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Help with Research!

Discussion in 'Medical Students - MD' started by stooges287, Dec 16, 2008.

  1. stooges287

    stooges287 Thread Killer
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    I'm having trouble deciding what to do here. I'm trying to get a research position at a lab this summer, and I've recently emailed the PI there.

    The situation: The PI is sort of a big shot in the field, and I would like to do research in his lab for that reason. However, he said he would set me up with another division based on something I mentioned in my email. This other guy is a PhD. So my question is:

    Does it matter if I do research under the PhD (not a big name guy) vs. the big shot guy's lab? Another issue here is that it's not totally about prestige: I'm obviously concerned about how much support I'll receive in the lab, and also, the Phd is doing non cell-based research, and the PI's lab is doing cell-based research. I've worked in two labs before with cells, and I never seem to get a lot of results with them. So, I'm also worried if I will get any useful results there. What do you guys think? Email the PI and try to get into his lab or just do the research with the PhD?
     
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  3. WellWornLad

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    I'm not entirely clear what's going on here. Are you saying the PhD is a postdoc in PI's lab, or that PhD has another lab (and hence is actually a PI him/herself)? That's a big distinction.

    As for "lack of results:" that's science, baby. Don't blame the cells.
     
  4. stooges287

    stooges287 Thread Killer
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    Sorry if it wasn't clear, I was sort of ranting lol...

    They are in different labs, but I'm under the impression that the PhD is a brand new guy and hasn't been around.

    And yeah, I'm not blaming the cells, I'm just not good with them :)
     
  5. njbmd

    njbmd Guest
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    You likely will get more support and experience (not less) from the Ph.D (postdoc) whatever. Many of these folks are in the process getting their independence and are very prolific in terms of research output. These folks are also good resources in terms of teaching you how to navigate the system (they are living this navigation).

    The best experiences come from people who are up and coming in research rather than the "name" folks. These up and comers have the ear of the more established researchers anyway so you won't lose out. Even if you go into the "name" person's lab, it is highly doubtful that you will have any contact with that person other than an occasional glance from across the room.

    If you are looking for quality research experience that will be useful for you in the future, then take the opportunity that has been generously pointed in your direction. To not do so would likely be interpreted as a "snub" in the direction of your "big name" person anyway.
     
  6. WellWornLad

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    If they both have their own labs, they're both PIs. Not sure why you're emphasizing the PhD thing...

    But yeah, chances are no one knows who the hell that "big name" PI is outside of his research area. Unless his name is indelibly linked to the field you're pursuing, go with the young PI. No one works harder and produces more papers than young PIs trying to get tenure, and you've got a chance to get in on the ground floor and really get your feet wet. In that "big name" lab, you'll be thrust among the nameless grunts, probably working under a postdoc (or even a grad student) with little face time with the PI. If you get lucky and produce results, expect to find your name stuck between a bunch of people higher on the formidable totem pole of an established lab.
     
  7. SomeDoc

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    A colleague did research w/ a big-namer. End result was no publication. Go where you think you'll fit in (sound like med school/residency apps?). This can actually be a big factor; different labs have different "personalities". Some labs can be lots of fun, and some can be downright scary or bizarre.
     
  8. URHere

    Physician PhD 10+ Year Member

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    I agree that you are likely to have a better experience with the PhD than with the big name researcher - especially if you are only looking for a summer position. In big name labs, it is often difficult to find support - the PI is extremely busy, and the postdocs and graduate students are usually working crazy hours to keep up with the pace and expectations of the PI. In settings like that, you will probably have a very difficult time finding someone actually willing to train you in techniques you don't know, and I wouldn't be surprised if you are eventually convinced to work many more hours than you want to (even towards the end of the summer when it is time for medical school again). Big name labs are high speed - they are great for PhD students who want to warp through their degree, but I have known MD students to have a much harder time adjusting to the big lab lifestyle.

    The PhD's lab would probably be better with respect to training and stress-level, but you may run into many more organizational hang-ups if the PI is new. New PIs are not always familiar with institutional protocols, deadlines, and resources, so that could be frustrating in its own way.

    My advice would be to go meet the PhD PI and talk through your research interests. By the end of the meeting, you should have a good idea of what that lab is like, what your responsibilities would be, and if you could handle working with the PI. If it all sounds good, just go with that option. I would only go back to the big name PI if there is some solid reason why you don't think you could work with the PhD PI (lack of funding, etc). You may also want to keep in mind that maybe the big name researcher is sending you to someone else for a good reason - maybe he already has too many people in lab, or has limited funding until the next grant goes through.
     
  9. stooges287

    stooges287 Thread Killer
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    Thanks so much for the great responses guys, I've learned quite a lot.

    I just have one more question: does it make a difference if the PI isn't a post-doc or whatnot but is instead a master's or PhD student? Sorry for not clarifying this earlier, but this is what I found out after some research into it.
     
  10. URHere

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    By definition, postdocs and MS/PhD students are not PIs. The Principal Investigator is the person who runs the lab - their funding pays for the research costs of the lab and the salaries of many employees, and they are at the top of the lab food chain.

    If the person you are supposed to be working under is a student, then they are probably still under the umbrella of the big name PI's lab.
     
  11. themudphud

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    Right, so if the person the big-shot set you up with is a post-doc or graduate student, then that person is not a PI but rather works for some PI, perhaps the big-shot you want to work for.

    I will point out that there are a lot of research big-shots out there who are really nice and you could get exposure to in a summer. In fact, if you are planning on only doing a summer's worth of work, I would suggest that you consider looking for that special big-shot who you would get exposure too and could write you a letter.

    The advantage of a younger faculty member as others have pointed out is that they are busy trying to crank out papers. But in the basic sciences this usually pays off best if you stick with them for a while (more than a summer), since those papers tend to take some time to generate. If you are talking about clinical papers, then a young faculty member would be ideal for a summer because you could actually crank out a few papers in that time.

    Don't be afraid to shop around--remember that your time is also valuable as are the extra set of hands that you will be bringing to whichever lab you go to.

    Just something to think about...
     
  12. njbmd

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    If the person is a "student" he/she is not a PI. You need to be very sure of your information before you turn down an offer that your "big shot" arranged for you. In your original e-mail, you mentioned that the alternative person was a Ph.D which indeed may be the case if that person is a post-doc. A graduate student is not the same as a post-doc or PI.
     

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