Section 6 Feedback and learning

6.1 Overview of our feedback mentality

Fostering an environment that provides targeted and constructive feedback is an important part of promoting learning and growth, one of emLab’s core values. We endeavor to build a radically candid culture of feedback where we can challenge directly while also caring personally for one another. As we state in our code of conduct, good feedback is kind, respectful, clear, constructive, and focused on goals and values rather than personal preferences. We expect everyone on our team to give and receive feedback with gratitude and a growth mindset.

We have created a number of internal emLab processes and structures to provide opportunities for individual and organizational feedback so that each of us, as well as emLab, can continue to learn and grow:

  • Supervisor check-ins are held at a regular cadence (e.g., weekly, monthly) to provide mentorship, guidance, and feedback on day-to-day responsibilities and challenges as well as discuss longer term goals and professional development opportunities.
  • Annual reviews are conducted each year with our project researchers, project managers, and operations team members to discuss and celebrate key accomplishments, provide targeted feedback, and discuss future goals.
  • Team member exit interviews are conducted when team members leave to discuss their overall experience with emLab, and offer positive and constructive feedback for emLab.
  • Monthly project management meetings are held with all emLab project managers to anticipate and workshop project changes and challenges and collectively and collaboratively improve emLab project management.
  • Project exit interviews are held after the completion of every project to capture lessons learned, evaluate successes and challenges, and identify potential next steps.

6.2 Career growth and professional development

6.2.1 Recruiting top talent

  • emLab aims to recruit and retain a diverse and cohesive team who thrive in an entrepreneurial setting, are adaptable, flexible problem solvers and embrace an open, generous, and collaborative approach.
  • Our full recruiting process is outlined here. It includes information about who is involved in the recruiting process and how to decrease implicit bias at every stage of the process.
  • Maintain a consistent onboarding process that is thoughtful and sets guidelines and expectations

6.2.2 Supervisor check-ins

  • Supervisors provide mentorship, feedback, discuss professional development opportunities, etc.
    • For any new staff, Executive Director proposes a supervisor and one or more Program Directors approves final decision
    • Postdocs and researchers are supervised by emLab Principal Investigators or other researchers
    • Project managers and operations staff are supervised by ED or other project management/operations staff
  • The supervisor and employee should have regular check-ins at least monthly
    • The purpose of these meetings is to first and foremost foster a relationship between the employee and supervisor. Potential items to discuss include: workload, task prioritization, problem solving advice, feedback on performance, professional development, and advancement opportunities.
    • Supervisors and supervisees can utilize this individual mentoring plan template to guide conversations on feedback, goals and milestones. If using, individual mentoring plans should be revisited on quarterly basis.

6.2.3 Annual review process

emLab holds annual reviews to provide a reciprocal forum for staff to receive feedback, answer any questions on their role, projects, and responsibilities, and discuss short- and long-term goals. This is a good opportunity for each employee to share their professional development goals and career aspirations with their supervisor, and identify ways that emLab can help each team member succeed with targeted support, training, or mentorship.

The emLab annual review process is part of a broader strategy to foster a culture of growth and learning at emLab. emLab’s internal reviews include an emLab “Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)” assessment to help provide targeted and constructive feedback. The assessment focuses on four categories: 1) quality of work and time management, 2) creative problem-solving, adaptability, and innovation, 3) collaboration and teamwork, and 4) effective communication. These categories and the criteria they comprise are not necessarily comprehensive of all skills across the different roles on our team, but they represent core competencies that are critical to both individual and emLab productivity and performance.

Process overview

Annual reviews generally take place in the summer and are retrospective of the previous 12 months. Prior to their scheduled review, each team member will make a copy and fill out emLab’s annual review template in their own Drive and share a link with their supervisor. This template comprises a list of your accomplishments and the BARS assessment. A couple of notes on the assessment categories - these are designed for the purpose of learning and development, so everyone is likely to have areas of growth identified. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and the value of a process like this is offering constructive feedback so we can all continue to learn and grow. Conversely, assessments of ‘outstanding’ will likely be rare and given in cases of extraordinary contributions and performance.

Your supervisor will also fill out the BARS assessment portion of the form simultaneously and will send it to you the day before your scheduled review. Your review will be led by your supervisor. In some cases, additional team members will join if you have worked closely with them over the past year.

Annual review structure

Reviews are generally about an hour long and are structured as follows:

  • Accomplishments and outputs, strengths, and growth areas (~20 min). Walk through your accomplishments and BARS assessment, discussing (a) the following questions and (b) any instances where your self-assessment and supervisor assessment differed.
    • What are the accomplishments you are most proud of over the past year?
    • What aspects of your job do you most enjoy or feel you excel at?
    • Where are your areas of growth and how can we work together to develop those? (Can include categories within or outside of the BARS categories)
  • Work portfolio, expectations, and responsibilities (~20 min)
    • Review your current project portfolio and discuss future projects (if applicable)
    • Do you feel like you are being underutilized or overstretched across projects?
    • Do you have any questions on what is expected of you in your role?
  • Goals (~20 min). Discuss 1-3 goals in each of the following categories, steps or actions you can take towards these goals, and how we may be able to support you in achieving them.
    • Short-term (6 months)
    • Medium-term (1 - 2 years)
    • Long-term (5 - 10 years)

6.2.4 University merit review process

UCSB policies and procedures for all academic titles (e.g., faculty, Specialists, Academic Coordinators), including information about appointments and advancements are contained within academic personnel’s “Red Binder”.

Please see this presentation for a distilled overview of UCSB’s merit review process for Specialist and Academic Coordinator series titles. Reach out to your supervisor in advance to discuss if you will be pursuing a merit increase and for resources as you draft your materials.

6.2.5 Speakers, classes, workshops, and mentorship opportunities

There are lots of opportunities at Bren, MSI, and UCSB for continued growth and learning from visiting speakers to auditing courses to advising students and group projects. We are very supportive of these types of activities for personal and professional growth as long as you’re getting your work done.

For opportunities with a bigger time commitment, like auditing a class or advising a Bren GP, please talk to your supervisor ahead of time to discuss a plan for balancing your project portfolio.

6.2.6 University and community resources

EcoDataScience study group

EcoDataScience is an environmental data science study group based at UCSB that offers opportunities for skill sharing, co-working, and community building. The group hosts sessions that teach coding and data analysis skills, often utilizing live-coding/interactive components. Previous sessions are available on GitHub (see the “Previous Sessions” section on the website for a full list). To join the group and receive updates regarding upcoming sessions, join the Google Group. The EcoDataScience Slack workspace is a great place to seek and share coding advice in real time.

R-Ladies Santa Barbara

R-Ladies Santa Barbara is a meet-up group for R-users of all proficiency levels who are interested in mentoring, networking, and expert upskilling. This community is designed to develop R skills and knowledge through social, collaborative learning, and sharing. To receive updates regarding upcoming events, join the group.

UCSB Software Carpentry data science workshops

The UCSB Library hosts a series of Software and Data Carpentry workshops that take place throughout the year. These guided and hands-on workshops focus on data science topics ranging from introductory Python courses to using R for spatial data analysis. Each workshop is designed for individuals with no previous knowledge on the topic. The workshops are also a great opportunity to engage with the broader UCSB data science community, as well as with the international Carpentries community that teaches foundational data science skills to researchers worldwide. These workshops are usually free for all UCSB undergraduate, staff, graduate students, and faculty researchers (in person workshops may charge a small fee to cover snacks). We encourage emLab staff to take advantage of these great workshops.

In case you’re not able to join a workshop or are interested in past topics, all past UCSB workshop materials are available online. Content from additional workshops are available through the international Carpentries community for Data Carpentries, Software Carpentries, and [Library Carpentries]( The workshops that are hosted by the UCSB Library are chosen based on public demand. If there is a workshop that you are interested in that is not currently being taught, please reach out to .

Finally, if you are interested in getting involved and helping teach any of these courses, they are always looking for volunteers as helpers and instructors. To serve as a helper or instructor in a workshop, you will need to have experience in the workshop’s topic, but you do not need additional certifications. Feel free to reach out to Echelle Burns ( to learn more.