We, the NeuroData Family, each agree to all of the below commitments. These agreements are designed to facilitate succeeding at our mission while in alignment with our values. They are in a continual process of refinement; in life, work, and science, we experiment, learn, and grow.
Core Research Agreements
We agree that family and health take priority, but after that, our research does. We are deeply committed to each other and our team, and have finite resources, so focusing our energy on our research goals is a key to our success.
Maximally Intrinsically Motivated for Successful Mission Critical Research
We agree to focus our research on projects that we are maximally intrisically motivated to complete, are likely to be successful given our resources, and are mission critical.
In the context of each of our research goals, we may have many different interests. The mission of NeuroData, as stated in our mission statement, is to understand and improve intelligences. The research projects that we primarily work on, while on the NeuroData team, satisfy the following three criteria:
- the project is highly significant with respect to our mission,
- given my current resources, my estimate of the probability that I can satisfactorily "complete" this project is high (which includes shooting for the stars and landing on a mountain, or even a gently rolling hill; but excludes shooting for the stars and crashing into the ocean), and
- in the set of every considered research project that I believe is feasible, this project is near the top of that list sorted by how much intrisic motivation I feel with respect to each.
If I were more motivated to work on some other problem outside the purview of the mission of NeuroData, could not find a project that was highly significant to the NeuroData mission, or I could not find a project that I was likely to succeed it, then I will find another primary research team to work with (though the NeuroData team would love to remain friends).
We agree to focus on 2 projects, unless otherwise negotiated with the team. In general, each project should take about 1 year to complete. One project is the main focus that we are actively working on
- for trainees, this is a journal publication
- for research staff, this is a report to funders plus software repository with a clear code demo.
Another project is more exploratory, that will lead to a similarly large project in the following year.
Open & Reproducible Science
We agree to conduct our work using the open and reproducible science standards. This means that our work will result in open source code, open access data derivatives, and open publication (posting to a pre-print server) no later than journal submission, and ideally, throughout the entire scientific process. Upon generating a pre-print of quality that we individually deem suitable for public consumption (which is a lower bar than suitability for publication), we will post to a pre-print server. This does not require superviser approval, conditional on the fact that upon receiving supervisor feedback, all comments are addressed within one week of receiving them. For trainees, this means making the code and data open, and transferring sufficient knowledge to the research staff/faculty, such that they can ensure that our work is consistent with FAIR guidelines for data, and FIRM guidelines for code. To the extent possible, this means pushing data derivatives to widely used data archives, and pushing code into widely used open source packages.
Buddies and Mentorship
We agree that when we reach a certain level of seniority on the team (have successfully submitted >=1 first author peer-reviewed manuscript on our team), we will be open to accepting a "buddy" mentee. Our responsibility associated with this mentee will be to onboard the mentee. There is lots of literature to suggest this is good for everyone on the team, for example, see here and here.
We agree to provide a harrassment-free experience for everyone (see wikipedia's definition of harrassment for details), regardless of the following: age, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, technical/biological experience. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate. We agree to this conduct for any NeuroData sactioned event/activity, including: hackathons, presentations, workshops, social gatherings, social media, or any other online media.
(Much of this language is taken from hack code of conduct.)
Radical Honesty and Safety
We agree to speak with one another honestly (see below for a description of "impeccable agreements"), while at the same time maintaining psychological safety (to avoid crises) for all team members at all times. This means feeling comfortable both providing and receiving honest critical feedback. While "feeling comfortable" is not something that we can commit to, we agree to strive to communicate with one another in a fully open fashion.
Frequent Productive Feedback
We agree to provide our supervisors and our supervisees with open, reliable, insight into our experience of our work and work environment. To give a concrete example, we agree that if we feel unduely stressed (e.g., have a difficult time sleeping one night), we agree to tell the supervisor the next day. Before even starting a conversation, consider the other person's perspective and current state of mind. There are times that each of us is more or less receptive to feedback, and there is therefore a balance of finding the right time, but not waiting too long. About one day later is about right for most things. Then, the general flow of the conversation would go like this:
- State the facts, e.g., "i failed to sleep"
- speculate about the causes, e.g., "which I believe is largely because I don't believe I'll be ready with the deliverable by the agreed upon date"
- inquire about the other side of the story, e.g., "what do you think is going on"
- end the meeting with a concrete change, e.g., a change in perspective or a change in behavior.
Some links that might be useful to understand best practices for giving and receiving feedback include
We agree to be at the lab several hours per day, any day that JHU is open, and respond to reasonable requests from other lab memberes within one working day, unless otherwise specified. Our experience dictates that in person communication and happenstance meetings dramatically increase our productivity. At the same time, many of us need some time to think or write in quiet, often in isolation. Therefore, we have found that a balance of the two is optimal for everyone (so far). The particular distribution of time alone vs. with the team is idiosyncratic per person. To respect the individual with the goals of the team we each agree to:
- to be around the lab many working hours each day (approximately 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday on all days JHU is open),
- we respond to one another within one school day,
- other hours/days, there is no expectation of responding to email/slack
- while people are in the lab, we will not interrupt other people if their headphones are on (or they provide another indicator that they are working, we will not disturb them)
- any questions that result in a conversation (rather than a simple answer) will not happen in the lab area, but rather, the lounge or in kavli,
- if we aren't going to be around any given day, we agree to tell team and mark NeuroData calendar so the rest of the team knows, and
- up to one day per week working from home is acceptable with explicit permission, additional working from home days any given week must be explicitly approved.
Your most valuable resource while on this team is the team itself.
We agree that in the rare event that a supervisor requests your presence in the lab for a particular time/day, we will make our best efforts to be there, barring familiar responsibilies overruling research priorities. This includes in the face of imbedding grant, conference, or other internally/externally imposed deadlines.
Weekly Sub-Group Meetings
We agree that every week, each sub-group will meet in person for up to two hours, with breaks as desired. The goals are:
- document past week's progress towards quarterly or annual goals
- get feedback/mentorship from brilliant team of collaborators
- make plan for next week
The goal is that everybody that attends a given sub-group meeting is a co-author on all manuscripts that result. That means each person provides valuable/substantive feedback/effort/progress towards the goals.
To facilitate achieving & documenting these goals, we each agree to the following for each meeting:
- Work 30-40 hrs on these goals, leaving time for other interesting stuff as it comes up.
- Arrive on time
Generate >1 slides (deposited in the appropriate subgroup's folder here) including the following info:
- Your name
- Bulleted list of last week's plan
- Bulleted list of last week's accomplishments
- For each accomplished task, a research artefact documenting progress (a screencap, proof, figure, etc.)
- Proposed list of commitments for the following week
Listen and provide constructive feedback to your teammates as appropriate
One person is designated to post a link to the slides each week to get contributions, typically the youngest PhD student on the team. The preferred practice is to simply copy last week's slides, so that everybody can see what they wrote last week and update accordingly.
We agree to have 1 hour for informal talks, Q&A, and lunch most weeks that school is open, so we all get a more broad view of team activities. We agree to practice before getting in front of 10-20 people, because every minute you speak you have implicitly asked many other people to devote to you, so please be respectful of other people's time. Each of us will when it is our turn in the rotation, which will be about twice a year, depending on the size of the team. Swapping dates with other lab members will be allowed with explicit permission. New lab members will be added to the end of the queue when they join.
We agree to have quarterly check-ins to facilitate more long-term/career guidance, mutually providing radically candid feedback, check alignment between personal and team goals in terms of quarterly, annual, and career goals, and re-align as appropriate. In these meetings will we re-assess quarterly goals in light of progress and preferences. They are documented in Asana in the "quarterly" project. Each goal will be a SMART Goal. These check-ins will happen in January, April, July, and Oct 30. The July check-in will serve also as the annual review.
We agree to having semi-annual retreats to build community and deeper inter-personal connections, and to have fun. They typically happen during the week before classes start each semester (this likely means 1 beach retreat, and 1 ski retreat). The retreats will include a celebration of past successes, as well as a discussion of collective goals for the subsequent year.
We agree to annual reviews, to document goals and assess trajectory, by filling out the following questionnaire annually, and then scheduling a meeting with leadership to discuss. These meetings will happen in July. We will also sign this agreements document each year at this time.
Other Kinds of Agreements
- Funding everybody to work on stuff within the union of "stuff we care about most" and "stuff you are in your zone of genius doing" (see how to choose a project for tips on how to choose a project),
- Prioritizing your personal and professional success over everything else in my life after my family & career
- Receive annual feedback from all members of the team with an open mind, as well as completing my annual feedback
- Sharpening my saw regularly
- Upon receiving a draft, it is the top priority, modulo more urgent paper/grant deadlines
We agree to the contributing to the following research artifacts, depending on the "stage" of our careers, and our career objectives. We have different milestones and deliverables, but annual productivity is a crucial component of any career development.
- MSE students: submit a first author publication before graduation
- PhD students: submit a first author publication once per each of the last three years of the PhD
- Postdocs: submit a first author publication once per year
- Research staff: take ownership of a new development year-long development "project"
Each team member will present at >=1 conference per year to get feedback, network, and professional development. Any conferences one desires to attend is fine, conditional on
- applying to present your work via some mechanism (posters, talks, or boothing), and
- for conferences with proceedings, a "submission ready" draft is provided >= 1 month prior to submission deadline, or
- for conferences with posters, a "presentation ready" poster is provided >= 2 weeks prior to the event.
Each postdoc will apply for funding each year, targeting a solicitation >2 months in advance. Anybody using "extensive" commercial cloud computing is expected to write a AWS Research credits grant at least annually for <$10,000. If your PI is writing a grant and request a figure/table/text/etc., it becomes the absolute top priority, including over and above impending journal/conference/workshop submission deadlines, unless otherwise agreed upon.
We agree that, in general, the research priority, for any student, is to be working towards writing a paper within the year. Other priorities include preparing for conferences where you are presenting. And then your PI may have other more immediate responsibilities to attend to, and may ask you to produce a figure/result/etc. with some urgency. In general, prioritize what is most important, rather than most urgent. However, deadlines with dates are infrequent, and typically strict. In other words, if we have an impending deadline, agreeing to it means that all research associated with that product is the top priority. Thus, unless otherwise stated, if a PI asks you to produce x, interpret that as the most urgent and top priority.
Team members violating any these agreements may be sanctioned or expelled.
The goals of daily standups include:
- keep us accountable to our daily goals
- improve our ability to assess how much energy different tasks take
- prioritize on the basis of our longer term goals, rather than fleeting distractions such as emails
- keep the team in the loop, so we can build upon one another's work
- keep each other in alignment with our own goals and values, as well as the team's some of us agree to participate in daily standups on most days.
The process is that each morning, in the #standup slack channel, we state
- the degree to which we completed our previous commitment
- provide a link to the code/analysis (if its not obvious)
- state our new commitment of the day.
Note that the daily "commitment" is not a goal, it is something that you are actually committed to completing for the day, ie, it is your top research priority for the day.
Each of us can "opt-in" and "opt-out" of daily standups for any period of time. However, the expectation is that if you do opt-in, you do so for an explicit period of time, and you do so daily.
The definition of an Impeccable Agreement (our goal for all agreements)
On this team, we agree that all our agreements to be impeccable. When we make an agreement, it will have the following properties (adapted from impeccable agreements:
- Document somewhere (e.g., asana accessible to all stakeholders, including exactly the definition of done, by whom, by when, possibly why. SMART Goals are the most effective mechanism in my experience.
- Discuss aiming for a full-body yes:
- All parties to the agreement must be free to say no (though not necessarily without consequences).
- Full body yes is the goal, admittedly, the bar is high.
- Revise as soon as you realize you cannot meet all aspects of the original agreement.
- You can renegotiate the scope, the form, or by when.
- For example, in our academic goals, we revise after we meet, to reflect our new expectations.
- Take 100% responsibility for your part.
- If for whatever reason an agreement is not met, only take 100% responsibility.
- Do not take responsibility for other people’s actions.
- Make sure nobody else is on your critical path for any agreements that you make.