LAB CHARTER

Last edited 2021-09-07

Welcome to the Dittmann lab! Meike and Ralf are so excited to have you.


Below are some points on how we want to see our lab functioning. These points reflect our values and expectations for a healthy professional work environment. This Charta is a living document and will be revisited periodically.


Text and ideas borrow heavily from Emily Puckett and Prachee Avasthi, with their permission.

CAREER DEVELOPMENT


It is our privilege to support your intellectual advancement towards your individual career goals. We will suggest directions, offer tools, and provide guiderails, while the main driver for your own success is ultimately you.

We accept and support lab members with diverse career goals. We realize that not all of you will want to remain in academia, which is completely fine - there are wonderful jobs across industries. If your career goals shift, you should discuss this change with Meike so we can reorient your training plan towards your new trajectory. Upon you joining the lab, Meike and you will together draft an individualized career plan and timeline, which we will keep updating throughout your tenure. Watching you succeed is one of the most rewarding parts of our job. 

SAFETY AND HEALTH


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

We work with BSL2 and BSL3 pathogens and you must take these pathogens seriously. Lab members are expected to strictly adhere to lab safety rules (as set by EH&S SOPs, IBC protocols, and institutional guidelines) at all times. This will ensure that you and your lab mates can work in a safe environment. Treat our animals with respect and strictly adhere to IACUC protocols. Be aware that non-adherence to these rules may result in the lab getting shut down. Lab members must complete all required NYU Grossman School of Medicine training modules and read and sign our lab SOP before beginning lab work. These documents are revised and updated institutionally once a year, and we will refresh our memories annually during a dedicated lab meeting. 


Lab members should maintain their physical and mental health. Thus, take breaks when needed, maintain a hobby, speak kindly to yourself, call the NYUMC hotline at 211-263-7419 or arrange for a therapist if you need to speak to a professional. Do not come to work sick or if you think you are contagious. Stay home and rest and make arrangements for any responsibilities to be handled by co-workers.

COLLEGIALITY AND TEAMWORK


Professional cooperation means making yourself a valuable member of the team. Appreciation of our mutual contributions is critical for synergies within the team.

Teamwork and a collaborative environment within the group are extremely important to us. Science is hard enough as is – let’s keep our home base safe and nurturing. Everyone in the lab is welcome and appreciated for their scientific contributions. The success of each team member contributes to everyone else’s success. We want to create a space for synergy – each and every one of you has a unique personality, knowledge base and problem solving skills, and we am convinced that bringing these strengths together creates the best science. 


Out of collegiality and respect, be the team member that you yourself would want to work with. Do your chores unprompted. Refill bottles before they are 100 % empty. Be on time for time slots in TC and instruments that you signed up for – if you need more time or less, contact the lab member signed up before or after you to re-arrange times accordingly. Offer help and ask for help whenever necessary. If there are any issues, bring up these issues directly to the concerned member and do so in a respectful and constructive manner.


On top of your individual contributions and ideas, we have several tools in place to strengthen collaboration within the group. We expect each lab member to embrace these tools and to actively contribute to this collaborative environment. Tools include: interviewing prospective candidates together enabling collective hiring decisions; electronic notebooks providing transparency and ease protocol and data sharing; subgroup meetings providing a platform to specifically discuss synergies between projects; project charters defining common and individual goals, mentoring strategies and individual roles and responsibilities within projects; and, finally, Kanban board meetings providing information on daily tasks and encourage asking for or offering help when needed. 

AUTHORSHIP


We follow the IJME rules for authorship:

  1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND

  3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND

  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.


Typically, and due to the collaborative nature of the lab, the first criterium will be fulfilled for lab members that performed wet-lab work in lab-internal projects. It might be different for projects where we contribute as collaborators on only a part of the story. We will discuss authorship very early on to make sure everyone is on the same page. We expect authors to fulfil points 2-4 as we get closer to manuscript stage. As projects evolve over time, authorship will be re-evaluated with all concerned. 

RACE AND DIVERSITY


We strive to be more inclusive regarding race and diversity. 

We acknowledge that there is an existing diversity issue in academia. We condemn these prejudices and want to create a more inclusive environment in our lab. We agree to keep the lab a space where we actively work to reduce bias, and we will contribute to keeping the lab a place where one can speak up if they see or experience bias. We encourage all lab members to contribute to pro-diversity initiatives in science and we pledge to support you to do so. 

WORK HOURS


We allow for flexibility when it comes to working hours as long as it does not impede the functioning of the lab. We encourage taking vacations to maintain your physical and mental health.

Everyone has different levels of efficiency and experience. Also, each individual person goes through phases of more and less intense work based on deadlines and commitments. Don’t worry about your lab mates’ schedules. Productivity is much more important than hours. 


Thus, we are flexible when it comes to work hours. We trust you know that you will get out of your career what you put in to it. If we feel your project is not progressing as it should, we will come talk to you. Ensure that your flexible schedule does not interfere with the functioning of the lab, i.e. when you signed up for TC and decide to switch to a different time. 


Despite this flexibility, we find core work hours where everyone is physically present in the lab essential to the interactions and relationship building critical to science. We define minimum core work hours generally as M-F from 11 AM to 3 PM, in addition to our mandatory lab meetings (below). Inform Meike by email if you will be out of the lab for a full day or more. 


Lastly, hard work is required to be competitive for whatever you choose for your future career, but learn to keep a consistent balance for your health and sanity. It’s a long road. Thus, lab members should plan to take a vacation in both the winter and summer. Please discuss vacation plans with Meike in advance so that we can plan around any extended absences. Summer vacations are best taken after conference season.

LAB MEETINGS


We have several types of lab meetings and the frequency and scheduling of these are based on the current needs of the lab. These meetings are mandatory unless we discussed in advance otherwise.

Lab Meetings: These happen once a week on Friday mornings. One person presents a detailed update on their work including background, data, interpretations, and future directions (20 min talk and 20 min discussion). These might happen for each person approximately every 2 months. Alternatively, you may suggest a paper of your choice for a group discussion. We will all read the paper in advance and take turns presenting figures and leading the discussion. Please make sure to announce this “Journal Club” and send the paper at least one week in advance. In addition to individual presentations / Journal Clubs, we will each briefly present the week’s progress, particularly roadblocks or exciting new data. 


Kanban board meetings:These are held virtually on Mondays and Wednesdays at noon using Zoom and Trello and last a maximumof 15 minutes. The goals of these meetings are to create transparency, to provide information on current experiments in the lab, to identify roadblocks early, to help each of us plan their work week, to identify bottlenecks (i.e. lab equipment usage at a certain day and time), and to encourage asking for or offering help when needed (i.e. “my cloning doesn’t work, can you help me have a look at the sequence” or “I see you have a large plaque assay experiment on Thursday, that day is kind of light for me, do you need help”). Make sure to introduce each work package with the rationale of the task (“in order to…”) so that everyone can follow. 


Individual Meetings with Meike: This is your protected time with Meike. Meetings are ~30-60 minutes long – the frequency depends on your needs, and is typically every other week or weekly. You can sign up for your meeting on our google calendar. The purpose of these meetings is primarily to discuss data, talk about rationale and formulate testable hypotheses. Make sure your experiments have a positive and a negative control. If you are unsure of which controls would be good, bring some ideas and we will discuss. We also talk about anything else of concern. To maximize efficiency, please come to the meeting with a plan of what you would like to discuss. Pick the top three issues that are pressing or holding you back so that those are sure to get covered during the meeting. Bring data in form of slides or a printout and start by introducing where we left that topic previously. 


Subgroup Meetings: We currently have two subgroups – one centered around ELF1 and one around SERPINs. These alternate biweekly. The goal of these meetings is to bring all moving parts of these larger projects together, to provide a platform to specifically discuss synergies between projects, and to provide mutual input from different perspectives. Each of you presents progress on the different sub-projects and we then put these sub-projects into perspective. To do this, we work on an evolving document that states significance, rationale and hypothesis. The document also contains an overview of the different sub-projects, how they relate to each other and how we expect them to synergize. 


Microbiology / Immunology Works in Progress (WiPs): WiPs are mandatory for all grad students of the respective program and recipients of training grants (Micro mandatory for Micro, Immuno for Immuno). WiPs are scheduled during the fall, winter, and spring on Tuesdays at 4 PM (Micro) or Wednesdays at 3:15 PM (Immuno). Graduate Students and Postdocs are presenting their research. Abstracts must be reviewed by me at least three weeks prior. First practice talk should be given to the lab 10 days prior to the WiP, typically during Friday lab meeting. Second practice talks and posters will be presented to the lab one week prior to the WiP. Plan accordingly.


Microbiology / Immunology Departmental Seminars: These are on Thursday noon (Immunology) or afternoons at 2 pm (Microbiology) during the fall, winter, and spring. They are not mandatory, but highly recommended for all lab members, particularly if the speaker is invited by Meike. 


Ad-hoc meetings: Send an email or set up a meeting on our google calendar if you need to talk for any reason.

ELECTRONIC LAB NOTEBOOKS


We expect you to maintain a meticulous and up-to-date electronic lab notebook. This is good scientific practice and also a legal requirement. 

This is not optional – Meike is legally obliged by grant institutions, publishers and the School to keep those notebook entries as records of our work. We previously used the “Biovia” system and are now, as per NYU Grossman School of Medicine mandate, transitioning to “Benchling”. Notes need to be sufficient to reproduce results without additional instructions. Raw data and analyzed data (graphs) need to be paired with the matching experiments. 


Good practice is to map out an entire experiment in the notebook priorto starting your experiment, print it out, and take it to the bench where you do the wet lab work. After the experiment is done you edit the document as needed and add the data files. That way you are always caught up. Allocate time each week to complete this.

REVISIONS OF ABSTRACTS, GRANTS, PRESENTATIONS AND MANUSCRIPTS


In order to allow for meaningful revisions, you will need to run abstract, grants, presentations and manuscripts by Meike ahead of time. 

Conference abstracts and presentations as well as manuscripts are a figurehead for our lab, and successful grants will keep us afloat financially. While all of you will develop your own individual style, we will train you in terms of craftsmanship. To us, this a major component of your tenure in the lab. To do this efficiently, you will need to prepare drafts sufficiently in advance. Meike will need to allocate protected time in advance to provide meaningful input. Depending on the starting material that you will provide, we typically go through at least two rounds of revision. Expected revision times are outlined in the sections below - plan accordingly.

CONFERENCES


Everyone is encouraged to attend one conference a year on the condition that you present a poster or talk. 

Lab members must make a good faith effort to obtain partial to full costs of meeting and travel expenses. This includes applying for departmental, university, and society travel grants; volunteering at the conference; and sharing rooms. Abstracts must be reviewed by Meike, Ralf and all coauthors at least one month prior to the submission deadline. First practice talk should be given to the lab at leastone monthprior to the conference. Second practice talks and posters will be presented to the lab (during lab meeting or in an additional meeting) two weeks prior to the conference. 

MISTAKES

Own your mistakes. 

Everyone (graduate students, postdocs, and myself) will make mistakes in lab. Quoting one of my graduate advisors: “You will never completely master a technique unless you’ve messed up each step once.” Be honest and forthright when you have made a mistake so we can handle the fallout together. Apologize if warranted. Learn from your mistakes and strive to not make the same mistake twice. 

SPECIFIC EXPECTATIONS AND MEIKE’S RESPONSIBILITIES FOR THE DIFFERENT MEMBERS OF THE LAB


Expectations for postdocs:


Science

  • If you are grant-funded, I expect you to dedicate your time primarily to the goals of that project, unless discussed otherwise. As projects develop, experimental setups as written in the original grant are not set in stone – if need be, you absolutely have the freedom to develop your own alternative strategies. 

  • If your career plan is to stay in academia and become a PI, you will additionally need to develop your own, independent projects as time moves on. Meike will assist you in that. 

  • Write manuscripts.

  • Aim to produce one first author paper every other year.


Funding

  • Apply for external funding. Meike realizes that funding opportunities for non-US citizens / residents are limited. To ensure a meaningful revision process, you need to send Meike a first draft at least 6 weeks prior to the deadline. 

  • Help write reports if on a grant funded project.


Stakeholder management and teamwork

  • Review manuscripts from other lab members. 

  • Participate in talk rehearsals of your colleagues.

  • Tell Meike about your new exciting data and successes any time even outside our regular meetings. 


Leadership

  • Be a role model and co-mentor for younger lab members.

  • Co-mentor at least one PhD student. 

  • Mentor at least one undergraduate or summer student.

  • Optional: Teach in our Molecular Virology Class (biannual). 


Meike’s responsibilities to postdocs:


Career development and training

  • Discuss career goals and make an individualized training plan that works towards those goals.

  • Draft an individualized Project Charter and reevaluate with the postdoc twice a year.

  • Guide and advise you on leadership skills. 

  • Provide input on presentations to further your presentation skills.

  • Assist with navigating the academic job market – reviewing application documents, assist prepping job talks and chalk talks etc. I don’t know enough about the job market outside of academia, but might be able to provide contacts.


Science

  • Develop project ideas, including independent projects that can be taken with you.

  • Bi-weekly meetings (weekly if needed) to provide guidance on experiments and interpretation of results and discuss progress and pitfalls.

  • Review and submit manuscripts.


Funding

  • Provide funding. 

  • Share the funding status of the lab with the team once a year. 

  • Assist with identifying and writing postdoctoral fellowships. Help develop grant writing skills.



Expectations for PhD and MD/PhD students:


Science

  • Own your project. You are the main driver of your success.

  • I expect you to become the primary subject matter expert on all things related to your project.

  • During the first 6 months upon joining the lab, and in preparation of grant writing class that is typically taken in the Spring, write the “Background and Significance” section of your qualifying proposal. While the project may change until your Qual, this will help you become familiar with the topic and think critically about rationale and significance early on. 

  • Write manuscripts. PhD students need to have at least one first-author paper published by the dissertation defense. MD/PhD students need to have one first-author Biorxiv preprint by the dissertation defense. 

  • Take our Molecular Virology Class (offered biannually).


Funding

  • Apply for external funding. To ensure a meaningful revision process, you need to send me a first draft at least 6 weeks prior to any deadline.

  • Write reports if on a grant funded project. 


Stakeholder management and teamwork

  • Write the written portion of your qualifying exam and your dissertation. These are primarily your documents. To ensure at least 2 rounds of meaningful revision, you will need to submit a first draft to me at least 6 weeks prior to the deadline. 

  • Prepare the oral portion of your qualifying exam and your dissertation presentation. To ensure a meaningful revision process, we need to go through the slides together at least 4 weeks prior to the presentation.

  • Review manuscripts from other lab members. Participate in talk rehearsals of your colleagues.

  • Tell Meike about your new exciting data and successes any time even outside our regular meetings. 


Leadership

  • Mentor at least one undergraduate student / summer student.

  • While in your 3rd or 4th year, mentor one rotation student.



Meike’s responsibilities to PhD and MD/PhD students:


Career development and training

  • Discuss career goals and make an individualized training plan that works towards those goals.

  • Draft an individualized Project Charter and reevaluate with the student twice a year. 

  • Train the student in scientific method – formulate rationales, testable hypotheses, experimental designs, interpretation of results including limitations of approaches etc. 

  • Advise the student in terms of organizing a project, a work week, and include reading

  • Assist in structuring and revise the written portion of the student’s qualifying exam and the dissertation. This is your exam, and thus your responsibility to produce the document and share it with me on time to allow for a meaningful revision. I will provide general guidance prior to writing, and we will discuss rationales and hypotheses. Once written, I typically provide 2 rounds of edits, focusing on content and structure. 

  • Assist preparing the student for the oral portion of the qualifying exam, presentations for the mentoring committee, and the dissertation presentation. Help develop presentation skills.

  • Help develop manuscript writing skills. 

  • Help develop grant writing skills.


Science

  • Develop project ideas. I will work with students and their designated lab mentors to design a training project for their rotation. This may or may not be directly applicable to the student’s dissertation work, but will establish a foundation for how we work together. We will then work together to follow-up on the original research question after the first data analysis is complete to flush out the thesis. 

  • Bi-weekly meetings (weekly if needed) to interpret results and discuss progress and pitfalls.

  • Revise and submit manuscripts.


Funding

  • Provide funding for the duration of your thesis. 

  • Share the funding status of the lab with the team once a year. 

  • Assist with writing fellowships.