (they are not on the timer system).
    • Seal the bags of microcentrifuge tubes (1.7ml and 0.5ml) when you are done, so the tubes can be as contaminant-free as long as possible.
  • General tips for letters of recommendation (esp for undergrads)
    • In order for a letter writer to write you the strongest possible letter, please provide him/her with the following information at least TWO WEEKS before the application is due
    • What is the name of the fellowship/award/grant you are applying for?
    • When is it due? Is that postmarked date or due date?
    • To whom should the letter be addressed (name and address)?
    • What should the letter writer do with the letter once it’s written? Does the letter writer print out a hard copy, sign it and put it in a signed and sealed envelope? Do they put the envelope in the mail or give it to you? Is it submitted online?
    • Is the application meant to emphasize something particular, e.g. community service, advancement of women and people from under-represented groups, etc?
    • Provide a copy of your application, including your most recent CV and whatever statements are required.
    • Whenever possible, provide the name and title of the person who will receive the completed letter. “To whom it may concern” sounds generic, and inappropriate use of Miss, Mrs, Ms, Mr, and Dr can be offensive.
    • A letter writer always likes to know why he or she is being asked, so provide this information if you can. Who else will be writing letters on your behalf? This information helps the letter writer adjust his/her comments in important ways, e.g. because you attended the letter writer’s office hours and our conversations during office hours influenced your thinking, or because the letter writer is a member of a society and you are applying for a grant from that society, or because the letter writer is an alum of a particular university and you are applying to attend that university, etc..
  • General tips for PhD students in the Bell lab
    • You should plan to complete your PhD in 5 years. You might need a 6th year if something goes wrong, funding allows, or if there is something super cool to pursue. 
    • Your goal is to submit >3 manuscripts in 5 years. Be advised that publishing is much harder and takes much longer than you think it will (or should). Everything (your exams, completing projects, securing a postdoc, etc.) is easier if you publish soon and publish often.
    • Not sure what to do? Collecting data and writing are always good. Read and write every day except when collecting data
    • Present at a local venue (e.g. GEEB symposium, Neuroscience SfN poster night, IGB theme hop) at least once
    • Apply for SIB and external grants every year
    • Public outreach and science communication is encouraged! That being said, they are lower priority than your research.
    • Participate in reading groups and seminars
    • Consider co-writing a review paper 
    • TA > 2x. If you are aiming for a career in teaching, pursue other opportunities available through, for example, the Center for Teaching Excellence. However, keep in mind that your primary job as a grad student is to do research, not to teach. Also, you won’t get a teaching job if you don’t do the research required for your PhD.
    • Go to a national or international conference ~1x/year. Members of the lab regularly attend conferences such as ABS, ISBE, SfN, SICB, Evolution, Am Nat, Gordon Conferences, SBN
    • Have a committee meeting 1x/year; meet individually with your committee members 1x/year (more is better)

A typical timeline for PhD students in the lab:

  • Year 1
  • Tinkering – fish, lab work, learn from others in the lab
  • Apply for NSF predoc and other fellowships
  • Take classes – stats, programming, genomics and any coursework deficiencies
  • Summer – first field season, get lots of data, explore
  • Meet with your committee

  • Year 2
  • Collect data
  • Analyze data, plan next experiment
  • Apply for grants and fellowships 
  • Prep for prelim
  • Write Chapter 1
  • Take prelim if Chapter 1 submitted
  • Become involved in outreach
  • Fill in any remaining coursework deficiencies
  • Meet with your committee

  • Year 3
  • Collect data
  • Submit Chapter 2
  • Reflect on career goals
  • Meet with your committee
  • Year 4
  • In the zone of data collection – this is the year when you will get the most done
  • Apply for Dissertation Completion Fellowships
  • Consider postdocs/the next step
  • Meet with your committee

  • Year 5
  • Apply for postdocs/jobs
  • Write Chapter 3, defend