Giulio De Leo’s Lab Expectations
This document incorporates several elements discussed with existing and past lab members and in training courses on culturally aware mentorship run at Stanford University by Steve Lee, Joseph Brown and Lupe Carillo and in other discussion groups on mentorship style. I also want to acknowledge that the structure of this document has been largely inspired by the lab expectations document beautifully drafted by Dr. John Boothroyd (Immunology), Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs at Stanford University. Last but not least, this should be considered a living document that will be updated when needed in order to reflect specific needs or just the evolution of the mentoring style.
Finding a project. Students joining the lab will engage in a long period of intense and collaborative thinking to conceive, develop and complete a project that is novel, interesting and, hopefully, impactful; it is easier if the project complements other projects in the lab and it is expected to mesh with the overall direction of the group and its funding base - which is pretty diverse to begin with. I will be there for you to help shape the project to meet these goals, and I expect that each person in the lab provides the creative spark behind their respective projects.
I welcome applicants aiming to join the lab with their specific research question and/or and study system, just be aware that starting something completely different is exciting but it also comes with additional responsibilities and challenges, the most practical one is to acquire the necessary funds for field or laboratory work (and, in the longer term, for the last year and a half of the graduate program, as Stanford Biology fully supports graduate students for four years). This never prevented lab members from launching completely new research lines, in new systems and new geographical areas (which is always very welcome!), but the experience shows that those who successfully adventure into, what are for me, uncharted territories have been particularly proactive in shaping the necessary network of collaborations at Stanford and beyond and in seeking research funds through any possible opportunity. As a side note, as I strongly believe in collaborative work, I will be happy also to co-mentor graduate students: Biology students currently have a primary mentor (i.e., reference lab) and a co-mentor, i.e., a faculty or senior research scientists at HMS, or Stanford or beyond (co-mentoring is structured in the E-IPER program, with two mentors from two different departments, possibly two different schools).
As general target for a successful PhD, I expect my students to have a couple of chapters of their thesis already published in peer review journals as leading author at the time of their thesis defense, ideally one more (or two) in the submission stage and possibly another one (or two) in preparation. I also expect that my students join other collaborative research efforts at HMS, Stanford or beyond when opportunities arise, and that this will be reflected in the co-authorship of the resulting papers – everybody will find their sweet spot between depth and breadth, i.e., on a continuum between, on the one hand, being focused exclusively in their own project with no much interactions outside it and, on the opposite range, to be spread too thin on too many collaborative projects without really owning or deeply understanding any of them – I am always happy to provide my best support to navigate these complexities. I also expect that while progressing in their graduate studies, my lab members will be increasingly more proactive in finding opportunities to present their work in internal (Stanford), local, national and international conferences and working groups. All graduate students in Biology are supposed to complete their PhD in five and a half years.
Mentoring style. My mentoring style is certainly intermediate between mainly hands-on and mainly hands-off. I don’t like completely hands-on for pedagogical reasons in the first place (and it is not in the tradition of Biology and Hopkins Marine Station). I thus encourage independent thinking and freedom, but I definitely like to know what’s going on. Although I struggle myself to tame a full agenda and an overwhelming workload, I value to have regular 1-on-1 weekly meetings to touch base even when there is nothing dramatically relevant to report or discuss, especially during the first year of campus residency for the Biology students – and during the entire program for E-IPER students. I encourage my collaborators to not hesitate in sending me reminders (by email, text or Slack) with increasing frequency while getting close to important deadlines (for instance, for support letters) and Outlook invites to be sure that the meeting automatically gets penciled in my calendar, and to send ahead meeting goals and agendas and arrive to the meeting having identified a clear set of priorities, to start from the most important ones, in case there is not time to discuss everything.
I expect my students to acquire the specific technical skills required to conduct their work leveraging expertise and resources available in the lab, HMS, Stanford University and beyond: in most cases, as time goes by, my students will master R packages, statistical techniques, and field or laboratory methods to a level that vastly surpasses my own expertise!
Work ethic and time. As for the work ethic, I expect all to be strongly self-motivated. I believe that establishing a healthy work-life balance as graduate student (and beyond) is absolutely important, and in general I do not recommend working during the weekends, unless some important deadline or experiment require to do so (or your passion and creative inspiration lead you to do so).
As my colleague John Boothroyd poses it, a flexible time schedule is one of the many perks of our lifestyle. Anyway, I give a tremendous value to community support and to learning by example, whether in the lab, or at Hopkins Marine Station or Stanford University. Therefore, I ask that all graduate students in biology and postdocs in my lab (E-IPER students follow a different rule) be in the lab for at least a majority of the usual workday (9am-5pm) so that interactions with your colleagues can occur for their and your own benefit - even when most of your work is computational. In other words, I ask that people do not routinely spend the bulk of their workday outside those hours (e.g., come in at 3pm and leave late in the evening, or be present only in the morning), nor to work at home for more than one day/week (unless special circumstances require to do so). Given the distance from campus, this is obviously possible only if you live close to the Hopkins Marine Station (for biology students). Accordingly, while the first year is meant to be full time on campus to connect with the larger Stanford community, I expect HMS Biology graduate students and, specifically, students in my lab, to move to and live in the Monterey area by the end of the first-year academic year, typically in June – basically at any distance that makes daily commuting not an epic (dangerous, expensive and time consuming) effort.
I also believe that mental health is critical to our success as researchers and our well-being and I acknowledge that the academic environment is often characterized by hyper- competitiveness and work-life imbalance. I am committed to fostering a collaborative community, and I encourage you to take weekends, vacation, and breaks to recharge and enjoy and develop other aspects of our lives. I recognize that there will be time in which it is important to keep the momentum going at work and I expect many may do some work at home to move projects forward, especially near important deadlines.
You should also know that I usually spend August in Italy to reconcile with my roots and family there.
As a lab, we love to engage in leisure time together, from cooking and eating together, to kayaking, whale watching, and more – it is crucial that these events are launched by lab members (including myself!) on a voluntary basis.
Life at Hopkins Marine Station and Stanford. I expect lab members to proactively participate, in person, to the life of the Hopkins Marine Station, from joining the weekly seminars, to the Friday TGs, the Wednesday coffees by The Point, the Tuesdays’ Friends of Hopkins lectures, the Winter break parties in the beautiful HMS Library and any other social event at the Hopkins Marine Station, Surf & Turf and more.
Lab support. I value later-stage graduate students and postdocs to help the new generation of graduate students (whenever possible also through a buddy system), and I also expect graduate students and postdocs will act as role models and, at least occasionally, when they progress in their work, they take responsibility of mentoring undergraduate summer interns. Although not mandatory, there is a tradition in my lab and at the Hopkins Marine Station of community services and outreach, especially with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and local K-12 schools.
Cultivating a culture of respect. I expect all to be supportive of one another and professional in all interactions with everyone in the lab and in all professional encounters. Professionalism means treating everyone with respect, not shouting and not arguing in a potentially perceived aggressive way. Disagreements will arise, of course, but I expect those to be resolved professionally and courteously.
Quoting from John Boothroyd’s lab expectations, “Humor is a matter of taste and culture. Please be sensitive to others who may “laugh along” but underneath be very uncomfortable. Please be sensitive about swearing and “off-color” jokes, especially those that might be interpreted as sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. Everyone should feel that the work environment (the lab, the Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford) is a safe place where they can feel free to be who they are, and to freely discuss projects and ideas. It is crucial that harassment and discrimination will never be tolerated at any time, under any circumstances.
DEIB. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging are foundational values for me and my lab. I am committed to continuously building a community and environment where Members of all identities and backgrounds can thrive, as researchers and also as people.
I am continuing to work on my own limitations and implicit biases deriving from my personal history and cultural background. I am determined to fight racial injustice and any form of discrimination and to foster a more diverse and inclusive working environment and society at all levels. I recognize that academia is neither equitable nor inclusive of underrepresented students. I recognize that people of color, and in particular Black, Latinx, and Indigenous scientists, face immense structural racism in academic settings on top of everyday racism that together form substantial barriers to their success. I also recognize that LGBTQIA+ students and scientists face discrimination, and that there is a critical lack of accessibility in many academic spaces for people with disabilities. Our lab members are committed to fostering a sense of belonging for members of our academic community facing these challenges, to being strong allies to underrepresented groups we are not a part of, to educating ourselves, and to constantly re-evaluating our role in systemic racism, discrimination, and exclusion.
I am ready to engage in (and, when useful, to prompt) conversations on DEIB issues at Hopkins Marine Station and in research and academia, both in lab meetings and in 1-on-1 level conversations and by involving, when useful and needed, Stanford offices and personnel with specific training and expertise in this field – please do not hesitate to reach out with me for any DEIB issue you would like to discuss, whether personal or otherwise. I’ll periodically provide information to lab members about resources, services and offices that Stanford University offers to students to support DEIB and a respectful working environment.