Joining the Lab

Background

It is a privilege for me to work with BYU students on research projects. When students come into my lab, my main goals are that they 1) do high-quality research, 2) learn to think as a scientist, and 3) produce tangible outputs. Such tangible outputs might include conference presentations/posters, academic journal articles, ORCA grants, internships, admittance to graduate/professional school, or just plain fun.

BYU (funded primarily by the LDS church) has invested in fantastic facilities for students. This provides an incredible environment to do research. I strongly encourage all students to participate in at least one research project during their undergraduate education. Few accomplishments, if any, will help you get into graduate school more than publishing and presenting research. Even if you don’t plan on a career in science, research teaches valuable skills. I am committed to doing everything I can to help students attain these goals, as long as they are willing to put in the work.

My research falls under the category of "dry lab biology," meaning that all work is done on computers. (However, I also collaborate with other researchers who run "wet" labs.) This means that you will need to hone your computational/analytical skills to be successful. I prefer that students take BIO 165 before joining my lab. Other classes that are helpful include BIO 130, CS 142 & STAT 201. However, if you are still in the process of completing these courses, I'd be happy to talk to you.

Although it is understandable that a student's research interests may change over time, I prefer to work with students who plan to join my research lab for at least 1-2 years. I also hope to find students who are passionate about making a difference in the world and who will work hard to do so. I ask students to volunteer for their first semester in my lab (it is also possible to work for research credits during this time). Then, depending on a student's performance and the availability of funds, I may be able to hire the student as a paid research assistant.

What I expect from students on research projects

I ask each student to follow specific policies, which I have listed below. I reserve the right to amend or add policies in the future.

  • Students must agree to work on their research project a specific number of hours per week (when school is in session). The student and I will determine the number of hours each semester, based on the student's course load, work/family obligations, etc. The minimum number of hours is 5 per week; however, I prefer 10+, if possible. Some projects will require a larger time commitment than others. These time commitments ensure that the student will make continual progress on the project.

  • When working on a project, students must work in the Bioinformatics research lab (a room in the Life Sciences Building). The specific times will be arranged between me and the student at the beginning of each semester. This will reduce distractions for the student, enable collaborations between students, and help me to interact with students on a regular basis. (I can make exceptions to this rule in some cases. Please talk to me about this in advance.)

  • Each student will meet with me at a specific time each week to discuss research progress.

  • Students must participate in "lab meetings." These will usually occur every 2-4 weeks. Students will often be asked to make short presentations at these meetings.

  • Students must document all computational logic in code and/or scripts. It is essential that people (including you and me) be able to "reproduce" your work. This means that if someone else were given the same data set, they would be able to use your code/scripts to produce the same output. As you do so, others will have more confidence in your work and will be able to build on it when you move to something else.

  • Source code and scripts should be stored in a Git repository. This repository should be pushed to the student's (free) BitBucket account at the end of each research session. Learn more about Git and BitBucket here.

  • When a student runs into a technical problem that she/he does not know how to overcome, she/he must first attempt to find a solution via Google. Many answers can be found this way. If still stumped, the student should feel free to ask me for help. If my door is open, feel free to stop by. I may not respond to email immediately, but I will do my best to respond within a few hours, except on weekends, evenings, or when I am on vacation.

  • When working on a research project, students should stay focused and eliminate distractions, including phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. You will accomplish much more this way.

  • Students should respect each other’s time and space as well as BYU property.

  • Each student should submit an ORCA grant proposal at the beginning of each school year. If successful, you will receive money to support yourself and your research. It also looks great on a resumé.

Students who fail to adhere to these policies may be asked to leave the lab.

To express interest in joining the lab

Please read the above policies and this statement on authorship. If you agree to these policies and are interested in discussing research possibilities, please send me an email with the following information:

  1. Your name.
  2. Your major.
  3. A 2-3 sentence description about you.
  4. Your grade transcript (can be unofficial).
  5. Which bioinformatics, biology, or computer science courses you have taken and which you plan on taking soon.
  6. What you hope to gain from participating as a researcher.
  7. What post-graduation plans you are considering.
  8. How many hours per week you can commit to doing research this semester and next semester.
  9. What research topics, if any, that you have a particular interest in pursuing.