Lab philosophy

We do science not papers. Nothing beats the feeling of having just discovered something new about the human mind. That feeling you get when knowing something that no-one else is aware of yet. Communicating this with others by writing a paper about it, but also via posters or talks, is a great and vitally important way to disseminate your discovery (therefore, whenever someone presents at a conference we hold practice sessions within the lab). However, bear in mind that scientific papers are a means and not a goal. We are scientists, not paper producers.

Open Up. In the spirit of open science (if you haven’t read False Positive Psychology and the big replication project do so now!), we aim to make all experimental materials, raw data, analysis code (on GitHub and/or OSF) and the resulting manuscript (on BiorXiv) freely accessible. In addition, we aim to preregister by default, unless there are sensible reasons not to. To aid this, we have a default template that can be used as a starting point. Knowing beforehand that you eventually will share this with the scientific community urges you to be a better programmer, and more generally a better scientist. This also implies your experiment and analysis pipelines should be properly documented, so that anyone can use your code and raw data to reproduce your findings while being able to understand how you conducted your research. This can be daunting at first (“what if I made a mistake in my code and everyone sees it?”), but it will help to build up your confidence and feel comfortable and proud about your work. To further promote this, we regularly hold code review sessions within the lab. Learning how to use version control, e.g. with github, will be very rewarding once you start working on more than one project or when your computer crashes. Having your scripts out there also serves as a proof of your skills. To further facilitate this, it is recommendable to have a fixed data organization structure.

Collaborate. The time of ‘one scientist knows it all’, is gone. Reach out to others who have the expertise you would like to acquire. Don’t hesitate to ask both your direct colleagues as well as leading experts in the field to help you out and collaborate. Most experienced researchers are very willing to help out young researchers. Talking to others about your research is one of the best ways to advance your research. Go on twitter and follow researchers whose work you admire. Although everyone in the lab usually has their own research project, there are lots of interactions between members via shared projects, lab meetings, etc. In this sense, our lab is also very open towards external people who want to join for a research internship, to give a presentation about their work, or just come by to talk about research.

Embrace failure. Scientific papers report the end result of a long road often filled with bumps and holes. Seeing only the final result, the details of the challenging process left out, while you are struggling yourself, can be confronting and frustrating. Keep in mind that science is a slow and error-prone endeavor. Importantly, “failed” experiments are not failures – if the experiment was carried out properly a null result is equally informative. Did you spot a mistake in your programming/analysis/etc.? Use this as a learning process, and know that this happens far more often than you would think. As Karl Popper would say: “Be scrupulous in admitting your mistakes: you cannot learn from them if you never admit that you make them”.

Being an inclusive lab. The aim of the lab is to provide a safe space where everyone can freely express themselves. Although this might sound trivial to some, there is ample evidence that this is not always the case in academia, e.g. with respect to gender and diversity. Being aware of our biases and trying to act on them is a necessary first step for improvement, but we also try to take specific steps (e.g. not sitting on manels and making sure duties within the lab are equally distributed). Be considerate of the whole spectrum of researchers. Do not judge scientific merit based on English proficiency and take into account that people have varying needs. One example is to use colorblind friendly color palettes, so that you do not miss out on ~5% of the population. Related to that, many readers will only/first skim your figures, so make sure you have clear figures with beautiful colors.

Don’t forget to live! One exciting part of academia is that you have a lot of freedom in deciding when you work. This comes at the cost of you also having to decide when not to work, which is equally important! Because we want to have an active lab atmosphere, we decided that everyone is in the lab on (at least) the same three days. We are all different, and finding the right rhythm is a learning process. For some people, inspiration hits after a weekend off, whereas for others it comes after a long session of work. To keep your mental health, keep a good work-life balance! That’s why occasionally we try to go for drinks together!