lab meeting [lab meet・ing] noun : a sometimes regular gathering of two or more members of one or more laboratories, during which discussion of science sometimes takes place.
One thing (of many...so many) that's been particularly challenging in this new gig has been instilling in my lab members a sense of both independence and team spirit. It's incredibly important to me that my grad students feel like they each own their projects, and that the work that they do is part of their personal education and career growth. But I also want them to feel like they're part of something bigger--that in the end, the common themes running through our research mean we're on some level all working for the same goal. Toward the first end, I try to find regular time to chat with everyone one-on-one, sometimes through a scheduled meeting, and sometimes just by wandering into the lab. Toward the other, we have lab meeting. But how can you know what lab meeting should look like? There are so many kinds.
1. The seminar. In grad school, I did a rotation in a lab whose weekly lab meetings were huge, 35-person affairs. Catered. Each week, one of the members of the 3 or 4 labs that participated gave a full hour presentation of their recent work, followed by another half hour of heated discussion. People stressed for months preparing for their talk as if it were a prestigious speaking engagement. Luckily, as a rotation student who couldn't get anything to work, I was exempt.
2. The I-guess-maybe-we-should-have-a-lab-meeting. The lab I ultimately chose for my thesis work did not really "do" lab meetings. Once in a while we'd try to get it going, but it was mostly just to work out animal testing schedules with the technicians. It never really stuck.
3. The rapid fire. My post-doc mentor had a lot of administrative duties that kept him out of the lab most of the time, so our weekly lab meetings were generally a time for him to catch up on what equipment was currently broken. Once in a while someone would present some cool new data they had, but more often than not it was just people going around the conference table accusing each other of leaving oil on the confocal objectives.
4. The journal club. My post-doc sabbatical lab was small enough that our PIs could give us the face time we needed during the week, and so our weekly lab meetings were primarily used as an opportunity to have journal club, with a smattering of data presentation here and there. This worked out really well for me, since the focus of the lab was somewhat outside my general repertoire, so it helped catch me up on the literature.
Currently, our lab meetings are mostly journal club-style. I think that first and foremost, it's important that we as a group get together and talk about science, whatever shape that might take. We usually use 10-15 minutes in the beginning to talk about whatever's been going on in the lab during the week, make sure that any issues that arose are being dealt with. Then, all lab members--grad students, tech, and undergrads, rotate weeks presenting a journal article of their choice, which has honestly been one of my favorite parts of this job. Providing nothing majorly falls apart, we should be able to start having some data presentations soon, which will be exciting. Also, I find that I give a lot of pep talks. Do other new PIs find this, too?
Lab meetings are certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, but still I'd love to know what you've found to be successful or not. Comment away!