Lab Manual Page
The laboratory is organized in a fashion designed
to offer a fair opportunity to anyone who is interested and willing
to devote the considerable time and effort to achieve basic discoveries
in the life sciences. For some activities, individuals report directly
to me and for other activities they report to a designated supervisor.
This usually is the person who has the greatest experience, the longest tenure,
and demonsrated responsibility and efficiency. The various general
laboratory duties are supervised by assignment that is established
in laboratory meetings every semester. From time-to-time the University
reminds faculty that as Principal Investigators, we are stewards of
the University when it comes to overseeing various responsibilities
and legal issues pertaining to our research. Here I discuss various
related issues that we all should be aware of.
Chemicals, reagents, equipment:
Research "life" is very
different now than it was 40 years ago when I started. We need permits
and permission to collect animals and to house them,
to use all sorts of chemicals and reagents (even some glassware is
considered a controlled substance now). And in some cases, we need
agreements with industry to use their chemicals or protocols. When
we wish to use experimental chemicals (e.g., aromatase inhibitor),
I must sign a document saying that the chemical will never leave the
laboratory and, in most instances, that any manuscripts resulting
from work using their compound will first be sent to them prior to
submission to a journal. Many of our reagents (e.g. aromatase inhibitors,
anti-estrogens etc) are either purchased under one of my licenses
or are given to us under contractual agreement. Some compounds are
considered narcotics. Any misuse or misappropriation, or even gift
of those to someone doing research in another lab, is the sort of
thing that could get blown up and make news headlines. It would at
least be likely to have the immediate impact of getting my license
or contract revoked and ending a line of research. Finally, there
is the red tape surrounding radioisotopes and their disposal (just
ask Nicholas). So, there are all sorts of innocent ways to get in trouble,
legal and otherwise, that we need to be aware of.
Even when away from the lab we are emissaries of UT, hopefully
for the good, but sometimes it does not turn out that way. For example,
when I was in Canada working with the red-sided garter snakes (I think
it was 1987), one of the tourists began to really bug me, interfering
with my observations of the animals. Words were exchanged, the final
ones being "I am going to write your chairman about your attitude"
and my reply "Fine, go ahead." Well, this guy was a neurologist
(in my opinion, the most neurotic, anal and pretentious group
in the medical profession). He did write, and I had to write an apology
to him and to the Canadian government. Had I not, our collecting permits
were going to be yanked. The take-home message: be nice even if they
Then there is the equally famous incident of a cow breaking its leg
in a can trap that Allan Billy had set on Bureau of Land Management
land in the flats below the AMNH Southwest Research field station.
For a small fee ranchers are allowed to graze their cattle on BLM
land, but they act as if they own it. Needless to say, he was not
happy and we had to pay for the cow (and we did not even get to eat it!).
So, when collecting, it is important to be sure that you are
in a place where collecting is permitted and where your activities/presence
is also permitted. In other words, get the permission of the landowner
first before trespassing (see the article on the researcher being
shot for trespassing on the lab door). Or, even if you don't intend to
keep animals, the act of attempting to catch them constitutes collecting
in the eyes of outsiders. Again, one of you is a representative of this
lab and UT, so your activities reflect on the lab and UT as a whole.
Excellence in research depends on the smooth running of the laboratory.
This is particularly the case in multidisciplinary research. I have
found that this is best achieved by adherence to the following policies.
- There is no overall coordinator of laboratory activities. It is
essential that all involved in laboratory activity fulfill their assigned
obligations with efficiency and reliability. The duties of the full-time
laboratory personnel are assigned by me.
- Every member of the lab participates in the general care and maintenance
of the laboratory. The tasks usually are divided and allocated usually
in September, January, and July of each year or when someone leaves
or joins the lab. Efforts are made to make sure that no one individual
is burdened disproportionately. The laboratories and animal rooms
are to be kept clean and orderly at all times & divide; in other
words, clean up after yourself.
- Each individual is responsible for the care and maintenance of their
research animals. Collectively those individuals working on the same
organism are responsible for the colony as a whole with assignments
being allocated on a yearly basis. Responsibilities are assigned
such that a single individual will be responsible
for the final product (e.g., the upkeep of a particular room). Because
everything in this laboratory depends ultimately on healthy animals,
their proper care is of paramount importance. Death of animals due
to negligence will not be tolerated.
- Members of the laboratory are expected to adhere to schedules of
work. Undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows
are expected to establish schedules indicating the times they will
be in the laboratory. This is important as some communications occur
on the basis of the schedule. NB: If you say that you will be in the
lab at particular times on certain days, I expect to see you in the
lab at the indicated times. The actual amount of time spent in the
lab, of course, will depend upon the level of training and stage of
research. As a guide to what you might expect regarding time commitments,
undergraduates can expect to be involved in research for 15-20 hours
each week while graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will spend
at least 60 hours per week. I repeat, these are rough estimates and
will vary depending upon time of year, stage of research, etc.; the
actual amount of time spent in the lab can be much greater.
- Because so much of what occurs in this laboratory depends upon the
efficient interaction of many individuals, clear lines of communication
and responsibilities are essential. Responsibilities to the laboratory
are firm and binding. Unless you make arrangements with specific individuals
to take over specific tasks in advance, you will be expected to perform
your assignments as scheduled.
- My "management style" is not to define goals in general
terms and then ignore how they are accomplished. I like to keep in
close touch with the progress (and problems) associated with all of
the projects. One of my "pet peeves" is not knowing what
an individual is doing in the laboratory. This includes all individuals,
undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and research assistants.
It has happened on more than one occasion that someone has worked
diligently on a project without providing me with regular progress
reports. When we do get together in conference, it is not uncommon
to find that there has been a fatal error in the logic, design, conduct,
or analysis stages and the effort must be repeated. So, progress depends
upon efficient and timely communication. I will try to meet with each
of you on a weekly basis to discuss progress and future directions;
in those instances that this is not possible, alternative plans will
be made to maintain communication. Since my schedule is very busy,
it is up to you to see that regular meetings are scheduled.
- It is essential that I be kept informed of when you will be away
from the laboratory. If you do not keep me informed of your activities,
it will not be possible for me to include you in opportunities that
may arise on short notice or to anticipate your research needs (e.g.,
equipment and material must be budgeted in advance and allowances
made for UT bureaucracy). In the case that you will be away for a
prolonged period (e.g., undergraduates on winter break), you must
arrange for someone to perform your assigned tasks. During the time
away you may want to call the laboratory at intervals to check on
the progress and performance of these tasks. Not only are you ultimately
responsible for the tasks, but if your research project relies on
certain tasks being done while you are away, chances are that they
will not have been performed in the manner you would have had you
been here (this is not due to spite, but due to the fact that the
top priority of the people you are relying on is not your stuff).
- It is convention to have two weeks for vacation each year. However this
depends on whether you are an undergraduate, graduate student, postdoctoral
fellow, or research assistant. It also depends upon how advanced you are in your
studies, what your goals are, and whether you are being paid from a grant. It is not
my intention to force anyone to stay in the laboratory. But if you are in the middle
of experiments or learning techniques, being away from the laboratory represents
more than lost time. That is, experiments may be compromised and have to be
re-started, thereby wasting animals and reagents, and your skills will actually
deteriorate. I understand that undergraduates have exams and breaks that take time
away from the laboratory. Further, undergraduates often do not have the same stake
in the work (with the exception of students in the Biomedical Training Program).
However, if you are a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow, your career depends
upon scientific progress and publications and you can ill afford time away from
the laboratory (unless you are learning techniques elsewhere). THIS MEANS THAT
DURING THE FIELD SEASON (JUNE-AUGUST) WHEN ANIMALS ARE REPRODUCING OR EGGS ARE
BEING PRODUCED, YOU MUST NOT PLAN ANY VACATION. If absence from the laboratory
becomes excessive, I will encourage you to spend your time somewhere else.
- Caveat: I may be flexible given
a good reason for taking more than two weeks, but you must first obtain
permission from me. In other words do not make plans and / or buy
plane tickets without clearing your plans first with me. Also, make all
requests for time off by email and do not make plans until you get a response from me.
- All of the research done in the laboratory is complemented by research
in the field. In addition to original research, these field trips
serve to acquire animals for long-term laboratory studies. The field
is not a vacation. It is hard work with long hours and the constant
companionship can be very trying. Field trips require close coordination,
maximum efficiency, and small egos. The duties, expectations, and
chain-of-command will be assigned before the research team
leaves for the field. If I am not on the trip, the person in charge
will be assigned according to ability and experience in the field.
Conflicts of opinion should be resolved in a democratic manner. If
necessary, in those instances that I am not present, I can resolve
conflicts by telephone if I am available. Remember that you are a
representative of the laboratory and the University of Texas at Austin.
If you do not act in a manner that brings credit to yourself and to
the field crew, you will not go into the field again. Finally, "significant
others" are not to visit field crews unless expressly approved
by me before the field trip.
- There inevitably will be instances in which conflicts arise in the
laboratory (cf., authorship, areas of interest, etc.). In such instances,
I reserve the right to make all final decisions. It is preferable
that areas of conflict be worked out among the individuals concerned,
but if this is not possible, I will listen to all evidence and perspectives
before making this decision.
- All data produced in laboratory and field projects conducted under
the auspices of the Crews Lab are owned by me. You can, and are urged
to, make copies of data for use at home, in your office, and when
you leave the laboratory. The originals, however, stay in the laboratory.
- Communications with authorities regarding laboratory activities
and research must carry my signature. This would apply to authorities
at the American Museum of
Natural History Southwestern Research Station, National Institutes
of Health, Fish and Game Departments in the States of Texas, New Mexico,
and Arizona, editors of scientific journals and books, local, national,
and international news agencies, requests for hormones, ligands, or
- The radioimmunoassay and culture rooms are off limits to all except
authorized personnel. Even authorized persons are not to go into the
RIA room if they have packed hormone capsules that day.
- HISTOLOGY LAB RULES:
a. Everything in the lab is assigned to a space and should be returned
b. All equipment assigned to the histology lab should remain in the
lab or be replaced by the end of the day.
c. Replace chemicals and solutions as they run LOW. Do not assume that
the next person has an extra 2-3 hours to find and replace missing
equipment and chemicals.
d. Before you leave, make sure all paraffin has been cleaned from the
countertops. This might involve the use of xylene to clean surfaces
completely. If you are not willing to use xylene in this cleaning
process, don't use the paraffin.
e. Wash all glassware that you have used before you leave. Similarly,
if you sharpen a knife, clean the knife sharpener and resurface the
f. Chemicals such as xylene dishes should be kept in the fume hood,
not in the staining stations under vents when not in use. This will
g. Keep lids on all containers under staining vents. This cuts down
on alcohol fumes in lab.
h. Label all solutions.
i. Since there are 5 working stations in the histology lab, no more
than 5 people should be in the room at a time.
j. Wear gloves whenever possible while using xylene, toluene, or other
k. Do not pour xylene, toluene, or other dangerous chemicals into the
l. Put all waste glassware in red glassware container at the back of
the histology lab.
m. Make sure that the equipment you use is cleaned after use.
- The policy regarding the preparation of Silastic capsules or other
hormone preparations are straight-forward. Crystalline hormone is never
allowed out of the vault. Because steroid hormones can affect other's
research, free hormone is not allowed in the west wing. Even Silastic
capsules need to be in containers in the hood in the histology room. If you are packing hormone,
plan to leave the building immediately afterwards. You cannot come
back into the lab until you have showered and shampooed; the clothes
you wore can't come back into the lab unless they have been machine-washed.
The strict adherence to these rules is necessary as even the smallest
"grains" of hormone can ruin an assay. Hormone capsules
or solutions are never to be taken into Room 42.
- Progress on research projects is reported directly to me except
in the case of undergraduates working under the supervision of a graduate
student or postdoctoral fellow. In this instance, the supervisor is
responsible for the undergraduate's day-to-day activities and for
insuring that progress is steady. The supervisor of the research should
give me timely progress reports of the undergraduate's progress, both
positive and negative. In this way the undergraduate does not have
to rely on me for answers to specific questions and, at the same time,
the supervisor learns first-hand what is entailed by "training."
- Before any experiment is undertaken, the principal investigator
will prepare a research proposal. This will list the designated principal
investigator and collaborators and contain a background statement
briefly stating the objective and rationale of the experiment, a detailed
and explicit protocol in which all aspects of the research are addressed,
and an annotated list of the possible alternatives and their significance.
- The books in my office are not to be taken without my permission.
A note containing the volume title and author, the date and the borrower
is to be placed in the shelf where the book normally resides. Be sure
to return the book to the same place as you took it from. Books and
journals are to be returned within one week of borrowing. The copies
of theses and the volumes of collected publications are "off
limits" to all. These are one-of-a-kind volumes and several have
been lost already.
- The University of Texas requires that all who use radioactive isotopes
must take a radiation safety course. These are offered periodically
through the UT Safety Office. All use of radioisotopes must be carefully
recorded. This includes the distribution of radioactive waste into
solid and liquid phases as well as what goes into the animals.
- No equipment is to be used until you are checked out on its operation
by a lab member who uses it regularly. Breakage and damage to equipment
may occur during the course of research. If it occurs due to negligence,
you will be responsible for the costs involved in fixing the item(s).
- Glassware is to stay in its room of origin. That is, glassware from
the histology lab is not to be brought into the main lab, the RIA
lab, or the molecular lab, etc.
- Microdissection instruments are fragile and easily damaged. Previous
policies, all of which have hinged on individual responsibility, have
proved to be unworkable as instruments for general laboratory use
continue to disappear or be damaged irreparably. The new policy is
that students must buy their own tools. I will contribute $100 to that
- Before leaving the laboratory, every investigator must take the
responsibility of cataloging and storing their tissue blocks, data,
preserved animals, data books, etc. You will also be responsible for
telling me where you put things.
- It is assumed that each and every member of the laboratory will
conduct themselves according to the highest standards of ethical conduct.
In addition to the above items regarding animal care and health, each
individual must be aware that fraudulence in the conduct of experiments,
analysis of data, or in the preparation of scientific manuscripts
will not be tolerated. Any such episode will result in dismissal from
the laboratory and the appropriate University and Federal authorities
will be notified.
- Part of my job as director of the laboratory is to make sure all
graduates are competitive in today's market. The most concrete form
of this is seen in the ability to chose important problems, prepare
papers, give exciting seminars, and secure grant funds. Ignoring or
not taking advantage of this advice hurts only one person: yourself.
I expect to participate actively in all of these aspects. For example,
I consider it my obligation to work closely with you in writing research
papers, preparing seminars (even in-house talks), developing graphics,
and identifying problems and writing applications to study them to
- Classes beyond regular curriculum: If you would like to take an extra
university class (e.g. a PE class, a non-science class) I am willing to consider such
requests under the following circumstances: (a) They do not increase the amount of tution
I pay for you. (b) They do not jeopardize your credit load for the semester or towards
the "99 hour" rule. (c) They do not interfere with any regular lab work or anything that
comes up. If such flexibility is not built into the extra class, then you will not be permitted
to take it. (d) The class does not create an undue burden upon your time in any way. For
example, a course that requires many hours of studying per week without a direct benefit
towards your PhD degree would not be approved.