Am I independent enough for MSTP

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5+ Year Member
Jan 4, 2016
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No need to switch labs. Just ask the postdoc if he has some side projects that he/she hasn't gotten around to and if you could start tackling those since you'd like to gain more experience running your own projects. Then come up with a plan and keep the postdoc appraised about your progress, questions, etc. As an UG it's not expected for you to be able to do everything w/o input from a senior lab member (you're not a senior grad student, postdoc or PI). You have to be contributing some intellectual input to the projects you're working on (the more experience you get, the more input you'll have), not just executing assays like a tech (not that being a tech is bad - just that a lot of techs just do experiments but don't usually ask why x is being done versus y).
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Jun 11, 2010
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Hi guys,

The title mostly explains my question. Im a rising junior, and im very interested in applying MSTP. I've been working in a neuroscience lab under the mentorship of a postdoc (big famous lab, so pi isn't around much) for over a year now. But I am concerned I may not be independent enough to apply for MSTP programs.

As it is right now, I have done a few subprojects for a larger paper. Usually this means that the postdoc tells me what question needs to be answered and usually has designed most of the experiments to do that. Then I am responsible for keeping track and executing the experiments and presenting him with data. In my free time, I help him with other little things here and there. The postdoc has told me that I will pick up more techniques and start a fully independent project by next summer. But is that too late for me?

This is my first summer being full time in this lab, and I'll be applying to schools next summer (and working in the lab full time). So im just nervous I'm not getting the independence i want. I want to start driving my own questions more. Am i falling short of MSTP requirements? Should I switch labs? Or maybe talk to my advisor--Im just not sure how to make the "transition" to more independence. I'm his first undergrad too so I don't think he has a great idea either. In retrospect I would have gone to another lab but I feel it is becoming too late to do that and produce substantial work before applications....

Thanks in advance for your opinions!
You're overthinking this. You might end up in a lab where your mentor is a control freak and treats you like a technician, or you can have a PI who will basically say "here's your workbench, here are the pipettes, now get to work."

You will eventually learn to think and work independently....don't sweat it.
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Will Walk Rope for Sandwich
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Oct 22, 2013
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Thanks, Goro. I've just been doing a lot of reading up lately and am a little worried lately that I wouldn't end up being competitive for top MSTP programs. Specifically I don't yet have a project that I could really "call my own" and talk at length about in a MSTP interview...

you should be able to discuss any project that you are on in depth, regardless of whether or not you are the leader of that project. You should be reasonably familiar with what else is going on in the lab but its OK to say "I dont know" in Science as long as its clear that you understand why you do the things you do and why anyone should care about the project.
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