Chapter 2 Overview

My goal is to foster an environment of consistent scientific excellence and personal & professional development for all lab members, allowing you to reach your full potential whilst at the same time doing important science. This section provides an overview of the lab in terms of its mission, its values, expectations we can hold of each other, and operational information.

2.1 Mission Statement

“We conduct rigorous fundamental research to understand cognitive control processes, and then use this knowledge to tackle applied and clinical questions.”

This mission statement guides all work conducted in the lab, from BSc Final Year Project students1 to independent post-doctoral students. A mission statement is important as it allows the lab to focus our efforts on a particular direction. Psychological Science is a large discipline, and without focus our work will have less impact.

Individual projects won’t (necessarily) address all aspects of this mission statement (except the rigorous part!), but the work of the lab as a whole will. Here I unpack some key terms in this mission statement:

  • Rigorous: All work conducted in the lab should be rigorously-conducted. We take our science very seriously, and we ensure that the work we conduct is of the highest quality. As part of this, we follow principles of Open Science & Reproducibility (see Chapter 4.3), ensure that our studies are designed with sufficient statistical power to be informative, and hold ourselves to the strictest of ethical standards. As part of this rigour, we ensure that our studies are addressing important questions.

  • Fundamental Research: Science typically falls into one of two categories: Fundamental (or “basic” / “pure”) research, and Applied research. Fundamental research aims to improve scientific theories, generate new ideas, and discover new empirical phenomena, without the promise of an immediate application of this knowledge. It is often referred to as the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. An important part of our research strategy is to conduct fundamental research into cognitive control processes. We conduct this fundamental research to develop a better understanding of cognitive control processes.

  • Cognitive Control: Cognitive control (also sometimes referred to as “executive functioning”) is the main topic of research within the lab. All work conducted—whether it is fundamental work or applied—should address a question regarding cognitive control. Cognitive control refers to the set of cognitive processes that allow us to control our behaviour and thus act in a goal directed manner (to “control” our cognitions). Some examples of cognitive control processes that we are interested in the lab are attentional control during task switching, cognitive inhibition, controlled memory retrieval, working memory, and cognitive flexibility.

  • Tackle Applied and Clinical Questions: Much of my work has been fundamental in nature. More recently, I have begun to value applying the knowledge that I have gained from our fundamental work to applied and clinical questions. Recent work has applied our knowledge to help us understand cognitive effects of alcohol hangover, impulse control disorders in Parkinson’s patients, and exploring cognitive control during healthy ageing.

2.2 Core Values

The lab holds itself to several core values:

  • Ambition: We are an ambitious lab, and I expect all members to show ambition in their work. I will help you to make sure your project is ambitious relevant to your current stage (i.e., MSc projects will be more ambitious than BSc projects). Note that this also refers to personal ambition, and is independent of your current ability: I want you to be the best “you” that you can be.
  • Commitment: Good science requires commitment. You should be committed to your project by having clear goals which are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • Enthusiasm: Hard work is difficult without enthusiasm. It is therefore important that you work on a project that is both of value to the lab’s mission and of interest to you.
  • Excellence: We strive for excellence in all that we do.
  • Honesty: We value honesty in all of our work and communications, even when this is difficult.
  • Independence: It is important that we take ownership of our individual projects. We are able to work independently, but importantly feel secure to ask questions when help is required.
  • Team Work: Although we are all working on independent projects, they all map on to our lab’s mission. We are therefore a team, and as such help and support each other as much as possible. We meet regularly, and provide open, honest, and respectful feedback on each other’s work.

2.3 Expectations

2.3.1 Everyone

We expect each other to:

  • Push the envelope of scientific discovery & personal excellence.
  • Do work we are proud of individually and as a group.
  • Do work that others will care about.
  • Double-check our work. Being a little obsessive is essential to good science.
  • Be supportive of our lab-mates. We are a team.
  • Work independently when we can, but ask for help when we need it.
  • Communicate honestly, especially when it is difficult (e.g., share our mistakes).
  • Share our knowledge. Mentorship takes many forms.
  • Respect each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and differences. Diversity is to be celebrated.

2.3.2 Principal Investigator

As well as the above, you can expect me to:

  • Have a vision for where the lab is going.
  • Obtain the funding to support the science, and the people (where appropriate), in the lab.
  • Meet with you regularly to discuss your research projects. The definition of “regularly” may change over time or over the course of a project, but unless we agree otherwise the expectation is that this will be once per week.
  • Support you in your career development, regardless of your current stage. This includes discussing professional development, writing letters of recommendation, and promoting your work in conference presentations I attend.
  • Care about you as a person and not just as a scientist.
  • Obsess over many things related to your project & its eventual dissemination, from font choice, punctuation / grammar, and data visualisation. It will drive you nuts.
  • Hold high expectations of you: These expectations are there because I believe you can reach them.

2.3.3 BSc Students

  • Develop a project that fits with the mission of the lab. If you are unsure on what project you should work on, I can provide a project for you. This will not affect your final grade.
  • Communicate frequently with me. One of the skills we wish to develop in you during your Final Year Project is project management, so keep me up to date regularly with your progress.
  • Be punctual with our meetings.
  • Care about data quality. Conduct your empirical work under strict lab conditions: minimise distractions; ensure the participant is engaged with the experiment; be consistent with your protocols.
  • When conducting experiments, be professional at all times with your participants. Be on time. Be polite. Provide a good debrief.
  • When you are stuck on a problem, try to solve it yourself first. If you then need help, please ask me. But when you ask, I expect that you tell me what you have tried yourself to solve the problem.
  • Keep notes of our meetings. It is up to you to maintain thorough notes to ensure an accurate record of what we discussed and what was agreed.
  • Stay up-to-date (and keep me informed) on any deadlines that you need to meet.

2.3.4 MSc Students

As well as the above, I expect MSc students to:

  • Be more independent in all aspects of the project.
  • Develop a line of research that could lead to a publishable piece of work. Although this is not a requirement for the MSc degree itself, remember that the lab has high expectations.
  • Pre-register your study at the Open Science Framework or
  • Develop & communicate clear instructions to help me program your experimental software. Take an active interest in how this programming is done.
  • Take the lead on data preparation and analysis.
  • Share your data & analysis publicly via the Open Science Framework.

2.3.5 PhD Students

As well as the above, I expect PhD students to:

  • Strive to know the literature related to your topic like the back of your hand.
  • Develop a line of dissertation research leading to publishable output (conferences and journal papers).
  • Seek out and apply for fellowship and awards (including travel awards for conference attendance etc.).
  • Learn to program:
    • Learn the statistical programming language R using R Studio.
      • Our analysis code utilises the tidyverse R package for data tidying and visualisation. It’s recommended you use the tidyverse from your initial steps of learning R.
    • Learn how to use RMarkdown, and eventually writing your reports / papers this way.
      • We write our papers within R using the package papaja
      • Writing our papers this way maximises the reproducibility of our analysis and our reporting.
    • Learn how to program experiments using PsychoPy.
    • Understand that there is a steep learning curve associated with all of the above, but that you will be better off for having learned them.
  • Develop a healthy work–life balance.
    • Take time off regularly, guilt-free. I will do the same.
    • Practice self-care
    • Realise there are times for pulling all-nighters, and times for not coming into work and having some fun.
  • Develop as an independent scientist:
    • In Year 1, be guided by my instructions
    • In Year 2, challenge some of my instructions & start to tell me what you’re doing
    • In Year 3, take full ownership
  • Consider contributing to teaching where possible, but especially if you wish to pursue an academic career post-PhD. The School of Psychology regularly have paid oppotunities, but some options could be:
    • Lead Year 1 seminars
    • Teach Year 1 statistics labs
    • Co-supervise BSc and MSc student projects.

  1. Don’t panic! If you are joining the lab as an undergraduate to conduct your Final Year Project, I will work with you to help you develop a project that fits with this mission statement.↩︎