Choosing Rotations and a Thesis Lab

Selecting a thesis lab is one of the most important choices you will make in graduate school. Given this, it is essential that you think carefully about selecting your rotation labs. In order to make an informed decision, it is important to read the literature from the labs you are considering, get input about the personality of the faculty member, find out about the lab environment, and talk to others.

We have created step-by-step instructions to aid you in the process of choosing your rotations. We’re giving you this information and recommending that you take these steps as early as possible to help you make a smoother transition and get off to a better, faster start in graduate school.

Students have different needs and interests in terms of mentoring, lab environment, and research project, but every student should go three-for-three in choosing her or his thesis lab:

  1. Find a great mentor for you. It has been our experience that students who use the advisor’s scientific reputation as the sole criterion for choosing their lab are often discouraged and disappointed. Finding the right fit for you – the person that you can relate to, learn from, and who will put your interests first – should be your goal. As you meet with faculty, asking and hearing the answers to your questions that reflect your interests can be an effective way of identifying this fit. You can only identify an advisor who meets these requirements by interacting frequently and openly with prospective advisors before, during, and after your rotation.
  2. Love the science. You are going to be spending a lot of time doing it for the next four years, so you may as well enjoy it. But even more importantly, we are best at what we love to do. Science is hard – there is no answer key, and the questions aren’t even provided. To succeed, you have to put all of your focus and energy into the problem that you want to solve. You won’t do this if you don’t love your work, so pick an area that fascinates you.
  3. Seek a supportive and complementary lab environment. It is important that you are comfortable with the people in your group. Again, research is hard and you don’t want to compound that difficulty by entering a situation that is personally or emotionally challenging. A research environment in which you are treated with respect and are able to bounce ideas off others is what makes for great science. Ideally, you should find an environment and set of colleagues that you will learn from and enjoy professionally.