Way Lab

Day 0 in the Way Lab

Today, September 15th, 2021, is Day 0 of the Way Lab @ CU Anschutz

in the brand new Center for Health AI. While I’m writing this post from my kitchen table, WFH, still surrounded by moving boxes, I am very excited for this new chapter and to kick off my research group.

The first blog post will be more of a public journal entry than a traditional blog post (whatever that means). But as I sit in my new Denver apartment, I am asking myself “What do I do now?”.

I’ll try to answer this Q below, hopefully to both solicit advice on where I’m wrong and what else I should consider, but also to help others navigate this increasingly complex and demanding academic landscape of multi-faceted pressures, pushes, and pulls.

A ramblings of thoughts with some semblance of structure to follow:

What do I do now? What do I focus on and how?

How? I think I’ll need to consider different time intervals. What to do today? What to do this week? What to do this month? What to do this year?

I’ll need to establish clear goals for myself and the lab to start.

Ok, but what are the goals? How do I set them? I probably should write grants, I probably should publish papers. But that is very complex, so, like other complex questions, let’s reframe!

What do I need to accomplish in order to make a positive impact in the world?

What can I do that is within my immediate grasp? What can I be grasping towards? In what direction should I grasp?

Ok, these are better questions, but now what resources do I need to achieve this?

In my view, I need three things:

  1. Scientists and trainees
  2. Multi-objective collaborations
  3. Funding

But I am pretty sure these things don’t just happen! So, now the question becomes:

What is the foundation, or framework, that I need to establish in order to cultivate these resources?

I think this foundation sprouts from the values I deem important for my lab to follow. In my faculty application materials, I proposed four core values: (1) Creativity, (2) Integrity, (3) Courage, and (4) Openness.

The values must be more than just words, they need to be actions, a mindset, and they need to be expressed throughout the lab’s foundation.

Ok cool - so what is the lab’s foundation exactly?

The foundation is the lab policy documents. How we on/off board, how we conduct meetings, how we measure progress, how we publish papers. They are the explicit, written guidelines, and standards we pledge to follow and uphold.

The foundation is the research projects we pursue.

The projects need to be multifaceted, and diverse enough to ensure trainee success in learning and exploring. I think a good paradigm per trainee is to have at least two projects. One that is more independent and often curiosity-driven. The other that is built on team science; a project that transcends the limitations of any one individual or lab. In these complex projects, one of my personal responsibilities is to make sure all roles, metrics, and goals are clearly defined, and to ensure that the computational aspects are held in as much esteem as the other components. We’ve written about how to “cultivate computational biology” elsewhere.

Our research foundation becomes our science wheelhouse.

What we are known for. What drives collaborators to come to us. Currently, my lab is poised to help establish cell morphology as a systems biology readout of cell state. This is a complex topic in need of infrastructure and more people, a refreshed perspective; one that I’ll write about in full at a later date. Our research underbelly will also drive us towards new research avenues, and our creativity and courage will help us to select projects that do more than inch fields forward. In these efforts we’ll not fear growing weeds because we’ll also sometimes grow flowers and we don’t know what seeds we initially hold.

Most importantly, the foundation is built by people.

We need to hire scientists to uphold our values, to progress the scientific mission, and to springboard out of the lab eager and ready to launch their own unique blend of positive, equitable impact on the world. But people tell me that hiring is hard! And I believe them! Hiring requires marketing and publicity, and I hope to achieve this by being loud but bendy with my opinions as the initial spokesperson for the lab.

But, another important question is, who and how to select people to be the architects of this foundation? Scientists are all around us; it is human nature to question things and that’s all we are at the end. Maybe the whole hiring/recruiting perspective needs to shift too - I dunno.

However, the foundation is also the science underbelly of the lab.

The dripping caves with stalactites, stalagmites, and bats. The often-viewed-as less fun aspects of science. The data storage structures, software policies, github management, cloud computing infrastructure, paper writing, all the nitty gritty under-the-radar things that go unnoticed but serve to springboard projects and enable all scientists and trainees to do research.

We’ll build this foundation now.


Day 0 and I’m figuring out how best to spend my time. Weirdly, I chose to write a blog post.

To get to where I want (reduce human suffering) my lab will use science. In order to use science effectively, I need to cultivate a foundation - which is a complicated process requiring:

  • Lab policies
  • Research projects
  • People

This foundation is built by, for, and with our values (creativity, integrity, courage, and openness) in mind. From this foundation, goals and impact follow, through service to our science.

Funny enough though, there is only one sentence that looks like “science” in the whole post: “Currently, my lab is poised to help establish cell morphology as a systems biology readout of cell state.”

It’s all that important stuff around science (some might call it “bloat” or worse!) that makes science happen, and sustains those important, punctuated moments of asking a question, looking at some data, rejecting a hypothesis, and seeing something nobody has ever seen before with your own eyes! I’ll build this now - how fun!