Picking a lab

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15+ Year Member
Apr 12, 2008
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I've done two rotations and haven't been interested in either of the labs. One was too big, one was too small (with a micro-managing PI.) I don't have interests in any particular field--I think I could find something I liked in many fields. I just don't seem to give a crap about any of the research going on at my school, and that, combined with being told constantly that I won't be able to be a good physician and run a lab well has me wondering if I'm wasting my time. I have always wanted to do a PhD, and still do, but I can't seem to find any labs doing research that excites me. Should I just go with a PI that I like even though their research feels blah to me?

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Should I just go with a PI that I like even though their research feels blah to me?

Yes. Personal chemistry is THE most important thing. If the research is blah, try a PI whom you like whose research is close to medicine. That way, even if the field/techniques you're doing are boring, at least you can console yourself that it may make a difference ultimately. If you're doing boring work on yeast or drosophila, it's hard to make that connection.

However, the personal relationship with the mentor and other persons of power in the lab (e.g. postdoc you'll depend on initially) is crucial. You don't have to become best friends with the rest of the lab, but as long as you get along decently, that's fine. The project is entirely secondary to the mentor.
If you can't seem to find a topic you are interested in, I think choosing based on your feeling about the PI makes sense.

Also think about the day-to-day work and atmosphere of the lab - if you can enjoy that (or at least tolerate it), all the better. The larger goals of the research may grow on you as you become more committed. You don't want to end up in a situation where you aren't motivated by the "big picture" stuff and you hate your daily routine and the people you work with.
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Take a look at the Research forum FAQ. I think it is much more important to choose a lab based on the PI - their ability to be a good mentor, teach you how to be a scientist, willingness to give you projects - than the subject matter. I mean, it's good to be enthusiastic about your project, but a PI can make or break your PhD.
This topic has been discussed before; you should check out the research FAQs as RxnMan suggested. FWIW, I agree with the others that choosing an appropriate PI is infinitely more important than anything else. You are unlikely to spend the rest of your life doing the same type of work you did for your PhD anyway. So your main concerns should be to find a PI who makes training students (and graduating them in a reasonable amount of time!) a priority; and picking a lab that will give you strong general training in scientific thinking. The specifics of your project probably won't matter twenty years from now, but the process of completing that project and learning to become a scientist will stay with you for a lifetime. Picking the right mentor will help all along the way when you need LORs for post docs, introductions for jobs, someone to help you troubleshoot when projects aren't going right, etc.

Edit: BTW, it's impossible to know until you get on the wards whether you will like clinical medicine and/or be good at it, so I wouldn't worry about people telling you that you wouldn't be a great doctor. Likewise with getting into the lab and becoming an independent scientist. It takes so many years to develop yourself into either a physician or a scientist that there is certainly time along the way for you to discover and develop whatever talents you possess. There are bound to be some strengths that you have in both medicine and science; as a second-year med student who has yet to start your PhD, you just haven't had enough lab or clinical experience to figure out what they are yet. Best of luck. :)
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