Lab Manual Page
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Long-term members of the laboratory are on a first-name
basis while newcomers use "Dr. Crews" as a form of address.
What should I do?
A: I asked a very similar question of Judy Stern, now professor
of Psychology at Rutgers University, when I was a new graduate
student at the Institute of Animal Behavior. My question concerned
how I should address Daniel S. Lehrman, the Director of the Institute:
Dr. Lehrman or Danny? Her answer was that at some point I would
feel that I had established myself in his eyes and would feel
comfortable with the personal form of address.
Q: What makes an experiment elegant?
A: Simplicity and strong inference. Simplicity in that the study
should be straight-forward with relatively few comparisons. Strong
inference in that the alternative outcomes are few and each one
of them meaningful; meaningful in the sense that the outcomes
are mutually exclusive yet together they are totally inclusive.
Q: How is authorship on studies decided?
A: Authorship on professional articles is based on participation
in the conception, design, conduct, analysis, and writing stages
of a study. As I am involved in most, if not all, stages at some
level, it is appropriate that I be included as an author on publications
that result from research done in this laboratory. Senior authorship
is based on both the degree of involvement and the amount of effort
the individual contributes to the project. I expect senior authors
to be self-motivated and disciplined. Such individuals take initiative
in assuming the primary responsibility in preparing the experimental
protocol, conducting the study in its various aspects, analyzing
the data, and preparing drafts of the final manuscript.
Responsibilities are assigned by me at the beginning of a study.
It is assumed that if you are the designated principal investigator,
you will perform the duties expected to warrant senior authorship.
Keep in mind that senior authorship is earned and not a right.
If conflicts do arise between individuals regarding authorship,
the final decision rests with me.
Finally, keep in mind that a study cannot be considered as completed
until it has appeared in print. Simply designing and running an
experiment, doing the statistics and graphs ultimately means nothing
in terms of a contribution to science if the work never appears
in print. The "gold" standard was set by Juli Wade who
had submitted ALL of her thesis research for publication by the
time she left the lab.
Now, a word about publications and reputations. The norm when
starting out is to emphasize in quantity, and when established,
to emphasize quality. This certainly was true in my case. There
can be a price to be paid, however. It was told to me early that
it is better to have no reputation, than to have a bad reputation.
The easiest way to acquire a bad reputation is to submit weak
papers to first-tier journals. Your rationale is that it may get
accepted, i.e., it is a "long shot". I had to learn
by experience that this strategy is not in your best interest.
This is how it works. The editors of first-tier journals are recognized
as leaders in their fields. They in turn consult leading researchers
as to review manuscripts submitted to the journal for consideration
for publication. Thus, a weak manuscript is seen by at least three
prominent people in the area you are working in. Even if you are
an established investigator, they will remember the paper because
it was 1) sloppily prepared, 2) poorly thought out, or 3) weak
data. This will disappoint them and cause them to both question
their opinion of your work and view your future work with these
doubts in mind. It can take years to overcome this impression.
Q: How do I get credit for ideas that I feel are mine?
A: This is an interactive laboratory and it is often difficult
to decide who actually had the original idea versus who developed
the idea into a research question. My feeling, and one that is
shared by many scientists such as Ernst Mayr, is that there are
few truly original ideas in science. Rather, it is what is done
with the idea that counts. You will often find in your literature
research on a particular question that someone else formulated
the basic problem many years ago. I urge you to read the "classic"
literature for insight into the central issues in the problem
you have chosen (e.g., my PhD research can be traced directly
to statements made by FHA Marshall in 1935 and GK Noble in 1938).
This does not mean that there is no such thing as original contributions.
The discoveries being made every day in science are testaments
to this. But the great advances come from interdisciplinary research.
My opinion is that in multidisciplinary research projects where
many fields are joined, it is best to share credit as much as
possible as the discoveries actually hinge on a number of individuals.
Thus, in talks such as job seminars and presentations to annual
meetings as well as in publications, there often is a fine line
between crediting every piece of work (as the audience will wonder
what is your contribution) and not giving any credit to others
(so that the audience assumes it is all your doing). You will
have done serious damage to your reputation if anyone believes
that you have not given proper credit, or worse, taken credit
for something that is not yours. It is often a delicate judgment
call and a good rule is that it is better to err on the side of
Q: Should I talk about research in the laboratory that I am
not directly involved in?
A: Discussing research that is incomplete or preliminary outside
of the laboratory is never a good practice; this is particularly
true if you are not the PI in the study. Often times the final
answer will be different than the original interpretation and
early pronouncements can be embarrassing. A good rule to follow
is that you should never talk about research that you are not
directly involved in unless invited to do so by the PI. Even if
you are the PI, it is usually helpful to clear with me first the
extent to which results of ongoing projects should be discussed
outside of the laboratory.
Q: What freedom do I have in collaborative research inside
or outside of the laboratory? What if someone approaches me about
collaborating on a project?
A: As a member of this laboratory, your primary responsibilities
are to your project and duties in the laboratory. Any activity
that might take you away from these responsibilities would be
detrimental to you and to the laboratory. However, this is a well-known
laboratory and it will not be unusual if you are approached about
possible collaboration. If you feel that you have sufficient spare
time, you should speak with me before entering into any agreement
regarding collaborative research. Under no conditions are you
to commit laboratory resources or materials to a project outside
of this laboratory without my express permission. This pertains
also to agreements undertaken between members of the laboratory.
Q: Can I continue to work on the same animal after I leave
A: First, the word "can" should be replaced with the
word "should." The way the science world appears to
operate is that an individual receiving the Ph.D. from a well-known
laboratory will automatically be considered to have had substantial
help in the development and execution of their thesis problem.
This also is true for an individual entering into a faculty position
following postdoctoral research. Whether this is right or wrong
is beside the point.
So it is necessary for each of you to re-establish your independence
and identity as a researcher after you leave the laboratory. The
fastest and most effective way of doing this is to begin a research
program with an animal that you have not worked with before or
that you worked with before coming to the laboratory. I will never
say that you cannot work on the animal that you worked on in this
laboratory (as if I had that right anyway). However, your research
problem and your research animal does not become exclusively yours
when you leave. If you do continue to work on the same research
animal, you should be aware that you may be in direct competition
with this laboratory. It will not only be difficult to compete
with this laboratory, but it will also place me in a predicament
regarding comments of originality in letters of reference and
Q: How do I find out what has and what has not been done in
A: I advise that you get an up-to-date copy of the publications
list from my vita (ask me for one) and then read the papers that
deal with the question you are interested in in their order of
appearance. This will give you an idea of both the development
of specific projects and the breadth of projects. There are no
reprints available for many of the papers, but there is a xerox
of all of the published work of the lab on file in the Main Lab.
After you have an idea of what has been done in the area you are
particularly interested in, ask me about the unpublished experiments.
Knowing what has been tried already will save you an enormous
amount of time and effort.
Q: The lab seems to be very large. How will I get the personal
training that is needed for my research?
A: First, you should ask the other members of the laboratory whether
they think they are receiving the necessary attention. I think
that you will find that the consensus is that I try to keep abreast
with all developments of the laboratory and provide larger contexts
in which to interpret them. Because there are a number of ongoing projects in
the laboratory, you may find that in discussions with
me you will have to begin with your previous findings
(i.e., repeat what you told me about previously), but I get
up to speed quickly. Second, I make a strong effort to provide
all the time you need without erring on the side of "always
looking over your shoulder."
Q: Science today is a very competitive field. How do I know
if the training I receive will make me marketable?
A: The only way this can be judged is to look at the track records
of previous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The following
is a listing that is current, but of course is always being updated.
M. A. Students
- Gregory Lopreato, 1993 M.A., University of Texas at Austin.
Ph.D., 2000, University of Texas at Austin.
- Deborah L. Flores, 1994 M.A., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Resident in Psychiatry, University of California
Medical School at San Francisco.
- Amador R. Cantú, 1995 M.A. not completed, leaving for
medical school, graduating in 1999.
- C. Todd Osborn, 1999 M.A., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Director of Sales, Advanced Digital Solutions.
- Emily Willingham, 2000 M.A., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: University of Texas at Austin.
- Kimberly Hillsman, 2005 M.A., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: English language instructor.
- William R. Garstka, 1983 Ph.D., Harvard University. Present
position: Professor, University of Alabama at Huntsville.
- Joan M. Whittier, 1986 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Senior Lecturer, University of Queensland,
- Robert T. Mason, 1987 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Associate Professor, Oregon State University.
- Jonathan Lindzey, 1990 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Assistant Professor, University of South Florida.
- Juli Wade, 1992 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin. Present
Position: Associate Professor, Michigan State University.
- Alan J. Tousignant, 1993 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Curator of Research , Trevor Zoo, New York.
- Larry J. Young, 1994 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Associate Professor, Emory University.
- Patricia Coomber, 1995 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Lt. Col., USAF, AFTAC/TNB, Patrick Air Force
- Judith M. Bergeron, 1997 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, Marine Sciences Institute
of the University of Texas.
- Kira Wennstrom, 1997 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Washington,
- Lainy Day, 1999 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin. Present
Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Santa
- Steven M. Phelps , 1999 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Co-sponsored with W. Wilczynski . Final thesis project supervisor:
M. J. Ryan. Present Position: Assistant Professor, University
- Alice Fleming, 2000 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University.
- Turk Rhen, 2000 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Assistant Professor, University of North Dakota.
(Individual NIH NRSA Predoctoral Fellow)
- Jon T. Sakata, 2001 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, San Francisco.
(NSF Predoctoral Fellow)
- Sarah Woolley, 2002 Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin.
Present Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, San Francisco.
(Individual NIH NRSA Predoctoral Fellow)
- Richard R. Tokarz. Present Position: Professor, University
- Michael C. Moore. Present Position: Professor, Arizona State
- Janet E. Joy. Present Position: Research Associate, National
Institutes of Health.
- Mark Grassman. Present Position: Advanced MicroDevices, Austin.
- Randolph W. Krohmer. Present Position: Associate Professor,
St. Xavier College, Illinois.
- Ethan Allen. Present Position: Exhibit Planner, the Chicago
Museum of Science and Technology.
- Mary T. Mendonça. Present Position: Associate Professor,
- Manfred Gahr. Present Position: Professor, Vrije University,
- Thane Wibbels. Present Position: Associate Professor, University
of Alabama at Birmingham.
- Ellen Prediger. Present Position: Research Scientist, Ambion.
- Matthew Rand. Present Position: Associate Professor, Carleton
- John Godwin. Present Position: Assistant Professor, North
Carolina State University.
- Cynthia Gill. Present Position: Assistant Professor, Hampshire
- Oliver Putz. Present Position: Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley.
Q: Every laboratory has its own lore. This is not the published
papers by the laboratory but rather the social and political aspects
of the laboratory over the years. Because the individuals involved
change over the years, it is possible present-day students
have no understanding of past events that were critical in
the perspective portrayed immediately prior to their time period. Is this handed
down "word of mouth", or is there a place where we can
A: The major animal subjects of the laboratory fortunately have
been very topical. In Greg Myers book, Writing Biology, some of
the history of the whiptail lizard research and garter snake research
is documented. There also is a notebook, started in 1992, that
contains the papers used during laboratory meetings.
These papers, as well as those listed at the back of this guide,
should be read by all. Also in the lab notebook are press clippings
that have appeared over the years. Finally, lab lore is not written
down so much as passed on across lab generations; the great flood
of 20 January, 1984, the genesis and near demise of Sergeant York
would be examples. Another piece of lab lore would be my obsession
with information (not control) about what is being done when and
Q: How do I select a thesis topic and will I be allowed to
do what I want to do?
A: This is a question that is always close to mind: yours and
mine. A topic that will implement equipment and techniques already
in use is most likely to succeed. The most important ingredients
are the significance and originality of the experiments and the
soundness of the research plan (both large and small scale items).
These are the same criteria that will be used by the granting
agencies. Any topic that deals with reproduction, behavior, and
animal models that have been used already (this aspect is to impress
upon you the difficulty of establishing a new animal model for
laboratory use) is fair game, but remember that it should be something
I know at least something about (otherwise I will not be able
to properly evaluate it and give advice). Finally, I do not assign
topics, but I will advise you, adhering to the same criteria.
Q: Teaching Assistant vs Graduate Assistantship/NIH NRSA Support/NSF
At this time tuition is waived for TAs. Holders of NRSAs or fellowships generally also
have allowances for tuition. For GRAs tuition comes from the lab grants, so my ability
to pay for tuition is constrained by this fact. In the past this has not been a problem
and I do not expect it to be a problem in the future.
If you are being paid as a GRA, TA, or by a fellowship, you are expected to work full-time
as a graduate student in the lab. Any outside employment, including work in the university
in another capacity (e.g. an appointment as a grader or a tutor; a supplemental TAship)
must be approved by me in advance. I am not in favor of any outside employment except in
the most extenuating circumstances, and only when I am confident that it will not interfere
with your progress or lab work. I will likely exercise the right of veto of any such employment.
A: Depending on the grant situation, I support two levels of graduate
research assistantships. One level is equivalent to the 9 month
TA salary scale for graduate students. The second level is via
self-secured grants such as the NIH Individual NRSA, NSF, and
Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellowships. All graduate students in
the laboratory will be expected to apply for these awards as part
of their training in grantsmanship. The amounts of the various
awards vary. For example, the established NIH NRSA stipend has
a $3,000 allowance for a predoctoral award. My policy in the past
for NRSA postdoctoal Awardees has been to expect one-half of the
allowance to be used for laboratory expenses. This is justified
in that the actual cost of the trainee's research far exceeds
that amount and so the remainder is borne by my research grants.
That leaves $1,500 to be used for insurance and whatever else
the investigator wished. NIH NRSA predoctoral fellows have total
control of the $3,000 allowance which can be used for insurance
NIH assumes, as do I, that the freedom provided by an Award allowing
full-time research, and the prestige of having obtained such a
highly competitive Award, is desirable. The only pay increases
(e.g., cost of living) while on the award are mandated by Congress.
Federal law specifically disallows federal funds being used to
supplement salaries of holders of a NRSA. Therefore, any supplementation
of salary must be within the guidelines of the NRSA regulations,
but is not expressly forbidden. In other words, you can get additional
salary from a job outside of the lab so long as you do not violate
the letter or intent of the Award and it does not interfere with
Q: How much vacation should I take?
A: Please refer back to number 8 under Lab Policies above.