lab problems

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by Sonya, Sep 18, 2002.

  1. Sonya

    Sonya Senior Member

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    Hi guys,

    I'm working in a research lab now, full time. I graduated (BS) last may, and have been working here since. I plan to continue doing research till Fall 2004, when I plan to go to medschool.

    Shortly speaking, my PI want me to find a new lab now.

    I had several job positions in the spring (about 5 or six in chicago area, where i am: northwestern, U Chicago). I put a lot of thought into selecting which would be best for me, considering everything (topic, how many papers this lab publishes.. which leads to likely hood of my getting published, type of work, lab size, contact with PI). So, i considered this the best lab, but it was borderline, several of the other labs would have been good too. Apparently he considered me a good candidate (i'm sure my recs were strong, and i had a lot of good research experience and publication an undergrad).

    he rotated me through the different projects: imaging, behavioral stuff, and EEG stuff. I was mainly interested in doing the EEG things, since i came and still now. But, they just started a few weeks ago, and I hadn't really seen them much. Our first imaging project didn't go good, and we couldn't yet get data.

    But, his main problem is that I'm apparently don't show enough interest in projects. it seems like i'm not passionate enough about it, and I don't take control of projects. In my perspective, I'm not used to having an entire project of my own dumped on me, and sometimes the guidance isn't that much over here. There are plenty of resources... a radiologist we can consult if they're are technical difficulties with the MRI machine, engineers who designed some of our equipment (to give heat, cold, vibrations, etc),etc. But, we're on our own in terms of designing the experiments etc. ANd, he's expecting i'm to be coming up with my own ideas and own experiments.

    In terms of the EEG stuff, I was involved for one week. Than the PI told me I should focus on finishing the behavioral stuff (which is extraordinarily simple and routine), and look for another position. So, i became less involved. A week later talking with another PI im my lab (we have two PIs, who are at basically an equal level), I said I was still interested in the EEG and hadn't seen much of it. They apparently me expected me to object to working with behavioral stuff, and stay also involved with EEG and take charge of it, if that was my interest.

    I'm guessing he's used to working with people of much higher level than I am (MDs, post-docs, and up). Another person in our lab (who is a little above me, just finished her MS in psych, but no prev research exp) says she had similar criticisms, and similar problems: Was totally lost what to be doing her first project, often told she isn't curious enough.

    BTW, my prof thinks it's the topics that just don't interest me. I think, the same topics, I could have done better. Natuarally, there are some more interesting topics, but i'm not totally bored with this. I don't see a big problem, and won't mind staying in this lab. I am interested in the topics, but not overly excited about them. It's very NOT in my nature to go around asking everyone about everything, but I try.

    soo..
    you think it is common for people to expect this level of independence of someone at my level ?
    What sort of questions will come up as I approach the next professor, w.r.t the fact that I am changing the lab? How negative will it be looked on? These will be profs in teh same department, likely. My current prof said he wont say anything negative, but obviously they will know. Several of those that I contact will be those I contacted before accepting with the current prof.
    How will it look, in general, in the future, that I switched? How common is this?
    Anything I should say, or avoid saying?
    Any suggestions for me, about research, in general?


    Here is the situation with a new prof I am considering...
    I talked with him before going with this prof. He would have been delighted to take me in. He would like me to start up a brand new modeling project. He is studying biopysics/molecular and mechanisms of Ion channels (dopamine and serotonin modulation). I expressed that I was interested in the biophysics, and electrophys stuff, and he got excited about starting up this modeling idea he has (this prof has a BA in psych and PhD in Math, or something like that). Now, in this lab there will be post docs to teach me electrophys techniques and all, but I'll still be alone in terms of the experiments, i guess. I expressed this concern in my interview with him (this was before I took the position with the curr prof). And, he assured me, there isn't too much to modeling.. just a few differential eqns. but, the whole thing of my being on my own, i'm not sure of... especially after what happened here. I most definetly do NOT want to run into the same problem I did here. but, if it's something I can learn in the right atmosphere, i'm up for a challenge. I'm sure everything of this lab (where i'd do modeling) is else good. Maybe, i could just start with his existing project (study ion channels in addiction, or depress, etc), and become more familiar with stuff, and then do the modeling. He is excited about modeling, but I think he'd still let me do what follows my interest.

    any particular questions i'll ask him? (I'll interview with him again, and tell him my current situation). Do you think i'm running into another trap?

    Thank you for any suggestions, and sorry for an incredible lengthy post.

    Sonya
     
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  3. CoffeeCat

    CoffeeCat SDN Angel

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    So it sounds like you're asking two basic questions 1) How will it look changing labs - my question is how will it look to whom? The next person you work with? The adcom? 2) What should you look for in your next lab position?

    I think that as far as changing labs, it's not too much of a problem. In general there are lots of reasons why one would want to change labs - other people in the lab, the PI, change of interests, the general environment, the project, etc. I say that as far as with the adcoms and your next employer, be as honest as possible without making yourself look bad!

    As far as working on projects in a lab, I think that the best experiences are the ones where you start off working on someone else's project (make SURE you will get along with this person) and then are allowed to take charge with the next one, whether it be one you created or an existing one. This way you get a lot of knowledge out of a pro, and then can put it to use on your own projects. Out of the three labs I worked in, one provided not enough guidance (ick...I ended up calibrating a stupid machine ALL summer) and two would not let me step out on my own enough. It's a tough balance, but if you know what you're shooting for, it should work out.

    As far as approaching the next professor, you can always say that your interests have changed and you'd enjoy working in his/her lab and also be clear about what you're looking for in a lab and if they can provide that.
     
  4. isidella

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    Sonya,

    Whatever lab you choose, go beyond what you are being paid for. Teach yourself the science behind your work; formulating your own questions won't be so difficult then. I graduated in May with a BS Biochem, was recruited by an academic research lab, and due to my amount of undergrad research, found myself to be more fluent in science than the post-docs around me. For the first few month, I took my work home, read every journal article for the past five years in my field, just so that I could have a meaningful conversation about my job. I had a dying project dropped into my lab. In the past year, the protocols I developed and data I generated have been converted into a multi-million dollar grant. I have seven peer reviewed publications (two as an undergraduate, five in my current lab) and I am only 23 years old.

    For this modeling lab, seek out anyone of your level who has worked with the PI in question. That is the only way you will know if it is a trap. In the past, has he made his post-bacc assistants co-authors? Is he willing to let you work in his lab for a couple of days without making a long-term commitment to him? Test the water. Good luck, girl.

    Isid

    P.S. I am a Kansas City native. Where are you in MO?
     
  5. Sonya

    Sonya Senior Member

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    Hi,
    Thanks for the responses.

    It's hard for me to read and retain journal articles, when I'm not looking for something in particular. If I have a particular question i'm trying to solve, or problem to circumvent, no problem, go to pubmed (or wherever), and find everyone using that technique, see what they did. But, when I'm generally out there to learn about the field, I'm not sure why I'm reading the articles (unless they are intersting). But, I think that 's just a matter of getting used to it. I'm learning a ton each journal club it seems (Especially when i think of the first one I went to). somehow, i read very few journal in my undergrad research. But, i did learn and think critically a lot about the science behind the stuff. But, it was debugging a technique as an undergrad, so my goal from the article was very different (all I really looked at were methods, and tons of physics books).

    I was referring to adcoms, and profs to come, both. I guess I thought people changed labs very little. I wanted to change initially my lab as in undergrad, but figured you were "supposed" to maintain commitment, so I didn't. Turned out to pay off I that i didn't change.

    In the modeling lab, i'm pretty sure I'll get a paper out. Sometimes the profs are reluctant or ambiguous, but they don't seem to mind my directly asking how many papers/or likely hood of getting published. They give the best answer they know, and it's as much as IS known.

    "trap" is that, will I not no where to go, what experiments to design and test with our modeling software? I guess the best approach would be to talk to post docs/students in teh new profs lab, and just ask about this. Does it look bad to say you're not comfortable with the lack of guidance? (Directly to the profs, i'm sure i can discuss that with his students) I mean, that's saying something negative about yourself. Ofcourse, you need to figure it out, and avoid a situation where you will be lost.

    In the undergrad lab I worked in, I talked with the prof all the time, several times a day (there were initially only three people, myself included). I was always under a ton of supervision, but he still encourage (and relied on) my ideas.

    I could visit the labs, see the atmosphere and how people interact. But, i guess I'm going to come up with some specific question for the post docs in the lab, just to get idea how the prof runs stuff.
    isidella, I used to go to school in St. Louis (WashU), but now i'm in chicago.



    Thanks
    Sonya
     

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