Lab Culture

General Lab Culture and Expectations

Members of the Lowry Lab are respectful of each other, cheer on each other’s accomplishments, and help each other out when times are hard. We conduct our science with the highest ethical standards. We ask for help when we need it and are prepared to admit mistakes when they occur (we all make mistakes). We mentor others in the lab in scientific skills as well as knowledge of how to navigate academia generally. We educate ourselves about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, so that we can create the most inclusive workspace possible. We take care of our common space and clean up after ourselves when we are done with our work for the day. We follow all safety protocols and look out for the safety of others. We participate in lab activities and make every effort to attend weekly lab meetings.

Dr. Lowry will offer the opportunity for you to meet with him weekly and he expects you to show up for those meetings. Those individual meetings are some of the best parts of his work week. Dr. Lowry will prioritize giving you comments on your writing. Dr. Lowry will work as hard as he can to help promote your career path, no matter what career you pursue. Below, Dr. Lowry outlines his advice and expectations for different types of lab members.

Philosophy on Postdoc Mentoring

A postdoc position represents a great opportunity to focus most of your work time on research and can allow for academic freedom unparalleled at other points in your career. At the same time, being a postdoc can be a period of time filled with anxiety about what you will do next in your career. Further, many postdocs work on projects funded by grants of a PI and this can feel more constraining than your experience as a PhD student. My goal as your advisor is to help you navigate this exciting and stressful period of your career. For postdocs funded off of grants, I do expect you to help contribute to the goals of those grants. However, I also expect you to allocate a portion of your time to pursue new ideas and projects that you develop and implement on your own. The research directions in the lab are often guided by new ideas and discoveries that come from members of the lab. My ultimate goal for all postdocs in the lab is for them to achieve their career goals, whether it be in academia, industry, government, or some other career. I am happy to talk with you informally on a regular basis about your career development and/or we can work together to develop a formal personal development plan.

Philosophy on Graduate Student Mentoring

Graduate school represents an exciting opportunity to develop from a beginning scientist to an expert in ones’ field over the course of 5-7 years. Unlike other roles in the lab, being a graduate student has multiple phases and expectations shift as you pass through those phases. 

I view the first year of graduate school as an opportunity to gain broad knowledge of the field and identify gaps in knowledge that could become the seeds of your PhD dissertation projects. The vast majority of graduate students do not know exactly what they will conduct their dissertation research on when they start graduate school and this is a good thing. You should focus your first year on your coursework and reading broadly in the literature of the areas of science that most excites you. In addition, you should start doing some science by getting in the lab, out in the field, and/or working with analysis of real data sets. You should form your PhD committee in your second semester. I highly recommend gaining a basic understanding of the R statistical package and at least one programming language, like Python, early in your graduate training. By the end of your first year, you try to set up an experiment or study based on what you have learned so far. You may or may not end up focusing your dissertation research on that initial study and this is okay.

In your second year of graduate school, you should really start focusing on developing the ideas for your dissertation research. You should try to take your general knowledge comprehensive exam toward the end of the fall semester and defend your dissertation proposal toward the end of the spring semester. By the end of the year, your research should have advanced to the point where you are working on at least one of your planned dissertation chapters. You should also be working on your professional development skills at this point and reflect on your plans for the future.

The third year of graduate is when your research should really start to accelerate. Your coursework should now be completed and you should defend your dissertation proposal, if you did not already in year two. Once you have defended your proposal, you are now a PhD candidate. All that you have left to finish is your PhD dissertation, but this will likely take you the remaining 3-4 years to complete.

Year four is when many graduate students reach peak research productivity. The key this year is to make sure you are doing enough activities outside of work to keep you feeling satisfied and motivated. Graduate school is long. Pace yourself.

Year five is also usually a heavy research year. You should now start thinking about that next step in your career. Start talking with your advisor and committee members on your future plans. They should be able to help direct you who to talk to in order to start you heading in the right direction. If you are thinking about a postdoc position, you might start looking around now. If you are thinking about a job in industry or government, please talk with me and I will help put you in contact with my connections in those areas.

As long as you have been on track and not run into any major hiccups (these are common and okay), you should plan on completing your dissertation at the end of year six, if you have not already completed it. The best advice I got was to write up my chapters as I went along, instead of waiting until the very end to write up a dissertation. This will both lead to publications that will help you get a good position following graduate school and save you a lot of stress at the end.

More information on being a PhD student in the MSU Plant Biology Department can be found in the graduate handbook.

Philosophy on Technician Mentoring

Technicians in the lab are generally hired to assist in completing the goals of scientific research and funded grants in the lab. Given this dynamic, the job of technicians most closely resembles a job outside of academia. For full time technicians, I will expect you to work 40 hours a week, but with flexibility because some weeks are more intense while other weeks have less that needs to be accomplished. While there are work goals that must be achieved as part of being a technician, I also view it as an opportunity for individuals to learn new skills and discover what they are most excited about for their long-term career plans. Most of the technicians that have passed through the Lowry Lab are using it as a transition point in their career before they move onto graduate school or a more permanent job. Four of our former technicians are currently in graduate school, one is working at an agriculture technology and breeding company, and another started her own business in photography. 

Philosophy on Undergraduate Mentoring

Undergraduate students join the lab through multiple avenues. Some are hired hourly to help accomplish particular tasks. Others start in the lab directly on independent research studies through funded summer programs, the honors section of my Evolution Course (IBIO445H), or the senior capstone course (PLB498). Regardless of how students join the lab, I want to make being a member of the lab a positive learning experience that involves independent research. All undergraduate members of the lab are welcome to join the weekly lab meetings, but this is not a requirement. I think a lot can be gained by coming to lab meetings and seeing how graduate students and postdocs discuss science. This will likely be very different from what you have seen in your required courses. Just like other members of the lab, I expect all undergraduate students to be respectful of all other lab members, to abide by all safety protocols, and clean up at the end of each work period in the lab.