Dixson Lab Expectations

 

I am always looking for exceptional students to work with me and other members of the lab on funded projects.  Before emailing me your interest, please take the time to read the expectations of lab members.  Members of the Dixson lab share an interest in marine conservation and animal behavior, with students working on global change (ocean acidification and rising temperatures), marine connectivity (larval habitat selection), and predator prey relationships.  We value students of diverse backgrounds with strong quantitative skills and a passion for science and critical thinking. Each student or postdoc fills a unique role in our lab.  We are highly interactive, learning from the expertise of one another. 

 

All students are expected to:

·      Have a personal motivation, curiosity and enthusiasm for learning how the world works

·      Have a good, general background in biology, marine biology or environmental sciences and good communication, quantitative and analytical skills.  Where these skills are lacking in your background, work to develop a plan to build skills.

·      It is up to you to become familiar with the way the department and lab operates and to participate in organized events. You are expected to share ideas with others in a collegial environment and help others, just as they will help you.

·      Become an expert in some aspect(s) of the way the lab functions. Learn these skills from the students and technicians who are already here.  Share these skills by writing protocols, helping a fellow student learn a new technique, or by completing a common lab task that will benefit all. 

·      Be a good lab citizen. There are many people that can help you complete your work in the lab. Conversely, you know that you actions affect many. Remember to communicate your plans for using shared resources so that we can maximize total output.

·      Communicate with Dr. Dixson about your classes, research and teaching workload. There are many opportunities and an advisor can give useful perspective on which might be the best use of your time. You should be sure that Dr. Dixson is aware of your key objectives, research questions, and basic approach at all times. This includes information about how mentorship junior or senior lab members is going, your experimental protocols and how you are using shared resources. 

·      Write down ideas in proposal form, with clear research questions and objectives.  These informal proposals can be the basis of dialog with Dr. Dixson and your thesis committee.  They are also great starting points for fellowship applications and thesis proposals.

·      Make sure that you read and keep up with the published literature so that you understand what is novel and important in your area of research.  Papers in high profile journals result from cutting edge ideas that build on work that has come before.

·      Maintain a clean and organized workspace.  Much of our lab is common space. Items can easily get lost, or destroyed due to the salt water.  It is important that everything is put back where it was found in the correct location. 

·      Be flexible.  Research projects are often pioneering innovative ways to answer a question or testing experimental methods that are not fully worked out.  This can cause projects to change quickly.  Fieldwork is fun but has drawbacks, you are often not able to replace forgotten/broken/lost objects and creative alternatives are necessary.  

 

Undergraduate/REU/Summer Scholars/Semester in Residence

 

Undergraduate researchers are often just beginning to explore the laboratory.  Undergraduates are expected to try and enjoy the experience.  In addition to discovering what science is like, you will be expected to learn some of the basic skills necessary for effective sciences, how to read a scientific paper, how to design an experiment, how to collect and record data, how to interpret your experiments, how to write about science effectively. In general, I would like undergraduate researchers to be able to commit to the summer scholar program and the fall semester in residence program the following semester.  This allows more time for you to conduct a research project and learn the skills needed. 

 

Maturity is important for any undergraduate working in the Dixson Lab.  We work with live animals, meaning that they need to be checked on DAILY.  Animals do not get weekends off from feeding or husbandry care and therefore neither do you.  When you are working in the lab I expect you to help with the daily husbandry chores (feeding, tank cleaning, water quality testing, water changes, etc.) and coordinate with graduate students and other members of the lab on timing your experiments.  If it is your turn/time to work in the lab, you are expected to show up and get the necessary tasks done.  I need to be able to count on you.  The lives of our subject animals depend on this.  We run behavioral studies.  Behavior in animals can be affected by many things, one being stress. It is therefore imperative to our scientific findings that animals be given the best care possible.

 

I anticipate that undergraduate researchers in my lab will be given either a small project to complete with the guidance of a more senior lab members or a component of a larger project to complete with other undergraduate students.  This work will be conducted at the rigor and quality of any other scientific experiment.  At the conclusion of the study, research will be written for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.  It is my expectation that undergraduate researchers should leave the lab with 1 body of work drafted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.  Journal of publication will be discussed based on project findings with Dr. Dixson.

 

As with the other students we will have weekly meetings to monitor your progress as a lab member and on your independent project.  We will also have a more formal monthly meeting outlining the completion of last month’s goals, goals for the upcoming month and areas for improvement.

 

Work conducted in our lab often occurs at exotic field sites.  It is rare that an undergraduate will be brought to field sites and instead should expect work to be completed in the laboratory at the Lewes campus.  All of my laboratory work is done in Lewes and therefore I am limited in taking on students that are able to be a part of the semester programs that physically move you to the Lewes Campus.  There are exceptions to this, with small projects requiring data analysis (video watching, photos measured etc.) but in general to work in my lab you MUST be in Lewes.  Additionally, undergraduate students helping in the Dixson Lab are required to maintain a cumulative GPA above a 3.0 and above a GPA above a 3.5 in core subjects. 

 

Masters

 

Graduate education differs from undergraduate education in many ways.  The most important distinction is that an undergraduate education largely teaches you what to know, while graduate education teaches you to identify the unknown and make it known.  Science’s fundamental role is to develop new insights and knowledge.  The goal of a graduate education in science is to teach the student how to be a scientist.  A master’s program should provide the student with the tools to understand the scientific method and experience in applying the scientific method to a particular problem. Identification of an important, solvable problem often requires some experience in the field, master’s students will receive guidance in problem selection.

 

All master’s students need to be dive certified to a Rescue Diver level.  Work done in the lab happens in remote locations and I need to be confident that you are safe while away.  Additional certification required include up to date CPR, first aid, and O2 administration.

 

Research and grad school are not 9-5 endeavors and very few students are successful putting in just a 40-hour work week.  My philosophy is you do whatever it takes to get the job done.  If you are worried about how many hours you’re putting in, then you are in the wrong lab.

 

I do not like to monitor the work habits of my students. As long as students are making sufficient prose towards project goals, I prefer to let them choose the hours they work.  However, all absences should be approved in advance and must not interfere with project operations or other scheduled actives.  Graduate students do not accrue vacation time but if you are making sufficient progress some time off can be restorative.  

 

Research conducted in our lab correlates to breeding seasons and therefore field projects in the Pacific will often fall over holidays (Nov-Feb).  I expect students to conduct research when required and therefore will not fly you home from a field site to ensure holiday time with family.  It is important that both you and your family understand this before joining the Dixson Lab.  Working with live animals requires someone to check on them 365 days a year.  You will be expected to help with this over holidays even if you are based at U Del.  Additionally, field study sites are often in remote locations.  The cost of travel, and jetlag makes long research trips more practical than short trips.  If you have a pet or person that you are not able to be away from for extended periods of time from, this lab is not the best fit for you.

 

As a master’s student, you are expected to publish 2-3 research papers during your thesis time.  Projects may not be fully published prior to graduation but I expect journal manuscripts in late stages by the time graduation occurs.  You will also be expected to write a literature review on the main topic of your area of study.  This will serve as an introduction to your thesis and the background information needed to write successful grant applications and manuscripts.

 

PhD

 

A PhD program aims to produce scientist (whether destined to government, an NGO, or academia) and is both qualitatively and quantitatively more involved than a master’s.  A PhD is expected to make an important and original contribution to her or his field. 

 

All incoming PhD students are expected to first enter into the masters program with the option of upgrading to a PhD if both the student and Dr. Dixson feel appropriate.  A PhD is a long commitment, often times stressful and the student/ advisor interactions are tailored for each individual student. The exception to this is a student that already has obtained a master’s. 

 

PhD students need to be dive certified to a Rescue Diver level.  Work done in the lab happens in remote locations and I need to be confident that you are safe.  Additional certification that are required include up to date CPR, first aid, and O2 administration.

 

I expect PhD students to publish their research findings in peer-reviewed journals.  I believe there is little point in doing research unless that work is published.  As a PhD student I expect data for 4-6 publishable manuscripts by the time of graduation.  Some of these papers should be published at the time of graduation. Drafts not submitted for publication before graduation and manuscripts should be in the late stages of drafting. 

 

As with the master’s students, research and grad school are not 9-5 endeavors and very few students are successful putting in just a 40-hour workweek.  My philosophy is you do whatever it takes to get the job done.  If you are worried about how many hours you’re putting, my lab is not the lab for you.

 

I do not like to monitor the work habits of my students.  As long as they are making sufficient prose towards project goals, I prefer to let them choose the hours they work.  However, all absences should be approved in advance and must not interfere with project operations or other scheduled actives.  Graduate students do not accrue vacation time but if you are making sufficient progress some time off can be restorative.  

 

Research conducted in our lab correlates to breeding seasons and therefore field projects in the Pacific will often fall over holidays (Nov-Feb).  I expect students to conduct research when required and therefore will not fly you home from a field site to ensure holiday time with family.  It is important that both you and your family understand this before joining the Dixson Lab.  Working with live animals requires someone to check on them 365 days a year.  You will be expected to help with this over holidays even if you are based at UD.  Additionally, field study sites are often in remote locations.  The cost of travel, and jetlag make long research trips more practical than short trips.  If you have a pet or person that you are not able to be away from for extended periods of time from, this lab is not the best fit for you.

I CURRENTLY HAVE ONE OPENING IN MY LAB FOR A Ph.D. STUDENT.  

To be qualified for this position you MUST be SCUBA certified to a rescue diver level, preferably have your AAUS certification current as well.  You must also have experience diving during your Master's degree and be willing to conducting fieldwork in remote locations for extended periods of time. 

 

Post Doctoral Research Candidates

 

Postdoctoral researchers are at the stage in their careers where they can begin developing both scientific independence and leadership.  Therefore, postdoctoral researchers in the Dixson lab are expected to function as leaders and mentors in the lab, not only intellectually, but by exemplifying a successful approach to science that can serve as a model for younger lab members.  During their tenure in the Dixson lab, Postdoctoral researchers are expected to make advances in the Dixson Lab’s research agenda and to develop an area of research from which they can grow their own independent research program. 

 

I expect Postdoctoral researchers to publish frequently, spend long periods of time in the field collecting data and run laboratory projects at UD’s facilities.  Research grants should be sought after and submitted. Postdoctoral students will be asked to lecture from time to time to develop teaching skills.  Postdoctoral students will often accompany graduate students in the field, serving as a dive buddy and mentor for their research.  During this time I expect additional independent research to be conducted by the postdoc.

I CURRENTLY HAVE ONE OPENING IN MY LAB FOR A POST DOCTORAL RESEARCHER

To be qualified for this position you MUST be SCUBA certified to a rescue diver level, preferably have your AAUS certification current as well.  You must also have extensive experience diving and conducting research on coral reefs during your previous degrees.  The funded project also requires you to be willing to conducting fieldwork in remote locations for extended periods of time, field trips will last more than 1 month and will occur regularly.  

 

Resources

 

These are great references for understanding the process of getting into graduate school, thriving while there, and some career advice for after graduation.

 

Bloom, Dale F. et al.  1998. The Ph.D. Process: A student guide to graduate school in the sciences. Oxford University Press, New York.

Ford, E.D. 2000. Scientific method for Ecological Research.  Cambridge University Press. Medawar, P.B. 1981. Advice to a young scientist.  Basic Books.

Oliver, J.E. 1991. The incomplete guide to the art of discovery.  Columbia University Press.

Peters, RL. 1997. Getting what you came for- the smart student’s guide to earning a Masters or PhD. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Reis, Richard M. 1997. Tomorrow’s Professor – Preparing for academic careers in science and engineering. IEEE Press.

 

If you are interested in joining the Dixson lab, please send an email to Dr. Dixson (dixson@udel.edu) describing your interests, goals, the program you wish to enter and skills that you already have developed.  In this email please indicate that you have read and agree to the lab expectations.  Emails that do not mention the lab expectations will be ignored.