HMLab Operating Standards

Orientation guide for research students

Hubert Muchalski

Last updated: 2018-09-13

Our mission is the development of great science with great people, and great people with great science.

Introduction

You received this document because you expressed interest in doing research in my group. It is important that students who want to do research in my lab are familiar with the standards and the culture in the group before joining. The purpose of this document is to clarify and communicate those standards.

Our Values and Standards

  1. Significance & Relevance. We gain satisfaction by doing high quality work on important problems that are significant to us and relevant to others.
  2. Curiosity & Creativity. We are curious and seek out challenging problems which require creative solutions. We communicate ideas, feelings, and opinions, and we listen to others.
  3. Integrity & Responsibility. We are honest, trustworthy, and truthful with each other. We speak directly with each other before speaking indirectly about each other. We respect and are responsible for ourselves, for the team, and for the tools that we share.
  4. Teamwork & Leadership. We are a caring, sharing, and supportive team in which leadership is earned by serving the needs of others and gaining their trust and respect.

Levels of involvement

The level of involvement in research will depend on your lab experience and long-term professional goals. Students interested in research will be allowed to shadow, observe, and talk with other students while they work.1 The only condition is that you shall not be disruptive while doing that. After a period of few weeks, you and I will have a discussion on the nature of your involvement in the lab. If I determine that you are a good fit,2 I base my opinions in part on the input from my students. you will be invited to join the group at one of the following levels:

  1. Apprentice. For one semester your aim will be to learn the standard operating procedures (SOPs) commonly used by researchers in my group. You will do that by helping other students in the lab conduct their experiments. You may be asked to help on one or more projects, depending on the situation. Expected time commitment is 1-2 hours per week of in-lab work.
  2. Undergraduate research assistant. You will play a supportive role in a research project of a senior member of the group. This level is for students who want to earn my recommendation to strengthen their candidacy for a professional degree in health sciences.3 Some students will have an opportunity to earn academic credit by enrolling Independent Study (CHEM 190) Expected time commitment is 2-3 hours per week of in-lab work.
  3. Undergraduate research associate. This is a long-term commitment for students who consider pursuing advanced degree in chemical sciences.4 Training takes a lot of time and effort for everyone involved and a reasonable contribution to a research project can take few semesters. Once you’re fluent in major SOPs, we will discuss your research project and draft a document that defines project aims, learning objectives, time commitment, and deliverables. You will earn academic credit by enrolling in Independent Study (CHEM 190) and will be encouraged apply for internal research grants to support your research. Expected time commitment is 3-6 hours per week of in-lab work.
  4. Graduate research associate. This level is for students in the Master Program in Chemistry at Fresno State.

The more effort you put in the research, the more you can expect me to be involved. No matter what is your role in my lab, I am committed to your education and training. It is my goal to provide a research environment that is intellectually stimulating, supportive, safe, and free from harassment.

My expectations

I expect that you will follow chemical safety rules

Laboratory safety is everyone’s responsibility. Chemicals and equipment can be hazardous. My lab is a synthetic organic chemistry lab which can be particularly dangerous (alkali metals, flammables).

You can begin working in the lab only after you complete the safety training which will be discussed during orientation. Here are some general guidelines related to laboratory safety:

Accidents will happen. Glassware breaks and causes spills, cuts, or other emergencies. Human body reacts to certain chemicals. It is critical to know how to respond in case of an emergency that happens in the lab.

I expect that you will conduct research responsibly

Research is an enterprise to acquire knowledge. Our discipline places a high premium on honest, ethical research. There are stakes associated with the products of research such as grant funding, patent royalties, licensing income, revenue from products, employment, etc., and a temptation to be dishonest is high. Therefore, remember that…

The chemistry is what it is. We do our best to understand and convey what we observe. There are no compounds worth preparing, yields worth obtaining, catalysis worth performing, or observations worth making that are not genuine or accurate. I do not and will not put pressure on you to make things happen that you tell me do not. If you are putting in an honest effort and make a reasonable number of rational attempts, failure can be an appropriate outcome. No one’s thesis, graduation, grade, or anything will depend on success in making a reaction work or preparing a compound.6 Of course, your outcome does depend on you completely and accurately characterizing compounds you successfully prepare or reactions you successfully perform.

Our reputation is at stake. We are a group that others will see as providing reliable syntheses in the literature. You have probably already experienced reactions that are not reliable or experimental procedures that are missing important details Therefore, what we report must reflect reality and when performed, work as reported. This requires that you keep an accurate, detailed record of the experiment in laboratory notebooks and not memory. It also requires that we reproduce experiments and synthesis to verify the procedure and yield. That also means that we always report complete and accurate data for compounds.

We give credit when credit is due. In papers or presentations, individuals who contribute to the work intellectually are co-authors. Individuals who make smaller helpful contributions are acknowledged. The work of prior lab mates that is not published or is part of a collaborative project is clearly delineated from your own contribution in reports, presentations, or theses.

I expect you to take intellectual ownership of your research project

My role is to encourage you to think deeply about chemistry you are doing and take intellectual ownership of the project as early as possible. This means asking a lot of questions, taking detailed notes, and reading about the project and discussing it with others. Think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. I expect that over time you will understand the conceptual framework related to the project and work to learn all aspects of even the simplest lab techniques.

I expect you to develop your personal research skills

Each experiment is an opportunity to improve your working knowledge or organic chemistry. I expect that you will maintain and expand your knowledge of reactions, mechanisms, analytical methods, and improve your lab techniques.

The best way to grow as a chemist is to read scientific literature. Read the papers I suggest. Learn how to use scientific databases such as SciFinder to look up information or ask others for paper recommendations.

Making (honest) mistakes is an integral part of the training in any lab. Don’t freak out when they happen. I expect that you will learn from those mistakes and not make them again. Also, failed experiments are not measure of personal worth. If everything worked as planned, research would be dull.

I expect you to contribute to the lab and be a good citizen

Science is a community many people will help you along the way and you should return the favor. Share your insider knowledge of techniques with others. Senior students are expected to help train new students in the ways of the world (i.e. lab procedures, how individual/group meetings work, literature searching, etc.).

You will have designated lab jobs such as inventory, general maintenance, taking care of one of the instruments, etc. Failure to do your lab jobs not only affects you, it can impede the entire lab and will not be tolerated. Everyone is expected to maintain general lab cleanliness, help with dishes, and making sure that supplies do not run out.

The Nitty Gritty

“You need a lot of luck in research. But the more you work, the luckier you get.”

—Sir Derek Barton

Work hours

Time commitment levels outlined above are just a guideline. I believe that work hours are not a good measure of progress in research. I am more interested to see results of experiments you carry out than the time you spend in the lab. That being said, carrying out experiments takes time and you will quickly recognize that experiments sometimes require your attention outside of standard working hours or during weekends.

Undergraduate students should expect to start as volunteers with a potential of enrolling in research for credit (CHEM 190) in the future. At the beginning of each semester we will meet and schedule your active time in the lab like you would do for other classes. The time you commit to research is mostly up to you. However, if you are undergraduate student taking research for credit, you must commit to at least 45 hours/unit7 CHEM 190 is like any other lab class. One unit equals 3 hours per week. Some projects benefit from few hours dispersed throughout the week, others require a solid 3-4-hour block. of active in-lab time8 This means being in the lab and carrying out experiments which can take different forms. Preparing the spreadsheet, for example, counts as carrying out experiments. Feel free to ask me what is considered active vs. passive time in the lab. over the entire semester and your final assignment is a written research report that must be submitted to me and the department chair.

Meetings

We will have weekly whole group meetings every other Monday afternoon at 4:30–6:00 PM. Graduate students and students taking research for credit are required to attend the group meeting. Student volunteers are encouraged to attend, especially if they think about enrolling in CHEM 190 in the future.

Authorship

One of the most important tasks in science is disseminating your research through publications and presentations; therefore, authorship on these items is an important indicator to the outside world of your role. Authorship implies a significant contribution to a paper such as intellectual ideas that direct the research or experimental contributions.9 Just following instructions and not actively participating in the experimental design or data interpretation will be acknowledged, but likely would not result in an authorship. While the order of authors varies by specific field, in general for organic chemistry the first author is the student who took the lead, contributed the most, and wrote the paper. The last (corresponding) author is the PI, and the authors in between are in order of decreasing contribution.

Vacation time and absences

I ask that you discuss with me your extended absences from the lab at least 1 week before. This helps me better decide the direction of research in the group on before you leave for extended period.

Conflict resolution

If a conflict arises with another lab member during your time in my lab, I will work with you to find a resolution. If the conflict fails to be resolved or you do not feel comfortable involving me, I encourage you to consult with the Department Chair to settle the disagreement.