Debbie Knight

The Dance: The Graduate Student and the Lab Rotation

In observation on April 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Let me start by saying that unlike the character depicted in the comic above, I actually love the lab I work in as a research associate and would fully recommend working here to anyone who asks.

That being said, we have a first-year graduate student rotating through our lab this quarter. This will be her fourth and final rotation before she decides on a lab in which to do her dissertation work.

She already has an offer to work in the lab in which she rotated during Fall quarter – which means she impressed a difficult-to-impress researcher enough for him to offer her a position in his lab before she left for another rotation. It has to make her feel great to already have a solid offer. (It also suggests she might be a great addition to the lab in which I work.)

She was more impressed during her Winter quarter rotation – so much so, she would love to remain in the lab for her dissertation work. Unfortunately she is competing with at least one other student for the position in the lab and because her competition is rotating through that lab this quarter, she won’t know if she has an offer until June.

So, while she waits to hear from this lab, she is rotating in our lab.

With grant funding so rare these days, graduate students in the program are cautioned only to rotate in labs that have adequate funding to support their dissertation research. And we have the funding to support a graduate student who is interested in nanoparticulate research. (So put out the word!)

Nanomaterials are used in a lot of products, but we do not know how safe those materials are. (I wrote about this on a previous occasion.)

It’s a new project and it’s off to a slow start.  While we are wait for some newly purchased tissue-cultured cells to grow so in sufficient quantities to use in experiments, our rotating student has been reading scientific journal articles.

Not the best first impression, I will admit. But hopefully the project will take off soon – and she’ll have more than enough to do during her rotation to get an idea if she’d like to continue working here.

So, you may not know much about lab rotations. A lab rotation is not only a time for the lab to evaluate if the student will be a good “fit,” but also for the student to determine if they like the research and the people in the lab – after all, this is where he or she will spend the majority of the next few years.

A good fit and everyone’s happy and research life is good.

A poor fit and….well, let’s just say, the student’s life can become quite challenging over the next few years. I’ve seen several promising graduate students who became so miserable in their lab setting that they chose to leave graduate school.  (This hasn’t happened in our lab, mind you!)

No one wants that to happen – hence the rotations.

I don’t know how things will work out this quarter – will she like the research enough to want to stay?  Will she be a good fit?

To be honest, it’s too soon to tell. But so far, things are going well. And whatever the outcome, I wish her luck and happiness in her future endeavors.

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  1. Great analysis of life in the lab. The rotation process is a crucial element to a successful lab. Many PI’s ignore this, don’t take recruiting seriously, and let some quality students slip through the cracks.

    There are also graduate students who decide that a PhD is not the most efficient career path to reach their goals, so they leave. 🙂

  2. […] a previous blog posting “The dance: the graduate student and the lab rotation,” I talked about a graduate student who was doing her fourth and final lab rotation with […]

  3. […] those searches was “lab rotation not going well” which linked this person to my post called “The Dance: The Graduate Student and the Lab Rotation.” I will admit this post was probably not all that helpful to this particular seeker, but his or […]

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