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If you’re reading this, you probably recently joined the Sandkam lab in the department of Neurobiology & Behavior (NBB) at Cornell University. We’re so glad you chose to join us!


By this time you’ve probably realized that a “lab” isn’t just a place, it’s a tight knit community of dedicated people who share an interest in asking questions about a topic and figuring out ways to answer those questions. While you’re part of our lab we hope to help you: 

  1. Have fun and make new friends

  2. Develop new skills and interests

  3. Follow your curiosity to make exciting contributions to the field


This lab manual was collectively put together by lab members to help give you an idea of what to expect, and what is expected of you. It includes components of the NBB graduate field handbook (which takes priority if there is a disagreement for student policy) and lab specific expectations. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let us know! Most importantly, we update this handbook yearly and work hard to incorporate suggestions, so if there is something about the way the lab is running that isn’t working for you, suggestion for improvement are welcome! You’re a part of this community now and together we can make it an enjoyable, productive place.

Mission Statement

Our goal is to work as a cohesive team to develop creative, integrative approaches to answering questions in evolutionary biology.

Lab Values

Academic and research excellence is only achievable with contributions from a diverse team that bring together a wide range of thoughts and backgrounds. We work to foster an environment of mutual respect in which each and every member of the lab feels comfortable making contributions. We place a high value on diversity and respect.

Expectations and Responsibilities

We want our community to be a fun, judgement-free community where we can all help each other grow to be the best scientists we can be. To facilitate this, we’ve laid out some expectations and responsibilities that apply to everyone, followed by more specific expectations for specific roles in the lab. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the expectations of all the different lab roles to better understand how our community works.



The following applies to all members of the lab. 

  • Be supportive of your lab mates – it never hurts to bank some good karma.

  • Share widely and often – sharing your findings often clarifies your next step.

  • Ask critical questions AND offer creative solutions – peer critique is the cornerstone of improving science. When someone is sharing their work with you, you’re expected to engage and ask questions. If you identify a problem with their science – let them know your concern nicely and offer potential solutions. This applies not only to interactions on campus but also when you are representing the lab at conferences or out in the community. You’ll see many people at conferences etc. that only point out problems with someone else’s science – this is lazy and not conducive to pushing the science forward. The most disliked scientists offer only problems, the most respected scientists offer solutions.

  • Be engaged with the work of the lab- read papers before journal clubs, ask questions that you need clarified, etc. 

  • Ask for help – if you want to learn a technique, or how to operate particular equipment, or aren’t sure why someone did something in a paper you’re reading, or can’t figure out a transition between paragraphs in a paper you’re writing, just ask a lab mate. Teamwork makes the dream work!

  • If someone asks you to train them on a technique or equipment , immediately set a time/day that works for you both (do not agree to train without setting a time).

  • Keep the lab clean, neat, and orderly (this applies to molecular and fish labs): 

    • Properly empty tip and liquid waste bench-beakers before you leave the bench (if you don’t know where it goes, ask).

    • Equipment should be put away as soon as you finish using it.

    • Clean up spills immediately with the appropriate method (you will be trained in acid/base clean up).

    • DO NOT leave dirty glassware in the sink.

    • Clean benches with EtOH when you are finished for the day.

  • Keep the meeting room clean:

    • Wipe down microwave, fridge, coffee maker, counters, etc. when you are done.

  • Respond to messages – Open and clear communication is extremely important to a functioning lab, which means we are often sending virtual messages to one another through email, Slack, or some other platform. Please be sure to monitor for, and respond to, lab communications in a timely manner. This does not have to be immediately but try for the next business day.

  • Take personal time and vacation when you need it – science has periods of intense commitments on our time and mental health (application deadlines, intense experiments, conferences, etc.). Make sure you schedule breaks to prevent burning out when things slow down. Be sure to communicate breaks in a timely manner.

  • If you’re going out of town – make sure your fish care shifts are covered and confirm with the sub the day before you leave.  


Principle Investigator (PI)

You can expect Ben to: 

  • Maintain a vision of where the lab is going.

  • Secure funding as necessary to keep the lab going.

  • Support your career development by introducing you to other researchers in the field, writing recommendation letters for you, and promoting you and your work in talks.

  • Meet with you regularly to plan and troubleshoot projects and to work with you to develop a career strategy that meets your long-term goals.

  • Help you develop a team of mentors to help support you.

  • Be upfront and honest about your performance. 


Graduate Students

Expected to: 

  • Meet with PI weekly to design projects and discuss progress.

  • Attend lab meetings and journal clubs and present at least once per semester.

  • Keep shared summaries of weekly meetings up to date (to keep expectations and goals aligned).

  • Attend and present at least one conference per year.

  • Conduct experiments and write papers.

  • Follow the NBB graduate student handbook for degree requirements.

  • Train lab mates on protocols and equipment when requested.

  • Take shifts for fish care (feeding, tank maintenance).

  • Communicate difficulties and setbacks to PI in a timely manner (don’t hit your head against the wall for weeks – we can brainstorm solutions together).


Undergraduate Students

Expected to: 

  • Be actively contributing to at least one scientific project.

  • Take one shift of feeding/cleaning fish stocks per week.

  • Communicate if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing.

  • Communicate difficulties and setbacks in a timely manner.

  • Meet project mentor regularly (grad student, postdoc, PI, etc).

  • Attend weekly lab meetings (class schedule permitting).



Expected to:

  • Attend lab meetings (postdocs).

  • Conduct experiments and write papers (postdocs).

  • Communicate difficulties and setbacks in a timely manner.

  • Train lab mates on protocols and equipment when requested.

Take shifts for fish care (feeding, tank maintenance).

Lab Resources and Communication Channels


Slack – Much of our day-to-day communication takes place on our lab slack channel, this keeps our quick questions and clarifications from getting missed in busy email inboxes. Slack acts as an instant message service and virtual message board rolled into one and can be used through an app on smart phones, tablets and computers. Some people love the freedom and ease that Slack allows and will often send messages on weekends, during holidays, or even in the middle of the night. Please do NOT feel pressure to respond immediately. Similarly, if you send someone a message on Slack during off hours don’t be upset if you don’t get an immediate response. Slack lets you mute incoming messages during specific times, and you are welcome to use this feature if you wish. However, please be sure to respond to messages the next business day. Messages are only on the Slack for 90 days, so please be sure to move important data/information/etc. to longer- term storage. 


LabArchive – We use an electronic lab notebook (LabArchive) for long term storage and shared access to protocols, lab notes, and meeting summaries. 


Computer storage – If you need more storage for lab data (eg. a hard drive) just ask, and make sure all equipment. Any data you generate must be accessible to others and safe for long- term storage (eg. on LabArchive, or on lab server).

Last Updated: May 2024

By: Helen Stec, Maximiliano Zuluaga-Forero, Matthew Taves, Ben Sandkam

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