pretysmitty

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So I got offered a job as a research tech at a Top 20 school at a lab that's 100% within my interests. The university is closeby to friends and family, and the city is a perfect place for other lifelong interests. The school's stats are also a match, so it's looking like one of my top choices. I know that connections can help (though they won't save me), so a good LoR from the PI will put me in an even better position.

I told my current PI about my plans, and he strongly discouraged me going to this university. He did his postdoc there, and said that the dept leadership is terrible, all of his colleagues there hated it, and was an all around malignant program. He also said that they were slow to adopt state of the art methods.

The PI that has offered me a job doesn't indicate any of these things. He's very new/young - started in 2018 after a postdoc at a Top 5 school. He has a lab manual on his website where one of the first lines is something like "I'm here to support you professionally, financially, and emotionally". The manual very clearly states his expectations of students. I spoke with past students at his lab who had nothing but good things to say. While he hasn't been a PI long enough to graduate any PhDs or postdocs, his undergrads have gone onto top institutions for grad school.

Finally, looking at the department that my current PI had a bad experience at, all of the MD/PhDs in that dept graduated in 8 yrs, and went onto top institutions and started their own labs. Only one went into private practice.

That said, my PI's warning was very strong and I have no reason not to trust him. It's a shame because this was my dream program when accounting for lifestyle..

My question: are the horror stories we hear of PhDs or postdocs getting screwed by their advisor/dept reason to be suspicious of an MSTP program? I was hoping that the NIH funding forces departments to hold a high standard.
 

ValentinNarcisse

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So I got offered a job as a research tech at a Top 20 school at a lab that's 100% within my interests. The university is closeby to friends and family, and the city is a perfect place for other lifelong interests. The school's stats are also a match, so it's looking like one of my top choices. I know that connections can help (though they won't save me), so a good LoR from the PI will put me in an even better position.

I told my current PI about my plans, and he strongly discouraged me going to this university. He did his postdoc there, and said that the dept leadership is terrible, all of his colleagues there hated it, and was an all around malignant program. He also said that they were slow to adopt state of the art methods.

The PI that has offered me a job doesn't indicate any of these things. He's very new/young - started in 2018 after a postdoc at a Top 5 school. He has a lab manual on his website where one of the first lines is something like "I'm here to support you professionally, financially, and emotionally". The manual very clearly states his expectations of students. I spoke with past students at his lab who had nothing but good things to say. While he hasn't been a PI long enough to graduate any PhDs or postdocs, his undergrads have gone onto top institutions for grad school.

Finally, looking at the department that my current PI had a bad experience at, all of the MD/PhDs in that dept graduated in 8 yrs, and went onto top institutions and started their own labs. Only one went into private practice.

That said, my PI's warning was very strong and I have no reason not to trust him. It's a shame because this was my dream program when accounting for lifestyle..

My question: are the horror stories we hear of PhDs or postdocs getting screwed by their advisor/dept reason to be suspicious of an MSTP program? I was hoping that the NIH funding forces departments to hold a high standard.
I fail to see how the malignancy of a clinical department will affect you as an MD/PhD student. You will be a medical student and a graduate student in a PhD program. Unless you are certain you want to go into a particular speciality (which you can never be sure of before starting med school), the only relationship that will matter is between you and your PI.


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Lucca

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The most important relationship for this kind of experience will be between you and your Pi. If that looks like a good match, go for it.
 
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pretysmitty

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I fail to see how the malignancy of a clinical department will affect you as an MD/PhD student. You will be a medical student and a graduate student in a PhD program. Unless you are certain you want to go into a particular speciality (which you can never be sure of before starting med school), the only relationship that will matter is between you and your PI.


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Sorry if I wasn’t clear - my PI did his postdoc in the academic/rsrch dept. As chance would have it, one of the two faculty that my PI pointed out as being particularly bad is the Director of the MSTP...


On one hand, I totally trust my PI and don’t want to disregard his warning (not everyday you hear someone be that frank). On the other hand, if it’s an NIH-funded MSTP, students regularly graduate on time and go on to good places/PI-ships, and the PI I’ll be working under is a rising star from a world-famous lab (and seems incredibly supportive of students).

So I’m a bit conflicted.
 
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pretysmitty

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@Lucca I feel a bit weird about disregarding my PI's warnings? Also, not sure if this is true, but it wouldn't surprise me if a toxic dept (despite a great PI) can make the grad years a very unpleasant experience?


I know that the department doesn't matter for an internship, but it's within my best interest to choose a lab that is at the university I want to attend (I've heard from multiple MD/PhD students that such connections can tip the scales post-interview season). If this department will likely make for a rough grad-school phase, I'd rather focus on getting an internship elsewhere (and that's not an issue).
 
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@Lucca I feel a bit weird about disregarding my PI's warnings? Also, not sure if this is true, but it wouldn't surprise me if a toxic dept (despite a great PI) can make the grad years a very unpleasant experience?


I know that the department doesn't matter for an internship, but it's within my best interest to choose a lab that is at the university I want to attend (I've heard from multiple MD/PhD students that such connections can tip the scales post-interview season). If this department will likely make for a rough grad-school phase, I'd rather focus on getting an internship elsewhere (and that's not an issue).
Just apply— no use fretting about the minutiae of what your PI says and what everyone on here is saying. It’s an MSTP and it’s not unreasonable for you to apply there since you have a connection ( if you take the job), whether or not your PI likes the department.

Also, considering the other pros of the institution (like the location and proximity to family) seems like you know you would at least like to have the option. I’ve realized talking to PIs and other current applicants that connections can be very very helpful in this process, so taking a job there could very well increase your chances there significantly.
 
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pretysmitty

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Just apply— no use fretting about the minutiae of what your PI says and what everyone on here is saying. It’s an MSTP and it’s not unreasonable for you to apply there since you have a connection, whether or not your PI likes the department.
Not yet at the stage of applying, though. I'll start the internship next year if I confirm.
If the dept is indeed toxic, and if crappy depts can have a negative effect on my grad school yrs, then I'm behooved to try and intern somewhere else.

I get what you're saying, though. And believe me I'd like to confirm the position and look fwd to my next stage..
 
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I guess that I am going to try and balance out some of the opinions presented by others in this thread. I personally think that you should heed your PIs warning for a few reasons.
  1. The PI is new and is therefore probably doesn't have tenure yet. They will be up for tenure probably around 2025 or so. Because they aren't tenured, the PI will basically have to do whatever the dept tells them to do. That may include more teaching, more administrative work, or more publishing. Those undue pressures will take your PI away from mentoring you/will lead him to pressuring you to publish even if your project isn't really complete. Those are just some ways that a malignant dept can affect you as a student while you are doing your PhD.
  2. Your current PI has essentially told you that there are those in your field that think poorly of the program run at this school. Do you really think your PI is the only person that holds those thoughts? Reputation is worth a lot in academia and training at this program may very well taint your own reputation (in the eyes of at least some in the field). That can make it harder to secure positions and advance later in your career.
  3. Your PI has nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose by telling you something like this so frankly. It's not like if you don't go to this specific program, then you will stay with your current PI forever. Your PI is looking out for your benefit here, and if you trust them, I think you should listen. If word got out that your PI was bad-mouthing another (likely prestigious) department, then that could cause them some harm in terms of future collaborations and reviews. Remember, academia can be quite petty and political.
I've been in a somewhat similar situation where my PI told me to avoid working with a specific other person at another institution because they were a crappy mentor, despite the fact that their science was great, they seemed to be a rising star, and everything you could find about the person seemed great from the surface. I listened to my PI and worked for someone else at that institution. Later on in the summer, while I was working there, I started to hear some of the gossip and rumors about that other PI that really showed that my PI knew what she was talking about. A lot of postdocs and grad students had had really bad experiences with that other PI and a lot of faculty within the department were whispering to their students to avoid working with him. No one could say anything openly, because the guy had too much power within the dept, because his science was still really exceptional, despite his ****ty attitude towards mentoring.

Remember, your PI has been in the field for a lot longer than you. Don't be so arrogant as to think that you know more about their colleagues than they themselves do.
 
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pretysmitty

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The PI is new and is therefore probably doesn't have tenure yet.
I'm pretty concerned about this. And there really isn't any way to determine if this will be an issue, since it may arise in the future.

Your PI has nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose by telling you something like this so frankly.
Exactly what I was thinking - there's no other ulterior motive. He's even encouraging me to go to labs at T5 schools (edit: higher than my stats) or anywhere else besides this specific program.

I really want to listen to the others in this thread, because the university is in the absolute perfect location. I'll have to think about it a bit more/feel out other opportunities.
 
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CaliforniaAsian

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I'm pretty concerned about this. And there really isn't any way to determine if this will be an issue, since it may arise in the future.



Exactly what I was thinking - there's no other ulterior motive. He's even encouraging me to go to labs at T5 schools or anywhere else besides this specific program.

I really want to listen to the others in this thread, because the university is in the absolute perfect location. I'll have to think about it a bit more/feel out other opportunities.
I'm only an applicant, so take my words with a ton of salt. In general, MSTPs advocate for and shield you from medical school or graduate departmental malignancies. Unless the MSTP itself is malignant, the more immediate impact on your experiences and future prospect is going to be dependent on your individual PI and research output. And from what it sounds like, your previous PI is warning you against the department and not against your new PI specifically. While you should certainly consider other factors, I don't think you should worry too much about the department.
 
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