Creating and maintaining good morale in your lab is one of the best ways to stimulate more science and discoveries. A collegial atmosphere can facilitate collaboration and smooth workflow by promoting co-workers as important and personable team players. Here are three strategies that can help.
- Recognize professional achievements
Pam Soltis, PhD, curator of the laboratory of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History, says that her lab celebrates professional achievements. Organize a small party when people defend or get through their orals, and send out an e-mail to the group when somebody gets a grant or has a paper published or accepted.
You can also mention such achievements at the beginning of meetings. That way, everyone can congratulate their co-workers, and feel that they played an important role in the achievement, which encourages a sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie.
- Celebrate birthdays and other personal milestones
Turning personal events such as birthdays into (even small) social occasions can make your lab the place everyone wants to work, says Soltis.
Start a birthday sign-up sheet. Lab members then take responsibility for marking their coworkers’ birthdays, which keeps people attached to one another. As PI, you could purchase a card for everyone to sign.
Mark personal milestones such as engagements, mar- riages, or the births of children with a celebration, whether it is a lunch or dinner, or even just a cake in the break room.
- Socialize outside the lab
Outings are also a fun way for a lab to build a sense of community among its members.
Greg Ball, PhD, vice dean for science and research and a professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says you should have events outside the lab each year that you organize and to which everyone is invited. That way, everyone can feel comfortable participating. You can solicit suggestions for group activities from technicians and other co-workers via a short e-mail survey, or throw out a few ideas of your own at a meeting.
Ball mentions, however, that “the human ecology within a lab varies as a function of its personnel.”Therefore, the kinds of activities that work best with lab groups can vary based on the members’ preferences. Ball cautions that if you organize an event that is somehow exclusive, even if not intentional, it can generate resentment.
Soltis says that last October, she and her husband took their whole group to a local beach for a picnic. Other ideas for outings include skating, bowling and attending sporting events. Ball indicates that he and his wife, who is also a scientist, took their labs to an Orioles baseball game last summer.
During the holidays or the summer, you might hold a dinner or invite people to your house for a cookout. You can ask people to bring a side dish or dessert.
Another good excuse for an event such as a meal is a visit by a colleague from another institution. If the primary subject of the conversation will be science, however, spouses, significant others and families may find a dinner with a lab visitor awkward and dull.
“You will need to spend some of your personal money… it is sort of the cost of doing business, so to speak,” says Ball. For example, if you go out to dinner, you can buy dinner, and everyone pays for their own drinks.