Lab Compact and Philosophy


This is a “living” document that is intended to guide me and students who will be working in my lab. It’s quite informal, but my hope is that it will serve to outline a baseline of the expectations I have for students who will be working with me and what expectations they can have for me. Since it is a living document, I would very much appreciate your feedback and while I may not incorporate every suggestion, I will try to reflect on how to at least address the piece of feedback underlying particular suggestions.

Why am I writing a document like this? Well, I believe very strongly in equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). Firstly, because it’s the right thing to do – everyone deserves to have a chance to work on something they love, regardless of their particular background. Secondly, because there is a vast body of literature out there that says that doing work on diverse teams leads to more critical thinking and ultimately better science. As part of my commitment to EDI, I am trying to make sure I’m following recommendations and evidence-based practices for good mentorship. Currently, I use the resources on The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM to inform this and one of the suggestions is to make sure expectations are clear, perhaps even through a document just like this one.

Who Am I

I’m Ré. I’m a nonbinary/genderfluid scientist. I often call myself a physicist who likes to poke my nose into biology and computer science. I’m generally more comfortable with they/them pronouns. Please feel free to refer to me by my first name. I recognize that there is an inherent power imbalance between mentor and mentee, particularly–and often–implicitly in the context of graduate students and advisors, but I would like to mitigate that where possible. I believe in being a guide, not a dictator. Having said that, I am the person responsible for lab funding, so my decisions are sometimes going to have to made for the good of the lab.

Code of Conduct

An important concept in fostering an inclusive environment is that of “psychological safety.” What it means is that while you may not always be COMFORTABLE in the environment, you should feel SAFE, including the safety to disagree and the safety to speak up if something is causing you a problem. This code of conduct is intended to enforce a psychologically safe environment for you, your peers, and me.

Work Expectations

Work Hours

Everybody works differently. Graduate school is difficult and it requires hard work. I do expect you to work hard; part of that is figuring out how you work best. After a certain number of hours put in a week, efficiency tends to start to drop off. For most people, roughly forty–fifty hours a week plus or minus 5 hours is going to be efficient; in graduate school there can be certain weeks that require a more significant investment because of, e.g, an upcoming deadline, but you should not be impacting your mental or physical health to get out a paper. Conversely, please do be putting in enough hours to be getting your work done.

I typically work 7 AM to 4 PM on Monday–Thurs and Friday mornings plus or minus an hour; if my door is open, please feel free to come by for a chat, although if I have a deadline I may have to shoo you out relatively quickly. I also try to be highly responsive to emails and to our group Teams (ask me if you haven’t received an invite after joining the group) during my work hours, but because I have an anxiety disorder I will not be answering emails / texts / etc sent late in the evening or on weekends. Please bear this in mind and try to plan ahead with respect to things like letters of recommendation.


Taking time off is very important! In addition to university holidays (not counting summer break–scientists can’t afford to take off three full months in the summer when most of our research gets done!), I expect you to be taking about 2 other weeks off whenever works out best for you. Please do let me know ahead of time and make an effort to schedule time off that does not conflict with important deadlines.

If you are sick, stay home (a simple email or Teams message is a fine way to let me know). If you are well enough to do work, then feel free to talk to me about working remotely (this is a valid option even when you are not sick, but do check with me because you should not be working entirely remotely once the pandemic ends. Interaction is incredibly important for pushing forward in scientific research.) Just please don’t come in while you’re infectious and get everyone else sick too!

Lab Notebooks and Software Best Practices

In science it is very important to keep a record of your findings. Making mistakes is human and I can just about guarantee you will make mistakes during your research – I have certainly made countless already. To guard against being unable to catch mistakes and as part of the scientific method, it is imperative that you keep a laboratory notebook. Since we are a primary computational lab, a virtual format is appropriate and allows us easy access to each other’s lab notebooks and records. Currently, I am going to try out using Labstep but if this does not suit your needs, please let me know. It will help if you can suggest an appropriate alternative. Also, all code, including data analysis code and bash scripting, should be version-controlled and saved to the lab’s [Github repository] New projects should be based on the Shablona template, unless you have a preferred suggestion.

Weekly meetings and assessment

To stay on track with meeting yours and my (and the university’s) goals, we will have weekly scheduled one-on-one meetings and weekly group lab meetings. (If you’re sick, please don’t come to meetings! You need to get better, and I don’t want to get sick! Just let me know.). Individual meetings will last half an hour and group meetings will last an hour. Before each individual meeting, I will ask that you fill out a summary of your weekly accomplishments, your goals for the following week, any problems you have run into and potential solutions you have come up with, and specific talking points you would like to cover (which can be anything that is not something we have agreed not to talk about, as per your individual mentor/mentee agreement with me). A simple template for these summaries is attached to this document. The purpose of the summary is not to make you feel bad if you don’t finish all your weekly goals (you probably won’t–that’s common and it’s okay! Reaching for more than you can get done is fine, it just means you’ll have some goals that end up being more monthly, yearly, etc), but just to make sure you are consistently aware of what you are working toward, as well as helping us make our individual meetings focused and fruitful.

My plan for lab meetings is that we will meet once a week as a group for an hour, although this frequency may be a little lower in the very beginning when our group is very small. I will expect everyone to present on their research once a semester and also to present a “journal club presentation” once a semester. Research talks should aim at being 30-40 minutes with questions and journal club talks should aim at being 15-20 minutes with questions. I am also going to try to have mutual group meetings with other professors, including possible collaborators, so that you can get a feel for the different research topics and styles out there.

Each month, I will write up a quick (paragraph length) assessment of your progress, touching on what I believe you have accomplished and done well, what I think you need to work on, and what specific research goals I believe you can accomplish over the next month. This is for your benefit and criticism I give is intended to be constructive. If for some reason it is not working, please let me know and we can talk about how to make it more useful.

Presentations, Conferences, Writing Papers, and Publishing

A result you find is not a result until it has been, at minimum, reported on (and preferably peer-reviewed). Writing and presentations are rarely finished products; it is not uncommon for a presentation to be re-used in evolving form for multiple years. It’s very difficult to disentangle research from communication, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Therefore, I do expect that you will be relatively proactive about presenting and publishing your work–and of course I will as well, as we will be collaborating. This means that I will probably push you, at least while you are still less senior and don’t have your own progress figured out yet, to write your paper at the same time as doing your research. I expect that you will present whatever research you have at least once a year at a reputable conference. My preference is for APS March Meeting, but the Biophysical Society of Canada is another possibility, or any conference that you believe fits your work that you can make a reasonable argument for. Please keep this in mind because the deadlines for submitting your work to such conferences are often very far ahead of the conferences themselves–you will probably be applying to present on work that you have not yet done, or at least not yet commpleted! This is perfectly normal and fine. If things go pear-shaped between application and conference, well, it happens, and you just present whatever you have. It’s still extremely valuable experience. Also, please plan to work with me so that we can make sure to secure you travel funding, either from my own grants or from grants that you or I may need to apply for.

You should ideally be publishing about one first-author paper every 1-1.5 years. This isn’t a hard and fast rule; some papers take forever to get through peer review and some go through rapidly, and of course this is partly my responsibility as well as yours. I mostly say this to give you a vague idea of what the ideal goals would look like so that we can work towards them together.

Giving correct credit to folks for work done is very important to me, and this has implications on paper authorship. If we are writing a paper with just two of us–one student and me, the PI–the authorship will always be student as first author and me as the corresponding author. As the lab has grown, however, I find that we are writing more and more collaborative, multi-author papers. To ensure credit on multi-author papers is apportioned correctly, we will be employing two important tactics. First of all, we will have a CRediT author statement at the end of the paper, ensuring that everyone’s contributions are made clear in a consistent fashion. Secondly, we will have two paper authorship discussions, one as we begin to write the paper and one when we have finalized a draft, in which we will have a frank discussion surrounding who should be listed as the first author or author(s). In the event of multiple first authors, where more than one student or postdoctoral scholar contributed in equal amounts, they will be designated as such in the publication, and they will determine an appropriate way of assessing whose name will be listed first on the article (I recommend either a random procedure or, in the case of multiple planned co-authorships, trading off.)

Graduate School Progression, Milestones, and Policies

Of course, in addition to the nuts and bolts of research, there’s also the formal business of graduate school milestones, which are somewhat different depending on whether you are a MSc or a PhD student. Please make sure you interface with the graduate program advisor and understand the policies and requirements of our university! You are required to take three courses (I’m happy to help pick out the most useful ones), and if you get a failing grade you will have to withdraw from the program. Please do not fail a course (if you’re struggling in a course you can (1) reach out to the professor and see if they think you’ll be able to do well and if so what you would need to do (2) if need be, drop or disc it. This isn’t ideal but it’s much, much better than failing.)

Asking For Help

Please come to me if something is going wrong and don’t wait until it has already gone very wrong! Whether it’s a mistake you made in your coding that means you’re not sure of your results or a class that you bombed the midterm on, the longer you wait to tell me, the harder it is going to be for me to help you with. I’m much likelier to be frustrated if there ends up being a really bad situation because you didn’t tell me than I am likely to be frustrated if you come to me in time for us to brainstorm fixes. I don’t need you to be perfect, but I do expect you to reach out for help when it’s needed.

Further Reading

A list of a few useful documents that you might read to help ME out by becoming familiar with mentoring practices yourself:

Land Acknowledgment Statement

We would like to begin by acknowledging that Concordia University is located on unceded Indigenous lands. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and waters on which we gather today. Tiohtià:ke/Montréal is historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations. Today, it is home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other peoples. We respect the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with Indigenous and other peoples within the Montreal community.

This territorial acknowledgement and resources were created by Concordia University’s Indigenous Directions Leadership Group (2017). To read the entire territorial acknowledgement and learn more about why it was written this way, please visit the full page hosted by the University.