As a group, we strive to develop new and improved methods in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) that improve the resolution of three-dimensional reconstructions of biological structures. This enables us, and future investigators, to better study the structures of biological macromolecules and understand how they are linked to their functions. The number of lab members has been kept small since its inception in 1999, and our projects usually have biological and methodical components that provide broad training to our group members while keeping a clear focus on methods development. Our backgrounds vary diversely, ranging from biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering. Often, the different expertise of lab members encourages collaboration on projects. Creativity, curiosity, and independence are the most valuable assets that our members bring to the lab, balanced with career perspectives and funding which both depend upon scientific productivity (publications).
The generous and long-term funding provided by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute allows for our members to shape their profile as they see best, and keeps our lab up to date with state-of-the-art resources and new equipment. The freedom enjoyed by our lab is enabled by the independence and self-motivation driving our group members, who are continually designing, executing, and writing about new experiments. There are no defined work hours in the lab, though diligence in project completion and regular contact with other lab members are core factors to our success; this allows for our members to apply their individual preferences in work hours, while spreading the load on our lab equipment. Visiting scientists and new members are trained in cryo-EM and image processing, as each lab member collects and processes their own data.
A dynamic flow of information
While the lab itself is divided into two spaces (a “wet” space where we keep a fully equipped biochemistry laboratory, and a “dry” office area with computer workstations), we maintain a constant, dynamic flow of ideas and information across our group. This allows for scientists with varying levels of training to have ample opportunities to learn from one another. We encourage this exchange of information consistently, and in a variety of settings. Each month, a member of the group leads our group meeting, an hour that resembles more of a casual brainstorming session than a formal progress-updating lecture, and it is often accompanied by coffee and donuts. The goal is that the presenter is able to obtain new ideas to apply towards their research, and vice-versa for the audience. More opportunities for this present themselves nearly every day, multiple times a day whether it be via our tea breaks, lunch times, or even the now-established “Beer Hours” we participate in each Tuesday and Friday at Janelia’s on-site pub. It is a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, where we discuss work, ideas, and problems we encounter while also establishing a trusting, collegial atmosphere
Joint Electron Microscopy Meetings (JEMM)
Lab members are also encouraged to attend conferences, meetings, courses and workshops to present their work and network with others in the field. At Janelia, our lab partners with the Gonen Lab in organizing a monthly meeting in which new advances in cryo-EM or other areas of structural biology are discussed. The meetings are held in the evening and are kept casual so as to inspire a culture of discussion. A reception precedes the presentation with dinner and drinks, providing more time to meet and talk with other experts in the area. Presenters vary from on-site Janelia researchers, and visiting scientists from other institutes.