June 1, 2021 -- When you hear the words "lab meeting," do they evoke warm feelings of camaraderie and inspiration or the dread of tedium and dysfunction? To ensure more of the former and less of the latter, a new paper published on May 27 in PLOS Computational Biology gives 10 rules for better lab meetings -- and ultimately better science.
The rules focus on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and they are intended to help science professionals make deliberate investments in long-term practices that cultivate a rich, productive lab environment.
The 10 rules emerged from years of practical experience in the laboratory of Toni Lyn Morelli, PhD, who is affiliated with the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center and the U.S. Geological Survey at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass Amherst).
"How does one create a diverse and inclusive lab that enables all members to bring their whole selves?" Morelli said in a statement, explaining the motivation for the rules. "What week-to-week actions can reinforce the sense of community and increase an individual's, and thus the whole group's, productivity?"
A typical meeting in Morelli's lab at UMass Amherst begins with an icebreaker to foster supportiveness and a brief reflection on the discussion ground rules and the participants' collective commitment to ensure the meeting is open, mindful, and respectful. Lab members rotate as meeting facilitators each week.
The 10 rules are as follows:
Morelli's lab meetings typically include one principal investigator, five to 10 graduate students, one postdoctoral fellow, and a few undergraduates and visiting students.
By formalizing the 10 rules into a high-profile research paper, the authors wanted to communicate the message that the goal of fostering diversity and inclusion in the lab can pay off in terms of not only smoother meetings but also better science.
"There is plenty of good research showing that diversity and inclusion make the science itself better," said Kadambari Devarajan, one of the lead authors of the paper and a graduate student in environmental conservation at UMass Amherst and a member of Morelli's lab.
In the end, the tips for better lab meetings should be thought of as an overall investment strategy in the professional and personal lives of lab personnel.
"Lab meetings can be some of the most memorable and rewarding moments in our academic journeys," the authors wrote. "When navigated thoughtfully, they can help foster lasting collaborations, create life-long friendships, and provide a safe harbor within academia."