Policies, Expectations


First and foremost, our health and safety need to be our number one priority over anything else. This includes safety in the lab and field as well as maintaining your physical and mental health. We will have a list of resources on and off campus in the lab. Avoid potentially dangerous activities (working with hazardous chemicals, etc.) after hours if no one else is present in your vicinity. Environmental health and safety (EHS) policies and MSDS information will be in the lab.


Treat everyone, including yourself, with respect in the lab. Harassment in any form will not be tolerated, and everyone should feel welcomed in our space. Everyone must also abide formal campus policies: [link]. More generally, we will be using a shared space. Different activities and people have different needs for concentration and the ability to be productive. Please respect this and keep conversations, music in headphones, and any other activities to reasonable noise levels.

Expectations as an advisor

As an advisor to graduate students, it is my responsibility to help you be as successful as possible to work toward your goals. If you have any items that would help you be successful but are not on this list, let me know! My responsibilities to graduate students include the following:

  • Help with development of project ideas.
  • Help with finding the best tools and methods for answering scientific questions.
  • Interpretation of research results.
  • I will provide feedback and help developing conference posters or talks. We will do live practice presentations.
  • Regular meetings (weekly or bi-weekly) to talk about updates to projects, coursework, and solutions to any problems. I will provide you with honest feedback and will ask that you do the same when I ask if I am meeting your needs as a student. We will arrange a meeting schedule when you start and this can be re-assessed throughout your graduate tenure.
  • Help with identifying funding sources, and feedback on grant proposals.
  • Help with finding other mentors and collaborators when you are interested in research topics or interdisciplinary items outside of my expertise.
  • Help with writing and constructive critical revision of manuscripts. I will always provide constructive and critical feedback, but the level of writing help will depend on your experience level.
  • Discuss future career goals and help with planning toward these goals. This may include brainstorming, help with writing application materials, recommendation letters, networking, etc. If I need to write something for you (e.g., letter) please give me at least two weeks before the deadline.

Graduate Student Expectations

Just as I have responsibilities to students, students also have responsibility for their own success. Below are some of my expectations for students in the lab. These expectations are specific to our research group, and students will also have to make sure to meet all general expectations of the graduate program.

  • Be a good team member. Participate in lab meetings, provide feedback on practice presentations, and help proof-read or provide feedback on projects and manuscripts. Participate in group fieldwork opportunities when they arise. Put real effort into these situations. Be on time, prepare for group discussions, and provide honest and helpful feedback in a constructive manner. Respond to emails and any other correspondence in a timely fashion.
  • Help in maintaining a functional lab space. Keep things clean, help with ordering items when we are running on short supply, help with removing waste from the lab, help sustain a constructive atmosphere.
  • Maintain a clear digital or paper (or both) lab notebook. These must include enough detail for someone to reproduce your work without speaking with you. For lab work, this includes all details about protocols. For computational work, this includes every step and settings of all analyses. This will save everyone tremendous amounts of time in the future.
  • Follow the lab protocol for data backup redundancies.
  • Read scientific literature regularly. As a graduate student I tried my best to read one paper per day and often revisited literature that I did not fully understand the first time I read it. If you need any suggestions on where to begin, please ask.
  • Be prepared for our weekly or biweekly meetings with progress, updates, etc.
  • Apply for grants for your research. These can be internal grants, external society grants, or any other source of funding that might pertain to your research topic. Do this early and often. We all need practice in explaining the importance of our research, and this will develop many skills that future employers seek.
  • Seek my advice on issues related to your professional development. This includes everything from deciding on coursework, research directions, and preparing for after your tenure here. I expect that you will consider all of this advice, but remember that it is advice and you also have to consider what is best for your interests and goals.
  • Mentor an undergraduate student on a research project. This doesn’t have to be right when you get started, but this will help you hone your communication, teamwork, and mentorship abilities as well as provide a meaningful opportunity for another individual.


Part of our work takes place in the field. All policies about safety and respect apply equally to the field as they do in the lab.

  • Funding – All field trips for lab research projects will be funded through lab funds. This includes room, board, and travel costs. We will try our best to fund any student-organized fieldwork, but it is not guaranteed. We encourage applying for small grants to fund or partially fund fieldwork.
  • Permits – Everyone is responsible for making sure all research is done ethically and under the relevant local and federal permits. If you don’t know, ask. Locally, this would mean IACUC, permission of landowners, and USFWS permits for birds. In other states and countries, protocols vary, but we need to make sure to do everything by the books.
  • Firearms – For some of our work, we will collect specimens using firearms. It is expected that everyone completes hunter safety prior to participation. Proof of completion must be filed in the lab.
  • Leading trips – We will decide on a case-by-case basis whether individuals can lead independent trips for fieldwork. This will be dependent on the individual’s personal and scientific background, destination, etc.
  • Equipment – We will have field equipment as well as most needed camping supplies in the storage room. These items are free to use for anyone in the lab, but you must get permission first to make sure there are no conflicts of use, and to make sure you know how to use anything you will be taking properly.


  • Training – Everyone must have training with an experienced lab member with lab safety, general protocols, and best practices in the lab. We have specific areas for DNA extractions relative to everything else. If we have lab equipment you have not used before, someone can assist in learning how to use it. These rules are for safety, general maintenance of equipment, and to prevent sample contamination.
  • Use of equipment, reagents, etc. – Respect that communal lab equipment and reagents are used by several people. Use aliquots of all solutions and reagents rather than stock solutions. Do not assume that materials are shared unless they are labeled as such or are in the general lab stocks. Respect the workspaces so they are orderly and clean for all users.

Computational Work

  • Use of lab computers – We have several computers, laptops and desktop machines, that are for use by lab members. Respect that others may be using a specific device. Leave detailed notes if you are running an analysis or need a machine at a specific time. Communicate with others about using shared computers.
  • Use of HPC – Everyone will be expected to get an account for use of the high-performance computing cluster, and to have appropriate training before use. We will have some dedicated processing, as well as access to campus resources. Follow best practices for job submission, data storage, and package installation.


All students are encouraged to attend conferences. I envision most people in the lab would attend meetings related to ornithology, evolution, molecular evolution, and genome biology. Several societies have meetings every year, such as the American Ornithological Society and Society for the Study of Evolution. If students have research to present (poster or contributed talk), we will do our best to provide funding for conference attendance and travel through lab funds. It is expected that students will apply for conference travel grants whenever possible. If you will be submitting an abstract for a conference, it is expected that we review the information at least a week before any deadlines.

Seminars + Journal Groups

We expect all lab members to attend the weekly departmental seminar series unless there is a course conflict or you are out of town. Joining (or even starting) journal readings group(s) is encouraged to engage with peers, mentors, and mentees about current scientific literature.

Work Hours

We are lucky to have great flexibility with our time schedules. It is not necessary to work massive amounts of hours, most nights, or on weekends. Occasionally, we might have deadlines or experiments that require a night of work, or some time in the lab on a weekend, but this is not expected to be the norm. That being said, we do need to communicate with each other, discuss ideas, etc. As such, it is expected that all full-time members of the group be in the lab or office spaces between 9:30am and 2pm each day unless they are in classes, meetings, etc. This will allow personal flexibility of schedule, while also making sure we are in the same place a portion of each day.

Any extended absences >2 work days need to be marked on the lab ‘out of town’ board. If you are planning extended field work or vacation, you will need to check with me first to make sure there are no conflicts.


When we start projects, we will frame out roles and authorship for projects. Over time, projects change, personnel change, etc. We will re-evaluate authorship changes when necessary throughout stages of a project. Please voice your opinion if there are any disagreements about any aspect of this process. To be an author on manuscripts out of the lab, we try our best to make sure that all authors meet the following requirements:

  • Substantial contributions to conception / design of the project or  in the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of the data
  • Writing the manuscript or critical revisions of the scientific content
  • Accountability for the integrity of the research and willingness to represent all aspects of the paper
  • Final approval of the manuscript version that will be published

Read this: Defining authorship (most of the points adopted from these standards).

Additional policies and expectations may be appended if new or unanticipated situations arise. Any suggestions are welcome. Much of the structure and ideas for this document have come from other biologists (with permission): Rellán-Álvarez LabSmith Lab.