The Merkle Lab aims to make significant contributions to the fields of stem cell biology, neuroscience, and metabolic science. High standards, collaboration, and respect are the foundation of these aims.
Do something important: We study human stem cell-derived hypothalamic neurones since these cells regulate critical behavioural and physiological processes. Having ready access to human hypothalamic neurons enables mechanistic studies into diseases that result from their loss or dysfunction such as obesity and diabetes, that affect nearly a billion people around the world. Research with these cells includes investigations of their basic physiology, developing cellular disease models, and exploring therapeutic transplantation. Members of the Merkle Lab select projects that both advance basic understanding and contribute to the core mission of the Lab.
Be curious and bold: Curiosity and boldness has enabled us as a species to explore and populate much of the habitable world, including unlikely locations such as Easter Island. An important part of my job as a mentor is to nurture this innate drive in lab members and help direct it towards applications where it can have the greatest impact. The problems we tackle often take us into uncharted waters, requiring an adventurous spirit and the flexibility to overcome unforeseen challenges and seize upon new opportunities as they emerge. I encourage members of the Merkle Lab to be unconstrained the limitations of traditional approaches. To solve a new problem, what can be modified, borrowed from another field, or newly developed?
Excel at the macro and micro scale: To achieve our goals, we need to simultaneously grasp broad concepts and organise and our efforts at the macro scale (months to years), and to pay close attention to detail when planning, executing, and documenting experiments at the micro scale (hours to days). Striking this balance ensures we can identify and execute the “killer experiments” that form coherent, conclusive, and publishable studies.
Be a responsible citizen and scientist: We owe our jobs in the Merkle lab to the investment that society and funders have made in us, and millions of patients desperately need the treatments that might emerge from our work. We are therefore obligated to design and document our experiments to a high standard, to work with a sense of urgency, to collaborate broadly, and to openly share our results and methods. Since our science is driven by biological questions rather than techniques, we collaborate extensively to take advantage of interdisciplinary approaches and to adopt emerging technologies. We pride ourselves on being open and clear communicators, and working together as a team.
Nurture a growth mentality: Our aim is that students and postdocs in the Merkle Lab can become the next generation of leaders in their fields. Just as an athlete can only excel if they put in the training time and push themselves, we believe that becoming an excellent scientist means routinely stepping outside of our comfort zones, and striving to grow technically, intellectually, and personally. By doing so, we are more likely to feel the thrill of discovery and satisfaction that comes from leaving our mark on the world.
Keys to success: The philosophy of the Merkle Lab is influenced by the Keys to Success – a succinct summary of the traits of a successful scientist developed by Prof. Alex Schier:
- Work on an important problem.
- Work with sustained concentration.
- Have a sense of urgency.
- Effectively troubleshoot when things go wrong.
- Have the “killer instinct” to do the key experiments that will result in a coherent, conclusive, and publishable study.