Lab Expectations

This manual is a work-in-progress. It was inspired by several others, and borrows heavily from The Tye Lab, The Aly Lab, The Lerner Lab, and the eLife Community Ambassadors template. If you have ideas to add or points to clarify, please reach out to Alex, Nancy, Elliot, or Jeff.


The Shalek lab seeks to understand and engineer human immune responses in complex tissue ecosystems. Our research is ambitious in its scope and scale, and highly interdisciplinary and collaborative. Our unique training environment draws its strength from the collective interests, passion, brilliance, and hard work of the multiple communities to which we belong. We combine open-mindedness and curiosity with a dedication to rigorousness, excellence, fairness, equity, engagement, and empowerment that pushes each of us to become not only better scientists, but also better citizens (see the Shalek Lab Values Statement).

We fundamentally believe that while science is important, it is nowhere near as important as the people that do it. Our primary goal is to provide a supportive environment that recognizes and promotes fairness and a feeling of belonging for all individuals. We want members of the lab to be able to pursue their passions and make progress toward identifying and achieving their scientific, personal and professional goals. We are acutely aware that structures and attitudes have historically prevented, and continue to prevent, the equitable participation and success of underrepresented groups. We are committed to actively generating and championing a diverse, equitable and inclusive lab environment across all identities (see the Shalek Lab Statement on Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging). 

When you join the Shalek lab, you, Alex, and the lab are explicitly agreeing to everything below. Alex and the lab will openly discuss any questions and/or concerns you may have. Once these have been addressed, you will be asked to sign an actively phrased version of this agreement; Alex will countersign agreeing to all of the points above on behalf of himself and the lab.

What You Can Expect of Alex As A Member of The Shalek Lab.

With Respect To Mentorship:

Teaching and Mentorship are the lifeblood of our trade, and the core values of integrity, rigor, curiosity, and inspiration are part of science. Mentorship is a very high priority for Alex, and it is a great privilege and responsibility. Alex has been fortunate enough to have had several incredible mentors in his career, and has them to thank for much of his success. Having learned a great deal from them, he is excited to be able to pay their good deeds forward as best he can.

Alex’s mentorship goals include:

  • Providing you a solid grounding in experimental design and scientific thinking.
  • Making sure you are continually learning in directions that are important for your personal, scientific, and professional development.
  • Providing you with guidance, recommendation letters, networking opportunities, and the like based on your personal career goals.
  • Treating you fairly and making sure you feel included.
  • Ensuring you get credit for the work you have done.
  • Listening, learning, and improving based on your suggestions.

More specifically, you can expect Alex to:

With Respect to Communication:

  • Value and respect you and your goals.
  • Treat you with courtesy.
  • Be as transparent and direct as possible with you.
  • Do everything he can to scientifically and financially support you and your research, and to provide you with intellectual and personal freedom.
  • Listen to your concerns and explain what and how he will help address them.
  • Meet your successes with celebration and your failures with support.
  • Be available in person and via email on a regular basis, including regular meetings, to discuss your personal, scientific, and professional progress (and anything else you’d like).
  • Be transparent about the lab’s hiring needs and engage the lab in the hiring process.
  • Evaluate the hiring process to ensure it is equitable and adjust based on lab feedback.
  • Give you early notice when he needs things. Some exceptions will arise, but Alex will always try to give you at least a week or two.
  • Give you his perspective on where the lab and relevant fields are going at least once a year during a state of the lab meeting (and anytime upon request).

With Respect to Career Development:

  • Strongly advocate for you and your goals now and in the future.
  • Help you to envision, implement and communicate/publish your stories.
  • Actively cultivate your career, whatever your goals may be.
  • Help you prepare for the next steps in your career and for all of your milestones – be they job talks, qualifying exams, grad school interviews, etc.
  • Support your career development by introducing you to other researchers in the field, promoting your work at talks, writing recommendation letters for you, and enabling you to attend conferences. NB For letters of recommendation, please provide as much advance notice as possible.
  • Nominate you for awards and support your travel to conferences. NB If you think you are eligible for an award, please let Alex know – he would be delighted to nominate you.
  • Give you tips about surviving and thriving inside and outside of academia.

With Respect to Science:

  • Provide you with a solid grounding in experimental design and scientific thinking.
  • Ensure you get credit for the work you have done.
  • Deeply and meaningfully engage with your research.
  • Work with the lab mentorship committee to assign you formal mentors to help guide your training and connect you inside and outside of the lab.
  • Connect you with collaborators, mentors, etc to support your progress.
  • Give you feedback on a timely basis on project ideas, conference posters, talks, manuscripts, figures, and grants
  • Discuss authorship with you and others openly, transparently, early, and often. Keep in mind: it is often hard to fully define an authorship list/order when a project is just starting.
  • Ensure your efforts are appropriately recognized. To be clear, Alex believes that everyone who does work on a project should be an author. The same is true for patents and other scholarly products (NB inventorship is always determined with respect to a legal definition but Alex favors and pushes for inclusion on patents and the like). Jeff will help maintain a project directory to track your work. If you think you have been mistakenly excluded from something, just let Alex know and he will address the issue promptly.

With Respect To Lab Space and Jobs:

  • Do everything in his power to provide you the physical spaces, equipment, and reagents you need to be successful. 
  • With Nancy, assign you wet and/or dry spaces based upon your individual needs. In general, each individual will share their wet and/or dry spaces with one other individual; in addition, each individual will have access to shared, clean wet and dry spaces that they can reserve. Should space allow, postdocs, graduate students, and technicians will be provided with their own wet and/or dry spaces. Alex and Nancy will equitably allocate these with priority given, where necessary, to individuals who support the lab community through their efforts.
  • Provide you access to essential personal equipment (e.g., a computer), common equipment (e.g., tissue culture space), and core facilities to support your work.
  • Try to minimize tangential asks and always look for volunteers. In places where  Alex needs help (and he will), he will assign tasks equitably and keep track.
  • Work with Nancy to assign lab jobs to ensure equal participation and address imbalances as they arise.

With Respect To Projects, Project Equity and Collaborations:

Alex expects that all postdocs, graduate students and technicians who are interested will lead at least one project (Alex can work with you to establish a healthy upper bound). Further, Alex encourages people to take on collaborations to enrich their experience. Collaboration accelerates scientific progress and enables deeper, broader inquiry. It’s hard to be an expert at everything. From a short-term perspective, collaborations help projects get done more quickly and everyone gets to be involved with more papers. From a long-term perspective, being led by others helps you learn how to be a better leader and gives you exposure to alternative technical and scientific styles. Keep in mind, ongoing open communication about expectations, issues, authorship, and contributions is a must, and strong moral fiber in all participants is always expected. That said, collaborations can become complex, and Alex is committed to helping you navigate any issues that may arise (please come to him early!), consistent with his commitments above.

More specifically, you can expect Alex to:

  • Discuss new projects and opportunities with you (whether you bring them to his attention or he to you), as well as any associated expectations before you are asked to commit. Keep in mind: no is always an acceptable answer.
  • Solve problems with you that arise during collaboration.

With Respect To Lab Culture, Activities, and Personal Well-Being:

Alex’s top priority is that people in the lab are happy and feel fulfilled. To be happy and feel fulfilled, you need to make time to take care of yourself (socialize, exercise, eat healthy, sleep, blow off steam, etc.). You also need to maximize your effort/productivity ratio and feel that you are moving forward. Alex does not expect people to work evenings and weekends, and he won’t tell you how much vacation you should take. Alex will ask you to consider what you want out of your time in the lab and what it will take to achieve it. Excellence and mastery do not come without dedication. Productivity requires both hard work and thoughtful planning and design. That means working smart – considering multiple strategies and selecting the best one. Ask your mentors for advice. Discuss with the lab. Think out loud. Use your colleagues and mentors as resources. Remember, the lab is a family, and we need to take care of each other.

More specifically, you can expect Alex to:

  • Care deeply about your emotional and physical well-being, and to prioritize it.
  • Do everything in his power to provide you with an environment that is emotionally supportive, equitable, intellectually stimulating, and free of harassment.
  • Ensure that there are dedicated individuals to whom you can speak inside and outside of the lab to get advice and support, and for help mediating conflicts.
  • Actively listen to you (or your representative) regarding any issues (disrespectful behavior, harassment, and/or scientific misconduct) that may arise, and to take appropriate steps to address those issues (he will explain his plan), and report back in a timely fashion. NB Alex will never retaliate in any way in response to you making him aware of an issue. Like many things, good lab culture takes work; Alex prefers to “lean in” to problems rather than avoid them.
  • Continue to hold ongoing discussions about the lab climate, culture, and DEI, and to openly work with the lab to address any issues.
  • Support a variety of inclusive lab social activities (please feel free to suggest some!).

Please let Alex know if you have other expectations of him as a mentor! At the end of the day, Alex’s primary goal is ensuring that all members of the lab feel that joining was a good decision for them and that, given the choice to reselect, they would do so again. Alex is committed to partnering with and supporting each individual in the lab to make sure this is the reality. He is available at all times and excited to work with you toward this end. Ask questions early and often – the more Alex knows the better he will be able to support you.

Expectations of All Lab Members.

When you ask to become a member of the Shalek lab, you are asking to enter into our scientific family. When we agree to your joining, we expect certain things from you in return.

More specifically, you are expected to:


  • Always try to do your very best by your work and your coworkers.
  • Respect the lab, its spaces and equipment, and members. This means being clean, organized, respectful, and courteous.
  • Bring your enthusiasm and curiosity, along with your questions. 
  • Learn and grow while in the lab. You do not need to arrive with the training you will need or a clear idea of the problems you hope to tackle. We are committed to helping you obtain both, and to helping you learn how to approach science.
  • Meet with Alex in one-on-one meetings on a regular basis. This is an opportunity for you and Alex to get to know one another better and for you to ask questions, discuss needs, and devise a strategy to get any and all support you need.
  • Attend all lab meetings, present occasionally, and participate in the discussion. If you cannot attend for any reason, please let Alex know in advance.

With Respect to Communication:

  • Be honest and open with Alex and your coworkers.
  • Share your unique expertise and perspective with Alex and the lab.
  • Be aware and communicative of what you need to be happy and feel fulfilled so Alex and the lab can do everything in their power to support you. Alex and the lab expect you to speak up about your problems, insecurities, and frustrations (to Alex and/or the lab, or someone outside the lab who can help facilitate discussions with Alex and/or the lab) so they can help you enjoy all the phases of your training. Alex is aware that you are making a conscious decision to spend a critical period of your life working with him and will do everything he can to make this an opportunity for you to learn and grow in the ways you wish to help prepare you for whatever you would like to do best.

With Respect to Career Development:

  • Think about, and share, what you want for your career (academia – research or teaching, industry, science writing, something else) so Alex and the lab can make sure you’re getting the training you need. NB: it’s ok if this evolves over time!
  • Provide as much advance notice as possible if you need recommendation letters.
  • Collaborate with and learn from your colleagues and mentors about how to find your true calling – what excites you the most? Remember that we’re all in this together. Keep an open mind about what you expect your career to be. Listen and internalize advice.

With Respect to Science:

  • Strive for scientific integrity, passionate interest, smart work, common sense, careful execution, maximum efficiency, steady motivation, good scholarship, great vision, and a positive mental attitude.
  • Make mistakes, fail, and encounter technical problems. Alex’s career has been defined as much, if not more, by failures than successes. Just let us know what happened – these are teachable moments. 
  • Work safely and considerately, minimizing risk to yourself and others.
  • Ensure your work is reproducible, accessible, clear, and well documented.
  • Back up raw data as well as any metadata needed to reproduce all processing/analyses, and keep accurate and thorough accounts of your work.
  • Work both individually and as part of a team at different points during your tenure in the lab. 
  • Be self-motivated. Alex will not keep tabs on when you are in the lab – you are pursuing your work for your personal development. Alex will be your biggest cheerleader. If you want to take time off, that’s absolutely fine. Just make sure you make appropriate arrangements with others that depend upon you.

With Respect To Lab Space and Jobs:

  • Equitably share in common lab jobs to help support the community. These are assigned annually and distributed to balance commitment. You are also expected to contribute to infrequent lab clean ups.
  • Get involved in the hiring process, make reasonable judgement, and provide timely feedback based on the expectations.

With Respect To Projects, Project Equity, and Collaborations: 

  • Be open, honest, and communicate compassionately.
  • Actively listen and respond.
  • Discuss expectations, timelines, successes, struggles, and delays. NB Alex can help if you run into issues. Speaking with him early is always best!
  • Consider the needs and goals of all parties involved.
  • Treat others with dignity and respect.

With Respect To Lab Culture, Activities, and Personal Well-Being:

  • Take care of yourself first and foremost, and let Alex and the lab know how they can support you in doing so.
  • Support and encourage your fellow lab members.
  • Do everything in your power to ensure that the lab environment is emotionally supportive, safe, equitable, intellectually stimulating, and free of harassment. Aggressive, passive aggressive, sexually suggestive, or abusive behaviors have no place here.
  • Participate in outreach to younger generations, underprivileged or underrepresented populations, and help establish a culture of paying it forward.
  • Participate in diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations that the lab holds monthly during group meetings.

Specific Expectations of Postdocs.

You are expected to:

  • Realize your maximum potential. We believe in you and the great things that you will do in the lab and beyond. We would not have invited you to join if we did not. We are fully committed to supporting you – financially, emotionally, and otherwise – to help make this a reality. You will have ample opportunities to develop the skills that you need to serve as a principal investigator or leader outside of academia, including mentoring, writing grants, giving talks, publishing papers and driving projects to fruition, but we expect you to tell us what you need to realize your vision. We will do our best to ensure that you have it.
  • Develop your own independent line of research which you are fully expected to take with you.
  • Help train and mentor students in the lab (high school, undergraduate, and graduate and technicians). This is a critical part of your own training. We will assign you formal mentorship duties; additionally, we expect you will assume some informally at the request of lab members.
  • Present your work at departmental and institute events, at other labs (if invited), and at conferences.
  • Apply for your own grants (e.g., HHWF, BWF, NRSA, K99) and to help write grants for the lab. Alex will financially support you but this process will provide critical experience. Moreover, it may enhance your resume and help out the entire lab as well as yourself (because you’ll free up funds previously allocated to you)
  • Apply for jobs (academic or otherwise) when you feel ready. If you’d like to leave academia, that’s completely fine, but you should still treat your postdoc seriously, and talk to Alex about how to best train for a job outside academia.

Specific Expectations of Graduate Students.

You are expected to:

  • Prioritize time for research, as well as coursework, and TAing.
  • Develop your dissertation research with help from Alex and the lab.
  • Help train and mentor students in the lab as you become more senior (high school, undergraduate, and newer graduate). This is a critical part of your own training. We will assign you formal mentorship duties; additionally, we expect you will assume some informally at the request of lab members.
  • Present your work at departmental and institute events, at other labs (if invited), and at conferences.
  • Apply for grants (e.g., NRSA, NDSEG, Hertz, or NSF grants) and to help in writing grants for the lab. It’s a valuable experience, and best to get it early.

Specific Expectations of Staff.

You are expected to:

  • Accomplish the specific tasks listed in your job posting.
  • Help train others as you become more experienced. This is a critical part of your own training.
  • Take opportunities to develop your skills and goals.
  • Be flexible and help make sure that the lab is firing on all cylinders at all times. This may include protocol work, returning broken equipment, ordering new equipment, helping out on specific projects, and leading projects if you have the desire to do so. We will do our best to equitably distribute these tasks. The needs of the lab will be constantly evolving as will your responsibilities, opportunities and abilities. We will work together to define your evolving role in the lab depending on your skills, preferences, and talents.