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BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Welcoming and Working with New Lab Members

AUTHOR: Vanessa Morris

As I’m sure many of us know, application submissions, interviews, and acceptance offers for the new class of incoming MiNDS students have been going on over the past few weeks. Although not all labs will be accepting new students, a number of us will be seeing new faces come September. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help make the adjustment enjoyable for everyone. 

First things first…

Get to know them.

Get to know more than just what they hope to study or what school they came from. Take time to listen to what they like to do outside of science and research.


Make them feel included.

There is no worse feeling than being “the new guy” and feeling like all of the other lab members are the “old timers” who you can’t sit with. Be friendly, let them know where tools are, which place has the best coffee and make note of little things like their birthday or favourite movies.


Don’t assume they know everything.

After a couple of years in the lab, it’s easy for things to seem obvious and automatic, but don't assume that the new lab member knows what you're talking about. Even though it might feel patronizing to over-explain everything, try to avoid things like “oh just log on to that website and do the thing” or “you can find the thing over there in the cabinet”. Ultimately it will make your life easier if you’re clear and detailed from the beginning. It will also save you from having to explain things and repeat things multiple times.

Go over lab etiquette!

There may be lab etiquette about how to use, borrow, and clean lab materials, or how to book equipment or rooms to run interview sessions. New students may not be familiar with how things are done in your lab so make sure to show them the right way from the beginning and tell them about all of the unwritten rules.


Don’t take things personally.

If the new student seems a little rude or uncooperative, don't take it personally; they're adjusting to a new program, a new lab, and possibly even, a new city or country. Try your best to maintain a friendly attitude and hopefully the support of lab members will have a positive effect on their attitude.

When it comes to working on projects together…


Be Open About How You Work Best!

For example:

·  Some people like to work in silence, some like to work with music on

·  Some people work best late at night, some work best in the early morning

·  Some people like to have structured, orderly due dates, whereas others prefer to hammer things out last      minute and under pressure.


Along with your work preferences, take a moment to acknowledge theirs. If you're going to be sharing a lab space, try to be flexible and make it an enjoyable and productive space for everyone.


Manage your reactions.

If the new lab member will be working alongside you on a project, make sure to respond appropriately to mistakes. It can be easy to get really angry (I’ve worked so hard on this and you messed it all up!) or to play it off as if it’s not a big deal (It’s ok, I’ll fix it, you’re still learning).

Try to find an appropriate way to recognize that a mistake was made and use it as a teachable moment.

Set Boundaries!

It's inevitable that new students will ask for help from older students when confronted with a question or issue. It can be difficult not to help when you can clearly see new students struggle, however it is important to set boundaries between what you will and won’t help with. Not only will it save your time and your well being, it will also allow the new student to problem solve and take responsibilities for their own work.