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PI's position pros and cons?

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by AtmaWeapon, Apr 9, 2007.

  1. AtmaWeapon

    AtmaWeapon 2+ Year Member

    Mar 3, 2007
    I'm an undergraduate looking for research positions for the summer.

    Suppose there are two PIs who conduct researches that spark your interests equally. One is an "old" nationally respected full professor who has a lot of professors/postdocs working for them, the other is an independent young PI who recently finished his postdoc at a top notch institution. Assuming you had no prior knowledge of the PIs' characters, who would you rather work with?

    I talked to a professor about this and he pretty much said the pros and cons break down to:

    old full professor:
    pros: possibly strong letter of recommendations from someone of high position
    con: very unlikely that you get to directly work with him/her, but with whoever's working for them...I'm assuming this means it would be difficult to get a good letter of recc from the full professor.

    young professor:
    pros: most likely using "up to date" techniques. big possibility that you get to directly work with them. since they're younger they'll be around longer and serve as a future "connection" if you pursue similar stuff.
    cons: they can write a strong lor provided you did great, but not heavily weighted as one coming from a known professor.

    I know luck is a major factor in the outcome of how well research experiences go, but it feels like direct interaction with a young professor will probably benefit me a lot as a future researcher moreso than working in a big lab. However, as a potential MSTP student should I be concerned about "playing politics" and getting the strongest recommendation letter possible (in other words, give my best shot with the known professor?) Your thoughts? Thank you.
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  3. Circumflex

    Circumflex Junior Member 10+ Year Member

    Mar 6, 2006
    The letter from either PI will not make or break your application. You just need to get a good research experience and find out whether or not you want to dedicate your life to a career in research.

    In general, the fewer people working in a lab, the better chance you'll have of getting your name on a paper or eventually getting a first-author publication from that lab. Also, if the older PI has so many people working for him, he is obviously a competitive researcher, and will be using new techniques as well.

    My best advice would be to set up meetings with both of them and discuss your goals and what you want to get out of the research experience and see what they say. Go with your gut regarding who you think would be the best fit for you - this can be key to a rewarding and successful research experience.
  4. solitude

    solitude Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    Dec 27, 2004
    I was in the same position a couple years ago and went with the young PI. As a freshman, I had trouble finding the old, established and prestigious PIs that really wanted to work with undergrads, although I know now that there are a few at my institution. On the other hand, my young PI is well-established, with a couple R01's and a solid pub record. I have found the experience of working directly with him to be extremely beneficial, although that's not to say that working with the older PI would not have been as beneficial. Anecdotally, it seems that established PIs have labs populated mostly with post-docs, whereas younger PIs tend to have a higher proportion of graduate students. As an undergraduate, it can be nice to have a cohort of graduate students that are somewhat easier to relate to (sorry, couldn't get around ending that sentence with a preposition).

    Overall, I think the strength of the recommendation will depend mostly on how well you do in the lab. Of course there will be some slight bias towards a letter from NAS Member X vs. Asst. Prof. Y, but in total, the most important thing will be how motivated and excited of a researcher you are. In that sense, it probably won't matter which lab you choose.

    One option, which I have chosen, is to work with the young PI in the lab but to pick up some recommendations from a couple established PIs that teach you in courses. Then meet with the established PIs and talk at length about your research, to demonstrate that you are an able student researcher. That way you can get the more personal interaction with the PI, while also retaining the "wow factor" of having an endowed chair wax poetic about your prowess.

  5. Kraazy

    Kraazy 7+ Year Member

    Feb 17, 2007
    i think what's more important than the cachet of your PI is the realtionship you develop with them. People who know you (and like you) will write far better LORs. Plus, with a PI who actually pays attention to you you will probably have more chance for input in the project, chances to actually discuss the project directly with the PI, and proab a better chance at authorship as well, since there won't be 4 postdocs and 10 grad student lining up to get their name on the papers. Also, in a smaller lab, your work will matter more to the PI. In a lab with 4 postdocs, nobody cares much waht the undergrad is doing, since it doesn't even compare (unless you latch on to the postdoc's project).
  6. Dr.Watson

    Dr.Watson 2+ Year Member

    Oct 11, 2006

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