The importance of a good research environment

My group recently had a “retreat”, where we sat around and talked to eachother
about lab culture and where we wanted to go next. I thought it was a really
insightful discussion, and reminded me of some of the things that contribute to
my very productive and happy research environment.

  1. My advisor is almost always available. Unlike many other advisors, Bailey
    makes sure he is always around to talk about research. In fact, he’s
    taken it to the extreme. He’s foregone his office and converted it into a lab
    conference room, and sits in the lab with us every day. It keeps him closer to
    the research, and more importantly, closer to us as graduate students. A lot
    of graduate students have advisors who hole themselves up in their offices,
    and as a result feel nervous and anxious during meetings with them. With this
    strategy, there’s literally no walls between me and my advisor. People may think
    this is insane, but I think it’s helped me a lot in keeping me honest about my
    progress. It’s also somewhat reassuring to see that professors slack off too
    sometimes.

  2. Technical debates, regardless of your status in the lab, don’t leave you feeling
    like you’re stupid. This is in part because my advisor welcomes debate - in fact,
    he often says that the day that you have an argument with him about a graph and win
    is the day he knows you’re ready to graduate. However, these aren’t hostile in any
    way - they’re all productive and espouse a culture of growth rather than a culture
    of shame. This is something the graduate students try to do a good job of to, and
    make for a really welcoming educational environment.

  3. We have fun. Last Friday, 4 members of my lab picked up a number of rubber ducks
    and tried to juggle them. Why? I dunno. But it was fun. In a time where most of
    your life is your work, having an environment where the coworkers work
    and play hard is really important.

  4. We work in an open environment. There are no cubes. Hell, there aren’t even
    desks. We come in, grab a spot, and get to work. There are quiet offices where we
    can escape the bustle of the lab if we need as well, but having that open space
    really helps facilitate great discussion and also keeps everyone keenly aware of
    what everyone else is working on, by virtue of overhearing random research
    conversations.