Meeting P.I.s/Potential Thesis Mentors and just trying to make a decision

neuro raqs

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So, revisits are in full effect this month, and many of them involve meetings with faculty.

General Question: I'm wondering how are people deciding who would be a good mentor or not? It'd be great if current MD/PhD students comment on what helped them choose a mentor. Did you look at the P.I.'s publication record? How important is it? I wonder if it's better to work with someone who publishes more in smaller, good journals or someone who publishes every few years, but it the big ones?

My particular situation: For me, figuring out where the best research opportunities for my interests and faculty whom I think would be good mentors for me are going to be a big part of my decision making. Especially since I really am undecided at the moment. I think if I can find 5 or 6 good possible mentors at a school, I'd probably go there. I'm trying to decide primarily between Hopkins, Penn, and Columbia. I'm interested in neuroscience, particularly projects that make use of electrophysiology, multi-unit recording, circuit stuff, mood disorders etc. My interests are varied, but I'm not that into molecular neuroscience. Program-wise I loved Hopkins and Penn, well run programs, nice students, supportive administration. It seems like Hopkins is really perceived as having an overall edge in neuroscience, and this seems true for their cellular/molecular stuff, but the faculty in my area of interest doesn't seem to have published too much in the last 3-4 years. Not sure what that may mean. Penn does seem to have some people in my area of interest. I don't know why people (that I know) don't tend to see it as a neuroscience powerhouse though. Columbia seems to be the best fit for my research interests, but I'm not sure that I actually want to do NYC for 8 years + my housing experience for the interview was yikes!

I'd definitely appreciate any advice on my options, but I think general advice on how to evaluate possible mentors is useful as well. Thanks!
 

dmblue

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Sep 19, 2008
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So, revisits are in full effect this month, and many of them involve meetings with faculty.

General Question: I'm wondering how are people deciding who would be a good mentor or not? It'd be great if current MD/PhD students comment on what helped them choose a mentor. Did you look at the P.I.'s publication record? How important is it? I wonder if it's better to work with someone who publishes more in smaller, good journals or someone who publishes every few years, but it the big ones?

My particular situation: For me, figuring out where the best research opportunities for my interests and faculty whom I think would be good mentors for me are going to be a big part of my decision making. Especially since I really am undecided at the moment. I think if I can find 5 or 6 good possible mentors at a school, I'd probably go there. I'm trying to decide primarily between Hopkins, Penn, and Columbia. I'm interested in neuroscience, particularly projects that make use of electrophysiology, multi-unit recording, circuit stuff, mood disorders etc. My interests are varied, but I'm not that into molecular neuroscience. Program-wise I loved Hopkins and Penn, well run programs, nice students, supportive administration. It seems like Hopkins is really perceived as having an overall edge in neuroscience, and this seems true for their cellular/molecular stuff, but the faculty in my area of interest doesn't seem to have published too much in the last 3-4 years. Not sure what that may mean. Penn does seem to have some people in my area of interest. I don't know why people (that I know) don't tend to see it as a neuroscience powerhouse though. Columbia seems to be the best fit for my research interests, but I'm not sure that I actually want to do NYC for 8 years + my housing experience for the interview was yikes!

I'd definitely appreciate any advice on my options, but I think general advice on how to evaluate possible mentors is useful as well. Thanks!
The housing available at columbia after you are an M1 gets a lot better. I'm not sure if you got to see any of the other buildings, but they were decent.
 

Neuronix

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Did you look at the P.I.'s publication record? How important is it? I wonder if it's better to work with someone who publishes more in smaller, good journals or someone who publishes every few years, but it the big ones?
Preferably both of course. Big findings go into the big name journals, not so earth-shattering stuff goes into the not so big name journals.

Watch out for PIs who only publish in big name journals. The last person you want to be in year 6 of your MD/PhD program is the student with a lot of good data, but your PI refuses to publish in any "lesser" journals. So you're stuck spending an extra year to *maybe* get one solid paper or leaving with nothing. But if you had been in a different lab you would have had two or three "lesser" tier papers and would be done.
 

neuro raqs

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Preferably both of course. Big findings go into the big name journals, not so earth-shattering stuff goes into the not so big name journals.

Watch out for PIs who only publish in big name journals. The last person you want to be in year 6 of your MD/PhD program is the student with a lot of good data, but your PI refuses to publish in any "lesser" journals. So you're stuck spending an extra year to *maybe* get one solid paper or leaving with nothing. But if you had been in a different lab you would have had two or three "lesser" tier papers and would be done.
Really good point, thanks. That would be an awful position to be in.
 

Shifty B

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Watch out for PIs who only publish in big name journals. The last person you want to be in year 6 of your MD/PhD program is the student with a lot of good data, but your PI refuses to publish in any "lesser" journals.
It sounds ridiculous, but I have seen this happen multiple times. An extra year waiting on enough extra data to make it a "Nature" paper so you can complete your publication requirement.

The only way to preempt this is by having a side project which you can publish. This is a smart strategy for anyone.
 

ChemMed

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Preferably both of course. Big findings go into the big name journals, not so earth-shattering stuff goes into the not so big name journals.

Watch out for PIs who only publish in big name journals. The last person you want to be in year 6 of your MD/PhD program is the student with a lot of good data, but your PI refuses to publish in any "lesser" journals. So you're stuck spending an extra year to *maybe* get one solid paper or leaving with nothing. But if you had been in a different lab you would have had two or three "lesser" tier papers and would be done.
Neuronix is right on the paper aspect. It is a great way to get an initial feel for what an adviser may be like. Additionally, with you being or becoming an MD/PhD student, I would suggest that you seriously sit and talk with your potential future advisers about their realistic expectations of you. You are in a different program than a regular PhD student and sometimes they can forget this fact, especially if they have never had an MD/PhD student join their lab before. In the end the best spot for you will be the person who matches your personality as well as your research interests. Considering these aspects in your search for the right program could potentially save you a lot of grief later. PhD world is very different from MD world. I mean that with the greatest respect. They are simply different. I wish you the best of luck.