The rotation system is an awesome way to familiarize incoming students with the incredible variety of research happening in the BMCDB graduate group. Trying out a lab for 5 weeks can be a great learning experience for new graduate students, but it is also very difficult in many respects. As a new BMCDB student you are still getting acquainted with the expectations of graduate school, classes, new surroundings, and the lingering imposter feeling. Rotations are a great place to show your stuff and impress your potential PI, however 5 weeks isn’t much time to get anything monumental accomplished. Work hard, listen well, be realistic, and remember your ultimate goal is to find a home for the next ~5-6 years. Keep financial issues in mind when seeking out your rotations, it is important to join a lab where you will be supported.
We drafted a set of questions and asked faculty what they thought. Here are some honest and straightforward answers from PIs who are currently looking for students.
1. What do you think makes for a successful rotation?
WH-Getting to know the student, personally and his intellectual and practical abilities.
FM-There has to be a simple project that answers a question or tests a hypothesis. All the reagents have to exist before the rotation starts. There has to be someone in the lab that can help the rotation student get started on day one. Ideally the rotation student will have a discussion with the PI at least once a week and interact with other members of the lab on a daily basis.
JN-A rotation is successful when the student is fully engaged and excited about the science they are doing.
SC-A well chosen project with achievable goals is helpful. If the student works with another grad student or postdoc, that relationship is important.
2. What can a student do to maximize their rotation experience, in terms of research, and for getting a sense of the lab’s culture.
WD-Ask questions and engage.
FM-You need to be in the lab when the current lab members are in the lab. If the lab goes home at 6:00 PM and you
start your day at 5:00 PM, it won’t work out well.
JN-Socialize with people in the lab to get a good sense of culture. In terms of research, the students should discuss what they are doing with people in the lab and the PI.
SC-Attend lab meeting and journal club, and generally immerse her/himself in the lab by spending lots of time there. PIs may be busy, so don’t be afraid to chase them down when you have even the smallest hints of data.
3. As a student, what is the best way to approach you (as a PI) about joining your lab?
WD-Make an appointment by email.
FM-Email asking for an appointment to talk to me. Using pubmed to find the most recent papers from
my lab and reading them before the appointment will raise my opinion of you by a lot.
SC-Nowadays I am very selective. Students should send an email with their CV well before the rotation begins, so we can talk about the possibility before the deadline for choices.
4. Do you have any words of wisdom for the first years who are currently choosing their next rotations?
WD-Follow your interests.
FM-Not really. I think first years are going to do what they want to do with or without my words of wisdom.
JN-Don’t worry about the specific research area. Go for good training and environment.
SC-Your relationship with the PI is the most important thing, as lab members and projects may change during the course of your PhD. Remember that PIs have choices and many could prefer postdocs to graduate students. You can increase your chances of getting into a lab by working extremely hard and showing your intellectual curiosity. Asking lots of questions is good, because no-one should expect a first year graduate student to know everything about the field they are entering into.