Lab RATs

From vjmedia

EGIL/ IMSLab Student Lab Researchers and Technologists (Lab RATs)

Lab RAT Logo.png

The Lab RATs are students working in V.J. Manzo's research lab on various V.J. Manzo-ish projects. RATs work on small-scale, one-off projects, in the lab as their availability allows and, as part of this, can use everything in the G11D lab (equipment, instruments, tools, amps, etc.), the G11A lab ( guitar component testing rig, pickup winder, 3D printer, etc.)), and the adjacent recording studio in G11B and recording space in G11C 24/7 for all projects including personal ones. The expected minimal commitment is a few hours a week per semester/two terms (A + B Term, C + D Term), but students are encouraged to be Student Researchers as long as they’d like in consecutive semesters or moving in and out of the position on a "semester basis" to accommodate academic scheduling. These are the types of projects going on in V.J.'s lab all the time.

What Lab RATs Get

Being a Lab RAT is not about being a "lab monitor"; lab hours for courses are limited to scheduled blocks of time and lab monitors. Being a Lab RAT is about working on projects that are nuanced, short-scale, and not really something you’d tackle in a course, and having full access to the labs as-needed. V.J. Manzo and Ryan McKenna will help guide you through various projects (types noted below), so there is an opportunity for you to learn very specific knowledge about, for example, "building effects pedals", "getting a good amp sound", "making musical instruments", and so on.
As long as you are an "active" Lab RAT for the term, you can:

  • Swipe in to access/use all equipment in G11D for personal use including:
    • Tools
    • Instruments
    • Strings
    • Pedals
    • Amps/Speakers
    • Recording interface
    • Microphones
  • Request to borrow off-access equipment for personal use outside of the lab including:
    • Guitars
    • Audio Interfaces
    • Microphones
    • Controllers
  • Keep any “Free Treasure” placed in the giant treasure chest in the lab
  • Get first refusal on independent/special/high-profile project offerings that are “for credit”, “for pay”, or “for experience” before any other classes or students
  • List an official position/title “Student Researcher”, “Student Lab Researcher and Technologist”, etc. on your resume
    • Get credited for your contribution to these projects on our high-visibility websites (resume/portfolio fodder!)
  • Get to know professional musicians and instrument-makers through project work
  • Get to know like-minded students and establish potentially lifelong camaraderies that may improve your overall quality of life and contribute to your sense of personal meaning and fulfillment.
  • Work on your own personal projects in the lab (space permitting; no guests, please)
  • Make recommendations about things we should buy for the lab
  • Access to the Alden B30 Computer Music Lab (outside of class hours)
  • Reserve time in the studio in Riley G11B


So while the Lab RATs isn't a club led by students, there is absolutely a fun/social/hang-out-and-mess-with-music-tech component to being a Lab RAT, so it's more of a research club/clubhouse led by a faculty member.

EGIL Logo

IMS Lab Logo


What Is Expected of Lab RATs

Lab RATs are expected to dabble, noodle, tinker, and get involved in various lab project while active; we communicate primarily through Slack and Trello and V.J. Manzo and Ryan McKenna host regular 5/10-minute “standup” meetings to check on projects and and talk about new things going on in the lab...when new projects are announced, you'll get a notification in Slack with a link to the Trello card with more details. Projects come in regularly, so volunteer for whatever you can reasonably commit to in the timeframe noted (usually "be the end of the term") given your other academic commitments. When you’re finished with one project, mark the task completed, and pick up another project! The expectation is that you have a few hours a week to work on these things, minimally.

Examples of Projects

  • Fixing broken things
    • Fixing pedals
    • Swapping out broken potentiometers
    • Soldering loose connections
  • Changing guitar strings
  • Doing one-off CAD/CAM/machining and 3D-printing projects
    • Oftentimes for sponsors and other famous people like Ken Parker, Ned Steinberger or other well-known names that you might enjoy dropping in the right circles just as they've been dropped in this sentence
  • Testing out new and old equipment and instruments
  • Debugging and Compiling Code
  • Building things we've organized into “kits” with guides
  • Updating/maintaining/moderating websites and GIT repositories
  • Making up flyers and other event artwork
  • Act as liaisons to other Lab RATs
    • Train others on specialized equipment, eg: Soldering, Pickup Winding, etc
    • Direct others to locations of items in the lab
    • Serve as a role model regarding rules and safety protocols in the lab
    • Help the lab stay clean and orderly on a regular basis by putting things back in the appropriate location, consolidating and removing boxes, and so on.

Time Commitment Expected

Most projects are not time-critical and can be knocked out in a number of hours; a few projects may have more pressing due dates, but you would know about that before committing to it.

So in short the commitments are:

  • Stay tuned into the Slack channel
  • Be part of the standup meetings
  • Have at least one project going on
    • Sink, minimally, a few hours a week into that project


First-time Lab RATs

If you're into this, but are unsure of how this will pan out with your other commitments, mention that to Prof. Manzo when you apply; if you're willing to give this a try 100% for the first term and it's not a good fit, then we can always revisit the idea later on in your WPI career.

Being a Lab RAT

How to Apply

To become a Lab RAT, email Prof. Manzo (vjmanzo@wpi.edu) and say you wanna be a Lab RAT; explain who you are, what you know (skills, major, etc.), what you're interested in, and what availability you can realistically commit to over a two-term span.

the Rite of Passage into RAT-hood

The typical rite of passage (RAT of passage?) toward becoming part of the lab is for you (the RAT-to-be) and Prof. Manzo to work on a small project together; you'll get familiar with the expectations and the communication workflow and, if it's a good fit, then great!

Working on Projects

Once you're an approved Lab RAT:

  • Request swipe access to the lab here


  • Then pay attention to Slack: new projects, new freebies, new gear are all announced through Slack.
    • When a new project/thing is announced, you'll get a notification in Slack with a link to more details. If you are able/willing to work on that—even if you don't have all of the skills—just say yes and what you're comfortable doing! If more than one RAT is working on a project, you can work on something together. RATs usually keep at one project/thing moving forward at a time.


Completing Projects

When a project you're working on is completed

  • Tell V.J.
  • Push any relevant info back up to the GIT Repo and/or bring any physical materials back to the lab.
  • Ask V.J. how you can get going with something else!




Equipment You Can Borrow and Take Out of the Lab

If you are a Lab RAT, you may borrow items from the lab by simply taking a photo of what you're borrowing and posting to our "borrow" Slack channel with the message "will return by {date}/{time}".



There's a large trunk in the lab that holds some smaller items and, for larger things, just message Manzo.

View Full List of Borrow-able Gear List Here

Equipment in the Treasure Chest You Can Just Keep for Free

From time-to-time, Manzo and other EGIL/IMSLab people will put free things in the large treasure chest in the lab and post a photo of to our "Trasure" Slack channel; if you are a Lab RAT, anything in the chest is yours to keep as long as you agree to do something "useful" with it; if you’re ever not doing something useful with it, return it to the chest.

First-come, first-served on anything in the chest--just go and get it as soon as you see it pop up on the feed!

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"the Treasure Chest" contains freebie things exclusively for Lab RATs