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Need help with a lab situation

byaaaaaaah23

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5+ Year Member
Jul 31, 2011
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    This is a repost from the Student Research forum because I think this forum gets more traffic and I'd like as many opinions as possible. Mods, if this isn't okay, please feel free to merge/delete.

    Part 1:

    I need help deciding how acceptable this scenario would be:

    I worked in a very large/busy lab during Spring '11 (10 hrs/wk) and Summer '11 (full-time). I interviewed with the PI and entered the lab thinking I'd be able to do some meaningful stuff but I ended up just doing the grunt work for a 5th year grad student who really really wants to graduate. My day to day consisted of running PCRs etc until July, when I switched to very basic data analysis (I was essentially a human computer) but did a very high volume of work (more than people who had been there since Jan '11 and before).

    I've been planning on switching to a different lab for Fall '11 because I want to do MD/PhD and I really want some autonomous experience in a lab. I also want to find a lab more closely aligned with my interests. However, I've been asked to stay on in my current lab (I think they really appreciate my help, but not a lot is expected of me), even if it's just ~3 hrs/wk.

    I really don't want to stay because I'd like to devote my time towards something that will actually stimulate me and benefit my resume. The only reason I would stay would be if I could get on a publication. Since my grad student is set to graduate in 2012, I know he's (hopefully) going to publish his results sometime soon, I just don't know if he would allow me to be an author.

    My question is, is it rude to ask up-front if I will be able to work on something myself and/or if I will be able to assist in preparing publications/be an author? I'd really like to get a LOR from this lab and don't want to burn this bridge, but I just don't know if it's worth my time anymore. However, I have had very little contact with this PI (Professor X) and am not sure how good of a letter he could write anyway.

    Part 2:

    Then I got a reply back from a new professor (Professor A) that I just contacted about working with. In that email, I stated my previous research experience (Professor X's field, but I didn't mention him by name). Professor A said he's doing a project with Professor X and asked if I was interested in continuing with that area. I didn't know Professor X was working with Professor A.

    I don't really want to continue with Professor X's work because I want to try something new and I'm not interested in pursuing his field further in my education. My plan is just to say that I would prefer to work on Professor A's other stuff. But maybe they could give me some cool kind of project together?? Not sure.

    Does it look bad if I say yes to continuing on my old field in the hopes that I would get my own project, since then Professor X will find out that I was contacting other labs?

    Thoughts?? Sorry if this is confusing to understand, let me know if it is!
     

    JustForPretend

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    Jun 17, 2011
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      Be transparent. Be honest. Be direct.

      If I were you, I would explain yourself to the grad student. Explain the many ways that it has been a great experience. Then explain the ways that it hasn't been -- that you want to have a more independent project, that you want to have some recognition for it. And then ask for his/her advice. Ask if the grad student thinks you'll be able to find that in your current lab, or if you'll have to look elsewhere. A fifth-year grad student is not some kind of alien; he or she is under the exact same pressure you are to try to get a publication.

      Finally, schedule a meeting with your PI. He or she should know what your professional development goals are, and you need to include him/her on these decisions. This person is not "the man" trying to "get you down"; it's a fellow scientist who knows way more than you do about your situation -- a resource you ought to use.

      My gut: stick with the same lab and push for an independent project. Keep working part time on the old project while starting up your own thing. You have a lot invested there, and you would lose that startup cost anywhere else.
       

      byaaaaaaah23

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      Jul 31, 2011
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        Is it okay to say all this to the grad student through email? I really don't want to seem duplicitous, but I'm very worried about stepping on toes/offending people who are more important than me :oops:

        I definitely will try to meet with my PI (emphasis on try). If he is not receptive, then I think it's safe to assume that this lab is a dead end.

        As for the other PI, I'll just say I want to try something new, because I really do.
         
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        JustForPretend

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        Jun 17, 2011
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          In general, I think that face-to-face interactions are better (and scarier, I know!), because you can see how they are reacting to what you say. You never know how someone will read an email (or whom they might forward it to).

          If you are worried about being too direct and offending the grad student, try approaching it as if you need advice from him/her. Say how you really want their guidance on how to take the next step, and how you are interested in learning how to get involved intellectually in a project. And maybe ask them advice on how to get into school ... "I have heard that it important to get my name on a paper ... how do I do that?"

          Also remember that I'm just a guy on the internet, and I don't understand all the details of the situation. So use your own judgment.
           
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