Lab Culture: Jason Meyer's focus on research, lab unity

Meyer and his Ph.D. studentsView print quality image
Associate professor of biology Jason Meyer, front right, focuses on research and lab unity with his Ph.D. students. Back row from left, Clarisse Fligor, Kang-Chieh Huang and Sailee Lavekar; front left, Kirstin Langer. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Jason S. Meyer, associate professor of biology, has dedicated his life's work to the regeneration and understanding of the human retinal system -- lately, retinal ganglion cells -- through the growth and implementation of human induced pluripotent stem cells.

Neurodegenerative diseases like glaucoma break the connection between the retina and the brain. In just nine years, Meyer's lab has published more than a dozen research breakthroughs aimed to save the sight of millions worldwide.

But in 2017, Meyer's own retinas were attacked after he returned to IUPUI after a short trip: Some of his Ph.D. students had tie-dyed their lab coats while he was gone. Before these unexpected pops of color, the only red, blue and purple in the lab was seen in the media for cell analysis and the nitrile gloves used by Meyer and his student researchers. Meyer gave his approval, and a new tradition in his lab was born. While Meyer's lab coat is still an unblemished white, students tie-dying their own coats has become a rite of passage.

Description of the following video:

[Video: Four Ph.D. students are working in a laboratory. Each is wearing a tie-dyed lab coat.]

[Words appear in bottom-left corner: IUPUI presents]

[Video: A student is studying a machine in a laboratory as it rotates several test tubes.]

[Video: A close-up of two students' hands. They are both wearing blue latex gloves and are working with scientific equipment.]

[Video: A student is using equipment in a lab. She is watching the machine as it works.]

[Video: Jason Meyer discusses lab results with a Ph.D. student.]

Jason Meyer, an associate professor, speaks in voiceover: Because of all the hours that are required and the hard work that is required, it also requires people to be together a lot. And when that happens, it helps to develop an atmosphere of collegiality and friendships. We'll go for lunch periodically together as a group to kind of take a break.

[Video: Meyer appears on camera.]

[Words appear: Jason S. Meyer, Ph.D., Associate professor, biology department, neuroscience program]

Meyer speaks: It's also fun when we are going to, traveling to different conferences. We're doing this as a close-knit group.

[Video: Two students work together on a lab experiment. One is watching while the other is filling a beaker with water.]

[Video: A close-up of a hand wearing a latex glove. The person is pointing at a machine that is rotating two test tubes in a lab.]

Meyer speaks in voiceover: And I think there are other things that go on in the lab that tend to keep things a little more lighthearted.

[Video: Meyer appears on camera.]

Meyer speaks: People have organized together to kind of create a more lighthearted spirit by ...

[Video: Three students are talking together as a group in a lab. Each is wearing a tie-dyed lab coats.]

[Video: A student is using equipment in a lab. He is watching the machine as it works.]

Meyer speaks in voiceover: ... tie-dyeing their lab coats together. I think that helps develop more of an atmosphere.

[Video: Meyer appears on camera.]

Meyer speaks: And I think we tend to ... like to joke around, and maybe occasionally play some pranks on each other, too.

[Video: Four Ph.D. students surprise Meyer by spraying him with silly string. He laughs.]

[Meyer appears on camera.]

Meyer speaks: I think that it's always been fun for me to have those memories.

[Video: Meyer puts on a white lab coat.]

[Video: Meyer cleans part his lab with a disinfectant wipe.]

[Video: Close-up of Meyer's hands as he fills a test tube with a liquid.]

[Video: Meyer looks into a microscope.]

Meyer speaks in voiceover: My lab has been here at IUPUI for almost nine years now, but it also becomes fun for the students. I think the newer students kind of look at that and see what kind of experiences previous students have had, and this is maybe foreshadowing the kinds of experiences they'll have in the future.

[Video: Meyer appears on camera.]

Meyer speaks: But I think it's also fun for the students as they get closer to graduation ...

[Video: Four Ph.D. students surprise Meyer by spraying him with silly string. He laughs and tosses some back at a student.]

Meyer speaks in voiceover: ... they tend to become a little more sentimental about their time here, and it's fun for them to kind of look back on some of those experiences as well.

[Screen goes to black]

[IU trident appears]

[Words appear: IUPUI]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the promise]

[Words appear: iupui.edu]

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

Jason Meyer's biology lab works to fix damaged human retinal systems with stem cells while maintaining a team spirit. Video by Samantha Thompson, Indiana University

"People usually ask if we bought them, but we make them ourselves," said Clarisse Fligor, one of Meyer's four Ph.D. students in his lab. "I think it just brings a little bit more color and fun every day."

Meyer said cellular biology research requires countless experiments, hours of observation and precise data-collecting. Meyer is a proponent of lab lunches, student-driven unifiers like colorful lab coats, and even the occasional Silly String fight and party-popper surprises to break any monotony.

"We tend to be a pretty close-knit group," Meyer said. "Because of all of the hours and hard work, it requires people to be together a lot. It helps to develop an atmosphere of congeniality and friendship. That's the foundation."

Kang-Chieh Huang works in the lab.View print quality image
Kang-Chieh Huang uses a pipette while wearing his tie-dyed lab coat in associate professor Jason Meyer's lab. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Those far-out coats

The colorful lab coats were born out of celebration for Akshaya Sridhar, Meyer's first Ph.D. student to graduate. Shortly before commencement, the 2017 alumna became pregnant. During the baby shower, an activity included tie-dying. Would the two lab coats that Fligor had in her car tie-dye well? They did.

"My initial gut reaction was, 'Oh, man, the cost of those lab coats,'" Meyer said, laughing. "But that quickly subsided, and I realized this was a very good thing. It meant they were having fun while they were pursuing their education."

Drizzy in the lab

As cell samples grow, they ascend levels in the laboratory's incubator. Written on a label, the top shelf features the lyrics "Started at the bottom, now we're here" from Drake's 2013 pop hit, "Started at the Bottom."

"The lowest level are undifferentiated cells, and it goes up to differentiated," Fligor explained. "Our final cells are at the top. So they started at the bottom shelf, and now they're here on the top shelf. It's just a fun little thing."

Have neuroscience research, will travel

Meyer places an importance on his students promoting their work and networking at conferences across the country. The lab travels together; recent stops include Honolulu; Atlanta; San Diego; Seattle; and Orlando, Florida. Pictures from every conference adorn a wall in the lab. The pictures show new students that their research can make impacts beyond IUPUI.

"It's fun to look back on some of those memories," Meyer said, "but it's also fun for the students. The newer students can see the experiences of previous students and foreshadowing to what kind of experiences they'll have in the future. It's also fun for the students closer to graduation. They tend to get sentimental about their time here, and it's fun for them to look back on their experiences as well."

Keeping his students engaged in their work is key for Meyer.

"I'm not always convinced that my students believe me, but it's true that I live vicariously through them," Meyer said. "When they make these discoveries, I like to see that they're excited. And I'm truly excited. I remember my student research, and it's wonderful to share their enthusiasm."

Surprise Silly String attack!View print quality image
Surprise Silly String attack! Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University