Sep 17, 2014

I am currently a senior and am planning to take a year off to do an IRTA. Based on threads I've read, I plan on emailing several PI's. It seems the experience is a bit hit or miss based on your PI. Some loved their time and published a first-author paper in just a year, and some didn't enjoy it at all. Do you have any tips to identify potentially good mentors/labs? Aside from a good publication history, is there any way to see how past IRTA's did in the lab, etc?

Also, does the NIH hire IRTA's for clinical projects (as opposed to basic science)? Given my one-year time frame, it might be more feasible to complete a clinical project as opposed to a basic science one from scratch.

If anyone has any tips to finding good labs, or the names of good mentors, I'd appreciate it. Thanks!
Dec 24, 2011
Medical Student (Accepted)
PM me if you have more questions.
1. Your best bet is to check publication history of previous postbacs and to directly ask the current ones (you should be given their contact information). Also consider your priorities, some PIs with heavy pub loads may not be great mentors, some great mentors may not publish, though the ideal is both, which would be more important to you? Read between the lines of what they tell you; they probably won't speak badly about their PI, but look for phrases that may indicate that things aren't perfect.
2. Yes, there are lots of clinical projects, and I agree, clinical is better for one year.
3. To find a spot- Send tons of emails. Look specifically for those PIs who list having IRTAs in their lab, since they are used to the program and will probably be looking to replace the ones leaving. However, don't start until at least the new year. Most just barely started so PIs won't have a head count for how many they need, and they absolutely won't know about funding (we're at the end of the fiscal year right now). Follow up! If someone says maybe, or check back in a month, check back in a month!
4. For finding a project you enjoy- make sure you have at least a basic understanding of the main goal and the techniques used. If you hate microscopes, don't sign on to a lab using drosophila as a model organism, for example.
5. One other thing to consider- who will you be reporting to? Will you be directly under a postdoc? Partners with another postbac? On your own? Helping as needed? Consider your learning style and level of mentorship needed. Helping as needed probably nets the most pubs, but means you won't have your own project, which is more important to you?
6. On pubs- in any lab, see if you can help with something whenever you have downtime, especially a postdoc, especially a postdoc close to project completion. They will appreciate the help, and will generally repay you with authorship.