Lab Practices


Eleanor C Sayre


January 1, 2018

General Statement

We are friendly, we support each other, and we believe in collaborative work and professional development. Our research principles are drawn from PEER: research is collaborative, communicative, responsive, and playful. In general, Ellie has high expectations for her students’ agency and productivity, and our lab culture is designed to support students’ growth.

This page documents some of our lab practices for ourselves and for prospective participants. It was generated collectively in Fall 2019, then organized and synthesized for the public in spring 2020, with some additions.

The posters on this page are advertising posters for the KSUPER group, created in Fall 2018 by Eleanor Sayre.

Working together

We are very collaborative.

  • We work together in large and small groups. We don’t work alone.
  • About half of the people in each research project aren’t at KSU or in Manhattan, KS. Some of us work remotely in other time zones, and we usually work with other researchers who aren’t affiliated with KSU. Sometimes people visit us and tell us things, and sometimes we go to conferences to share our work and catch up with others’.
  • The fourth floor, where the graduate student offices are, is supportive and collaborative, even if they are working on separate projects. When we are all working remotely, we expect to be able to drop in with each other virtually, and have regular meetings for graduate students and junior researchers.
  • Sometimes we foster students in other groups by giving them space to work, a supportive community to lean on, and mentoring in universal research skills like writing and presentations.
  • Senior students can expect to mentor junior students (possibly at other institutions) and to be supported in their mentoring.
  • Ellie is gone a lot and the group needs to continue to function even in her absence.

A propaganda poster with stylized images of 6 people. Poster reads “Work together for a stronger research group; for robust, exciting results; for a happier tomorrow”

Working together, remotely: A remote-friendly environment.

This lab takes a remote-friendly perspective to our work together. While everyone is welcome to work in Cardwell, we recognize that many lab members and close collaborators do not live in Kansas; other lab members take extended sojourns to other places; and everyone needs to work from home sometimes. While KSU requires that international students maintain a legal presence in Manhattan, we are flexible about where grad students and other lab members live.

As a remote-friendly lab, we plan that:

  • All meetings are over zoom unless explicitly planned otherwise.
  • Our lab meetings are generally scheduled to be friendly across US and Canadian time zones. Our lab default time zone is US Central.
  • The nature of our work together does not tend to create emergencies. As long as some of your hours include our meeting times, you may work whichever schedule is best for your life. We’re generous about response times and recognize that people respond to email and slack during their regular working times, whatever those may be.
  • We generally document and organize our work together using slack and Asana, google docs and overleaf.

We have very structured timelines for working.

  • We spend a lot of time with the calendar, and everyone is expected to pay attention to the google calendar where we schedule events. We primarily communicate over email and slack, so lab members should also check their email and the KSUPER slack regularly and humanely.

  • We have a lot of deadlines for writing, analysis, and review. Deadlines are built collaboratively within the constraints of external deadlines, travel schedules, life events, and reasonable expectations of productivity. Missing deadlines makes everyone else’s life harder, so be realistic when you plan your future work. Students are actively involved in setting deadlines and organizing their own work. We use Asana to plan and record our progress.

  • There are a lot of meetings.

    • We generally have a biweekly lab meeting to help everyone get an idea of what everyone is doing and to provide focused collective feedback on each project. Lab meeting is generally centered on KSU students, though all of our collaborators are welcome to join and some do.
    • Each collaboration also has a regular meeting, for both KSU and non-KSU people. The schedule for these meetings varies by collaboration.
    • There is a PER seminar every week with the whole KSUPER group.
    • There is a weekly graduate student “reading club”, which sometimes reads papers, gives feedback on each others’ work, or other things. It is organized by graduate students and is open to grad students, undergrads, and other junior researchers; faculty and PIs are not invited.
    • Students are expected to have meetings together (possibly with external collaborators) which do not involve Ellie.
  • It’s very hard to drop in on Ellie for meetings, but it’s easy to make an appointment on her calendar. You don’t need to email her first about a meeting; you can go directly to the calendar and sign up.

  • We go on lab hiatus for about three weeks every summer. Nobody should work for the lab during hiatus. Some people visit their families, some people work on side projects, and Ellie has fabulous adventures. Hiatus is paid for grad students. Dates vary every year and are usually set in early spring depending on conferences and Ellie’s travel schedule. Sometimes, there isn’t a time for everyone to go on hiatus together. When that happens, we set separate periods for each person.

  • We don’t have fixed working hours, but generally it’s nice to work during business hours. Ellie generally works during business hours and rarely on evenings or weekends. Students are in charge of setting their own hours and research locations, and some people choose to work in other cities and time zones. Different people work different amounts each week, depending on their commitments inside and outside of the lab, our deadlines, and their availability. In general, if you find yourself working an unhealthy amount of time (either in crisis or averaged over a several weeks), you should communicate with Ellie and your group members so that we can rebalance the load.

Research projects and topics

  • We maintain data libraries and use them to generate new questions and investigate preliminary studies. The research process and data catalog need to be documented so that other people can join the project, possibly after you leave. Students need to take care of their data.
  • We spend a lot of time talking about our research progress, both within our research group and in our larger research collaborations.
  • Students should expect to work on several projects over the course of their PhD. Most people work a couple of projects at once, though first-year students generally only do one.
  • Threads of research are ongoing; while individual projects might be encapsulated, they grow from other projects and we expect they will spawn future projects. Most projects last about two years, and it’s ok to change projects every year or so.
  • We like theory work a lot. We use a lot of different theories. All of our work needs to have a theoretical grounding.
  • We don’t do undergraduate curriculum development, though we do develop materials for faculty professional development.
  • We prefer to work from an asset-based perspective, both in our work on student data and our work on faculty data. We look for participants’ existing ideas and build from what is good.
  • We do a lot of work with classroom video, interview data, and text corpora. Poster of text and lines shaped a little like a hamburger. Poster reads “How do people learn? How can we help? Physics education research: friendly people, exciting topics”

Presenting our work

Presentations and conferences

  • We go to conferences and project meetings together. We expect students to present their work to KSUPER and in other venues outside group meeting, more-or-less semesterly.
  • We prepare for conferences communally with practice talks and posters. We don’t have a poster template, but we do have explicit workshops on poster building. We have high standards for poster beauty.
  • We think holistically about where our work should go, even as we are starting projects. We don’t work first and think about publication later; we think about publication venues all along.
  • Conference submission deadlines often guide our internal deadlines.

A photo of a double rainbow over a train and empty road. It reads “Are you curious about learning? Physics education research: friendly people, exciting topics”


  • We use generative writing extensively. We think about science as writing, not just analysis.
  • We aim our work towards eventual paper writing. Full-time graduate students generally submit about one paper per student per year.
  • We write a lot. Everyone should be writing.
  • We value writing a lot: writing retreats, writing courses, revisions.
  • We have explicit guidance on learning how to write a lot: in our collaborations, at the writing center, in workshops, on zaposa.
  • We share our writing together: everyone should read and give input on their colleagues’ writing. We generally use googledocs or overleaf to share our writing with each other.
  • We often send our papers to beta readers and/or copyeditors before submission.

Being human, together

Professional development of lab members

  • Graduate students need to learn about research design and are responsible for designing their projects collaboratively and iteratively.
  • Students are expected to think about projects and direct their interests. Ellie is not the source of all project direction, but her funding does constrain our choices.
  • Doing research means learning lots of tools and skills for which there aren’t classes (R, BORIS, Overleaf, generative writing, etc). We support each other in learning these things, but everyone needs to be self-motivated to do it.
  • We expect that we will co-mentor each other. Students should be generally involved in the life of the group: go to meetings, have ideas, share them, give each other feedback.
  • Everyone should have personal lives and actively seek dynamic balance between work and not-work.

Socializing in pandemic times

  • When the weather is good, we go outside and eat ice cream together.
  • We check in with each other on slack as humans, and respond quickly.
  • We set aside time during our lab meetings to have low-key life check-ins about non-work things, like growing tomatoes or throwing pots. This helps us feel like it’s ok to be a full person, it’s ok to seek balance in our lives, and we care for each other as humans.
  • In the weekly student meeting for students, time is set aside for everyone to be human together.

Inclusion policy

Be the person you are: all genders, national origins, racial & ethnic identities, and sexualities are welcome here. Have children (or not), care for extended family (or not), or follow any religion (or not): we support you in being a whole person, whatever that means for you. This research lab abides by the Kansas State University notice of non-discrimination, plus whatever else is applicable by law. Additionally, if you need to participate in our joint work in a different way for any reason, including (but not exclusive to) disability, religion, family status, geographic location, or mental health, we will adjust our practices to include you more fully. If you are engaged in protests against police violence or other anti-racist activism, we support you.

As a lab, we recognize that systemic inequities in educational, employment, and health systems often prevent people from full participation in research work; and that these inequities compound for people with multiple marginalized identities. Physics is the most discriminatory of the sciences, and we must work proactively to account for and amend these systemic inequities and their impacts on our colleagues, research participants, and everyone else. Black lives matter.

Questions and updates

Questions about these policies can be directed to Eleanor Sayre; updates in lab policies will be reflected on this page, but perhaps not in a timely manner.

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