A lab meeting is less of an audition, and more of a casual conversation

When entering the world of research for the first time, there are aspects that might seem scary at first, and interacting and working in your first lab meeting is no exception. As I share my story, hopefully it can leave you more confident to handle your meeting with poise.

During a seemingly regular Sunday noon, I had sent a nerve-wracking email to a faculty advisor that I had wished to work with at the time (and blessed to continue working with today). About an hour later, he sent a response that would send me bursting out of my chair, while numbing my body at the same time due to the fear that was building up in my body. At the time I was both excited, yet nervous of the potential embarrassment that I might showcase during the meeting.

Fast forward to the next day, and after hours of not being able to sleep, practicing my slurred speech, and trying to calm my hand’s involuntary shaking, I was right at the front door of the lab trailer and decided to knock with mild hesitation. After a second or so, I was greeted by this kind and amazing lady who I would soon realize to be a senior scientist in the lab. She would greet me and ask who I was, and in response, my lips would rumble, barely uttering my name. Recognizing my name, she told me that the lab was expecting me and showed me to the meeting.

There it was: A room full of postdocs, graduate students, a few undergrads, and of course, the faculty advisory himself, all sat around this huge oval table filled with laptops and data from their own respective projects. As I overheard each person talk about their own complex work, my brain would sink, doubting myself for a second, and questioning whether I deserve to be in this room in the first place.  I was afraid to make a fool of myself by uttering some information that would have conveyed my lack of expertise in their research, let alone physics itself.

As the meeting started, I was told to introduce myself. From this moment on, I will give a couple pieces of advice that come from my experience after introducing myself:

  1. These scientists are not what they seem on paper and on the big screen: Throughout the course of the meeting, these scientists– and especially the faculty advisor– would constantly make jokes that were very funny and, of course, very science-y. I thought it was hilarious and a bit caught off guard as I thought these scientists to be very stern and always serious, but it was always informal and very chill. It was also very funny to note that that senior scientist had “warned” me that they would be making jokes all the time as that is just personality of the atmosphere during their lab meetings. Of course, not all labs are like this, but the point here is that these researchers are very human and not the robots that they are stereotyped to be.
  2. It is ok to not know, and it is also ok to not explain using the most complex vocabulary: When going into this meeting the one question that I am certain all lab meetings will ask on the first day is, “is there anything specific that you would like to do in our research?” I am also certain that they will not ask you that until the end of the meeting. The reason why I say this is because they understand that you are not an expert in what they are doing, nor are you obligated to be an expert on the first day. They try to ask you in the end because they want you to listen to what they are doing and get comfortable with their research. Also, they would encourage to explain who you are and what you want as simply as possible. As I said, they are human too, not a walking dictionary, and they also want to understand how you will work in their team as well and talking to them in a complicated way might leave a bad imprint on how you work with others.

 As I left the meeting, many of the stigmas that would make these researchers intimating had been torn down, and I would look forward to the next meeting that would come. They welcomed me with open arms, as I am sure will also happen to you in your first meeting. Like I said, not all labs are the same, But I hope this story will give you a positive outlook in your experience. you may be anxious at first, but at the end, know that it is all worth it.