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For Lab Members


McLaughlin Lab Guidelines

We are trying to create a fun, creative, productive and safe lab environment. In order to do that, several common courtesies need to be abided by to insure good communication within the lab. These policies apply to everyone in the lab. And yes, that means you. 

If you have any questions about these policies, ask.


"It's a slippery slope Carrie. Without boundaries, you never know what might happen" - Miranda, Sex in the City

Vanderbilt offers (and indeed requires!) a number of excellent programs and certifications in the responsible conduct of research. In addition to the institutional guidelines, all lab members are required to read the National Academy of Science presentation on data acquisition, analysis and documentation. 


As a part of an academic institution, high quality training is essential to ensuring our success. All full time personnel meet with Dr. McLaughlin and personalize the AAMC Training Compact as a platform to outlining general expectations. At the outset of any project, a qualified individual will give you outstanding training.  We abide by the 'see one, do one, teach one' philosophy and every individual should strive to be fully autonomous on any given technique once they have been shown how to perform it. Needing to be 'reminded' of how to perform tasks or find reagents is unacceptable and shows a lack of respect for the time of others.

  1. All personnel are required to take the VUSafety training in biological, chemical, waste disposal, laboratory safety and other project specific training available here.
  2. Lab members are expected to insure that they are current with all required University training and testing for environmental health, animal welfare etc. All certification must be given to Dr. McLaughlin once training is complete. 
  3. Do not eat in lab or dispose of food items in lab trashcans. Capped, bottled drinks may be kept on desks, but food should be consumed in the break room. Food items can be stored in the break room refrigerator.
  4. Do not leave any reagents of any kind (samples, chemicals) on people’s desks. Leave them on lab benches or stored at appropriate temperatures.
  5. All MSDS sheets for every reagent in the lab need to be in a notebook on black bookcase. If we do not have a sheet for the item, call the vendor and get one.
  6. When using the balance, clean up after yourself. Reagents are never to be ‘dusted’ onto the bench paper. It is hazardous to other people in the lab and very scary to put your hand down in a substance that you don’t know what it is.
  7. Clean your own spatulas when done using the balance and return the reagents to their home. Again, if you notice something might be low, be conservative and write it down for in the order log.
  8. Appropriate protective wear is available for a number of experiments including eye and ear protection, lab coats and gloves. You should not wear open toed shoes or shorts in lab or a lab coat in an area that contains food or beverages.
  9. Gloves should never be worn to open doors, answer phones, or touch elevator buttons. People do not know what you have on your gloves; it’s a poor practice and a particular pet peeve.   


  1. Make sure all your contact information – home phone, cell phone, email etc. is given to Dr. McLaughlin to be added to the lab contact list. When you first join the lab, send an Outlook vcard to all members of the lab with your contact information. 
  2. If you are in the middle of an experiment, do not worry about a ringing phone or other distractions. Other than that, everyone should answer the phone, direct calls to individuals and take messages.
  3. Timers – we have bought snazzy state of the art portable timers, which can be clipped to your clothes because your sanity was worth $10. If you start an experiment on a timer, take your timer with you. It is seriously annoying to have to listen to someone’s timer go off for a full minute and worry if there is something that needs to happen to samples and if the experiment is being compromised. Violators will have timers stapled to their foreheads as a reminder to be courteous and stay within the guidelines of your methods.
  4. In order to ensure a predictable work environment, unscheduled sales rep visits are not allowed. Ask any sales rep to leave or face being reported to the Office of Vendor Relations.
  5. All members of the lab are expected to know the appropriate procedure for receiving packages and putting reagents away. This is a shared responsibility. 
  6. Do Not Avoid the UPS man/ Direct the UPS man to someone else unless you are in the middle of an experiment/Sign for a package and leave it for someone else to unpack.
  7. Out of respect for all, lab members are asked not to wear perfume or cologne and to engage in standards of personal hygiene that are common for non-homeless US citizens.  
  8. If someone is in the middle of an experiment or in the hood, you need to ask him or her if they can talk before starting a conversation. It is very easy to lose concentration while pipetting. It is also hard to hear people coming up when you are working in the hood and simply talking to someone working in the hood can be startling and cause experimental error and dangerous situations.
  9. If someone is on the phone, signal to them to find you when they get off the phone and leave. It is not appropriate to stand and wait - someone could be on the phone with a doctor, a business administrator or talking to someone on one of those 1-900 numbers. 
  10. You may not call 1-900 numbers from the lab. 
  11. You are responsible for insuring that all the reagents you need for your experiments are available at the time you need them. If you notice we are running low on common items (pipette tips, LDH solutions, media etc.), you are to write down the item and catalog number on the ordering list filling in as many fields as possible. (See your lab supervisor you are unsure about the ordering system). Items typically take about a week to arrive in lab and paying extra for ‘emergency’ shipping overnight is expensive and shows poor planning. Ordering is done once a week, so if something is urgent please mark as such AND highlight. 
  12. All full time members of the lab do an enormous amount of work to keep the lab running smoothly. If you notice bench paper needs to be changed, supplies need to be restocked, the water supply is running low, you are expected to share in these duties. Similarly, if you have extra time, you should always check with them if there is anything you can do to help. 
  13. It is worth your while to introduce yourself to members of other labs on the floor. Having congenial relationships with other scientists makes you a valuable resource for the Vanderbilt science community and will help you identify individuals who might be able to assist you if you have questions. 
  14. Several of the pieces of equipment that we use are in other labs. When working in the Levitt lab, you are expected to be completely respectful of their autonomy and lab rules. When coming to the McLaughlin lab, you need to read and comply by their lab policies when in their space. If someone from another lab corrects you on use of equipment or another policy matter, defer to their judgment and thank them for their help. 
  15. If you ever are using a piece of equipment in their lab or ours that you do not feel you have technically mastered, ask for help prior to using it. Many of microscopes, plate readers etc. are incredibly expensive. If you notice there is a problem, inform your supervisor immediately and be prepared to help solve the problem by calling in tech services etc. if needed. 
  16. If someone from another lab asks to perform an experiment for them or teach them a technique that requires McLaughlin lab supplies, they must first get permission from BethAnn and their advisor.  

Hood Etiquette 

  1. We are completely dependent upon having beautiful, clean cultures. It is our bread and butter. Your hood technique and sterile procedures affect not only your experiments, but also the experiments of everyone in the lab. 
  2. If you are unsure if something is sterile or if you have accidentally contaminated a reagent, refilter it immediately. 
  3. All cell culture stocks need to be sterile filtered, aliquoted and stored in boxes with the concentration of the reagent marked on the outside of the box and the name of the reagent on every tube. Once you make up a stock, NEVER change the concentration (i.e. our NMDA stocks are always 10 mM, our glycine stocks are always 10 mM etc.). If you need a more concentrated stock, mark it clearly with the concentration on the tube and keep it away from the other reagents.   

Cell Culture Specific Procedures 

Change your Pasteur pipette and pipettes often when changing media and especially when going between plates.

  1. Clean up any media spills in the hood immediately with roccol, then ethanol. NEVER use ETOH on a liquid spill first…it cures the stain into the metal. 
  2. When beginning and ending experiments in the hood, clean the entire work surface with ETOH and restock the hood completely. If the biohazard bag is more than half-full, remove the trash (double bagged and taped) and place it outside the cell culture room. Be sure you clean the glass as well with ETOH. 
  3. Make up your own reagents. There are no common stocks for MEM/BSA or OGD media. You need to make your own and use your own. 
  4. All cells need to be labeled completely with the date of culture, the date of the experiment, and the reagents in the plate or coded in a way as to be easily understood. Unlabeled plates will be thrown out without trying to find their ‘owner’. 
  5. Empty and wash the suction flask and tubing when you are done with your experiment. Use the bleach in the hood to suction and sanitize tubing. Leave the tubing in the hood to ensure it stays clean. 
  6. Make sure the microscope is off and covered when you are done.  

Documentation is Essential

See also "Lab Notebook" below 

  1. You are responsible for keeping an accurate and up-to-date lab notebook that does not leave the lab. If for some reason you are unable to come to work, someone should be able to easily find your lab notebook, figure out your experiment and sample markings and move your experiment forward.
  2. All solutions need to be labeled with the date they were made and the initials of the person who made them.
  3. Every reagent and stock you make needs to be documented in your notebook with the catalogue number, company and lot number of the reagent. That way, we can trace down ‘bad lots’ and contain problems. 
  4. All calculations need to be very clearly outlined in your notebook. If you have any concerns or questions about calculations, check with another member of the lab or use the web based math checker at: The graphpad web site also has serial dilution and other helpful calculators available free of charge.
  5. “Your” western and other samples are not really ‘yours’. We house all samples communally. You cannot have boxes in any location that have your name and say “Beelzebub’s Samples”. Log all your samples into the Western log sheet with your name and the date of the experiment (or wherever else is appropriate), number them and put them away. Each lab member may have one ‘working box’ for samples that are pending protein or other analysis.       


  1. The computer on your desk is not ‘yours’. Computers in the lab have been purchased off grants and are for work. They are not to be used for playing games, downloading music, downloading offensive materials or other activities. Do not ‘lock’ your computer ever. If you are concerned about privacy of email, close your email before leaving the room. Dr. McLaughlin and other members of the lab need to have access to your computer files and desktop at all times to find current data and protocols.  
  2. If you want to listen to music, you need to use headphones.
  3. Everyone should have their own user account and password and your files should be easily recognizable, organized by date and experimental type.  
  4. Maintenance: Backup your work at least every 2 weeks on the server. Run CCleaner (Crap Cleaner) and Adaware every 2 weeks to ensure spyware and other adware doesn’t slow computer performance.
  5. If you are having a computer problem, contact Jon Tapp in the VKC at 2-8086.  

Lab Notebook

  1. A lab book is often as valuable for help in determining why an experiment didn’t work as it is for repeating one that did work.
  2. A properly maintained lab book is a legal record, admissible in a court of law.  Failure to keep a clear, detailed notebook WILL get you fired and could get you blown up to boot.  Think I'm kidding?  Check out these geniuses. Here's what their notebooks looked like.
  3. Always use bound books with numbered pages.  Use pen, not pencil.  Write legibly!
  4. Ten years from now will another-scientist (or a lawyer) be able to go back and read your notebook and determine exactly what you did and what the results were?
  5. Make entries directly into the lab book, not on other sheets or scraps of paper.  Correct errors by drawing a line through the error (do not obliterate) then make the correct entry.  You may not ever use an electronic record of your notes.  Electronic record keeping is a separate organizational skill and is never to be used in the place of a daily log of experimental theory, technique and results.
  6. Choose and write down a useful descriptive title for the experiment.  Enter the title at the top of the page, date page, and then immediately enter the title in the table of contents.
  7. Enter the purpose for the proposed work.  This can be quite simple (e.g., “determining protein concentrations for use in calculating specific activities of LRAT – see page xxx of this book”) or grandiose with musings, arcane possibilities, random hopes and thoughts.  (A lab book is a very useful place to put down those brilliant thoughts that may escape memory later.)
  8. Put down any references for procedures to be used, etc. or unique reagents (e.g. “will do esterification run as described, this book, page xxx”, or “as described in Goodman, et al, JBC 241:xxx”). Indicate any modifications planned.
  9. Describe any procedures new to the experiment.
  10. Describe preparation of needed reagents, buffers, etc.  If mice, tissues or cell cultures are involved—clearly state the source—genotype, founder line, and age of mice; source of tissue; name and passage of cell line.
  11. RECORD RESULTS.  Record any changes in procedure that inevitably occur, and any goofs or disasters!  Also put down any observations made that could ever, conceivably, be of use.  (e.g. "red color washed through column with start buffer but a yellow color was clearly visible at top of column – later eluted at beginning of gradient” or “column run went as previously observed, see book, page xxx”)
  12. If possible, include the raw data (counter or computer printouts, reduced Xerox of HPLC, etc., signed and dated) by taping it into book.  Do not have data on the computer disk only.  Print out a hard copy, date and sign it.
  13. Draw a conclusion from the work – indicate where the work will go from here.  This is a most important step for experiments that don’t work!  If later work follows from this, create a paper trail by returning to this page to say, “See book X, page xxx, for follow-through.”
  14. If a new product was produced (cell line, plasmid, stock solution, chemical product, mouse), indicate where it will be stored.  Clearly label all stored products with the name or code number of the product, your name, and the date –so it can be referenced back to that date for your notebook.
  15. Cross-reference data entries with reagent preparation, reagent lot, data storage files on computers (confocal files, Odyssey files, mouse cages, etc.).
  16. Remember your notebook is the property of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and cannot be taken with you if you leave Vanderbilt or the laboratory. Moreover, do not take lab books home with you.  This can result in loss of important data, and data that are not backed with notebook entries results in a tremendous loss to you, the lab, the university and the people that donate the funds to support this research.  

Last, but in No Way Least - Protocols 

Every common protocol that you use for your experiments needs to be typed up, dated and kept in the common lab protocol book. A copy needs to be placed in the lab computer protocol file.

 While your creativity may have impressed your art teachers, we are not in the business of modifying protocols that are working. Never change a protocol without discussing it first. We need to be able to reproduce internal data and small changes can lead to big problems. Michael Greenberg (Harvard) said it best, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you are going to have to make time to do it again.”   


BethAnn says, “I have taken the time to personally write all of these policies down. Every aspect of this information is personally important to me to ensure the lab runs smoothly, safely and everyone can work efficiently. Failure to comply with safe, ethical and courteous lab practice is unacceptable. It shows lack of respect the health, safety and sanity of others. You will be asked to leave the lab without further warning if you endanger the safety and productivity of others because of sloppiness or laziness.


 MentoringBe Proactive In Your Mentoring.  There are great resources out there to help you communicate with faculty, develop new collaborations and foster your growth.  A mentoring plan from the National Postdoc Association is a great start and is available here 


Applying for a Summer Internship/Post Doc/Travel Award/Grant?

Lab members are always encouraged to find new grant opportunities, conferences and summer research programs.  There are tremendously worthwhile programs out there for you to interact with others in the field, get feedback on your work or learn new techniques.

Post-Docs and Grad Students - Participation in small meetings (Gordon ConferencesKeystone Meetings) is the best way to network for jobs, learn what is forthcoming in high impact journals and learn new methods.  These meetings are also very small and competitive.  Dr. McLaughlin prefers these meetings for senior lab members and may try to attend with you if scheduling permits to introduce you to faculty whose work you should be familiar with.  Cold Spring Harbor offers summer programs to learn techniques in an intensive world class training environment and you will meet people who will stay with you for the rest of your scientific career.  For young graduate students, the Society for Neuroscience meeting or International Stroke Conference are more general meetings to get you set up for background understanding of the problems and techniques. These smaller meetings often require you become a member in addition to paying a fee to register, so be very careful you have met the deadlines for membership and registration.  If you are interested in attending a meeting, you must present data and apply for a travel award.  Talk to Dr. McLaughlin early about the work you want to present, the work you want to see at the meeting and draft your letter of nomination using the outline below.

Undergrads - Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy is a wonderful in house program for scholars to dedicate themselves to a research project.  We accept VSSA students from the lab and from other universities.  Each student is responsible for preparing his or her own application.  Before applying to this or any other program, talk to your lab mentor about what it is you are hoping to accomplish and work on a reasonable timeline to draft your proposal.  You will write the first draft of your letter of recommendation.  

Your draft of your recommendation letter should contain 5 short paragraphs.

  1.  Quick discussion of the program you are applying for, how long you have worked in the lab and self rating of how you see yourself in the pool of other applicants (top 10%, top 25% etc.). What are your GPA and major?
  2.  Discussion of how you joined the lab, the credit you are receiving, how many hrs a week you are expected to put into lab based on your program and project you are working on - in detail.  Write a short description of what the lab does in general.  Then outline the scientific problem and how your work addresses this problem.  Programs will want to know what techniques you can do alone or will need supervision on.
  3. Discuss the level of scientific input you have had on designing and presenting your work.  Do you participate actively in lab meetings and journal clubs?
  4.  Discuss your lab personality.  Are you pro-active in helping others?  Do you keep a stellar notebook?  Are you a great lab citizen?  Do you work above and beyond and what are some examples of this.  Describe your personality.  Are you funny/brilliant/quiet/diligent?
  5.  Address any shortcomings in your application.  Did you score poorly in a class and if so how did you address it?

The letter should be 1 single spaced page.  A draft of all essays, this letter and other program specific materials needs to be to your lab mentor 3 weeks before the program deadline and then to Dr. McLaughlin two business weeks before the deadline.  Please look at the McLaughlin Google calendar.  If Dr. McLaughlin is out of town, you will need to have it to her sooner.  Not meeting these deadlines may compromise our ability to submit your materials on time.  For grants, once you and your lab mentor have agreed on a program/application you will need to meet with Amy Baker in the Neurology office for all external grants - NSF/NIH/AHA etc.

Bear in mind, there are great training programs out there and we want you to experience as much as possible so make sure you hit your deadlines so we can do our best to support you.

Vanderbilt Specific Policies

VUMC has specific policies and procedures for dealing with hazardous material, biologicals and travel.  For specific details, please follow the links above.

Travel must be authorized prior to leaving (see guidelines above for meeting eligibility).  For travel on p-card funds, please ensure you have filled out the Travel form as well as the following information on this form.

Clinical Shadowing

Time to leave the snark in lab and see the patients you are trying to cure?  Well, to make that happen, you will need to get cleared by Student Health fill out this questionnaire and work with Dr. McLaughlin to find a good clinical mentor. You can then watch the movie on aseptic technique and visiting ORs

Save  your cells!  Sign up for Vanderbilt's LabAlert to be notified of power/network outages.

 Tennesseans - Demand your children get taught science and not religion, in science class. Read Roger Cone's OpEd here.

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We support the excellent position statement of the Society for Neuroscience on the ethical and humane use of animals in lifesaving medical research.  Find out more here