Mason Lab Handbook

This living document provides policies, guidelines, and expectations for members of the Mason Lab at LSU. A shared understanding of responsibilities, expectations, and rules are essential to a successful lab environment. New members are expected to read relevant sections during onboarding. If there are any topics that you feel should be covered or any points of confusion, please let me know!

Table of Contents

  1. Code of Conduct
  2. Expectations of the PI
  3. Expectations of Graduate Students
  4. Expectations of Postdoctoral Researchers
  5. Lab Meetings
  6. Seminars
  7. Journal Clubs, Reading Groups
  8. Conferences
  9. Service
  10. Curatorial Work
  11. Lab Work
  12. Field Work
  13. Reproducible Research
  14. Authorship
  15. Tools of the Trade

Code of Conduct

The Mason Lab is dedicated to providing a safe, hospitable, and productive environment for everyone participating in Mason Lab activities regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, or any other protected status. We acknowledge that effective communication requires that we treat each other with respect and courtesy in face-to-face, written, and electronic interactions and that we respect the intellectual property of our colleagues.

Participants in Mason Lab activities should be able to engage in open discussions free of discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Harassment will not be tolerated in any form. Harassment includes offensive gestures or verbal comments related to ethnicity, religion, disability, physical appearance, gender, or sexual orientation in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

Any breaches of the code of conduct can be reported to Nicholas Mason or the LSU Office of the Ombudsperson. All reports are confidential.

Additional links:

Expectations of the PI

As your advisor, it is my responsibility to help you be as successful as possible toward your goals—not mine. A successful mentor-mentee relationship is an ongoing collaboration that benefits from clear expectations. Here, I outline what I view as my responsibilities to help ensure your success in our lab group.

Expectations of Graduate Students

Many of the expectations outlined here are relevant to all members, regardless of what career stage they are in or what role they play in the lab. I expect that all members are engaged, supportive, and proactive in their respective roles. That said, some expectations do differ among career stages and are outlined below.

Expectations of Postdoctoral Researchers

Most of the above text about Graduate Students is also relevant to postdoctoral researchers—but there are differences. Notably, each postdoctoral position is different and is dependent on the funding source. Some postdoctoral fellowships are more independent than others and will be less hands on. Other postdoctoral positions are closely tied to specific projects and will be managed more closely. Postdoctoral positions are often short and time management is crucial to success. Some additional thoughts here:

Lab Meetings

Mason Lab meetings are currently Wednesdays 3:30 – 5:00 pm CST. Lab Meetings are our time to get together and work toward common goals. We typically rotate from member to member taking the lead on what we will focus on that week, with input from other lab members and the PI. Activities can include reading especially challenging or dense papers together, editing and revising manuscripts or grant proposals, discussing ethics in the field, practice talks or seminars, mini workshops on technical skills or new programs, presentations of new data, or something else!


Members of the Mason Lab are expected to attend departmental seminars. You should plan to attend the SEE seminar on Monday and the LSUMNS museum seminar on Friday each week at a minimum, even if the topic is outside of the immediate interests. Seminars are a fantastic way to quickly gain expertise in a specific area and to get to know the people and institutions that drive research.

LSUMNS Museum Seminar Series

LSU BioSci Seminar Calendar

Journal Clubs and Reading Groups

Journal clubs, reading group, and semester-long seminars are fantastic ways to cover the literature. Dissecting papers as a group often leads to deeper, more nuanced understanding of the work at hand. I encourage lab members to attend these opportunities as it fits their schedule and to establish new reading groups if they find one that doesn’t meet their current needs or interests.


I expect that you will attend and present at academic conferences, an average of perhaps one per year, maybe more when you are on the job market. Conferences are an important venue to present your own work and to network with other people in our fields. If you have something to present (i.e., a poster or a talk), I will try to provide funding to attend via lab funds, but probably cannot afford to finance more than one conference per person per year. You should also apply for all sources of funding, both internally and for specific conferences, and should try to keep conference costs down. The lab will likely not cover costs if you are not presenting research. Personally, I try to attend the American Ornithological Society and the Society for the Study of Evolution each year. Those will likely be quite relevant to you as well, but you are not limited to those conferences and are encouraged to attend whichever conference you think you will benefit most from.


Many aspects of academia rely on volunteer service to function. Serving on departmental committees, acting as a peer reviewer, organizing seminars are all done on a volunteer basis. I expect that members of my lab will contribute their time and effort to service in some way, but you should monitor your time and energy and recognize your priorities. Service can be very rewarding, but can also become overwhelming—protect your boundaries and learn when to say ‘no’ (but do say yes when you are excited about it).

Service to the University

You may be asked to serve on departmental or university committees. If there is a pressing issue, you can also form committees to take action toward improving some aspect of grad student life or academia more generally.

Service to the Field

There are numerous opportunities to help academic societies in their mission through volunteer efforts and service to fields within biology. I encourage my lab members to participate in these opportunities and may suggest opportunities to you. Again, it is ultimately your decision to participate or not, but I believe service is important for professional development and also giving back to our communities.

Service to the Community

We occasionally (and hopefully increasingly) have opportunities to interact with with community scientists through outreach and public education opportunities. For example, each month we have the LSUMNS Night at the Museum. There may be other opportunities to interact with K–12 classrooms or contribute to other outreach initiatives. These are important activities to promote the next generation of scientists and cultivate interest and stewardship of our natural world. I encourage you to participate as your commitments allow.

Curatorial Work

It is expected that each Mason Lab member will continue to the maintenance and growth of the bird collection at the LSUMNS. Each graduate student will spend at least one semester as a curatorial assistant, where they will work with PI Mason and the collections managers on a variety of tasks, including specimen preparation, accessioning new specimens, processing loans, collections upkeep, and more.

Stay tuned for more guidelines and policy on working in the collections.

Lab Work

Many members of the Mason Lab will incorporate molecular work into their research projects. The Mason Lab is part of a shared molecular lab that is a collaborative effort among the various curators in the LSUMNS. You are responsible for making sure that our shared lab space is clean and organized and abide by rules and regulations set up by the lab manager, Dr. Janet Buckner.

Stay tuned for more guidelines and policy on working in wet lab.

Field Work

Stay tuned for information on field work policies. Very little is happening right now due to covid.

Reproducible Research

Reproducibility is an essential component of successful research. We are supportive of producing openly available, reproducible workflows. Doing so benefits us by allowing us to retrace our steps and providing building blocks for future research.

Documenting Workflows

It is important to save scripts and record settings used to run programs in generating and analyzing data. An excellent way to do this is through GitHub. I recommend that each user get a GitHub account and create a repository for each project that they are working on. By uploading scripts and program input files, we work towards transparency and reproducibility in our research.

More on reproducible workflows soon.

Data Management

Back up your data. Back up your backups. Have multiple backups in different physical locations (i.e., one at work, one at home). Hard drives fail and redundancy is key to avoiding a data loss catastrophe.

More on data storage and archiving policies soon.


When we start projects, we will frame out roles and authorship for projects. Over time, projects change, personnel change, etc. We will re-evaluate authorship changes when necessary throughout stages of a project. Please voice your opinion if there are any disagreements about any aspect of this process. To be an author on manuscripts out of the lab, we try our best to make sure that all authors meet the following requirements:

Read this: Defining authorship (most of the points adopted from these standards).

Tools of the Trade

Here is some software that I use in my professional life that may or may not help you. Note I am a Mac user.