Guidelines for Group Meetings
Several of you have remarked that it has been awhile since I put
on paper my thoughts on the matter of group meetings. So here goes!
As always, comments and suggestions, anonymous or otherwise, are
Talking about your progress: What is the point, anyway?
- To filter your project, your experimental design, your data,
and your conclusions through the collective genius of our lab!
- To practice speaking and thinking on your feet, in front of
a friendly, smart, and intellectually curious audience (like the
ones you are likely to encounter outside Yale).
- To practice organizing your data and describing your experimental
work in words and pictures.
- To practice how to ask good questions.
- To show off in front of your peers.
- To help recruit new students by showing them our team spirit
and collective enthusiasm.
- The point of group meeting is not to interrupt your experimental
work – or at least, to interrupt it as little as possible.
Remember that it’s the data that matters (“show me
the data!”), not how beautiful your slides are! It should
not take more than a few days (3) to prepare for group meeting.
Tips for a great group seminar
- Given that group meetings cycle every 3 months or so, plan to
talk for just under an hour. I’ve found that on average
it takes about 2 minutes to go through a slide, so plan for about
25 slides. These guidelines apply to job and potential post doc
talks as well as group seminar talks!
- A lot of background is unnecessary (with three exceptions described
below). In three slides, you should (a) state the overarching
goal of your project (what questions are you trying to answer?);
(b) summarize the experimental design; (c) re-state the conclusions
with which you ended your last group meeting report; and (d) re-state
the future goals with which you ended your last group meeting
Exception 1: If your group meeting represents
the first time you are describing your project, then your group
meeting needs to describe all of the creative thinking that guided
your experimental design.
Exception 2: If you are fortunate enough to present
your work in front of a slew of prospective graduate students,
then you are encouraged to spend a bit more time (say, 5 slides
instead of 3) describing why you think your project is so fabulous
Exception 3: If the background information supporting
your project has changed, then you should spend time bringing
everyone else up to speed on the change.
- Most of your time should be spent taking the lab through your
data. This guideline is important even when you think that you
have no data (which should be a rare event). For example: You
perform a PCR reaction. Your first few attempts fail. How do you
know? Show a representative gel. Tell us which lane contains the
primers. Show that the primers migrate as you would expect based
on the mobility of molecular weight markers (which should also
be on the gel). Show the position on the gel where you expect
to see product. Show what you see instead. What do you think happened?
What did you do about it? What ended up working? How can you prove
it? The point is that you are teaching and sharing your wisdom
with those in the lab who are less experienced in the art of PCR.
The same type of discussion applies the first time you describe
a new protein over-expression experiment. There is no need to
show any more than the final gel or re-injected HPLC trace the
second time you purify a protein, but the first time should represent
a learning experience for the lab (and act as a test that you
did not miss anything!!).
- Draw as many conclusions as you can. What does the data tell
you? What do you still need to find out?
- State your new and revised goals.
About the group meeting report
- Please hand in a hard copy of your report and color copies of
your graphics at group meeting.
- Please send an electronic version of your written research report, your
Powerpoint presentation, and the illustrator files for your presentation
to Michelle (firstname.lastname@example.org). The file should be labeled with your name,
the date, and the group meeting number (ex: lori.yang#5/3/03/02.doc,
.il, or .ppt).
- The report should be divided into six sections of unequal length
- State the goal of your project (what questions are you asking?)
and say if the goals changed during the period covered. (one-half
- State where you were when you finished working on your last
group meeting report and restate the short-term goals you defined
then. (one-half page max)
- The biggest section: Describe the experiments you performed
to achieve the goals stated in b.
- Summarize your conclusions – what you’ve learned
from the experiments in section c.
- State your goals for next time.
- The appendix
- If you worked out a new experimental procedure (like a new way
to purify peptides, make thioesters, over-express a protein, maintain
a cell line (I’m thinking for the future here!), describe
it fully in the Appendix at the end of the report. Be considerate
of the poor first years who will have to hunt through your stuff
and reference where this procedure may be found in your notebook!!
- If you characterized any new molecules – peptides, organic
molecules, plasmids, modified oligonucleotides – include
the data (HPLC Traces, mass specs, NMR, whatever) in the Appendix
at the end of the report. Be considerate of the poor first years
who will have to hunt through your stuff and reference where this
procedure may be found in your notebook!!
Tips to leading a good literature discussion
- Choose 1-3 papers on a common topic of intense current interest
– enough material for a 30-minute presentation. Please print
out or email copies of the papers and distribute them to the group
(and to me) no later than Thursday afternoon. I expect each of
you to read the papers before group meeting (and you should expect
that I will do the same!).
- Pick a topic with which you are already somewhat familiar (this
tip may be especially useful for first and second years!).
- Don’t pick something so far outside the field of Chemical
Biology that few people in the lab will be able to comment and
contribute. The goal is to stimulate an interesting discussion,
not give a 30 minute lecture!
- If you are at a loss about what to discuss, do a computer search
on leading figures (or rising stars) in the field of Chemical
Biology. Here are some (but not all) of the people whose research
you should be following anyway:
Bertozzi, DeGrado, Dervan, Gellman, Hilvert, Imperiali, Kahne,
Kelly, Khosla, Kiessling, Kodadek, Kool, Lim, Liu, Miller, Mirksich,
Raines, Roberts, Schreiber, Schultz, Seebach, Shokat, Taylor,
Tyrrell, Verdine, Walker, Wender, Whitesides
- Pick a topic that you think is exceptionally interesting, and
say in the first moments of your presentation exactly why you
think so. Your goal is convince everyone else that they want to
- Your presentation should focus on interpretation of the results,
not on repetition of the facts as stated by the authors. For example,
think about the experimental design. Are there flaws? What other
designs might the authors have chosen, and why would they be inferior?
How convincing are the controls? Are obvious experiments missing?
How did the authors reach their conclusions? Does the work impact
any of the projects currently underway in our lab? Elsewhere in