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Rotation Tips For 1st Years

The rotation system is an awesome way to familiarize incoming students with the incredible variety of research happening in the BMCDB graduate group,  but what’s the best way to get more out of your rotation experience? We drafted a set of questions and asked faculty what they thought. Here are some more honest and straightforward answers from PIs who are funded and currently looking for students.

1. What do you think makes for a successful rotation?

Kentaro Inoue-Don’t focus too much on accomplishing a given project. Try to spend as much time as possible in the lab. Ask questions.

Georgia Drakakaki-A process in which the student has the opportunity to fully interact with the members of the lab that is rotating in. More importantly the student gets involved in a representative project and is able to form hypothesis driven scientific questions.

W.Heyer-Getting to know the student, personally and his intellectual and practical abilities.

F.McNally-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.

J.Nunari-A rotation is successful when the student is fully engaged and excited about the science they are doing.

S.Chan-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.

Kentaro Inoue-Do some “background search” about the lab (research, graduates from it, etc) and come up with 3-6 specific questions. Ask these questions to the professor and people in the lab.

Georgia Drakakaki-To be involved scientifically in the project and not only to obtain practical experience.

W.Heyer-Ask questions and engage.

F.McNally-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.

J.Nunari-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.

S.Chan-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?

Kentaro Inoue-The door of my office is always open (except when I make exams and change clothes, and of course when I am not here). Come in and talk. (email would also work, of course)

Georgia Drakakaki-All forms of communication are ok. Pi’s are very positive on possible rotations. The student by no means should hesitate to contact any PI.

W.Heyer-Make an appointment by email.

F.McNally-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.

J.Nunari-With enthusiasm.

S.Chan-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?

Kentaro Inoue-Keep options open. Talk to professors and students. Research questions often evolve, and so do your interests.

Georgia Drakakaki-If they are in doubt the students should contact the PI before they make a decision. They can provide more information about the projects and the research provided in the lab.

W.Heyer-Follow your interests.

F.McNally-Not really. I think first years are going to do what they want to do with or without my words of wisdom.

J.Nunari-Don’t worry about the specific research area. Go for good training and environment.

S.Chan-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.


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