Creating a New Member Handbook

Things to Think About:  Things to Think About is a new section of the ORI blog where members of the ORI staff communicate about ideas we have about the responsible conduct of research. 

The life of a PI is filled with a multitude of time-consuming responsibilities.  You are passionate about your research interests, but you also need to keep up with writing manuscripts and proposals, serving on committees, maintaining records of expenditures, and teaching responsibilities.  On top of all of that, you have a research group to both manage and train.  With so many responsibilities, it can be easy for one or more of these competing interests to fall by the wayside. 

One of the most important responsibilities is a task you may not think about often: educating your research group on the responsible conduct of research.  Your lab group is the next generation of scientists and you have the opportunity, some might even say obligation, to foster integrity in your field.  But where do you start?  Much of the training of new lab members might be done by senior members in your group, so how do you make sure that new members get all the information they need when you know you don’t have the time to talk them through each item yourself?  Are you making assumptions about the skills they already have? 

Creating a notebook of resources for new lab members is one fantastic way to make sure new members know the rules of your lab (and of your field) from the beginning.  While this notebook should certainly include policies that promote the responsible conduct of research, this is also an opportunity to share any other information that you believe new lab members should have.  Some topics you might want to include are:

  • Lab safety policies
  • Definition of research misconduct
  • Questionable research practices to avoid
  • Your lab authorship policy
  • Your expectations around work hours
  • Your expectations for vacation and sick day policies and how/whether your institution has related policies
  • Standard operating procedures for frequently used techniques in your research
  • Standard operating procedures for processing images for publication
  • Anti-discrimination and harassment policy
  • Points of contact for university officials and services such as student health, the ombudsperson, the research integrity officer, and appropriate deans. 
  • Your institution’s data management policy as well as specifics of data management for your group
  • Lab notebook expectations
  • File and sample naming conventions for your group

While the new member handbook can be an excellent tool for establishing norms in your research group, it is important to remember that a new member’s training does not end the moment you hand over the handbook.  Reinforce the topics contained in the handbook.  If you see files on the lab computer that are not being saved in the format you prescribed, say something.  If safety standards are not being met, refer your student to the guidelines in the handbook and discuss the proper way to stay safe.  By incorporating the handbook into your day-to-day interactions with your trainees, you reinforce the importance of adhering to its contents.    

Source URL: https://ori.hhs.gov/blog/creating-new-member-handbook