Below, we outline a few guiding principles for our lab. These are meant to help guide and inform our way of working, but are not set in stone. It is important that as a member of the lab, we agree with these guidelines or help think about the necessary revisions. Even without spontaneous revisions, we will re-evaluate them at least annually.
We believe it is important to realize at all times that, in the end, we're all students (and teachers). We're all studying brain and behavior, some of us just have been doing it a bit longer. Therefore, when it comes to discussing research, please think of the more senior lab members as other students, and don't be afraid to ask silly questions (e.g., Four golden lessons; The importance of stupidity in scientific research). Similarly, more senior members shouldn't be afraid to tell you they don't know the answer, or point you to a better expert.
We are working in an increasingly multidisciplinary research field and are often bombarded with new terminology, unfamiliar methods, or vague concepts with constantly changing definitions. Only by asking these silly questions, will we move forward.
Personally, I still google a lot of seemingly basic stuff. All the time. Where is the ventral striatum? What is cognitive control? How should I build a lab philosophy document? Some things I just keep forgetting, some things I still don't know.
This can be a difficult exercise, and it sure is a cliché, but as researchers we should not be afraid to ask big questions. Sure, many questions you'll ask probably have been asked before, but chances are fair they did not find the answers, or did not think of the right methods. There’s always a way to do it better. Therefore, every now and then it's important to take a step back from those milliseconds we're analyzing, the experiment scripts we're programming, or even those papers we're reading, and reflect on what the bigger question is we're studying and want to study. This implies that it is OK to question something that seems dogmatic or "resolved". For example, "What is cognitive control, really?".
Only by zooming out, every now and then, can we truly (re)evaluate whether the paradigms we’re using still map onto the questions we want to pursue, and how they relate to other paradigms, measures and disciplines out there.
We aim to create an environment that welcomes (or even celebrates) our different backgrounds. Unfortunately, there is a racial, gender, and LGBTQIA+ bias in academia, and most certainly in cognitive neuroscience. Women and people of color tend to be underrepresented, as P.I.’s, but also as speakers, reviewers, or committee members (this can be a helpful database for finding women in our field: Women in Cognitive Science - Networking Hubs). Recent studies even suggest that these same underrepresented minoritized researchers are often cited less in cognitive neuroscience (e.g., The extent and drivers of gender imbalance in neuroscience reference lists; Racial and ethnic imbalance in neuroscience reference lists and intersections with gender; you can check your reference list here: GCBI Tool). It is important for us to be aware of those biases (e.g., homophily), and to discuss them and act on them whenever and wherever we see room for improvement! This concerns biases both on a global level (e.g., citation practices), as well as on a local level. Our lab has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination of any kind.
Most of us are employed on specific research projects. This implies that we have some responsibilities to our funders. Second, we have responsibilities to our host institution (Ghent University) and department (Department of Experimental Psychology), as they provide a work space and resources for us to perform our research. Third, as your PI, I like to help set some ground rules and code of conduct (as specified in this document) that I believe we should try and abide by (although these are always up for discussion).
This being said, we very much encourage exploring, and trying out, new ideas and techniques! Similarly, we value collaborations! While I hope you find a sense of community within our lab, and encourage you to collaborate (or seek for help) within our lab, I just as much encourage you to collaborate outside our lab. Working with different people will help you broaden your perspective, widen your skill set and, in the long run, most likely benefit your main project.
If I am the “main” promotor of your PhD or postdoc project, I do ask to try and be transparent about potential collaborations and side-projects. I feel strongly about the previous paragraph (as this is something I also benefited from myself during my pre- and post-doc), but also feel this works best if we can communicate about this openly and transparently. With side-projects, we both might have uncertainties or insecurities regarding authorships or responsibilities towards the main project, the department, or our main role as PhD student, post-doc, or PI. Therefore, it is in our best interest to always discuss these engagements openly.
While many of us might (be trained to) have ambitions for a career in academia, there are many other career paths one can and might consider. For example, we can aspire to be teachers, coders, science communicators, data scientists, consultants or supervisors, within or outside academia. At our lab, we want to provide the flexibility and support to help set, change or discover each member’s career choice. As a PI, I am always happy to discuss your career development plans and how I can best support them. I encourage you to inform me when these change and you believe your lab activities can be better aligned to your new goals. For long, publications have been seen as the primary output of a successful academic career, but we should try and embrace other deliverables that help shape your CV or portfolio just as much, such as code sharing, blog posts, data sharing, creating lectures, or proofs of collaborations (e.g., Portfolio and prosper).
Our job does not require many nine-to-five responsibilities, but we do encourage attending the department more than half the week during working hours. Other than our (lab) meetings and seminars, you should feel free to work when and where you please. However, we live in a society where most people work from nine to five, Monday to Friday. Outside those hours, many of us often prefer taking time for friends, family, hobbies, entertainment, or simply ourselves. As a lab, we will respect those hours when it comes to collaborating with others! We do this by trying to refrain from mailing over the weekend, or setting deadlines right after weekends or vacation days. Obviously, there is no shame in trying to reach a deadline over the weekend, or preferring to work during unusual hours, but it should definitely not be expected.
This is not just a last rule! In fact, it is the main rule: Always put your physical and mental wellbeing first. The need for psychological safety is supposed to be implicit in most of the above, but also deserves an explicit treatment here. The main reason for setting up a lab philosophy document is to make things discussable, and provide a frame of reference for the insecurities and uncertainties we might have (I sure have them!). Academia can be a stressful environment. The competition can be fierce, and the expectations can be vague. We also each have a personal story that might sometimes feel less compatible with our professional life. If you experience negative feelings that affect your general wellbeing at work, you are encouraged to share those feelings with your PI (if considered helpful), but also with close colleagues, the faculty’s or department’s trust person, professional help, or anyone else that can be of help.
Please note that there are appointed persons of trust in our department, our faculty, and our university in case you would like to raise or talk about more personal or confidential issues (see also: Charter for the promotion of psychosocial well-being).