Rotations are meant for you to find your best lab match. Well, it’s a 2-sided coin…the lab is also trying to find their best student match. Showing your critical thinking skills, hard work, and engaging personality is important for you and for the lab. What should you be doing to put your best foot forward to make a strong impression?
How were the expectations of you during the rotation explained?
The general expectations were laid out by the IGP, not by the individual PIs. My rotations had the following general formula: the PI explained the project, the PI “assigned” me to a graduate student, the PI and/or the graduate student gave me papers to read, and I learned from the student while trying to do the experiments the PI was asking for. If needed, any specific expectations were laid out at each state.
They weren’t always. Each rotation was completely different. Some PIs were very forthcoming, others never mentioned expectations. Sometimes the students would convey expectations. Honestly, labs are trying to get a feel for if the rotation student is a good fit for the lab and will help move the lab forward.
In almost every case, we talked about the project I would work on and then set goals. In one of my rotations, we didn’t really talk about projects until after I did a lot of reading and then came up with some ideas on my own. Expectations will depend on the PI and what is most important to them, ie technical training and productivity during your rotation or a fundamental conceptual understanding of what the lab is working on.
What did you learn during your rotations that was unexpected?
The only thing that I was a little surprised by was how different some labs can be from each other. I was in a lab where everyone was in by 8am each morning, and I was also in a lab that when I’d arrive by 9 or 9:30, I’d be the first one in. Another example is the level of order or disorder between labs. Different labs have different cultures, and it’s important to find one where you’ll fit in.
How different labs are. Every lab is different. Lab meetings and the way they are run as well as how often you meet with your PI individually are very important to consider.
How to overcome seemingly really awkward situations- its always awkward being a guest in a lab that you aren’t used to, but I had to learn to get over that pretty quickly if I was going to get anything out of my rotations
Please provide your best advice for rotating students:
Be engaged not only in your own project but what other people in the lab are doing. If you have down time, read papers from the lab and ask the PI or other lab members about the papers. Ask what other lab members are working on and if you can watch and learn. Don’t leave too early unless you have a test. Ask questions in lab meetings.
-Dr. Maureen Gannon
Rotations are like extended speed-dating. You are trying to find a lot about each other in a relatively short time! On the lab’s side, the lab is trying to gauge the following: (1) Is this student fitting the current personality of the lab? – This is key for the scientific family to thrive. Remember, you will be spending a good amount of time with these folks. (2) Is the student driven and enjoying their science endeavor? (3) How does the rotation student handle scientific failure (cloning did not work, cultures do not grow etc). -Resilience and the ability to contribute is key (4) Is the rotation student a good lab citizen? -Helping to maintain the lab and following the lab etiquette is key to show that you are trying and want to be part of the team
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou
Work hard. Be there as much as possible. Ask questions and volunteer ideas. Prove your worth.
-Dr. David Samuels
Showing up on time, and prepared. Not hesitating to ask for clarification. Keeping good notes Write down where basic things are in the lab, because you will forget. Not being too nervous to enjoy learning new things. Form a good working relationship with your mentor.
Take notes and provide critical analysis and suggestions if things do not work, ask what the PI expects on a weekly basis, asking for feedback halfway through (what can you improve on etc. so that you have time to fix it), be present in the lab when the PI is (don’t leave before them, don’t show up after them with the exception of class time), be friendly and go to lunch with some lab members to get their perspective. Suggest an experiment that the PI hasn’t introduced yet.
Do go out of your way to talk to different lab members. Get a sense of who they are because you might be seeing them daily for the next 4.5 years. Additionally, imagine yourself coming to this lab for the next 4.5 years, do you think you’ll be glad to come to work each day? Why or why not? Don’t choose a lab full of people who will make your life miserable.
ASK QUESTIONS! There is nothing worse than a rotation student who constantly messes things up and creates dangerous situations just because they were too embarrassed to clarify what to do with the person mentoring them (or anyone in the lab). On the flip side, there is nothing better than a rotation student that asks lots of questions about the project, the lab, the experiment, etc. Its also a good way to break the ice and start conversations with the graduate students