Dr Vyjayanthi Subramanian’s tips for faculty on building a positive lab environment
Students look up to faculty and take behavioural cues from them, so it is important to think about the impact of one’s actions.
When giving feedback on a student’s work, start by appreciating its strengths and give praise where it is due before moving on to what can be improved.
AVOID criticising a student in front of others; this lowers their self-esteem and makes other students think it is okay to do the same.
If you have negative feedback, make sure that it is not personal, so that it is clear you are critiquing the work and not the students themselves. This can also be delivered in person rather than publicly.
Times are different and young people today may have different habits, values and methods of working than what you grew up with. Accept this rather than holding it against them. Try not to be judgemental and try not to police them for it.
Begin each day in the lab by ensuring that everyone greets each other, smiles, and makes eye contact. Collectively go over what was done the previous day or what will be done today, perhaps over tea or coffee. Have lunch together, as a lab or as a department, at least once a month. This encourages talking, exchanging ideas, and sharing thoughts and feelings. This way you get to know about people and their backgrounds, humanise your atmosphere and leave channels open for communication in the event that someone would like to reach out for help.
The more you reinforce empathy, the more you will build it.
To understand what your students might be going through, try a group activity like role-play. You could play a victim or an individual with depression or anxiety. Guide and student can interchange roles and this can be hilarious and break the ice, while also putting you in their shoes, however briefly.