bae2017

2+ Year Member
Mar 12, 2015
275
607
Status
Pre-Medical
I've been considering switching labs and wanted some advice. I'd like to lay out the pros and cons of staying or switching and get some feedback - I'm rather confused and in need of guidance. Sorry in advance for the long text to follow.

I've been working at this lab for a little over a year (12 hours a week). The lab does neuroimaging research on AD patients. The PI is an MD who finished a neurology fellowship in 2014. He is still a young investigator and was just awarded a grant from the NIH to fund his research for the next 5 years. At the time, I am his only research assistant and the only undergraduate who has ever worked under him. We have one paper being written up right now of which I will be the second author. They're aiming to have it published before the end of 2015. We've begun working on results for a second paper, but there's nothing to write up yet.

Recently, I made a couple of errors in the data analysis that placed my PI in an awkward position - the first time I didn't threshold some images correctly and the second time I accidentally mixed up some control and patient data. We caught these mistakes after he brought the results to his boss (a director of the center we work at), so twice I've basically risked his reputation by my carelessness. Obviously I know I should be more careful and I'm working on double and triple checking my work, but to be perfectly honest I never really received any kind of rigorous training and most of the methods I've had to teach myself. He gave me a talking-to the other day about my work quality, but sometimes I feel like he has unrealistic expectations, as I'm only an undergrad with a very limited background in neuroscience/computation/statistics.

I'm beginning my junior year and am planning on taking a gap year before going to med school, so I have two more years of research left before applications. I'm a little scared that the impression I've made over this past year has not been positive enough to solicit an extremely good LOR, which I would like since this is one of my largest and most meaningful commitments.

The obvious solution is to tell him my thoughts - I've tried, but I can tell he still gets frustrated with me sometimes. I told him a couple months ago that I was considering moving onto a different lab, but he told me he would prefer to have me stay as I've already learned the techniques in the lab (this conversation was before we caught the two mistakes) and he would have to retrain another undergrad. I'm not sure if his opinion has changed.

I would certainly like to explore other labs - I'm kind of interested in getting experience in a wet lab and there are a couple of labs that have caught my interest. Is it worth it to try and find an opportunity at a different lab?

Sorry for the rambling, it's late and I have a lot of thoughts. Please if anybody could give me some advice that would be great! Thanks!
 
Aug 17, 2015
78
105
Status
Pre-Medical
Bad LORs destroys a good applicant. I wouldn't risk it. I'd be strategic and stay with the PI to get the paper and research experience - but not use him as a LOR. You can always ask him if he could honestly write an amazing letter, if he honestly can't than just don't have him be one of your writer. I don't think a LOR from a research experience is mandatory .
 
Jul 23, 2013
324
224
Status
Medical Student (Accepted)
I agree with imtotallywhatever, stay in the lab. Throughout my involvement in research I have been in 3 labs. I have found that no matter how skilled you are, the first few months of joining a lab is relatively unproductive. I would argue you cannot make meaningful contributions to a project until at least 6 months of extensive time in a lab. The reasons why I believe aspiring docs should join a lab is to primarily understand how the scientific method is applied and to increase your critical thinking capabilities and knowledge about research. When you begin working in a lab, you inevitably focus most on technique which limits your ability to learn about research. Therefore by joining a new lab, you will miss out on the opportunity to blossom into a individual who truly understands the basics of research. Worse case scenario, you may not get a stellar LOR from your PI, but on the bright side, you will have grown to understand research at a basic level which you can build upon once you progress professional.
 
About the Ads

altblue

5+ Year Member
Feb 11, 2014
1,631
1,735
Status
Medical Student (Accepted)
If only mistakes hurt your work, and given the impression I'm left with, You sound like you have a reasonable idea of what's going on and are good at what you do. It'd be in incredibly poor taste to convince somebody to stay and then write them a bad LOR as well.

You are in no way forced to stay, though. If you don't like your research, leave. If you don't like the person you work with (not to say I divined this from your post), leave. If your Pi has unrealistic expectations or doesn't manage the lab well, leave. Keep an eye out for poor researchers,and go where you're wanted. After a few months, you should have a feel for how the lab works and whether it's a good fit

you're I say all of this bc all throughout my first few months of research, people were telling me, the guy you work for is going to **** you over. And he did so several times. If you have a bad feeling, leave. Find a new lab if you have to, it's not like you're quitting med school...

Sent from my phone
 

altblue

5+ Year Member
Feb 11, 2014
1,631
1,735
Status
Medical Student (Accepted)
I agree with imtotallywhatever, stay in the lab. Throughout my involvement in research I have been in 3 labs. I have found that no matter how skilled you are, the first few months of joining a lab is relatively unproductive. I would argue you cannot make meaningful contributions to a project until at least 6 months of extensive time in a lab. The reasons why I believe aspiring docs should join a lab is to primarily understand how the scientific method is applied and to increase your critical thinking capabilities and knowledge about research. When you begin working in a lab, you inevitably focus most on technique which limits your ability to learn about research. Therefore by joining a new lab, you will miss out on the opportunity to blossom into a individual who truly understands the basics of research. Worse case scenario, you may not get a stellar LOR from your PI, but on the bright side, you will have grown to understand research at a basic level which you can build upon once you progress professional.
What if the pi is in the wrong? From what the OP said, he doesn't sound like the best communicator. That's a huge problem if you're in research.
 
Jul 23, 2013
324
224
Status
Medical Student (Accepted)
What if the pi is in the wrong? From what the OP said, he doesn't sound like the best communicator. That's a huge problem if you're in research.
Not making sure your work is correct before giving it to your PI will not make you a great fit for any lab. No PI is perfect, maybe his PI is terrible. But, I don't know that many incoming juniors who have a second author pub in the works with another on the way. So the PI/OP must be doing something right.

That being said, you are totally right. If your PI will inhibit you from achieving your goals professional/personally, get out of there ASAP
 

altblue

5+ Year Member
Feb 11, 2014
1,631
1,735
Status
Medical Student (Accepted)
Not making sure your work is correct before giving it to your PI will not make you a great fit for any lab. No PI is perfect, maybe his PI is terrible. But, I don't know that many incoming juniors who have a second author pub in the works with another on the way. So the PI/OP must be doing something right.

That being said, you are totally right. If your PI will inhibit you from achieving your goals professional/personally, get out of there ASAP
Yeah, alright. I don't think I read the OP right
 

GrapesofRath

2+ Year Member
May 5, 2015
5,320
3,804
Status
Non-Student
If you've done enough work to warrant 2nd authorship on a paper I wouldn't just bail on the lab because of a couple instances like this. People worry a lot about having a PI writing a poor letter(and I get why) but these type of things are really rather rare. More common is a) either the PI turning down a letter request(which isn't great for your app espec at research focused schools but hardly lethal b) Writing a letter than while solid and unharmful isn't glowing(again hardly lethal). A PI who legitimately agrees to write a letter than writes a bad one for you says something bad about the PI as well; most people just don't do that. The best solution is to give yourself several more months here and see what happens. Give yourself a chance to redeem yourself. There's a very solid chance your PI still has a rather solid letter for you if you keep working here given he thought rnough of you to make you 2nd author. Many PIs are harsh and aren't afraid to criticize or tear people apart; they even do this to people they highly respect. If after several months things aren't getting better, the publication is good to go and you have another honest talk with the PI and it isn't looking great, then consider moving on.

Wet lab research is all well and good but realize the time commitment it takes, how slow it is and in many cases how it can be harder to produce data worth publishing. If you are already 2+ years into college there's a good chance you won't have enough time to produce publishable data before graduating

In some ways just saying oh I'll just join a new lab is a simple easy solution that doesn't address the problems you think you've had. Why are you making careless mistakes? How can you go about avoiding them? Because if you think it's alot easier to avoid careless mistakes in wet lab procedures you'll be in for a rude awakening. Like I said though I would stick with this lab through the end of the semester and see what happens. Maybe considering putting a few more hours per week. Try changing your approach and see what happens.
 

StudyLater

2+ Year Member
Jan 4, 2015
1,993
1,252
Status
Pre-Medical
Recently, I made a couple of errors in the data analysis that placed my PI in an awkward position - the first time I didn't threshold some images correctly and the second time I accidentally mixed up some control and patient data. We caught these mistakes after he brought the results to his boss (a director of the center we work at), so twice I've basically risked his reputation by my carelessness.
What.

Mistakes happen in research. It's partially the whole f*cking point of doing research. Sometimes there are happy mistakes.

Obviously I know I should be more careful and I'm working on double and triple checking my work, but to be perfectly honest I never really received any kind of rigorous training and most of the methods I've had to teach myself. He gave me a talking-to the other day about my work quality, but sometimes I feel like he has unrealistic expectations, as I'm only an undergrad with a very limited background in neuroscience/computation/statistics.
I mean seriously, the f*ck did he expect with an undergrad? I'm thinking it's less your inexperience, and more his inexperience with what undergrads are like, which matches with your description of him being young. I'd bet you're like 50x better than most others he'd get out of your school, if it's a sh*tty public university like mine.

I'm beginning my junior year and am planning on taking a gap year before going to med school, so I have two more years of research left before applications. I'm a little scared that the impression I've made over this past year has not been positive enough to solicit an extremely good LOR, which I would like since this is one of my largest and most meaningful commitments.

The obvious solution is to tell him my thoughts - I've tried, but I can tell he still gets frustrated with me sometimes. I told him a couple months ago that I was considering moving onto a different lab, but he told me he would prefer to have me stay as I've already learned the techniques in the lab (this conversation was before we caught the two mistakes) and he would have to retrain another undergrad. I'm not sure if his opinion has changed.

I would certainly like to explore other labs - I'm kind of interested in getting experience in a wet lab and there are a couple of labs that have caught my interest. Is it worth it to try and find an opportunity at a different lab?

Sorry for the rambling, it's late and I have a lot of thoughts. Please if anybody could give me some advice that would be great! Thanks!
Well, here's the thing: You're an adult, and you can do whatever the hell you want. If you're still there, it's your PI's gain, but it should also be for your own personal gain as well. If you feel like you're screwed on the LOR (aka the whole point of being there other than the experience, which you've got a decent amount of now) then ditch and go elsewhere to get a good LOR. But you should also note that sometimes PIs are like this -- they crawl up your ass, and sometimes they treat you less than amicably. I don't know if that necessarily means they dislike or have a bad opinion of you. For them, reprimanding you for a bad job and liking you as a person can be two totally separate things. As the mantra goes, sometimes it's "just business." With that in mind, and considering the LOR is more a judge of your character, perhaps he could still be a good writer. A year is a decent amount of time to waste with somebody only to not receive any sort of rec at all.
 

mimelim

Vascular Surgery
7+ Year Member
Sep 19, 2011
4,878
14,345
Status
Attending Physician
I've been considering switching labs and wanted some advice. I'd like to lay out the pros and cons of staying or switching and get some feedback - I'm rather confused and in need of guidance. Sorry in advance for the long text to follow.

I've been working at this lab for a little over a year (12 hours a week). The lab does neuroimaging research on AD patients. The PI is an MD who finished a neurology fellowship in 2014. He is still a young investigator and was just awarded a grant from the NIH to fund his research for the next 5 years. At the time, I am his only research assistant and the only undergraduate who has ever worked under him. We have one paper being written up right now of which I will be the second author. They're aiming to have it published before the end of 2015. We've begun working on results for a second paper, but there's nothing to write up yet.

Recently, I made a couple of errors in the data analysis that placed my PI in an awkward position - the first time I didn't threshold some images correctly and the second time I accidentally mixed up some control and patient data. We caught these mistakes after he brought the results to his boss (a director of the center we work at), so twice I've basically risked his reputation by my carelessness. Obviously I know I should be more careful and I'm working on double and triple checking my work, but to be perfectly honest I never really received any kind of rigorous training and most of the methods I've had to teach myself. He gave me a talking-to the other day about my work quality, but sometimes I feel like he has unrealistic expectations, as I'm only an undergrad with a very limited background in neuroscience/computation/statistics.

I'm beginning my junior year and am planning on taking a gap year before going to med school, so I have two more years of research left before applications. I'm a little scared that the impression I've made over this past year has not been positive enough to solicit an extremely good LOR, which I would like since this is one of my largest and most meaningful commitments.

The obvious solution is to tell him my thoughts - I've tried, but I can tell he still gets frustrated with me sometimes. I told him a couple months ago that I was considering moving onto a different lab, but he told me he would prefer to have me stay as I've already learned the techniques in the lab (this conversation was before we caught the two mistakes) and he would have to retrain another undergrad. I'm not sure if his opinion has changed.

I would certainly like to explore other labs - I'm kind of interested in getting experience in a wet lab and there are a couple of labs that have caught my interest. Is it worth it to try and find an opportunity at a different lab?

Sorry for the rambling, it's late and I have a lot of thoughts. Please if anybody could give me some advice that would be great! Thanks!
PROS:
- interesting research
- opportunity to grow with the PI
- one paper coming/relatively productive PI
- I get to play a big role in the research

CONS:
- unrealistic expectations (?)
- he didn't go to med school in the states so he's not familiar with the med school application process and I don't know if he would be able to craft a good LOR for me
- inexperienced with other undergrads, no basis for comparing me with others
- doubts/wondering what other research opportunities there are out there
I'm going to preface my post with this: I have relatively high standards for people that work with me on my projects and in our department. That having been said, I had 5 pre-meds doing research with me over the summer and have two working with me. I recruited most of them and the others I interviewed/vetted before agreeing to take them on.

"Recently, I made a couple of errors in the data analysis that placed my PI in an awkward position - the first time I didn't threshold some images correctly and the second time I accidentally mixed up some control and patient data."

Those are big ****ing mistakes to make. I'll be honest, if you were working in my lab, you would be asked to leave. Results matter. Integrity matter. If you aren't sure of your results or what you are doing, you should be communicating that with people when you submit your work to them. If you don't know that you shouldn't be sure of your work (which is a lot worse) and are simply submitting stuff that you thought was good, but was in fact errant, you need a serious double check of what you are doing. Never mind, research, but medicine in general. We expect our students to research methodology if they are unfamiliar with and to ask when they are unsure. Virtually everything that our students do are things that they have never done before and they certainly make mistakes, like anyone. But, if they put forth work product and say, "I did XYZ, it is good to go." I know that XYZ is good to go, because if they were unsure, they would tell me and I won't get bitten in the ass when taking things to a national meeting or presenting it to industry. If you made these two mistakes and they were found, how many other mistakes are there in your work product that people didn't notice? It is impossible to know, especially if you had no idea that there were glaring holes in what you are doing. That makes you unreliable. The reason why you would be asked to leave our lab is because I would literally have to check everything you do to make sure that there weren't mistakes in it, which defeats the purpose of me having students with me. If I wanted to do the work myself, I would simply do the work. If I ask a student to do statistical analysis on something, when they are unsure about something, they usually take it to their former stats professors or others with more experience. Being proactive is incredibly important.

Certainly not every lab functions the same way that we do, but people's expectations are going to only increase as you go down the pathway through medical school and beyond. Given that none of us are there, none of us can truly say if this PI's expectations are unrealistic. Maybe they are unrealistic for you, but not for the average pre-med. By your description those things are reasonable. If you are expecting an "extremely good LOR", you need to do extremely good work. LOR are not about participation. Just showing up, even for years isn't what makes strong letters. It is demonstrating strong qualities and producing things. Making big mistakes that led to negative consequences are not demonstrating strong qualities. If you want a good LOR out of this, you will need to work longer, smarter or most likely both. Also developing a healthy dose of conscientiousness will go a long way.
 

mimelim

Vascular Surgery
7+ Year Member
Sep 19, 2011
4,878
14,345
Status
Attending Physician
What.

Mistakes happen in research. It's partially the whole f*cking point of doing research. Sometimes there are happy mistakes.



I mean seriously, the f*ck did he expect with an undergrad? I'm thinking it's less your inexperience, and more his inexperience with what undergrads are like, which matches with your description of him being young. I'd bet you're like 50x better than most others he'd get out of your school, if it's a sh*tty public university like mine.



Well, here's the thing: You're an adult, and you can do whatever the hell you want. If you're still there, it's your PI's gain, but it should also be for your own personal gain as well. If you feel like you're screwed on the LOR (aka the whole point of being there other than the experience, which you've got a decent amount of now) then ditch and go elsewhere to get a good LOR. But you should also note that sometimes PIs are like this -- they crawl up your ass, and sometimes they treat you less than amicably. I don't know if that necessarily means they dislike or have a bad opinion of you. For them, reprimanding you for a bad job and liking you as a person can be two totally separate things. As the mantra goes, sometimes it's "just business." With that in mind, and considering the LOR is more a judge of your character, perhaps he could still be a good writer. A year is a decent amount of time to waste with somebody only to not receive any sort of rec at all.
When people talk about "Happy mistakes in research" they are talking about unintended discoveries in the course of a project. They are not talking about mixing up numbers or doing things that essentially invalidate results.

Research is not like the classroom. The expectation is not that you will be taught every last detail about how to do what you need to do. A lot of it is self teaching or being able to find the resources to figure things out. Having to handhold a student defeats the purpose of hiring students. I am more than happy to sit, mentor and teach our students, but I expect them to put in considerable effort into figuring a lot of things out either for me or on their own. Just because most pre-meds couldn't do the job (which is not the OP's case), it doesn't make people's expectations unrealistic or unreasonable.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Goro

StudyLater

2+ Year Member
Jan 4, 2015
1,993
1,252
Status
Pre-Medical
When people talk about "Happy mistakes in research" they are talking about unintended discoveries in the course of a project. They are not talking about mixing up numbers or doing things that essentially invalidate results.

Research is not like the classroom. The expectation is not that you will be taught every last detail about how to do what you need to do. A lot of it is self teaching or being able to find the resources to figure things out. Having to handhold a student defeats the purpose of hiring students. I am more than happy to sit, mentor and teach our students, but I expect them to put in considerable effort into figuring a lot of things out either for me or on their own. Just because most pre-meds couldn't do the job (which is not the OP's case), it doesn't make people's expectations unrealistic or unreasonable.
To never f*ck up on numbers? Unrealistic expectation. Period.

Also it may be more of a problem with the organization of the group. Someone should be checking OP's work in the first place before it's passed on.
 

mimelim

Vascular Surgery
7+ Year Member
Sep 19, 2011
4,878
14,345
Status
Attending Physician
To never f*ck up on numbers? Unrealistic expectation. Period.

Also it may be more of a problem with the organization of the group. Someone should be checking OP's work in the first place before it's passed on.
It is one thing to make a mistake when calculating things and it is another to put subjects in the wrong cohort.

And someone shouldn't have to check to make sure that an undergrad put people in the correct group or did the other basic functions of why they are there. They are an adult worker. It is a waste of time to have someone in the lab that generates more work than they contribute.
 
OP
bae2017

bae2017

2+ Year Member
Mar 12, 2015
275
607
Status
Pre-Medical
I actually agree 100% with @mimelim's analysis. These are mistakes I should not have made, and I definitely just lost a good amount of his trust. However, he hasn't asked me to leave, I assume because the effort it would take to train a new undergrad would be quite costly for him.

@mimelim What would you recommend I do? Stay and work my a** off for him and make 100% sure there are no more mistakes in my work for the next two years, or look for a different PI and essentially start over again?
 

StudyLater

2+ Year Member
Jan 4, 2015
1,993
1,252
Status
Pre-Medical
It is one thing to make a mistake when calculating things and it is another to put subjects in the wrong cohort.

And someone shouldn't have to check to make sure that an undergrad put people in the correct group or did the other basic functions of why they are there. They are an adult worker. It is a waste of time to have someone in the lab that generates more work than they contribute.
Fair enough. You want a fast workflow, and get pissed when it happens to bite you in the a*s. I'd rather double/triple check things and make sure they're right. Even with that said, the amount of work for a quick checkover <<< the amount of work to actually put together the data in a coherent fashion, just like how we read/understand papers in a comparatively infinitesimal fraction of the time that it took to put them together.
 

mimelim

Vascular Surgery
7+ Year Member
Sep 19, 2011
4,878
14,345
Status
Attending Physician
I actually agree 100% with @mimelim's analysis. These are mistakes I should not have made, and I definitely just lost a good amount of his trust. However, he hasn't asked me to leave, I assume because the effort it would take to train a new undergrad would be quite costly for him.

@mimelim What would you recommend I do? Stay and work my a** off for him and make 100% sure there are no more mistakes in my work for the next two years, or look for a different PI and essentially start over again?
This PI seems like he needs help. He is young, lacks resources/name and is trying to make a name for himself. He may not be able to or even know how to recruit other students and he clearly has stuff that he needs help on. Personally, that is the ideal situation for a motivated pre-med to make a mark and get something real out of it. You are in a good position given your pending publication, your integration into his research and good funding for the duration of your time there. I would stay. Those situations aren't as uncommon as some people think, but they can be hard to find. This is an opportunity for you. This isn't about working your ass off. This is about learning. You want that strong LOR, make it easy for him to write. Be reliable, be dependable, be helpful, etc. Develop those skills that transcend this lab and will serve you well for the duration of a professional career. If you are willing to make the investment, this can be incredibly rewarding for you.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Goro and StudyLater
OP
bae2017

bae2017

2+ Year Member
Mar 12, 2015
275
607
Status
Pre-Medical
This PI seems like he needs help. He is young, lacks resources/name and is trying to make a name for himself. He may not be able to or even know how to recruit other students and he clearly has stuff that he needs help on. Personally, that is the ideal situation for a motivated pre-med to make a mark and get something real out of it. You are in a good position given your pending publication, your integration into his research and good funding for the duration of your time there. I would stay. Those situations aren't as uncommon as some people think, but they can be hard to find. This is an opportunity for you. This isn't about working your ass off. This is about learning. You want that strong LOR, make it easy for him to write. Be reliable, be dependable, be helpful, etc. Develop those skills that transcend this lab and will serve you well for the duration of a professional career. If you are willing to make the investment, this can be incredibly rewarding for you.
You're right, this was the assurance that I needed! Thank you so much! Sage advice :)
 

MrTaco92

5+ Year Member
Oct 9, 2013
323
314
Status
Medical Student
Communication is key. You should sit down with him and talk to him about how you really feel. If you stick with this lab and continue working on rectifying your errors this can be a great learning experience for you. Learning to communicate like this is really just a part of growing up, whether it be in the lab or a different professional setting. Everyone has their ups and downs when it comes to their relationships with their bosses. If you leave, you'd be leaving your unfinished work behind for a new undergrad to finish up for you, and your PI would be less willing to write you any kind of LOR for delaying his work. He could even end up being your future colleague, so you wouldn't want to end your experience there on a bad note because of that. In my opinion, you should stay. Try your best to meet his expectations in order to get the best LOR you can get.

Saying you quit just because you think your boss has high expectations of you could be viewed as immature (I know I would view it as immature). I've seen this happen before in my own lab and that's how I felt about the undergrads who have gone that route in my lab. My boss is notorious for being pretty difficult to work with, but I learned to adapt to her personality and her style of running her own lab. The others who have quit early gained nothing from their experience because they simply wanted to work for someone who was "easier" on them and provided them with more guidance. You just need to learn to communicate effectively and work on reducing the amount of errors that you make. It's really not a situation that's unique to a lab or a clinical setting. Your boss has high expectations of you because he likely thinks very highly of you, and maybe that's something you're not realizing.
 
  • Like
Reactions: mimelim
About the Ads