Lab life and rules

Published on Author Giorgio Gilestro

Lab life.

Chances are that you decided to join the lab because you want to learn more about Drosophila melanogaster, or because you find sleep a fascinating topic. This is great. However, my goal as supervisor should be to go beyond the project you picked and expose you to “the lab life”, to give you the chance to understand what it means to do good research in an outstanding academic environment like the one Imperial College London provides.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you will be working for your own sake: whatever you learn and whatever experience you gain should not be aimed at pleasing your supervisor or examiner but at broadening your own knowledge and experience. Don’t be shy and make an effort to interact not only with your labmates but also with PhD students and Postdocs from neighbouring laboratories. The greater section on our floor is composed of six more laboratories and offers an open and friendly environment: take advantage of that.

In this letter, I am going to provide you with some general advice on lab life and some more specific information that you will find useful when joining the lab.

Golden rules of lab work.

  1. Understand what you are doing. Don’t just follow what the protocol says. Try to understand what each step of the experiment is for, what is necessary or optional and which parts of the protocol should strictly be followed or not. If you find a protocol or come up with an experiment that works better than the one I am suggesting to you, you are more than welcome to let me know and discuss it with me.
  2. Be organized. In the wet-lab and the fly-lab, you will be generating quickly a great amount of reagents: temporary plasmids, minipreps, PCRs, intermediate digests, transgenic flies. Always label all your tubes and reagents and keep a database of them: the easiest way to follow your work is to keep a two-columns paper log containing a unique ID and a description. In this way your tube will only have an identifier name on it (es. tGG-46) and a long detailed description handy on the paper log.
  3. Have a strategy but be flexible. Your experiment should always be planned ahead. You should have a road map of what to expect and you should follow that. Yet, be ready to modify your roadmap: there is no point in repeating over and over something that doesn’t work. As someone once said: “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results1”.
  4. It is my duty as supervisor and my interest as researcher to make sure that you are happy with your project and that you can collect enough data to be happy with your write up. If you are an undegraduate or Master student, remember that you do not get graded for what you achieve in terms of experiments and results but mainly on your ability to understand what you were doing, and on your commitment to work
  5. If there are aspects of the project that you find extremely exciting let me know and we’ll find a way to steer things so that you will be able to do experiments and learn techniques that you find more interesting for you. No project is set on stone.

Molecular- and fly-lab etiquette.

  1. The lab operates in an open, shared, space. For this reason it is paramount that you keep everything tidy. Keep your bench tidy and even more so the common space. Do not leave rubbish around for your peers to clear and do not overfill the waste bins: if they are 75% full, just close them and replace them with a new one.
  2. Communicate! In the laboratory, English is the working language and you should communicate in English if there are other people around you, no matter what the topic is. It is not just the nice thing to do: it’s the useful thing to do. It’s the only way for a more experienced colleague to jump into your discussion and help you out if you have problems. For the same reason, headphones are not ideal (radio on the bench is OK as long as everyone around agrees on it).
  3. Don’t take common equipment away with you. Don’t take other people’s stuff without asking first.
  4. Don’t overbook. If you need a common machine or piece of equipment for only two hours, try your best guess and don’t book it for much longer than that. Booking something without using it is a capital sin.
  5. Clean after yourself. Do not, under any circumstance, leave dirty tubes to be cleaned after. Chances are you will postpone it and even forget it and people will be pissed off – rightly so. Cleaning is integral part of the experiment.

Other lab policies.

Before starting lab work, you will go through a safety induction. The induction takes about one hour and you are not allowed to work if you have not gone through it.

  • I like to keep “formal” track of all the people who are working with me and I keep an up to dated page on the lab website containing a short blurb about current members and alumni. Please, send me a picture of yourself and few sentences about you and your interests. See the actual “lab members” page on the website to have an idea of how this works ( http://lab.gilest.ro/research/lab-members/ )
  • Register yourself on the lab registry. The form is just for me to collect data for administrative purposes (your CID numbers, etc).
  • Shortly before joining the lab, your email address will be included in the lab members mailing list. If you need to send an email to all of the lab members, including myself, just write to the following address: lab@gilest.ro
  • The lab uses a shared digital lab book and I require all the members of the lab to make use of it. The labbook is found at (gitbook address to be confirmed) and you will need to have a personal account to access it. I will create an account for you on your first day of work and will explain how to use. Please use it extensively. Write everything you do, with as many details as you think are necessary. It is a very important resource for me to follow your progresses and for you to recapitulate your work: it will be very handy to have all your records and protocols online the day you will have to write a thesis, paper or report.
  • We have informal weekly lab meeting every Thursday at 2 pm and semi-formal weekly meeting with all the neuro groups of the division every Wednesday at 9:15 am. We also have a weekly meeting with the other fly people, every Friday morning at 11 am. You are required to attend all meetings: please let me know in advance if you cannot attend for some reason. You are also encouraged to take part to the monthly London Fly Meeting, held every third Wednesday of the month at the Crick Institute.
  • There is a neurotechnology initiative within Imperial, putting together all research groups working on neuro-related matters. They run a weekly journal club every Thursday at 10am. If you want to partecipate, even just sporadically, you should join their mailing list https://mailman.ic.ac.uk/mailman/listinfo/bioeng-neuro
  • Make sure that all the data you generate undergo proper backup. I have zero tolerance on unbackuped data and so should you! Instruction on how to backup your data can be found here.
  • We do a lot of coding in the lab. The preferred programming languages are Python and R. I encourage you to use Python unless you have a really good reason to prefer something else. All of the software and hardware built by the lab is released as open source, most of it as soon as is coded. If you don’t have one yet, please open an account on github and join the lab repository: https://github.com/gilestrolab
  • A good scientist is a collaborative scientist. You are extremely encouraged to interact with other scientists within Imperial, especially outside of this department. If you want to contact scientists who work outside of the college for matters related to the college, please just let me know beforehand.
  • I keep a semi-open calendar on the web. Use it to plan meetings with me: http://lab.gilest.ro/calendar
  • We have two shared lab calendar on google. One is to organise lab events (from lab meetings to parties) and the other to make note of absences. Ask Giorgio to be invited to both.
  • If you are going to be working in the lab for longer than 6 months, you should register yourself with the Occupational Health Department by filling the form that you will find at this address and following instructions therein. Working with Drosophila is not harmful at all, but some people can develop allergies in certain conditions and it is a duty of Imperial College Occupational Health to monitor insect work for this reason. This will not take much of your time but I would advise to book your appointment as soon as possible since you may encounter a waiting list of 2-3 weeks.
  • If you are a PhD student or postdoc, open yourself a Bloomington account. You need this to order flies from the stock center. ( http://flystocks.bio.indiana.edu/ ) My BUN number is 3064 and you’ll have to register as part of this lab. Also, you are part of the fly community now, so you may also want to register an account with http://academictree.org/flytree/ or http://neurotree.org/neurotree

Week 1 checklist

  • [ ] Undergo day one induction
  • [ ] Get a lab coat
  • [ ] Fill the lab registration form
  • [ ] Send picture and blurb for lab website
  • [ ] Get access to web labbok (ask GG for password)
  • [ ] Check Imperial ID card has access to fly room
  • [ ] Check your email is in lab mailing lists (confirm with GG)
  • [ ] Registered to Health and Safety (needed only if staying longer than 3 months!)

1. http://www.quora.com/Did-Einstein-really-define-insanity-as-doing-the-same-thing-over-and-over-again-and-expecting-different-results