Our group handbook

Now that I lead a research group, I am rarely able to conduct research myself anymore. Instead, one my of main roles is to guide the others members of my group. Thus, one my new “areas of research” has necessarily become the topic of how to produce and maintain a vibrant, productive, and fun research group.

One situation that comes up often is orienting new hires (often called onboarding). In many cases, the process of getting new hires up to speed ends up operating like a traditional chain lift roller coaster. Before being dropped into serious work on their research project, a new member must very slowly “ascend the hill” by familiarizing themselves within the new research environment. In contrast, newer roller coasters generally launch you to high speeds straight away using technologies such as linear induction motors. These newer coasters enable riders to experience the wind in their hair for all but the first few seconds of the experience.

What might serve as the “linear induction motor” for onboarding new hires? One idea we are experimenting with is to have a single document (the HackingMaterials Handbook) that covers almost all the information new members need to get started. Although many other research groups maintain similar documentation, access to such documents are typically restricted to group members only. One of the things we are going to do differently is to release our handbook as a public document for anyone to see.

Why might sharing our group handbook be interesting for others? At the very least, sharing the document allows prospective members to preview how things are run inside our organization so that they can make an informed decision about whether to join our group. Other group leaders might refer to our guide when developing their own “new employee propulsion system” – for example, by copying the section headers and requesting that their group members help them fill in the details. Finally, our handbook contain general tips for research in computational materials science (such as recommending a good introductory textbook for learning density functional theory) that could be relevant to those outside our group.

The plan is for the handbook to be an iterative document that improves over time. The topics covered in the first release are:

  • About our group
  • Before you arrive
  • After arriving at LBNL
    • getting set up, situated, food + coffee, mail, equipment, conference rooms, the panic monster, sick leave, other issues
  • Making purchases
  • Booking conference travel
  • Asking your advisor for help
  • Friday Afternoon Tinkerings
  • Our computing systems
  • Resources for learning new topics
    • DFT, materials science, computer programming, data mining
  • Seven questions for self-assessment
  • Fun things to do in the area
  • Appendices
    • Finding a place to live
    • Purchasing a computer
    • Setting up a new Macbook
    • Notes on using a Mac
    • Open-source software philosophy
    • 10 tips to write better code
    • Hands-on exercises for machine learning in materials

Future releases will include more topics, provide more tips for being successful in research (e.g., how to write a paper), and will hopefully start to include some fun graphics/charts/illustrations. We are just getting started.

So – without further ado – you will always find our latest release of the handbook at:

https://hackingmaterials.lbl.gov/handbook.pdf

We hope you will take a look and (perhaps) let us know what you think!

 

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