Science and academia are inherently competitive. Some people thrive in this environment, but for others it can have negative effects on health and wellbeing, particularly at early or mid-career stages. In the context of work pressures and power imbalances, intra-group and mentoring relationships can be soured by other problems including fraud, bullying, sexual harassment, and various types of anti-social behaviour. It doesn’t have to be this way. I am committed to creating a collaborative and people-centred research environment, along the lines described by Fernando Maestre (2019). In the following sections, I have summarised the lab culture and codes of conduct we aspire to, drawing some inspiration from others (including Timothée Poisot, Meghan Duffy, et al.).
Everyone is welcome regardless of their neurological idiosyncrasy, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, race, age, politics and religion. I believe that as a research community we are often strengthened by diverse styles and outlooks. These issues are so complex today, in a world where positive attitudes to diversity are increasingly attacked and misrepresented as “cultural Marxism” or some form of “cancel culture” whereby political correctness is threatening Western civilisation. While it’s true that any ideology can be taken too far, I think kindness and equality are worth fighting for. I am committed to being an ally whoever you are, whatever your gender, skin colour or background. For the sake of clarity, the accompanying image (adapted from www.sammykatta.com) expresses my personal values and a pledge to action.
Rejection is the Rule in academia. Given that papers, grants and other applications most often fail, particularly early in a research career, it’s easy to be discouraged by the general over-reporting of successes on social media and websites like this one (the problem and its effects are discussed here). In terms of building a supportive community, I believe in celebrating each other’s successes while also communicating failures as this helps to normalise the many disappointments along the way.
A crucial antidote to the pressures of academia is flexible working hours. If you join the lab, you are free to deviate from a traditional 9 to 5 day, according to your needs. Similarly, we are each welcome to send work-related emails late at night or over the weekend, but no lab members are required to reply to them outside their chosen work hours.
Beware of burnout and other challenges that can creep up on you at any career stage but perhaps especially during PhDs and post-docs. Feel free to get immersed in your work, but please do not exhaust yourself. Be mindful of your limits. Aim for improvement, not perfection. Be content with small steps; get used to the sense of slow progress or no progress at all; and try not to be afraid of asking questions or seeking support. See this article for some useful perspectives.
Keeping all this in mind, I believe we can co-create a healthier working environment with mutual kindness, patience, communication, a little humour and clear expectations.
An understanding of mutual expectations is key to the success of mentoring relationships. Here are some of the things I expect of graduate students working in my group and also things that they can expect from me.