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 always welcome.

Talking about your progress: What is the point, anyway?
  1. To filter your project, your experimental design, your data, and your conclusions through the collective genius of our lab!
  2. 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).
  3. To practice organizing your data and describing your experimental work in words and pictures.
  4. To practice how to ask good questions.
  5. To show off in front of your peers.
  6. To help recruit new students by showing them our team spirit and collective enthusiasm.
  7. 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
  1. 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!
  2. 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 report.
    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 and interesting!
    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.
  3. 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!!).
  4. Draw as many conclusions as you can. What does the data tell you? What do you still need to find out?
  5. State your new and revised goals.
About the group meeting report
  1. Please hand in a hard copy of your report and color copies of your graphics at group meeting.
  2. Please send an electronic version of your written research report, your Powerpoint presentation, and the illustrator files for your presentation to Michelle ( 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).
  3. The report should be divided into six sections of unequal length
    1. State the goal of your project (what questions are you asking?) and say if the goals changed during the period covered. (one-half page max)
    2. 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)
    3. The biggest section: Describe the experiments you performed to achieve the goals stated in b.
    4. Summarize your conclusions – what you’ve learned from the experiments in section c.
    5. State your goals for next time.
    6. The appendix
  4. 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!!
  5. 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
  1. 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!).
  2. Pick a topic with which you are already somewhat familiar (this tip may be especially useful for first and second years!).
  3. 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!
  4. 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
  5. 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 hear more!
  6. 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 Chemistry?