Diversity: Our lab values diversity because we believe that diverse viewpoints and opinions bring with them new perspectives and ultimately better, more creative, more innovative, science. We have members of diverse career stages (high school students to emeritus professors), diverse cultures (we’ve had all 6 continents represented in the lab and our potluck events are delicious!), diverse immigration status, and diverse upbringings, families, religions, opinions and viewpoints. We acknowledge that each of us brings perspectives shaped by our experiences, as well as challenges and obstacles. By valuing and celebrating our differences and supporting each other to overcome our personal obstacles, we believe that our science will be the best it can be and that our trainees will get the support, validation and encouragement they need to be successful and increase the diversity of the scientific community as a whole.
Our lab’s core values are Diversity, Ambition, Innovation and Collaboration. These values permeate the approach we take to doing science and give us a sense of cohesiveness. Our projects may be different, and our personalities certainly are, but by supporting each of our individual quests to achieve these values we further the lab’s work as a whole. Similarly, by setting ambitious and innovative goals for us to achieve as a team, we can answer big questions that no single person or project could do alone.
So what do Ambition, Innovation and Collaboration mean to us?
Ask the big questions. We want our research to be transformative and to do this we must ask important questions. Some of the big questions we ask are “How did phagocytosis evolve?”, “How do we control the microbial communities that live on and in us?”, “How do macrophages recognize pathogens and why do they sometimes miss them?”, and “Why do we get sick as we get older?”. Big questions require complex experiments that often require us to abandon the reductionist approach and to us complex datasets. For example, aging is a complex process influenced by gender, lifestyle and genetics, and consequently defies study by a reductionist approach. To understand why chronic diseases, which generally share the common feature of inflammation, increase the risk of pneumococcal infection we must discover how chronic inflammation alters leukocyte development and function. To understand how microbial communities are influenced by, and in turn influence, the immune system we must study ecological relationships and host-microbe dynamics. To understand how the process of phagocytosis works we need to understand how cell membranes work, signal transduction and signalling occurs. These questions require systems biology, large data statistics and data visualization. My lab complements standard molecular immunology and microbiology with integrative ‘omic approaches including comprehensive metabolomics, microbiome studies, high content immunophenotyping, and transcriptomics. Together we support and encourage one another to learn bioinformatics, statistics and animal models to address these complex questions.
Personal ambition: Ambitious labs need ambitious people. To encourage this we set concrete goals that are challenging but not impossible to obtain (e.g. publish a first author paper, win a poster award, learn a new technique, get a faculty position) and support one another as we work towards them. We encourage one another to ‘dream big’ and to make the transition from calling oneself a student to calling oneself a scientist, colleague and mentor. We acknowledge that a PhD is not a ticket to a faculty position or a life in academia but rather a degree in leadership that can be used in government, industry, teaching, law, medicine, and on occasion, academia. As such everyone in the lab must reflect on what they want from their career and actively work to obtain the skills they need to get there.
The world changes quickly, new technologies replace standard techniques and as we need to be adaptable in our approaches to answering questions. To be innovative one must have a deep technical understanding of the experiments we perform in order to “hack” them to make them better. We must also read broadly so that we can incorporate knowledge from diverse fields into our work. As an example, my team is investigating novel strategies to reduce pneumonia in the elderly. We have identified that reducing age-associated inflammation restores anti-bacterial immunity (provisional patent). Additionally we are performing two feasibility trials (PROSPECT, Labarge) to test whether administration of probiotics restores the microbial communities of the upper respiratory tract and reduces the risk of respiratory infections. Understanding the interplay between age, inflammation, the microbiome and anti-bacterial immunity requires deep knowledge, strong collaborations and a broad knowledge base. This may be a challenge but it’s one that helps us work towards our aim of doing transformative science.
This is where our lab really shines. We collaborate with each other and have “teams” within our larger group to hash out ideas. At our frequent lab meetings we feel free to test out new ideas and to be brave enough to try and fail at new things. We value opinions from every member of our lab and do our best to provide constructive criticism to one another in a venue that is respectful and helpful. We talk a lot because only by talking about your ideas and defending them do you see the flaws. We collaborate frequently with our colleagues at the McMaster Immunology Research Centre and the M. G. DeGroote Institute of Infectious Research but also within Canada and abroad. We treat these collaborations with respect, transparency and try our best to teach and learn and to help our colleagues reach their goals. We believe that science works best when it is accessible to everyone so we make our protocols and publications available whenever we can.
Ambition, Innovation and Collaboration don’t amount to much if they are not based on hard work and integrity.
These goals of ours are supported by our hard work and integrity. Hard work means spending the hours in the bench when that’s where we need to be, but not avoiding the hard work that is thinking, reflecting, reading, writing and planning. Without being thoughtful it is not possible to work smart, only hard, and working without thinking saps creativity, drive and energy. Our hard work often requires sacrifice and the understanding of our friends and family but it does not compromise our family obligations. To show our loved ones how much we appreciate their support of our work we invite them to our lab events and make sure that they understand why our work is important.
We demonstrate our integrity by accepting failure, understanding that experiments that are properly controlled may not give us the answers we were hoping for but that does not mean they “didn’t work”. We take our ethical obligations to our research animals or participants seriously and we are respectful to the tax payers and donors who fund our work by using their hard-earned dollars wisely.
Where do your research dollars go? (Dawn starts at 38 seconds)