The lab portion of the first semester of graduate school in the Biochemistry program is spent in rotations. Generally, there are three 5 week rotations spent working in labs of the student’s choice (pending approval from the PI), although the department is generally flexible in additional rotations for extenuating circumstances. The goal is to help students make an informed decision in choosing a lab.
There are a couple requirements associated with rotations. First, there is a ~ 750 word report that is a general summary of the field and work in which the rotation was focused, not specifically the rotation project. This report suggests to include a total of 6 citations, two each from a review, a current paper in the field, and a classic paper. The report must be edited and approved by the PI before final email submission to the MCB office, email email@example.com. Second, a presentation will be given to the lab in which the rotation took place. It is best to discuss with the PI the details of this presentation to know what they expect from you. Finally, this is a form that needs to be filled out and discussed between the student and the PI. Here, the PI will give the student feedback on their performance in the lab and give the student an idea of their prospects for joining the lab.
Things to consider when picking rotations
The goal of rotations is to help the students find a lab that will provide them the necessary environment for success in the program. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a lab to rotate in:
1. It’s beneficial to meet with a PI and discuss your potential role as a rotation student. First year students during rotation selection will typically have had very little direct interaction with faculty. Do not hesitate to email a PI, even if you’ve never talked to them before, about a meeting to discuss if a rotation in their lab is right for you.
2. There are plenty of faculty to choose from. It’s likely there will be more interesting labs than there are rotations. Students should consider the field they are interested in, the dynamic they would have with the PI, and the specific project the student will work on when choosing a rotation.
3. Keep an open mind. Some students have already decided on a lab (or a research subject) before rotations. Even if this is the case, there is much to be gained from the other rotations. This includes learning new techniques and networking with fellow students. Also, don’t be afraid to try a lab in a field you have no experience in.
4. Rotations are short. It is rare for 5 weeks to be enough time to “complete” a project. Rather, the goal is to decide if the lab environment works well for you, and if the project is one you are interested in continuing.
Choosing a lab is arguably the most important decision a Ph.D. candidate will make in grad school. It is essential that one finds a lab in which they are comfortable and genuinely interested in their work. So here are a few tips to consider when picking a lab:
1. You should feel engaged and enthusiastic about the project you are working on. Years of your life will be dedicated to solving a given problem(s). Without proper motivation, it will be difficult to be happy in your work.
2. You should also enjoy the lab itself. The lab environment you choose should be a comfortable one. You will be spending a lot of time with the people you work with, and it’s important you feel you can go to them for help, especially early on.
3. The PI should be one that can support your needs. PI’s differ in how much time they can dedicate to students. It is possible to succeed in the absence of a PI. However, if learning a new field, it will be beneficial to have a PI that is at least somewhat available.
4. Teaching should be considered. Some labs will require students to teach, which may or may not be beneficial depending on the students career goals. Teaching can take a considerable amount of time from lab work, so it is important to be aware of what your teaching requirements would be.