deciding labs

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by rCubed, Aug 14, 2002.

  1. rCubed

    rCubed taiko master

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    i can't decide where to continue working this coming semester

    i started freshman year at a biopsych lab...interesting projects and peoples, i think the professor really liked me, told me i can work there whenever i want, would prefer to have me there for the rest of my undergrad if i so chose...however i didn't have my own project and felt i was just doing alot of grunt work. one minor abstract co-authored...nothing big

    so, i found another lab (pharmacology), starting sophomore year, own project and all, however the PI's never around. i've barely had a conversation with him and i've worked for him for a full year. he's in the lab for like two hours in a week, and i really don't think he's willing to write LORs from the conversations i have had with him. but...i do have my own project there and i'm making some progress, albeit slow, and when i need help, i just ask the grad students. if i do finish this project, there's a good chance of getting published.

    so, i might finish the project this coming semester, but my old professor has been asking me to come back....what do i do? any suggestions will be greatly welcomed
     
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  3. exigente chica

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    Hmmm, sticky situation.
    Publications always help, but are you happy there? And when it comes time to apply you will need rec's. Maybe you can go back to the PI that you worked with freshman year and tell her that you enjoyed working in her lab, but would like to have your own project. See what she says...
    As for lab #2, not sure what to tell you. I have the same problem. Lab 1 is nice, but the PI is never there, and thinks that I am never there:mad: Different time schedule, I would never ask her for a rec. I got some good data and could get a publication, but this PI is ughhhhhhh.
    Lab 2 the PI is nice and friendly, shows me how to do things. Explains well, and I can have my own project..only thing..I have to start from scratch with her. I am going with lab 2 only cause the air is too uncomfortable in lab 1 and I know she wouldn't give me a glowing reccomdation, and the science is iffy.

    Hope that helped!
     
  4. Sonic Hedgehog

    Sonic Hedgehog MSTP guru

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    Yes, ugly situation... I agree. I had the same thing when I was an undergrad, except in the reverse order.

    My first experience was with a "heavy hitter" (HH) PI and big lab, own project, less communication.

    My second experience was a with a more down-to-earth PI and doing grunt work...

    My first advice is exactly what exigente chica suggested... talk to your second, closer PI and see if he/she can give you a project. Normally this works very well..... if it does, seize it.

    As for me, unfortunately, it didn't. My small-time PI refused and I'm like holy s***t I'm screwed now, so I'm just gonna have to go back to the big lab.

    In the big lab, however, during one chance I got to talk to my PI privately, I directly told him that I felt I was going nowhere with my project, and that I need someone to direct me. He then asked me if I would mind if I change my project, and I said I totally would not, and then assigned me a mini-project under a postdoc who was working in the lab.

    This turned out ot be amazing.... the postdoc had his own project, and I had my own... but under the postdoc's wings, we were baymates, so whenever things went wrong, he was there to help, I would show data to him etc. etc... and it turned out to be beautiful.

    However, we didn't get published... but that didn't seem to hurt me at all in the MD/PhD admissions process. All you will want to have (way more important that your name on a paper), is the ability to clearly, concisely, and critically talk about your own research work, defend your work, and evaluate the work of others when presented to you... that's what all those interviewers will be waiting to see.

    Good luck,

    SoNiC
     
  5. TheRock

    TheRock Junior Member

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    Finding the lab to work in seems to be one of the "hidden secrets" in this process. There are sOOOO many labs out there, there is one that is bound to 1) be in need of help and 2) will allow you to publish... you just need to be ambitious and search them out. Think first about what you enjoy doing (ie, interest) and then where you can get published.... I've talked to several admission directors and MD/PhD students at top schools that have said publications are a "key." I'm in a lab right now, due partly because of my ambition, where I will be publishing a paper on neurofibromatosis as a primary author... these opportunities exist... search and ye shall find.:)
     
  6. Sonic Hedgehog

    Sonic Hedgehog MSTP guru

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    I don't entirely agree with that comment, TheRock....
    I think publishing will definitely help you in the process, but it's certainly not <b>key</b>.

    A lot of the students at the Hopkins MD/PhD program have not published as undergrads, and the admissions committees don't expect you to have, either. If you publish, but still cannot explain you work well enough, that will not be nearly as impressive as someone who actually didn't publish, but can explain, critique, and strongly defend their work.

    I think in the end, publishing certainly helps. It will give you an extra edge, but it definitely is not a necessity. What is necessary and in most cases, sufficient, is having been extensively, deeply involved in a research project, be able to explain the background of your work, why you did each experiments, the results of the experiments, what they mean, and what kind of follow up work you plan to do.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you shouldn't try to publish.
    What I'm saying that it most MD/PhD applicants (even myself) erroneously assume that not publishing is the kiss of death. That's dead wrong.... I realized this only when a lot of my close friends at Stanford who had published in Nature, Cell and Science (one was a first author in cell) got rejected from many of the same schools that ended up accepting me. I didn't have a single publication, but had been persistently involved in a single research project (and went very in-depth) for over 3 years.

    You'll be surprised how much MD/PhD interviewers can glean about your qualities as a researcher. Sometimes they will even give you questions they're working on and ask you to suggest an experiment.... that's the true way to figure out if you've got the knack of a scientist.
     
  7. TheRock

    TheRock Junior Member

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    Sonic-
    I agree with you... I wasn't trying to say that a publication is absolutely 100% essential, because, well 1) there is only 1 absolute and this is not it and 2) a publication is like icing on the cake, or the extra cherry in a cherry coke. You hit the stone on the head when you mentioned the trait of a true scientist is that he/she knows how to ask and answer science questions...thats what my cell bio prof preached all last year, and I believe its the truth. You also mentioned something interesting in that during your interviews, questions were asked regarding different research questions... how did you prepare for this? I won't be applying until next year, but by that time I'll have been well out of cell bio, a class that greatly helps in this area... do you recommend reading a variety of publications to keep your wits about you or is this going overboard? Also, were questions more detailed and specific or open-ended, allowing you to use some creativity?
     
  8. Sonic Hedgehog

    Sonic Hedgehog MSTP guru

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    Good question....

    For the most part, I didn't do anything in particular, but for MD/PhD interviews you will find that if you call up the office, they will provide you with the names of your MD/PhD interviewers sometimes a day or two, or even a week or two before the interview. This gives you a lot of time to do some background work on them.

    At the interview, you'll find that your interviewer takes just as much time explaining what he or she is doing in his/her lab (in order to interest you) as he or she will be asking you about your own research.

    Explaining your own work shouldn't be hard, but be wary of people who might be in the same area. They'll be quick to catch you when you say something that doesn't really make sense, or sometimes if its someone from another area, they'll expect you to be more clearer so that they can understand what you're talking about.

    As you said, though, the harder part was when they explain their work to you, and expect that you follow what they're saying clearly. One way to follow, is to ask intelligent questions, ask them about experiments they've done, or come up with experiments yourself and ask them if they did that. Those show to them that you can absorb new knowledge very fast, and that you can also critically evaluate, analyze and come up with your own experimental strategies... that impression will override any publication. Although, i must stress, if your publication is first-author, that will be a certain added bonus. First authorship is indicative of leadership, initiative... just be sure that you can also verbally defend your work.

    So to answer your question directly, I prepped for the kinds of questions from other research areas, by first reading up the research summary of my interviewers (usually from the school website), printing out some review articles they've written (so that I know the background of their work), and then printed out some very recent actual journal articles to read on the plane. You'll find that during your interview most of the work they'll explain to you, would be very familiar to you... in fact, sometimes they paused and asked me: "So what experiment do you think we should do?" -- a smile came to my face, because I knew exactly what this person was getting at... I had already read the paper in which all this was published, so I humbly stated the obvious -- that I think such and such an experiment should be done to establish such and such..... the interviewer was very impressed and said that's exactly what they did. In the end, I did end up telling her that I had read her paper (out of guilt), but she commended me by saying that "that just goes to show how well-informed you are"...

    I also think it's a good idea to read review papers from your research area... I'm in neuroscience, so I kept an eye out for things like Nature Reviews Neuroscience, and Neuron.... and read up new findings in my area. It's also good know at least the basis of some new techniques --- RNAi was a new thing and was very hot in most of the labs that I interviewed at... most interviewers were also impressed that I already knew what it was and how it worked.

    Being up-to-date is one of the most important things for a scientists. This is why, for example, the MD/PhD program requires to you to break the MD, and continue the PhD in one un-interrupted stretch. It will simply not be feasible to break you PhD even for a year, because by the time you return to the lab, science would have progressed much farther. In fact, this is a serious problem for MD/PhDs returning to benchwork after a 5-6 year hiatus (2 yr MD + 3-4 yr residency)...

    If you have anymore questions about your interviews, etc feel free to directly email me at [email protected]. I for one, particularly enjoyed my interviews, and I believe it is there that I most probably caught the attention of my evaluators.
     
  9. MeGrowTall

    MeGrowTall Member

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    Hey everyone! It's been a while since I posted here, but it's good to see some familiar names.

    I just wanted to mention that I didn't even think of research before I started working in the lab that I am in now. I entered college with an MD as my goal. It was the people and the projects at this lab that pushed me for MD/PhD. It's a relatively small Drosophila lab that has about 10-12 people working in it. I have also worked in a large human genetics lab with massive resources. Most everyone there wasn't very communicative and protective of their research. Almost like they were afraid of their ideas being stolen by people in their own lab working towards a common goal. I know I would have been a part of publications had I stayed on, but I just couldn't stand working there. I've been working at the smaller lab for 4 years, and circumstances have made it so that we are just now ready to publish. Plus, I've been able to use really cool techniques like RNAi in my research.
    I guess my point is that I am not at all upset that I haven't published. I am glad that I stuck with the lab that made me like science.
     

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