We work at the pleasure of money granted from either private institutions or through the trust of the public. In either case we have an obligation to see we spend this money well. I don’t think this means a lot of bureaucracy, but I do think it means a periodic and active reflection on:

  • what our responsibilities are;
  • how efficient we are in communicating with each other;
  • how efficient we are in communicating with our greater scientific community and the interested public.

I tend to think of these types of guidelines as coordinating documents; not legalistic as much as aspirational and communicative.

I looked around to see if I could find some examples, and surprisingly enough, there wasn’t a lot for theoretical physics1. It was as if the only guideline that mattered was the one already ingrained in all of us: do awesome work.

That’s fine. But there’s more to being functional than just doing awesome work.

-JJMC, 18 June 2017

Responsibilities of group members

All scientific group members

  • Uphold group’s code of conduct
  • Take care of yourself2.
  • Invest in research you care about. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re looking at, you should be looking at something else.
  • Support each other.
    • We each come with different domains of expertise. Specialization in a collaborative context can mean spectacular results. Surprising success in absolutely unexpected directions will come from leveraging mutual domain expertise.
  • Build up the greater community
    • Cite well and inclusively3.
    • Acknowledge help/ideas/inspiration/conversation generously . It costs us nothing other than the moment spent to reflect on what helped us get where we are.
    • Take the time to put your work in context that the audience (seminar/colloquium/conference-talk/lecture/public-talk/article) can understand and relate to.
    • Share data, code, aesthetics, and perspective openly and generously.
    • Engage with different communities that could benefit from what we do well.

JJ’s responsibilities as PI:

  • Find funding, or give fair notice when funding will lapse.
  • Make himself available and accessible.
  • Cover administrative, paperwork, and grant-reporting issues.
  • Provide scientific leadership.
  • Provide career guidance and help group members work towards their career goals
    • Promote visibility for current and former group members.
    • Provide growth opportunities for group members.
    • Write recommendation letters to support current and former members.
    • Provide realistic performance feedback as requested.
  • Resolve disputes within the group.

Graduate student responsibilities:

  • Meet their graduate school reporting and exam requirements.
  • Identify and develop research projects with the help of the PI.
  • Apply effort to their research and work towards a PhD-worthy body of work.
  • Attend and present at group meetings and journal clubs.
  • Schedule necessary committee meetings.

Postdoc responsibilities:

  • Identify and develop research programs (with support and assistance of the PI).
  • Attend and present at group meetings and journal clubs.
  • Define their career goals and work towards them.
  • Pursue projects and collaborations that further their own career goals.
  • Provide scientific and technical leadership within the group.
  1. The writeup I felt closest to my ideal starting point was Titus Brown’s, from which I did indeed lift shamelessly. While exploring his site I also came across his excellent “Lab Code of Conduct”, which I’ve incorporated

  2. Good science, like many things worth doing in life, is a marathon, not a sprint. But how you run this race effects your ability and willingness to go after another. You not only want to make it to this finish line, but the next, and the next and the next… 

  3. References in theoretical physics aren’t merely the breadcrumbs we find useful. They exist to weave our contributions into the greater web of the academic program. Standard practice is to refer to any relevant work whether or not it was interesting / useful / pedagogical / a complete waste of your time. If some work is problematic – don’t ignore it, politely point out what you found useful and what traps might be ahead for the unsuspecting reader.