OPTIMlab Charter

Overview

OPTIMlab is a community. We want to create a lab culture that allows everyone to excel both professionally and personally and is inclusive and embraces diversity. This culture is created by all of us and so all members of OPTIMlab are expected to show respect and courtesy to others at all times. 

Please note that this code of conduct supplements, but does not take priority over, Department/Faculty/University level policies. 

Inclusion and diversity 

We value an inclusive and diverse environment to support each individual’s development and research, and to promote robust decision making and high-quality research. All lab members are thus dedicated to a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, and/or religion. We do not tolerate harassment by and/or of members of our lab in any form.  

Be kind to others, and do not insult or put down other lab members. We acknowledge that we will grow as a team, and learn from each other through positive, constructive criticism. 

More details can be found in the University’s ‘Dignity at Nottingham Policy’: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/hr/guidesandsupport/complaintsgrievanceanddignity/dignity/documents/dignity-at-nottingham-policy-update-12-2019.pdf 

If you are experience harassment you can contact George at any time. Alternatively, you can contact one the of Dignity Advisers at the University who are listed here: https://uniofnottm.sharepoint.com/sites/DignityAdviserNetwork 

Mental health 

There is increasing evidence that certain attributes of research may challenge your mental health. Specific factors driving this include: 

  • Low pay and quality-of-life issues 
  • Feelings of isolation in your research; e.g. everyone has their own topic and it can often feel as if you are working on your own 
  • Uncertainty in your research, although it should be noted that, in research of all kinds, it is not just the outcomes that are uncertain, but the questions themselves! 
  • Uncertainty in your career 
  • So-called “negative results”; i.e. at some point in your research it is likely that certain questions will be more challenging to answer than anticipated, or that you will feel you have spent days/months/years toiling with little to show 
  • Burnout; i.e. feeling the need to work endless hours to make up for the above issues, and the subsequent exhaustion 

All researchers (MSc, MEng, PhD, Post Doctoral, and Academic Staff) come across most of these issues at some level. I strongly encourage everyone in the group to take an active and pre-emptive approach towards the maintenance of their mental health. One of my jobs is to make sure that you have the time and resources needed for successful research. If there is anything that is placing undue stress, or preventing you from performing at your potential, please do not hesitate to let me know. Sharing these issues can reduce stress and help others be accommodating towards your needs, and we may be able to assist.  

Please also make yourself familiar with mental health resources available from the University: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/currentstudents/healthyu/mental-health/bodymind.aspx

Flexible working and annual leave 

We work flexibly: 

  • Full-time researchers and PhD students are expected to spend ~36.5 hours per week on their academic activities. Spending much less time than this risks making insufficient progress on your research. Spending much more time than this risks your mental health. 
  • The scheduling of the hours that members of the lab choose to work is up to them, with the caveat that many laboratories and facilities may only be accessed during certain hours for health and safety reasons. However, aiming to be on campus between 1000 and 1600 at least some days most weeks helps facilitate collaborative working and, we hope, leads to a more fulfilling research experience. Where possible, meetings and events will not be arranged outside these hours to allow participation by all OPTIMlab members. It is our policy that every member is already self-motivated and doesn’t need to work a traditional 9-5 day in order to reach their goals. 
  • It is important to respect the time and efforts of others and avoid situations in which your own ability to work long hours might negatively impact someone else who doesn’t have the same flexibility. 
  • It is also important to respect the contribution of funders. Where there are key time pressures, it is important to prioritise work. 
  • Remote working away from Nottingham is supported, provided that research goals can be met and meetings are attending virtually. 
  • Lab members are able to work flexibly for any reason. 
  • Group meetings are held every second Thursday 14:00-16:00. All lab members expected to attend (either in person or virtually if working away from Nottingham) and contribute to discussions. 
Annual leave: 
  • Permission for holiday is rarely required, but please respect key deadlines within the calendar year and respect that we work in a group. As a courtesy, please note any holidays in the ‘Where are we’ shared calendar so others know if you will be away. 
  • It is important to take holiday, respect weekends (or time in lieu) and establish a sustainable work-life balance. If you struggle with establishing a sustainable work life balance, please discuss this with George at an early stage. 

Communication and meetings 

We prepare for one-to-one meetings. Please come to your meeting ready to discuss: 

  • Your progress against previously agreed action items 
  • Questions or problems that you need help with 
  • Your thoughts and plans, no matter how tentative they are. Be it an experiment/simulation you are thinking about, a paper you might write, an organisation you might collaborate with on your research, an internship you would like to apply for, some teaching you would like to do or your next career step – I want you to discuss it with me. You never know, I might have some useful advice I can share! 
  • I will ask you to make your own notes during the meeting, noting down key next steps and actions. Please share these with me after the meeting so we can discuss at the next meeting to see how the items have progressed. This can be done either via email, a Teams message or by adding them as tasks to an online Planner schedule (https://tasks.office.com/

Much of our work is done via Teams. You can ask me questions one-to-one or you can ask the lab questions using the OPTIMlab group. This is a less formal mode of interaction that can be used to quickly ask questions, share results and does not require you to send me any notes afterwards. I may often read your messages but not reply for a few days – this is usually because I am thinking about your problem, not because I am not interested! I am in fact very interested in all your work – that is the very reason I am here. 

We participate actively in our regular lab group meetings: 

  • Members are expected to attend if they are not otherwise engaged in academic business (e.g. at conference, attending training or a lecture, etc) 
  • Members are expected to show respect for others by paying attention during presentations and discussion. This includes, but is not limited to, putting their phones away. 
  • We are each welcome to send emails and other messages over the weekend and late at night but no members are required to reply outside of their normal working hours. 

Manuscript writing 

Embrace disseminating your work. It is part of being a good researcher. 

Papers and chapters take time to write and the first few drafts are always rubbish. Please start writing as early as possible and ask for regular feedback. This will help you write better papers. It may take as many as 12 drafts – that’s 6 drafts from you, and 6 rounds of comments from me – to produce a paper that stands a good chance of being accepted. 

Please give at least a week’s notice when you ask for feedback. Ideally, plan and agree deadlines to give me each of the 6 drafts you’re going to need to write to get your manuscript up to standard. If you leave writing to the last minute, you are asking your co-authors to give up their free time to help make your paper as good as it can be. Do everything you can to avoid writing or polishing a paper just before the deadline. We would much rather help you with your paper during normal working hours. 

PhD students should aim to submit a conference paper at the end of their first year / start of their second year. They should also aim to publish at least one journal paper before they finish their Ph.D. but should consider if any of their thesis chapters could be standalone papers. Publications often come all at once at the end of a Ph.D. so do not stress if they are not ready until the end of year 3! 

We provide supplementary materials with our papers wherever possible. 

Writing can be a lengthy and mentally taxing task but it is very important. I therefore recommend you write every day – it doesn’t matter what it is, but try to write something towards your next paper, thesis or grant for 30 minutes everyday. 

Authorship 

Collaborate often and always acknowledge the work of others. 

Authorship on any manuscript or presentation will be openly discussed in supervision meetings and we aim to be inclusive of everyone who has made a significant contribution to the work being presented. A “significant contribution” can include but is not limited to development of ideas, or collection of, or interpretations of data presented in the work. Even if someone did work that was not ultimately included in the paper you should acknowledge this – a negative result produced by someone else may have been crucial for guiding your path towards a positive result. 

We base authorship on the following 4 criteria: 

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND 
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND 
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND 
  • 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. 

As a group, we will endeavour to encourage an open dialogue about this, and ideally authorship check-ins will occur several times over the lifetime of the study. Please discuss with me who, outside of your supervision team, might be an author before approaching them. 

You must request permission before submitting a paper for peer review, and have all authors’ acknowledgement that they are content for the paper to be submitted (even after re-review). If you need assistance with this process, please speak to me. 

The order list of authors will typically follow the conventions of our field: the lead author will normally lead writing of the document; other significant up-front positions are dictated by the approximate percentage contribution made by each author. Latter author positions are often held by supervisors of the work. Where conflict arises, I will facilitate discussion to help resolve this. 

Mentoring and personal development 

My aim as leader is to be a mentor to all of you, both in terms of research and your personal and professional development. This in accordance with the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers (https://www.vitae.ac.uk/policy/concordat) that the University are signatories to. 

As part of this, we will have an annual review meeting to discuss more current research goals, plan for the following year and set personal and professional career goals. I will ask you to fill out a survey to help identify skills gaps and set goals (http://myidp.sciencecareers.org

In return, I hope that you will mentor each other, particularly junior members of the lab and visiting members such as undergraduate project students. Mentoring is one of the key aspects of a thriving research culture and all members should engage with it. 

What you can expect of me 

  • I promise to care about you and your research – I am highly invested in your success and well-being. 
  • I will work hard to bring in funding to keep research going. 
  • I will publicise your research in order to promote it and encourage new collaborations and opportunities 
  • I will consult everyone in the lab before recruiting new members 
  • I will review drafts within a week of receiving them, but more time may be needed to go over revisions 
  • I will review your personal development plans and help you set goals 
  • I will support you to attend at least 1 conference per year 
  • I will invite you to work on exciting side projects – feel free to say no, but please do not commit if you do not have time 
  • I will include you in papers 
  • I will create and support an inclusive and diverse lab culture 

What I expect of you 

  • You should take ownership of your research project and strive to achieve your goals and produce high-quality results 
  • You should feel free to propose new ideas for projects/proposals – I am happy to discuss these but will ask you take ownership of writing the first few drafts 
  • You should support, mentor and collaborate with others whenever you can 
  • You should maintain good lines of communication with me so we can celebrate great ideas/results but also quickly identify problems 
  • You should investigate and talk with me about applying for appropriate funding opportunities 
  • Please complete and keep up to date your Individual Development Plan (IDP) (http://myidp.sciencecareers.org
  • As a Ph.D. student you should aim to for at least two submitted (ideally accepted) peer-reviewed papers before your viva (but aim for more if you can!). Post-docs should aim for around one paper per year on average. 
  • By the time you have your viva, you should be the smartest person in the room on your topic 
  • Communicate your career goals to me as they develop 

This Charter borrows heavily and is modified from several other codes of conduct: (i) BahlaiLab CoC (Christine Bahlai); (ii) WhitakerLab (Kirstie Whitaker); (iii) Hill Lab (Jon Hill); (iv) Krevorlab (Sam Krevor); (v) MicroMicEng (Ben Britton); (vi) Schloss Lab (Pat Schloss)