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May 6, 2006
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Am I just choosing my labs wrong (big, famous labs)? Every single lab I end up in the type of work I get involves no experimental design, is in a supporting role, and I get bored silly. I have experiments and my own projects in mind, but obviously, because I'm not in a graduate student or an employee, I'll never get to execute them.

How have you got around the hierarchy issues? I'm tired of doing gruntwork.


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Oct 3, 2007
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How many labs have you actually been in??

If you want to do something significant, you have to actually be in the lab long enough for them to allow you to do so. In some (definitely not all) labs, it takes doing the gruntwork in order to climb the ladder.

Or... before you join a lab, why wouldn't you ask "What will be my role?"... seems easy enough.


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Oct 10, 2006
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First, yes, the above poster is right - it takes time. I think it took me at least 6 months to really get a handle on what was going on.

However, before I joined the lab, I talked to the PI about what responsibilities I would have and what I could expect to gain from the experience. I chose the lab I did because he allowed me to learn MRI and bioluminescence imaging right away, as well as intracranial tumor implantation and suturing, in addition to cell culture and brain slicing. One lab said I'd have to do grunt work for a while... I didn't choose that one. So, if you didn't ask, that's part of your problem.
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May 13, 2008
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Yeah, it just takes time before you get your own project, as the previous posters have said. Even as an employee, you don't get your own project right away. I graduated from college and had to worked as research tech for 6 months before I received my own project. Even then, I didn't have control over the design of the entire experiment. I am a chemist, and I was collaborating with a biologist (PhD). He designed the experiment and thought that a certain class compounds would be useful. It was my job to design the synthesis and synthesize the compounds, and together we are elucidating what exactly is going on in the system we're studying. Only now, after over a year of working, I am working on a new project that is entirely my own. I have control over both the biological and chemical aspects and the experimental design. You just have to have patience.


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Dec 2, 2008
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I think you just have to get with the right people. I've been working with my PI for 7 months now and I'm finishing my first publication (first author) where I went to conference and we've been working on like 3 other projects. I'm involved in all aspects of it and all the papers are in my possession to work on.

Some PI's are uptight but some are really willing to help you achieve your goals.


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Nov 20, 2007
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More than anything, labs want to be sure of a few things before they set you free on your own project:

1) They want to know that you are competent with the basic lab skills your project would require. Because of this, many labs want lab newbies to help out with the technical aspects of existing projects before giving them too much freedom.

2) They want to know that you understand the process of the lab's research. This often means sitting in on lab meetings even when you have nothing to present, or having theoretical talks with the PI about logical ways to keep existing projects moving. Convincing a PI that you are competent on this front is usually much harder than convincing them that you can handle the manual skills - here, the more proactive you are about sitting in on meetings, taking additional roles in existing projects, etc. the better.

3) They want to know that what you want to do will in some way help their research goals. This means that you are more likely to end up with your own project if you suggest something that is an expansion of the work the lab is already doing. Most of the projects I have handled in the past have been the result of saying, "Hey, have you looked into related thing x, y, or z yet? Would you like me to?". Again, it's about being proactive.

If you are just joining a lab, be sure to fill in the PI on any past experience you have had (a good, thorough CV is a great way to do this). Also, you should probably ask (either directly or indirectly) about the lab's funding - if funding is low, you probably won't end up with your own project regardless, simply because there isn't enough money to throw at you. If you are already in a lab that seems to be moving in a way you aren't happy with, try to work on what I have said above, it usually helps.


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I'm a little confused because your status says post-doc


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Aug 2, 2007
I hate Pre-Meds!!!
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but obviously, because I'm not in a graduate student or an employee, I'll never get to execute them.


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