Ryan Lab Mission
The goal of this research group is to initiate and deliver novel and original neuroscience research into the true nature of brain and behaviour. We will define and investigate serious questions in a rigorous and thorough manner. We will communicate our findings to our colleagues and the world as openly as possible. We will train and support each other at each stage of the process.
In your reflective moments, what is the thing that interests you most? What do you most want to know about the world that you can’t learn from a library or database? How much do you want to know and understand that thing? What can you do to make that happen?
These are the questions on which this research group is built. They are also the questions that will maintain our drive and focus, because all of the answers we arrive at lead us back to the same questions in an iterative manner. We aim to understand the brain in a progressive and transformative way through fundamental and curiosity-driven research. We autonomously identify the most pertinent questions to us, and we work to design innovative experimental strategies with the best methodologies available through which to answer some of these questions.
Neuroscience is collaboration. Genetics, biochemistry, physiology, and experimental psychology are all established scientific disciplines with mature traditions and accepted premises. Neuroscience is a young and volatile field at the intersection of these other areas of biology. Effective neuroscience research only comes from carefully integrating two or more of these different biological levels. Doing this properly requires investigators of different expertise to work closely together. Communication and teamwork are therefore highly valued within this lab. Transparent and open discussion about authorship and contributions is expected.
Science is not a tournament. Research is not a zero sum game. One investigator’s success is everyone else’s benefit. We know very little about the world and there is no limit that can be imposed on potential scientific progress. Every scientist has the possibility to make novel and distinct discoveries – if they are working in a supportive environment and stay focussed on the science itself. We will not compete with each other in the lab, and competition with our colleagues outside the lab should be only a tertiary concern. But at all times, each of us should be challenging ourselves to become better researchers who strive to do better research.
All lab members are expected to behave in a courteous, conscientious, and respectful manner at all times. The lab environment is everyone’s work place and must be maintained and managed to a high standard. Any functioning research group is a social organism, and requires mutual respect and generous cooperation amongst its members. Negative or destructive attitudes towards lab members or the lab in general will not be tolerated. We will be critical of an individual’s work in a sincere and constructive fashion, but we will always maintain esteem for the individual who did the work.
Science that is not reproducible is not science. We are driven by curiosity and the hope of discovery, we train for many years to learn how to conduct well designed projects, and we employ all of our cognitive ability to creatively develop new ways of answering the most interesting questions. But it’s all for nought if the work is not executed and reported with the utmost carefulness and integrity. I expect our share of negative results, technical challenges, disappointing projects, and personal failures. I also expect that we consciously learn from all of these experiences, and that we look at ourselves and improve our strategies for the future. I will not tolerate anything less than full scientific rigour and honesty.
We will publish each of our research papers in the most visible places possible. But we also recognize that it is more important to communicate a study and move on to the next big question than it is to spend a year or more working on peripheral experiments in order to shoe-horn a manuscript into a particular scientific journal. Journals and journal hierarchies serve a very important purpose in selecting and distributing research of varying degrees of quality and importance, but journals and peer reviewers should not direct the research itself. Whenever possible, we will strive to publish our manuscripts in an open access format.
Training & Mentorship
Every scientist is different. I expect a certain level of competence, resilience, and independence from every individual working in the lab. Beyond that, I recognize that each individual has a unique set of talents and potential talents that I will strive to help identify and develop.
If I hire you as a Postdoctoral Researcher it means that you are a proven scientist who has already demonstrated your competence and professionalism through your publications, your earned reputation, and your presentation of yourself. It also means that I see some of your potential as an autonomous and creative investigator who is able to make a significant impact on neuroscience and develop an independent and sustainable academic career trajectory. My job is to see that you realize and extend that individual potential within the environment of the group. As well as conducting research projects and publishing papers you will have extensive opportunity for attending conferences, giving talks, writing research grants, mentoring students, and developing your experimental and communication skills.
I recruit graduate students who demonstrate firstly an innate curiosity about nature in general and the brain in particular, and secondly the motivation and will to utilize that curiosity towards contributing to scientific progress. If I recruit you, it means that I also see that you have used your undergraduate education to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to challenge accepted dogma or convention and have built up a worthy knowledge of biology or neuroscience. I expect you to use these abilities to creatively address large and unanswered questions in neuroscience in an effective way. My group will provide the environment through which you can learn diverse experimental techniques from all lab members. Broadly, you will be expected to think hard and work hard.
Science is not a secure or sensible career choice. It requires many years of training, and is often frustrating and always challenging. Available long-term academic positions are greatly out-numbered by the vast quantity of PhDs being completed every year. Academic research is not financially rewarding relative to similarly specialized areas of work. Science should not be thought of as a profession or a career choice. Rather, it is a creative activity that is done in the present and is more akin to working in design, entrepreneurship, music, or art.
If you choose to do a PhD in my group I expect you to make a significant contribution to scientific research and to become a competent researcher before you are finished. But I also expect you to see the process of conducting a PhD as one of self-discovery, and to find out for yourself whether or not research is what you personally want to pursue in the longer term. If it is, then I will make every effort to mentor you in the future development of your scientific experience and help identify suitable venues for postdoctoral research. If on the other hand you decide not to pursue research any further, then I will equally support you in translating your PhD into a beneficial outcome for you in whatever other field you choose. The world desperately needs more scientists in all walks of life, and people of imagination and drive should not be restricted to one narrowly defined career path.
Individuals in the roles of Lab Manager, Technician, and Research Assistant are expected to be above all things flexible. Your role is to assist in running the lab in every way possible. There are no boundaries to these roles and you are responsible not just for research but also for the successful running and management of the lab itself. Your role is to ensure that we are all working in a healthy and functional environment. Beyond the immediate work functions in the lab, I also see these roles very much as training positions and I will actively mentor anyone in this category towards promoting their future research or non-research career.
A limited number of 4th year undergraduate project students and summer students are directly mentored by specific Postdoctoral Researchers or PhD students. You will be provided with training in techniques and exposure to the lab culture and environment. You will be expected to integrate this experience with your reading and understanding of the subject.
One third of PhD students are at risk of having or developing a mental health disorder and over 50 % of PhD students report experiencing symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their research. As researchers, we are constantly engaging our cognitive, emotional, and motivational resources in order to execute our projects and engage with the scientific world. This can carry a heavy toll on individuals when their work is not going well, when they become isolated, and when they do not experience appropriate positive reinforcement from their experiments or their colleagues for their efforts. We will cultivate a social environment within the lab that supports all members and allows for openness and discussion of the regular and irregular stresses and anxieties of research. Each individual is also expected to manage themselves thoughtfully so as to maximise their mental health, well-being, and thereby their productivity.
Application to individual grants and fellowships is strongly encouraged of all Postdoctoral Researchers and PhD students. These afford both the lab and the individual more freedom for expanding our scientific radius and impact. I will provide mentorship and support for seeking and obtaining such funding for individuals.
Science is global. It does not exist in any one country or place. Our colleagues work in every corner of the world and communication and interaction with them is essential. Therefore, it is very important that all lab members attend at least one major international neuroscience meeting per year to communicate their data and interact with colleagues. This will help students and Postdoctoral Researchers obtain future positions in different countries, which is a healthy and beneficial component of scientific training.
Science has little relevance unless it is communicated, to the scientific community but also to the public. It is difficult to find a non-scientist who is not deeply curious about what the current state of scientific knowledge is, provided that the science is explained in a clear and compelling manner. Public communication of science can change the way citizens approach not only science itself, but knowledge and information more broadly. It contributes to a more informed and sceptical society, and leads to greater trust in, and support for, scientific research. Most importantly, it contributes to the education of young people while they are learning, and thereby draws many talented individuals into science. We will do what we can to responsibly contribute to the public engagement of science in whatever forum or media is available.