Lab meetings are a pretty standard part of academic life, but exactly what is done at lab meetings tends to vary between groups. While much of what we do at lab meetings is pretty standard, I also know from discussions with others that some of the things we do at my lab meetings are less common, and that we don’t do some things that other labs do a lot. I decided it would be worth writing out what we do for lab meetings, and using this as a jumping off point for finding out what others do (or wish they did).
Here are some of the things we do at lab meetings:
1. Discuss new(ish) papers: this is what we do most often, and is a classic lab meeting strategy. When we do these, it’s almost always that a single person is in charge of leading the discussion of the paper. I know that other labs will sometimes split up the paper into sections (e.g., someone has to present the methods related to field work, another the stats approaches, etc.), but we haven’t done that. Sometimes, we’ve specified two particular subcategories of this type of lab meeting:
- especially challenging papers that we need to really struggle through (which is pretty self-explanatory); and
- “popcorn” lab meetings: the goal is to get the chattier lab members (including me!) to not dominate the meeting. This was named by some lab members at Georgia Tech, but no one in the end was exactly sure how the name started. The general idea, though, is that we go around the room with each person either asking a question about the paper (which gets written on the board) or answering a question that someone previously asked. At the end of someone’s turn, they pass the floor to a different person by saying “Popcorn [next person’s name]”. It’s a great way to get everyone to take part in a relatively non-intimidating way. And we usually make popcorn for these meetings, because why not?😉
2. Practice talk: Another lab meeting classic, where someone practices a talk that they’re going to be giving (e.g., at a meeting). We do this fairly regularly in my lab.
3. Ethics: we’ve done a fair number of lab meetings at which we discussed issues related to ethics in science. This started at Georgia Tech, where we did in-lab Responsible Conduct of Research training. We’ve used a variety of readings for this, the most common being the series of Dudycha and Geedey case studies, paired with various blog posts on the topic.
4. Stats Boot Camp: We spent a summer having stats boot camps, which were definitely useful and are probably things I should revive. But, once there’s been turnover in personnel, it’s a little harder to have everyone on the same page. But it was great for having everyone get up to speed on techniques we should probably all know about (e.g., model II regression [pdf]).
5. Presentation of new data: we sometimes have people present new data that they’ve collected and are working on analyzing, but this has been less common. I’m not sure why.
6. Miscellaneous topics: we also routinely cover different topics that are maybe less standard fare for lab meeting, but that have worked really well. This includes:
- Elevator pitch: This summer, we worked on elevator pitches over two lab meetings. First, we worked on an elevator pitch that we could give to another scientist (say, someone we just met at a meeting, or, for the undergrads, one of their professors). Next, we worked on an elevator pitch for the general public. This is something that I found quite interesting, and plan on doing a whole post on (when I magically find the time).
- Non-academic careers: so far, we’ve focused more just on the data regarding numbers of PhDs per year vs. tenure track positions per year. I’d like to do more in terms of how to prepare for non-academic positions, but haven’t had any good ideas about how to do that. (We might use some from this comment, which had great resources. Further suggestions appreciated!)
- Publishing: this tends to be a spinoff from another topic, but we sometimes discuss the publication process, reviewing, and things along those lines at lab meetings.
Which of the above things we do at any one lab meeting tends to be haphazard. We have a sign up sheet, and whoever is signed up picks what we do. And, if no one is signed up, I either just pick a paper, or get an idea from a lab member. (My postdoc Cat Searle often has really creative ideas, so I tend to steal hers!)
Another aspect is that we sometimes merge with another lab for lab meeting. Sometimes this is because we’re reading a paper that would benefit from that lab group’s expertise (e.g., we did this recently when reading a new paper on Daphnia-virus interactions). Sometimes it’s because we realize another lab was going to cover a similar topic. And sometimes it’s because the labs are preparing for something similar (e.g., everyone giving practice ESA talks at one giant group meeting). But, usually, it’s just my lab group meeting on its own.
Things we don’t tend to do, but that I think could be worth trying:
1. “What I’ve been reading”: I know that a lot of labs have routine lab meetings (say, once a month) where everyone is supposed to talk briefly about a paper they read recently that they thought was good or noteworthy, and that would be of general interest to the group. This is, of course, to try to encourage everyone to stay on top of the literature. We did something sort of like this in Jeff Conner’s group meetings when I was a grad student; there, it was just a very brief part at the start of some lab meetings, rather than a whole meeting devoted to this. I do think this approach would be good, but haven’t implemented it yet.
2. “What I’ve done this month”: Another things that a lot of labs do is have people give regular presentations on their research. It seems to vary a lot in terms of how often people are expected to do this (every couple of weeks, monthly, once a semester, etc.), but the general idea is to keep everyone up-to-date on what is going on in the lab, and also to provide extra motivation to people to be productive. But doing this on a strict schedule feels forced to me. At the same time, I’ve heard that it helps keep things from slipping through the cracks, and some people thrive on this sort of deadline. (Others, of course, do not.)
3. Classic papers: Something that could be interesting would be to have everyone read a classic paper from the literature (say, Brooks and Dodson for an aquatic ecology lab). I’m not entirely sure why we don’t do this, other than simply that there are so many other things to do!
4. Book club: I also know that labs will sometimes devote a semester to reading a new, important book in their field (such as a new Princeton Monograph). But, again, we haven’t done this in my lab yet.
What do you do in your lab meetings? What do you wish you did? What do you wish your lab didn’t do at lab meetings? Do you have a set schedule or are things more haphazard?