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Roles and Responsibilities


Guidelines from Rice University, Rice Engineering, and Rice CEE take precedence over this section. If you believe that something on this page is at odds with university policy, please notify James.


Specific language on this page comes from the Ocean Transport Group at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Lab presence

We work on issues of critical societal importance, and it is expected that lab members will work with a degree of seriousness commensurate with these challenges. Working hard means:

  • applying consistent, focused effort to your research in a serious, professional way
  • working with a sense of urgency appropriate to the intellectual challenges we study and their real-world consequences
  • caring for your physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being
  • sharing ideas and effort with lab members and collaborators

Working hard does not mean:

  • putting in unreasonable or unsustainable hours
  • competing to work the hardest or contributing to burnout culture

Being present

One of the great advantages of working in academia is the flexible schedule. But this flexibility can also be a curse. Here are some general guidelines to help define what it means to be "at work":

  1. Full-time lab members should aim for a 40 hour work-week on average. Academic work often occurs in bursts -- sometimes you are happy and excited to work a 60 hour week as you are on the cusp of a major breakthrough. You should balance these periods of intensity with slower-paced weeks at another time.
  2. Take at least one day per week (preferably two) completely off from your work and study.
  3. Feel free to work remotely occasionally as it suits your personal and professional life.
  4. Clearly delineate to yourself, your lab group, and your friends and family when you are really on vacation, as opposed to working remotely.
  5. Students and postdocs should take 4 weeks of vacation per year.
  6. Travel dates for vacation and non-vacation remote work should be shared with and approved by James (expect a yes but it's good to make sure everyone's on the same page).
  7. Be part of the intellectual and social life of the University. Attend seminars, join campus organizations, and take advantage of cultural offerings.
  8. If circumstances (e.g., a global pandemic!) force us to work from home, coordinate with James to make sure you have the equipment you need. Do not take equipment from the lab without coordination.

Roles and responsibilities

Heads up

You shouldn't spend your own money on necessary work supplies. Talk to James to make sure you have the resources you need.

PI responsibilities

As the group leader, James has a unique and challenging range of responsibilities.

  1. Build an Inclusive Environment: the PI is responsible for managing the social dynamic of the lab group to create a welcoming, inclusive, and productive environment.
  2. Define Research Directions for the Group: Finding research questions that are socially relevant and scientifically novel is one of the hardest and most important components of basic applied research. It requires an awareness of the overall state of knowledge in the field, creativity, and plenty of luck.
  3. Define the Technical Approach: Software and computing are very important to our group. The PI is working hard to provide a software and hardware environment that enables everyone else to be as productive as possible.
  4. Departmental Service: The PI has lots of responsibilities to the department, including attending department meetings, participating in committees, and serving on student masters meetings / qualifying exams / thesis proposals / thesis defenses.
  5. Manage the Publication Process: Published papers are the main output of our team. The PI can help identify when results are ready to publish, select which journals to target, and help manage the ups and downs of the revision process.
  6. Obtain Funding: Scientific research is expensive! A central role of the PI is to obtain grant funding to support our work, without which no research could happen.
  7. Professional Service: The PI is expected to participate in professional organizations (e.g. AGU, AMS) and review papers and proposals on an ongoing basis.
  8. Provide Feedback: The PI is expected to provide feedback on all aspects of research, including defining hypotheses and formulating questions; identifying specific methods and technical approaches; identifying relevant datasets; writing and debugging scientific code; producing figures and visualizations; managing data; and writing and editing papers. Feedback is also available on course selection, overall career goals, and long-term strategy. As a
  9. Provide Material Support: You are never expected to spend any of your personal finances on anything related to research. All conference travel, computer supplies, books, etc. can be paid for with grant support (see item 2 above). Coordinate these expenses, in advance, with James.
  10. Provide Moral Support: Graduate school, and research in general, can be an emotional roller coaster. James has been through these challenges personally and is always available to listen and provide advice (though you should also see the Health Resources page).
  11. Provide Recommendation Letters: You need them for almost every career move.
  12. Provide Scientific Mentoring: It is the PI’s responsibility to help the junior members in the group develop into mature, independent scientists, capable of defining and executing their own research programs.
  13. Set Goals and Timelines: The PI can help give structure to your project by defining specific milestones and timelines for their completion. Some people prefer to be closely managed in this way, while others may prefer a more hands-off approach.
  14. Sign Stuff: There are lots of signatures needed to navigate the bureaucracy.
  15. Teach Classes: Oh yeah, as a professor, the PI’s main job is to teach at least one course for semester, which occupies a large fraction of available time and effort.

Grad Student Responsibilities

Graduate students are both students and workers, leading to a complex range of responsibilities to manage.

  1. Ask Questions! If something is unclear to you -– either a science question or a procedural / administrative issue -– you should speak up.
  2. Be Professional and Organized: Develop a system that works for your for managing your responsibilities, coursework, and research. This is one of the biggest challenges of graduate school and there is no formula that works for everyone.
  3. Communicate with the group and attend group meetings.
  4. Develop a Research Plan: In consultation with your advisor, you should come up with a long-term plan for your research, with clearly defined milestones and goals. Each week, you should have a short term plan for exactly what to work on to move towards those goals.
  5. Develop Independence: Your goal is to become an independent scientist. This means you should not hesitate to pursue your own ideas as they arise. Go to as many talks as you can to learn new things! Read (and re-read) papers in your field and outside it. Download that dataset and analyze it! Run that new model! Don’t wait to be told to do things. Take the initiative.
  6. Focus on your Research: Your research is the most important part of your grad school experience. It should be your main priority, and you should approach it with the seriousness and professionalism you would a full-time job.
  7. Produce Reusable Data / Software: In our group, we believe strongly that research is more than just papers. You are expected to share the outputs of your research (data and software) in a way that makes them reusable by the rest of the group and the rest of the field. See Open Science.
  8. Stay in Good Standing: it is YOUR responsibility to understand all of the formal requirements of the graduate school and the department, and to stay ahead of all deadlines regarding registration, paperwork, qualifying exams, committee meetings, etc.
  9. Stay on Top of your Coursework: The beginning of grad school is dominated by classes. You should strive to get as much as possible out of your coursework and connect it to your research wherever possible.

Undergraduate Responsibilities

Undergraduate students in the research group have a few core responsibilities.

  1. Learn
  2. Participate
  3. Meet college requirements
  4. Maintain average working rate of 10hrs/wk (unless otherwise discussed)
  5. Track time spent working honestly and accurately
  6. Plan for the future
  7. Explore many paths
  8. Submit weekly reports
  9. Attend lab meetings when possible
  10. Apply for scholarships, awards, and fellowships

Last update: November 24, 2020