Great organisations have strong cultures. Over the years, the London Institute has developed its own set of rituals. These make it distinct from other research centres, and play a central role in building trust and camaraderie. We describe them here for our members and others.


Tracking discovery

Each year, we set a goal for the amount of discovery that we make. As a measuring stick, we use ASNIP points, which is the author and source normalised impact per publication. There are five stages to publishing a paper: draft, posted on arXiv, submitted and with the journal, submitted and with the author (meaning that the author has to take action), and accepted. Our cumulative scores in each stage are updated every Friday on our website and on the blackboard in the Old Post Room. The aim is to push our limits and remind us of the primacy of discovery.


Tracking income

Each year, we set a goal for our expected unrestricted income. The score that we give to a funding bid is the bid amount, times the fraction that is unrestricted, times the probability of success, all divided by £10,000. We try to ascertain the actual official success rate; otherwise, we estimate it as best we can. We track three stages to submitting a funding bid: concept (less than half written), draft (more than half written), and submitted. Our cumulative points in each stage are updated weekly on the right-hand blackboard in the Old Post Room.


Tracking soft power

We believe organisations have soft power in the same way as countries do. Our soft power is all of our activity that is not directly connected to discovery and fundraising. It is made up of six categories, all of which we track: our voice, website, relationships, building, convening power, and organisational intelligence. As a benchmark, a seminar is 1-2 points, a new blackboard is 5 points, and a comment piece in The Times is 15 points. Our cumulative scores in each category are updated weekly on the left-hand blackboard in the Old Post Room.


Showing up

One of our most important and protected rituals is showing up for work. Our scientists and staff are present from at least 8/9/10 am to 5/6/7 pm. This has several benefits. One, it creates opportunities for superadditivity, where one person’s idea sparks an idea in another. Two, it’s essential for building organisational culture and a sense of shared adventure. Three, it enables us to adapt quickly to new opportunities and unforeseen challenges. Four, it underpins our reputation as a go-to place for visitors, because there’s a constant buzz in our rooms.


Monday synopsis

Every Monday from 12:50 to 1:00, all of our scientists and staff gather in the Old Post room to share our goals for the week ahead. The office coordinator starts with a synopsis of upcoming events and visitors. We then each spend under a minute describing a few things that we’re working on over the coming week. The goal is to be aware of what everyone else is doing and to create opportunities for serendipitous interactions. In listing our goals, we provide enough detail so that they change from week to week—it’s no use saying the same thing repeatedly.


Friday drinks

One of our most admired rituals is our weekly Friday drinks. They are held in the Old Post Room and start at 5 o’clock, marked by a strike of our gong. The point of drinks is three-fold. First, it’s for members of the Institute to catch up informally. Second, it’s to build relationships with others outside the Institute who could be important to it. Third, it’s to strengthen ties with Royal Institution staff, who sometimes join us. Members occasionally invite friends, family or plus-ones, bearing in mind the same guest shouldn’t be invited too often.


Board meetings

Our board of trustees meetings are at 4 o’clock on the first Wednesday of months divisible by three. The exception is December, when the meeting is at 4 o’clock on the day of our Christmas party. Our board meetings are attended by the trustees, the director (who is also a trustee), and the director’s assistant, who records anything notable. Occasionally others attend parts of the meeting, such as a writer or researcher or fundraiser, making sure that scientists attend no less frequently than nonscientists. This ensures we don’t lose sight of our purpose.


Christmas party

Our Christmas party is at 6 o’clock on the first Friday on or after 1 December. It is held in the Old Post and Faraday rooms. The party is for members of the Institute and people who have supported it, or might do so. Members can also invite special guests, from collaborators to plus-ones, bearing in mind that any guest should improve the party. Our tree, an 11-foot Nordmann fir, is kept in the Faraday room in a base with water. Tree decorations are stored in the Tyndall south cupboard. We are on the lookout for decorations with a mathematical theme.


St Scholastica’s Feast

The London Institute was incorporated on 10 February. This is the Feast Day of St Scholastica, a 6th century nun who is indelibly linked with evenings filled with conversation that continue into the night. Each year on a Friday near that date, our scientists and staff come together for St Scholastica’s Feast. It is a formal dinner to mark our anniversary and our belief in the importance of community. Dinner is held in our Faraday room and dessert in our Bragg room. As well as our members, we invite a handful of distinguished guests. Dress is black tie.



One of the most notable features of our rooms are our blackboards. Most of these are painted directly onto the plaster walls, but some are portable, resting on a pair of easels. Where possible, our blackboards are 48 inches tall, starting 39 inches from the floor. The black surface of the boards should be neither too rough nor too smooth; we finish the surface with 120 grit sandpaper using an orbital sander. For blackboards in our refurbished rooms, we use black honed slate, in the form of 48 inch square tiles laid side by side and built into the walls.


Chalk and erasers

We use Hagoromo Fulltouch chalk, widely considered the world's best. We keep it in ebony wood trays and basalt bowls near our blackboards. Two-thirds of our chalk is white and one-third is coloured. We buy the chalk in 72-piece boxes. The coloured box comes in five colours: 2 ⨉ red, 1 ⨉ orange, 1 ⨉ yellow, 1 ⨉ green and 1 ⨉ blue. For more colours, there is a 12-piece box that has sticks in dark red, red, vermilion, orange, yellow, green, dark green, blue, purple and 3 ⨉ white. ❧ We use Spaceright blackboard erasers, made of wood and red and white felt.


Paper and pencil

When not at the blackboard, much of our work is done with paper and pencil. ❧ For notebooks, we stock ruled and unruled black Moleskine notebooks in three sizes. The standard notebook is 19 ⨉ 25 cm with 120 pages, the small notebook is 13 ⨉ 21 cm with 80 pages, and the pocket-sized is 9 ⨉ 14 cm with 64 pages. ❧ For pencils, we have the silver YouMi combination pen and pencil, with a 0.5 mm pencil and black, blue and red ink. For erasers, we stock Staedtler Mars Plastic. These and our other stationary items are kept in the Old Post stationary cupboard.



We buy laptops for our members based on judgement rather than process. This is based on each person’s need and our available funds, and takes into account any other investments we’ve made in that person. We strongly encourage (but do not compel) our members to use Apple laptops, which use the UNIX operating system and, like our Institute, emphasise simplicity and interoperability. Members can treat their laptops as if they were their personal laptops. For accounting purposes, laptops depreciate over three years according to the square of (1 − age/3).



Email is a 30-year-old technology that can sometimes feel clunky. At the London Institute, most of our communication at a distance is done through Whatsapp. As well as messaging, Watsapp supports extensive file sharing for documents, images, video and audio. Whatsapp has a desktop version which syncs with the phone version, making communication from the two platforms seamless. We have a London Institute Whatsapp group called LIMS chitchat. It’s for members of the Institute (current people on our webpage), consultants and a handful of former members.


Magazines and journals

We subscribe to several journals and magazines in hard copy. Our journals include Nature and Science, and we would like to receive Physical Review Letters in print, if we could find an affordable way to do so. For popular science, we get Scientific American and Nautilus. For technology, Wired—which is also a source of inspiration for how to integrate writing and design. For graphic design and visual culture, we receive Eye and Creative Review. We keep the last six issues of each periodical and stack them on the trestle table in the Old Post room.



We offer two software packages to our employees: Mathematica and the Adobe Creative Cloud. Both are accessed through an annual subscription fee per person. ❧ Mathematica is a system for symbolic computation, data and function visualisation, and general programming. We encourage both scientists and staff to use it, even for elementary computation. ❧ The Adobe Creative Cloud is a set of applications that includes Illustrator for vector graphics, PhotoShop for raster graphics, InDesign for typography and layouts, and XD for web and mobile app design.



We use HP LaserJet Pro M118dw printers, which print double-sided in black and white. We have two such printers for general use, called LIMS Printer 1 and LIMS Printer 2. These are located in the Porter wing and the Faraday room and can be accessed wirelessly. We stock spare toner cartridges in the Old Post cupboard. ❧ We use 80 gsm paper and stock between 10 and 25 reams of it in the Tyndall south cupboard. ❧ For printing in colour or printing special projects, such as posters or pamphlets, we use the nearby Kall Kwik printing firm in St James.


Coffee and tea

We stock two kinds of coffee. One is Lavazza Qualità Rossa coffee beans, which are used in our espresso machine in the Old Post Room. The other is Qualità Rossa ground coffee, for cafetières. We stock one kind of tea, Fortnum & Mason’s Earl Grey. The coffee and tea are kept in storage jars in the Old Post Room, with additional stock in the Old Post pantry. We order 500 tea bags and 10 kg of coffee at a time, and never run below two months of available stock. Mugs are kept on the bookshelf in the Old Post Room and cups and saucers in the Old Post pantry.



We stock two kinds of white wine and two kinds of red wine. All of the wines are French or Italian and come in corked bottles. One of the reds is a claret. As a rule of thumb, the average price of a bottle of wine is one-third higher than the cost of six bottles of beer. The whites cost slightly less than this, and the reds slightly more. Four bottles of red are kept in the Old Post pantry and four bottles of white in the Old Post refrigerator. Extra bottles are in the Bragg cupboard. We order at least six months’ supply of our four wines at a time.


Other drinks

We stock three kinds of beer: Pilsner Urquell, Sierra Nevada and Duvel. All come in 330 ml or 355 ml glass bottles. We also stock orange juice in plastic bottles, Coke and Diet Coke in 330 ml glass bottles, and Evian still water and San Pellegrino sparkling water, both in 500 ml plastic bottles. These are kept in the Old Post refrigerator, with further stock in the Bragg closets. We bulk order at least three months of stock at a time from wholesale suppliers (with the exception of orange juice), and we never run below one month of available stock.



We stock Waitrose salted mixed nuts, KitKat (two fingers), Twix (one finger) and Kettle salted crisps. The nuts are kept in bowls and a storage jar, the KitKat and Twix in the small wooden box, and the crisps in the large wooden box—all in the Old Post room. Extra stock is in the Bragg cupboard. For special occasions, we serve Fortnum and Mason Biscuit Selection cookies, stored in the Bragg cupboard. We also provide fresh fruit in a bowl in the Old Post room. Each week, we order approximately 24 bananas, 24 apples and 40 tangerines, depending on demand.



All of our mugs are from universities and research institutes from around the world. Our collection currently stands at over 50 mugs—though we have yet to create one for the London Institute. These mugs are kept on the bookshelf in the Old Post room, for use by all. Most of the insignia on the mugs are not resistant to dishwashers, so we wash the mugs by hand. We invite others to add to our collection, especially from research centres outside of Britain and America, where our collection is weak. Cups and saucers are kept in the Old Post pantry.


Glasses and china

We have three kinds of glasses, all made by Arcoroc: Savoie 240 ml wine glasses, Savoie 170 ml champagne flutes, and Cervoise 380 ml beer glasses. These are kept in the Old Post pantry, with extra glasses in the Bragg cupboard. ❧ We use a type of Doulton bone china created by Bruce Oldfield, which is light blue and white, with gilt trim. There is an extensive supply of this china available second-hand online, so we can easily buy more pieces when we need them. We have at least 24 of each of dinner plates, side plates, bowls, and cups and saucers.


Per diems

For trips with an existing travel budget or trips on London Institute business, we use per diems. We pay the actual cost for travel to the destination, but a fixed amount per night for lodging, meals and local travel. The nightly rate depends on the destination country, as set by the EC. Let n be the number of nights away, and r the relevant rate. Then, for Fellows and Junior Fellows, the total amount to be paid is (n + 1/2) r. For postdocs and junior members of staff, the amount paid is two-thirds this. Note that a day trip (0 nights) incurs 1/2 r.


Foreign currencies

As well as a stirling account, the Institute has a dollars account and a euros account. We use Transferwise for currency exchanges between them. ❧ For accounting purposes, whenever we do currency translations, we use the average exchange rate of the previous calendar year. This is an unbiased estimator of the real-time exchange rate. So, for all transactions in 2024, we use the average exchange rates for 2023, which are £1 = €1.149 and £1 = $1.244. For transactions in 2023, we use the average rates for 2022, which are £1 = €1.173 and £1 = $1.237.



The Institute does not recognise bank holidays. This means employees can swap a bank holiday with an ordinary weekday, giving more flexibility. The only mandatory holiday is Christmas day, if it falls on a weekday. Up to 14 days of holiday can be carried over to the next calendar year. We allow occasional half-days of holiday. Holidays are arranged with the finance director or assistant to the director. ❧ Regarding sick leave, the Institute pays full salary during the first three sick days per year, then statutory sick pay for any additional sick days.


Allocation of office space

We allocate our office space to people based on what they want and the effect on the interactions of the Institute as a whole. The assistant to the director allocates office space. ❧ Different people want different things in their work environment, such as a window, quietness or a sofa to stretch out on. We try to give each person what they want. ❧ Individual wants are balanced by optimising group dynamics. We try to mix together in the same rooms or regions: scientists and staff, people working in different fields, and introverts and extroverts.


Structure of our space

In general, our second-floor rooms in the Institute go from quiet on the south side to noisy on the north side (where the Old Post room is). Everyone has their main office on the second floor. ❧ Our third-floor space is a silent zone for occasional use by LIMS members and visitors for extreme focus, but members should not spend the majority of their time there. ❧ Our seminar room is used for events and big meetings and for group lunch. When it is not needed for these things, individuals can use it for other purposes—but group activities take precedence.



Our second-floor balcony is six feet by 49 feet and has a garden and tables and chairs. It can be used by all members and visitors and is accessible via three of our east-facing offices. At the summer solstice, the balcony catches the sun from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm, and some sun can be had in the three months before and after. When it’s warm outside, we sometimes hold our Friday drinks on the balcony, with the advantage that the number of social interactions scales linearly with the number of people, rather than the square root with ordinary 2D rooms.


Balcony garden

Our balcony boasts a substantial collection of flowers, vines, shrubs, conifers and fruit trees. These include roses, tulips, lilies and orchids; edible plants such as herbs, tomatoes and chilies; and exotic trees such as ginkgo biloba, Japanese maple, Lebanese cedar and California redwood. The plants are kept in terracotta pots, with smaller plants in glazed bonsai pots. To maintain variety, we try not to keep more than two or three of any one species of plant. During the winter, we keep most of our plants indoors on tables next to west-facing windows.