Research Etiquette for Newbies

When I first enrolled in my research degree and rocked up to my department, I was given a key to my office… and that was it. There was no tour, no welcome party, no departmental induction. I just found a desk and set up my gear.

In hindsight, I probably did quite a few things in those early days that annoyed my colleagues. There were a few sneers over my tuna sandwich desk lunches, and I seem to recall a barely audible hiss from the gothic literature scholar when I opened the blinds all the way.

After a few years as a researcher, I’ve picked up on some largely unwritten rules of research etiquette. Some of them are helpful for staying friends with colleagues; while others are helpful for staying alive.

Close those bottles, labmates!

Here are a few general points of etiquette for the responsible researcher.

In the physical research environment:

  1. Don’t disturb others’ workspaces or equipment without asking first.
  2. Avoid playing loud music or having loud phone conversations when others are trying to concentrate.
  3. If you’re working in a lab, observe the safety rules and wear any required protective clothing.
  4. Be careful with locking the room; don’t leave it unlocked if you’re the last to leave at night, but don’t lock it if a colleague has just popped out for coffee without their keys!
  5. Don’t bring strong smelling food or drinks into a shared workspace.
  6. If you use the last of something or see it running low (be it printer toner or disposable gloves), be sure to notify the person in charge of ordering more.

In the research community:

  1. If you’ve signed up for something (equipment time, workshops, being a research participant, seminars etc) be on time. If you can’t make it, let the organiser know.
  2. By all means, share constructive criticism with colleagues. But don’t insult other researchers, even if they’re on the opposite side of the world. You never know who you’ll meet at a conference, or who is a friend of whom within the research community.
  3. When collaborating on a project or paper, respect your co-researchers’ contributions. Don’t delete or redo others’ work without talking to them first.
  4. Draw on your colleagues’ expertise, but don’t rely on them for everything. If you have questions or problems that aren’t related to your field (e.g. IT, writing skills), you can get assistance from specialists throughout the university.
  5. Return library books promptly if they are recalled. Feel free to make use of the recall system yourself, but use it only for materials you need urgently.

Have you got any pet research peeves? Add your etiquette rules in the comments!

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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