Virginia Tech Forest Genomics Lab Expectations

(Borrowed heavily from Jeff Ross-Ibarra, UC Davis, Rubén Rellán-Álvarez, NC State, and Meryl Mims, Virginia Tech)

General Rules

Safety first

Your health and safety are more important than your research. This includes adhering to lab safety codes, as well as maintaining your physical and mental health. Never work in the lab if you are feeling sick, under medication that might affect your ability to work normally and definitely not under the effects of any kind of drugs. Avoid working in the lab by yourself doing potentially dangerous activities.


I expect lab members to contribute to a productive and friendly environment conducive to learning and research. This includes treating your colleagues with respect, listening to others’ viewpoints and ideas, and ensuring the lab is a place where everybody feels welcome and appreciated. Racist, sexist, or other inappropriate comments or behavior will not be tolerated under any circumstance.

Expectations (for all members)

Self-motivation and responsibility 

Graduate school in particular and research in general is different than undergraduate work. Whether and M.S. or Ph.D. thesis, one of your goals is to complete an original research project. The broader goal, however, is to learn how to do research. This involves setting specific goals, making progress, evaluating failures and learning from them, and ultimately completing projects all the way through to dissemination of results (papers, science communication). Everyone in the lab is working on a project for which I (along with colleagues) wrote a funding proposal. You can use these documents as a guide, but don’t let them give you tunnel vision. The field advances quickly and part of learning how to do research is keeping up with those advances, learning new methods as they arise (or as you find out about them), and generally taking ownership for the success of your project.



Familiarize yourself with the requirements of your degree, establish a timeline for completion of the degree, organize meetings with me as needed, and adhere to lab policies on data management. Most projects in the lab involve processing hundreds of samples from tissue and through DNA extraction and some form of analysis of that DNA. The relationship between sample ID’s and results must be carefully maintained or any results will be meaningless. Mistakes happen, and I would much rather know about them so we can figure out how to fix them, than be in the dark and discover the problem when it’s too late (or otherwise impossible) to do anything about it.


Work hours

We are lucky enough to work in an area where flexible working hours are the norm. In order to be able to interact with the rest of the persons in the lab, we generally expect lab members to be present the majority of normal business hours (9-5pm) during the work week, since this is when most academic activities occur. There may be times when your project requires work late at night or on the weekends, but you are not expected to regularly work more than a normal 40-hour work week. It is important that you take time off for personal life, vacations, etc. I do ask, however, that you notify me if you will be absent for ≥2 days, and let me know in advance of any extended leave.


Everyone is encouraged to attend at least one conference a year. Examples of such meetings are those organized by IUFRO (International Union of Forestry Research Organizations), SMBE (Society of Molecular Biology and Evolution), and Evolution (Society of the Study of Evolution). There are also some regional meetings that may be appropriate. Whenever possible, I will help fund attendance at one conference per year for each member of the lab on the condition that you are presenting a poster or talk at the meeting. This may or may not include meetings in exotic locations that cost much more, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Please provide ample time before the deadline for reviewing abstracts and posters or practicing talks.


We follow the IJME rules for authorship rules:
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. Projects evolve over time and authorship inclusion and author order will be re-evaluated accordingly.

Data Management

Assume your data is not safe unless backed up in at least three locations. This is particularly true for raw data (for example, from the sequencing center). I currently keep a copy of all data that’s ever been generated for all raw sequence data in my work directory on the VT computing clusters, in the archive on this system, and on an external hard drive in my office. Note that using only the cluster (work/archive) is insufficient because $WORK is purged from time to time (you will be notified, pay attention to these emails!) and that essentially leaves just one permanent backup ($ARCHIVE) that could become corrupted. I am happy to provide funds to purchase external hard drives for this purpose. Similarly, downstream analyses, writing, etc, should be backed up in some way. The easiest way to do this is with a cloud service (google drive, dropbox), many of which are free below a certain size limit.

Specific rules for Master and PhD students

My responsibilities to Master and PhD students:

·       Develop project ideas.

·       Help with analysis

·       Interpret results.

·       Proof-read and contribute to writing of thesis, abstracts and manuscripts.

·       Discuss future career goals and plan ways to facilitate these goals.

·       Meet weekly to discuss progress and pitfalls.

Expectations of Master and PhD students:

·       Prepare for our regular progress/pitfalls meetings and a follow up email of progress and goals.

·       Write and submit manuscripts. On average, I expect most students to produce 2-3 first author publications over the course of their PhD, and one for an M.Sc.

·       Maintain a set of lab notes, including directories of data, annotated codes & versions, detailed methods. These need to sufficient to reproduce results without additional instructions.

·       Write thesis in due time.

·       Proof-read manuscripts from other lab members. Participate in talk rehearsals of your colleagues.

·       Participate in general lab responsibilities (maintain common areas, taking turns hosting visitors, communal sampling and field work etc.).

·       Present research talks/posters at conferences over the course of your time in the lab. You are encouraged to do so annually, but this isn’t always possible.

·       Optional, but encouraged: Mentor at least one undergraduate student.