More on writing a mission statements for a research lab group, thoughts from Elena Bennet

Author: Jessica Hellmann

A while back I posted about writing a mission or vision statement for one's research lab and the idea was picked up by Nature magazine. I argued that universities and business do it, even centers and institutes. So why not a research lab? Having a mission can make people feel involved, help you decide about which opportunities to pursue and not pursue, and bring your research group together. 

My colleague, Prof. Elena Bennett at McGill University, give the process a go, following some of the advice that I gathered and blogged about here.

Here's what she had to say about the experience and the outcome:

"Here's our first draft. It is not at all edited and came straight from our brainstorming, so there are definitely things that need fixing, but I think it is not at all bad for a first try.

Ecosystems and their functions provide benefits that are necessary for human well-being. We believe that humans can interact with nature in a more sustainable manner through purposeful action guided by research and education. (Information and ideas about these interactions are needed to  bridge critical knowledge gaps that currently impair management) We study interactions between society and ecosystems at the global, regional, and landscape scales through collaborative research to improve ecosystem management. We foster critical thinking about environmental systems in a setting where dissemination of ideas to a diverse audience is valued. 

What did we do? 

I showed a definition of a mission statement and a brief explanation of why I think it is valuable to have one. We had a bit of discussion on this. We then looked at McGill's mission statement. I used material from your poster to discuss what makes something a GOOD mission statement and we looked at examples (Southwest Airlines, Scouts Canada, a local nature reserve) and discussed whether these met the criteria for good. If they failed, we talked about how and why they were off the mark. We also looked at your mission statement as an example of how this might look for a lab group. We used your work on what a mission statement is (a short paragraph; use active verbs; avoid jargon, etc. - basically notes on how we were going to go forward) and invited conversation in small groups of 3 on the following questions:

1. What are the principles or beliefs that guide our work?

2. What are the opportunities or gaps we exist to address?

3.What are we doing to address those opportunities and achieve the reason we exist?

After each question, we came back together as a group and edited down to 1-2 sentences. I was really amazed at how much agreement there was among our group. Even working separately, we came up with remarkably similar statements.

We put all those sentences together to come up with the above. Now I will do some editing, we'll have a go-round by email, and then we will meet once more later in the semester to finalize before posting to our website."