The laboratory is organized in a fashion designed to offer a fair opportunity to anyone who is interested and willing to devote the considerable time and effort to achieve basic discoveries in the life sciences. For some activities, individuals report directly to me and for other activities they report to a designated supervisor. This usually is the person who has the greatest experience, the longest tenure, and demonsrated responsibility and efficiency. The various general laboratory duties are supervised by assignment that is established in laboratory meetings every semester. From time-to-time the University reminds faculty that as Principal Investigators, we are stewards of the University when it comes to overseeing various responsibilities and legal issues pertaining to our research. Here I discuss various related issues that we all should be aware of.
Chemicals, reagents, equipment:
Research “life” is very different now than it was 40 years ago when I started. We need permits and permission to collect animals and to house them, to use all sorts of chemicals and reagents (even some glassware is considered a controlled substance now). And in some cases, we need agreements with industry to use their chemicals or protocols. When we wish to use experimental chemicals (e.g., aromatase inhibitor), I must sign a document saying that the chemical will never leave the laboratory and, in most instances, that any manuscripts resulting from work using their compound will first be sent to them prior to submission to a journal. Many of our reagents (e.g. aromatase inhibitors, anti-estrogens etc) are either purchased under one of my licenses or are given to us under contractual agreement. Some compounds are considered narcotics. Any misuse or misappropriation, or even gift of those to someone doing research in another lab, is the sort of thing that could get blown up and make news headlines. It would at least be likely to have the immediate impact of getting my license or contract revoked and ending a line of research. Finally, there is the red tape surrounding radioisotopes and their disposal (just ask Nicholas). So, there are all sorts of innocent ways to get in trouble, legal and otherwise, that we need to be aware of.
Even when away from the lab we are emissaries of UT, hopefully for the good, but sometimes it does not turn out that way. For example, when I was in Canada working with the red-sided garter snakes (I think it was 1987), one of the tourists began to really bug me, interfering with my observations of the animals. Words were exchanged, the final ones being “I am going to write your chairman about your attitude” and my reply “Fine, go ahead.” Well, this guy was a neurologist (in my opinion, the most neurotic, anal and pretentious group in the medical profession). He did write, and I had to write an apology to him and to the Canadian government. Had I not, our collecting permits were going to be yanked. The take-home message: be nice even if they are assholes.
Then there is the equally famous incident of a cow breaking its leg in a can trap that Allan Billy had set on Bureau of Land Management land in the flats below the AMNH Southwest Research field station. For a small fee ranchers are allowed to graze their cattle on BLM land, but they act as if they own it. Needless to say, he was not happy and we had to pay for the cow (and we did not even get to eat it!). So, when collecting, it is important to be sure that you are in a place where collecting is permitted and where your activities/presence is also permitted. In other words, get the permission of the landowner first before trespassing (see the article on the researcher being shot for trespassing on the lab door). Or, even if you don’t intend to keep animals, the act of attempting to catch them constitutes collecting in the eyes of outsiders. Again, one of you is a representative of this lab and UT, so your activities reflect on the lab and UT as a whole.
Excellence in research depends on the smooth running of the laboratory. This is particularly the case in multidisciplinary research. I have found that this is best achieved by adherence to the following policies.
- There is no overall coordinator of laboratory activities. It is essential that all involved in laboratory activity fulfill their assigned obligations with efficiency and reliability. The duties of the full-time laboratory personnel are assigned by me.
- Every member of the lab participates in the general care and maintenance of the laboratory. The tasks usually are divided and allocated usually in September, January, and July of each year or when someone leaves or joins the lab. Efforts are made to make sure that no one individual is burdened disproportionately. The laboratories and animal rooms are to be kept clean and orderly at all times & divide; in other words, clean up after yourself.
- Each individual is responsible for the care and maintenance of their research animals. Collectively those individuals working on the same organism are responsible for the colony as a whole with assignments being allocated on a yearly basis. Responsibilities are assigned such that a single individual will be responsible for the final product (e.g., the upkeep of a particular room). Because everything in this laboratory depends ultimately on healthy animals, their proper care is of paramount importance. Death of animals due to negligence will not be tolerated.
- Members of the laboratory are expected to adhere to schedules of work. Undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows are expected to establish schedules indicating the times they will be in the laboratory. This is important as some communications occur on the basis of the schedule. NB: If you say that you will be in the lab at particular times on certain days, I expect to see you in the lab at the indicated times. The actual amount of time spent in the lab, of course, will depend upon the level of training and stage of research. As a guide to what you might expect regarding time commitments, undergraduates can expect to be involved in research for 15-20 hours each week while graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will spend at least 60 hours per week. I repeat, these are rough estimates and will vary depending upon time of year, stage of research, etc.; the actual amount of time spent in the lab can be much greater.
- Because so much of what occurs in this laboratory depends upon the efficient interaction of many individuals, clear lines of communication and responsibilities are essential. Responsibilities to the laboratory are firm and binding. Unless you make arrangements with specific individuals to take over specific tasks in advance, you will be expected to perform your assignments as scheduled.
- My “management style” is not to define goals in general terms and then ignore how they are accomplished. I like to keep in close touch with the progress (and problems) associated with all of the projects. One of my “pet peeves” is not knowing what an individual is doing in the laboratory. This includes all individuals, undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and research assistants. It has happened on more than one occasion that someone has worked diligently on a project without providing me with regular progress reports. When we do get together in conference, it is not uncommon to find that there has been a fatal error in the logic, design, conduct, or analysis stages and the effort must be repeated. So, progress depends upon efficient and timely communication. I will try to meet with each of you on a weekly basis to discuss progress and future directions; in those instances that this is not possible, alternative plans will be made to maintain communication. Since my schedule is very busy, it is up to you to see that regular meetings are scheduled.
- It is essential that I be kept informed of when you will be away from the laboratory. If you do not keep me informed of your activities, it will not be possible for me to include you in opportunities that may arise on short notice or to anticipate your research needs (e.g., equipment and material must be budgeted in advance and allowances made for UT bureaucracy). In the case that you will be away for a prolonged period (e.g., undergraduates on winter break), you must arrange for someone to perform your assigned tasks. During the time away you may want to call the laboratory at intervals to check on the progress and performance of these tasks. Not only are you ultimately responsible for the tasks, but if your research project relies on certain tasks being done while you are away, chances are that they will not have been performed in the manner you would have had you been here (this is not due to spite, but due to the fact that the top priority of the people you are relying on is not your stuff).
- It is convention to have two weeks for vacation each year. However this depends on whether you are an undergraduate, graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, or research assistant. It also depends upon how advanced you are in your studies, what your goals are, and whether you are being paid from a grant. It is not my intention to force anyone to stay in the laboratory. But if you are in the middle of experiments or learning techniques, being away from the laboratory represents more than lost time. That is, experiments may be compromised and have to be re-started, thereby wasting animals and reagents, and your skills will actually deteriorate. I understand that undergraduates have exams and breaks that take time away from the laboratory. Further, undergraduates often do not have the same stake in the work (with the exception of students in the Biomedical Training Program). However, if you are a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow, your career depends upon scientific progress and publications and you can ill afford time away from the laboratory (unless you are learning techniques elsewhere). THIS MEANS THAT DURING THE FIELD SEASON (JUNE-AUGUST) WHEN ANIMALS ARE REPRODUCING OR EGGS ARE BEING PRODUCED, YOU MUST NOT PLAN ANY VACATION. If absence from the laboratory becomes excessive, I will encourage you to spend your time somewhere else.
- Caveat: I may be flexible given a good reason for taking more than two weeks, but you must first obtain permission from me. In other words do not make plans and / or buy plane tickets without clearing your plans first with me. Also, make all requests for time off by email and do not make plans until you get a response from me.
- All of the research done in the laboratory is complemented by research in the field. In addition to original research, these field trips serve to acquire animals for long-term laboratory studies. The field is not a vacation. It is hard work with long hours and the constant companionship can be very trying. Field trips require close coordination, maximum efficiency, and small egos. The duties, expectations, and chain-of-command will be assigned before the research team leaves for the field. If I am not on the trip, the person in charge will be assigned according to ability and experience in the field. Conflicts of opinion should be resolved in a democratic manner. If necessary, in those instances that I am not present, I can resolve conflicts by telephone if I am available. Remember that you are a representative of the laboratory and the University of Texas at Austin. If you do not act in a manner that brings credit to yourself and to the field crew, you will not go into the field again. Finally, “significant others” are not to visit field crews unless expressly approved by me before the field trip.
- There inevitably will be instances in which conflicts arise in the laboratory (cf., authorship, areas of interest, etc.). In such instances, I reserve the right to make all final decisions. It is preferable that areas of conflict be worked out among the individuals concerned, but if this is not possible, I will listen to all evidence and perspectives before making this decision.
- All data produced in laboratory and field projects conducted under the auspices of the Crews Lab are owned by me. You can, and are urged to, make copies of data for use at home, in your office, and when you leave the laboratory. The originals, however, stay in the laboratory.
- Communications with authorities regarding laboratory activities and research must carry my signature. This would apply to authorities at the American Museum of Natural History Southwestern Research Station, National Institutes of Health, Fish and Game Departments in the States of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, editors of scientific journals and books, local, national, and international news agencies, requests for hormones, ligands, or probes, etc.
- The radioimmunoassay and culture rooms are off limits to all except authorized personnel. Even authorized persons are not to go into the RIA room if they have packed hormone capsules that day.
- HISTOLOGY LAB RULES:
a. Everything in the lab is assigned to a space and should be returned after use.
b. All equipment assigned to the histology lab should remain in the lab or be replaced by the end of the day.
c. Replace chemicals and solutions as they run LOW. Do not assume that the next person has an extra 2-3 hours to find and replace missing equipment and chemicals.
d. Before you leave, make sure all paraffin has been cleaned from the countertops. This might involve the use of xylene to clean surfaces completely. If you are not willing to use xylene in this cleaning process, don’t use the paraffin.
e. Wash all glassware that you have used before you leave. Similarly, if you sharpen a knife, clean the knife sharpener and resurface the sharpening plates.
f. Chemicals such as xylene dishes should be kept in the fume hood, not in the staining stations under vents when not in use. This will reduce fumes.
g. Keep lids on all containers under staining vents. This cuts down on alcohol fumes in lab.
h. Label all solutions.
i. Since there are 5 working stations in the histology lab, no more than 5 people should be in the room at a time.
j. Wear gloves whenever possible while using xylene, toluene, or other dangerous chemicals.
k. Do not pour xylene, toluene, or other dangerous chemicals into the sink.
l. Put all waste glassware in red glassware container at the back of the histology lab.
m. Make sure that the equipment you use is cleaned after use.
- The policy regarding the preparation of Silastic capsules or other hormone preparations are straight-forward. Crystalline hormone is never allowed out of the vault. Because steroid hormones can affect other’s research, free hormone is not allowed in the west wing. Even Silastic capsules need to be in containers in the hood in the histology room. If you are packing hormone, plan to leave the building immediately afterwards. You cannot come back into the lab until you have showered and shampooed; the clothes you wore can’t come back into the lab unless they have been machine-washed. The strict adherence to these rules is necessary as even the smallest “grains” of hormone can ruin an assay. Hormone capsules or solutions are never to be taken into Room 42.
- Progress on research projects is reported directly to me except in the case of undergraduates working under the supervision of a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow. In this instance, the supervisor is responsible for the undergraduate’s day-to-day activities and for insuring that progress is steady. The supervisor of the research should give me timely progress reports of the undergraduate’s progress, both positive and negative. In this way the undergraduate does not have to rely on me for answers to specific questions and, at the same time, the supervisor learns first-hand what is entailed by “training.”
- Before any experiment is undertaken, the principal investigator will prepare a research proposal. This will list the designated principal investigator and collaborators and contain a background statement briefly stating the objective and rationale of the experiment, a detailed and explicit protocol in which all aspects of the research are addressed, and an annotated list of the possible alternatives and their significance.
- The books in my office are not to be taken without my permission. A note containing the volume title and author, the date and the borrower is to be placed in the shelf where the book normally resides. Be sure to return the book to the same place as you took it from. Books and journals are to be returned within one week of borrowing. The copies of theses and the volumes of collected publications are “off limits” to all. These are one-of-a-kind volumes and several have been lost already.
- The University of Texas requires that all who use radioactive isotopes must take a radiation safety course. These are offered periodically through the UT Safety Office. All use of radioisotopes must be carefully recorded. This includes the distribution of radioactive waste into solid and liquid phases as well as what goes into the animals.
- No equipment is to be used until you are checked out on its operation by a lab member who uses it regularly. Breakage and damage to equipment may occur during the course of research. If it occurs due to negligence, you will be responsible for the costs involved in fixing the item(s).
- Glassware is to stay in its room of origin. That is, glassware from the histology lab is not to be brought into the main lab, the RIA lab, or the molecular lab, etc.
- Microdissection instruments are fragile and easily damaged. Previous policies, all of which have hinged on individual responsibility, have proved to be unworkable as instruments for general laboratory use continue to disappear or be damaged irreparably. The new policy is that students must buy their own tools. I will contribute $100 to that purchase.
- Before leaving the laboratory, every investigator must take the responsibility of cataloging and storing their tissue blocks, data, preserved animals, data books, etc. You will also be responsible for telling me where you put things.
- It is assumed that each and every member of the laboratory will conduct themselves according to the highest standards of ethical conduct. In addition to the above items regarding animal care and health, each individual must be aware that fraudulence in the conduct of experiments, analysis of data, or in the preparation of scientific manuscripts will not be tolerated. Any such episode will result in dismissal from the laboratory and the appropriate University and Federal authorities will be notified.
- Part of my job as director of the laboratory is to make sure all graduates are competitive in today’s market. The most concrete form of this is seen in the ability to chose important problems, prepare papers, give exciting seminars, and secure grant funds. Ignoring or not taking advantage of this advice hurts only one person: yourself. I expect to participate actively in all of these aspects. For example, I consider it my obligation to work closely with you in writing research papers, preparing seminars (even in-house talks), developing graphics, and identifying problems and writing applications to study them to granting agencies.
- Classes beyond regular curriculum: If you would like to take an extra university class (e.g. a PE class, a non-science class) I am willing to consider such requests under the following circumstances: (a) They do not increase the amount of tution I pay for you. (b) They do not jeopardize your credit load for the semester or towards the “99 hour” rule. (c) They do not interfere with any regular lab work or anything that comes up. If such flexibility is not built into the extra class, then you will not be permitted to take it. (d) The class does not create an undue burden upon your time in any way. For example, a course that requires many hours of studying per week without a direct benefit towards your PhD degree would not be approved.