Lab Meeting

There is little I love more than a lab meeting packed with data. Seriously. We had a great one today, so I’m all in the mood to write about lab meetings.

Back in the day…. when I was just a lowly grad student, lab meeting was an event. We had a one-person-presents format, and you brought ALL your data, the good, the bad and the ugly. There were no highly edited, slick Powerpoint presentations. There was just the good stuff, the data, the ugly blots, the gorgeous blots- all shown on an overhead projector. And there was a lot of it- because it was a fairly large lab and so the interval between any one individual’s turns was fairly long, and we worked hard. Back in the day.

I’ve been experimenting with lab meeting formats. First, I tried the everyone-presents format- where we sit around the conference table and everyone describes what they have been doing in the past week, what progress they have made.  What I liked about this was that people were more likely to show me their failures- which, I think, are important to look at if you want to make progress. However, on the flip side- people didn’t prepare really well in the sense that they thought about their data from week to week, and could show where they were going in an organized way.

Second, I tried the one-person-presents format, followed by the round table summary of what every one else was up to. I wanted my trainees to get some more formal presentation practice, both standing up in front of an audience and putting together a good presentation. These presentations serve a triple purpose as introducing new recruits to all the different projects we are doing, presentation practice,  most importantly data presentation and review.  I realized when I was doing this that I would probably get less of the bad and ugly data this way, and that seems to be what has happened. There is more slick Powerpointing than I would like. The round table worked well, but I thought it made lab meeting too long.

So then I thought- maybe I’m trying to cram too much into lab meeting- perhaps I should just focus on getting fewer things accomplished in this meeting, and break the other tasks out into other times. So now we are doing a one-person presents format which is preceded by a brief discussion (led by me) of how everyone is doing, what lab issues we have that need to be addressed (including equipment needs/broken equipment etc), and me soliciting a list of what I need to do for each of my trainees. Then we have a hearty discussion of one person’s data. As for those that are not presenting- I see them in the lab- but each one also has a meeting with me in my office once a week on an assigned day to go over what they have done in the last week and what they are planning for the next week. So far this is working pretty well, with the possible exception that this might be more efficient (and easier on my schedule) if we did these individual meetings every two weeks.

We’ll see how this goes for a while.  I’m not averse to changing the schedule if we must.

8 thoughts on “Lab Meeting

  1. I am partial to the group based format where if your lab is split between a few projects (with a few people per), each project group alternates. I think its a good balance between never presenting if its one person a time, and the disjointedness of everyone, every week.

  2. Great post drdr. I’m so happy to hear the fruit of the tougher times (data-packed lab meetings, yay!), and also the details of how you are dealing with the issues of running/managing a lab.

  3. Dave- Yes, that is the right word for the everyone, every week- disjointed. I hadn’t thought of the groups idea- I could logically break my group down by projects and have everyone working on the same project go together.

  4. This is pretty much how I do it, too, drdrA (your current format, that is). I like it this way because like you said, it keeps things from being too long but gets in depth for something and lets the group have a “state of the lab” update in both directions.

  5. In my PhD lab, we had weekly Lab Meetings where one person presented a slick PowerPoint. The lab was big enough that each person went every ~7 months. And at the beginning of the meetings there were few minutes for “Lab Business.” There were also weekly Focus Group meetings, where everyone talked about what they’ve been doing. The lab was divided by related projects into 4 focus groups, so each one met ~once per month. So the focus groups replaced your weekly one-on-one meetings, because my PI was too busy/the lab was too big to have made that efficient for him. I actually REALLY enjoyed this setup. The Lab Meetings gave you an opportunity to synthesize everything you’ve been working on and practice giving a fairly polished presentation. The Focus Groups gave you a chance to get feedback from the PI and other people working on related things, and they were kept small enough that they didn’t take up an entire afternoon.

  6. I liked the setup in my postdoc lab. Ten minutes of lab business, followed by a one-person presentation, one hour time limit. It was a 12-15 person lab, so each person presented every 5 months or so. What I thought was especially useful was that Powerpoint presentations were discouraged. You wrote key background info on the board, and you drew out your methods and experimental design. You held up or handed out printouts of graphs, films, etc. If you had flourescence images, you could go to Powerpoint for that. All this kept the talks from being too formal, and kept the meeting really interactive. The bonus was that it also made me really comfortable with and prepared for the white-board format chalk talk.

  7. We generally go between powerpoint presentations and chalk talk. I’ve found the chalk talks especially informative and a great learning tool – so few students learn how to do these nowadays!

  8. I have experienced a spectrum of lab meetings. But I really like the idea of the chalk talk that Dr. O brings up. My current institute does practice job talks, and one guy did a chalk talk. It’s something that’s an integral part of many faculty candidate interviews, but something trainees have very little experience with.

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