Finding a Rotation Workshop - BGSA

Report
Prepared by:
Amie Eisfeld (MVM)
Amanda Boehm (Pathology)
Jake Hughes (MVM)
VJ Rubenstein (BMG)
Robb Tomko (Pharmacology)
Hillarie Plessner (Immunology)
T. Brooke McClendon (MGDB)
Emily Wickline (CMP)
Hilary Stevenson (MP)
FINDING A HOME: A STUDENT’S
PERSPECTIVE TO CHOOSING LAB
ROTATIONS & A MENTOR
August 19, 2013
Hilary Stevenson and T. Brooke McClendon
Always keep in mind…

Everyone has an agenda

Communication is leadership

You are your best advocate
Before you start looking

Assess what’s important to you
 What
qualities did you admire in past mentors? What
qualities didn’t you like?
 In what environments do you work best?
 Hobbies/recreational activities
 Family/friends/partner
 What might you be interested in doing after
graduation?
Lab Rotations

Three options for finding a good home
 Take
your time deciding (but not too much time)
 Not every rotation is going to turn out perfectly

Choose rotations that will help you reach your
career goals
 (or
teach you a new technique)
 (or let you work with someone/something exciting)
“You think you know what's to come, what you are.
You haven't even begun.”
Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Restless”
Step 1. Look around

Websites
 IBGP
website (www.gradbiomed.pitt.edu)
 Program websites
 Pubmed

Ask around
 1st
year advisors
 Program directors
 Grad students

Attend seminars/research in progress
Getting around

University of Pittsburgh Shuttles

UPMC shuttles

Port Authority Buses (www.portauthority.org)

Bike (http://bike-pgh.org/campaigns/commuterbike-maps/)
During your search


Be OPEN MINDED
 Projects outside your comfort zone
 Different programs
 Other buildings
Be REALISTIC
 Reasons for rotating
 Commute time
“I work from midnight to eight, come home, sleep for five minutes, eat
breakfast, sleep six more minutes, shower…then I'm off to the power plant,
fresh as a daisy.”
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons, “Lisa’s pony.”
Step 2. Set up a meeting

E-mail (more than 3 PIs)

Face-to-face meeting

Send thank you e-mails afterwards
Preparing for the meeting

Be familiar with their research – do your homework
 Come
with questions
 Come with proposal(s)
 Come with an air of excitement

Be prepared to sell yourself and talk about your
lab experiences
 Potential
is more important than experience
At the meeting

ASK QUESTIONS. LOTS OF QUESTIONS.
 Project
options: Can your rotation project turn into a
thesis project?
 Mentoring experience/mentoring philosophy
 Their expectations for you/your expectations for them
 Is there a spot/funding for you?
 Travel schedule/availability
 Who will you be working with?
 Are they tenured or up for tenure soon?
 Program affiliation
Step 3. Check out the lab

Talk to everyone in the lab!
 Especially
grad students

Pay attention to nonverbal cues

Note available resources and space
 Quality
and quantity of equipment
 People are resources too!
 Will you have a desk and bench?

Talk to program directors
 They
know if there were issues before
“It’s 12:02 [am], just me and you – and seven other dudes – waiting for the centrifuge.”
Most Beautiful Girl in the Lab (Flight of the Conchords parody), youtube
Transitioning into a lab
Goal: become independent as quickly as possible


Learn where common equipment/consumables/
reagents are
Read protocols and understand the principle
behind each step
 Helps

with troubleshooting and finding shortcuts
Be mindful of others’ time and resources
 Plan
ahead and schedule help if needed
 Ask informed questions
Be stupid
“One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows
us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time,
and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something
each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students
who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No
doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional
resilience help, but I think scientific education might do
more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning
what other people once discovered to making your
own discoveries. The more comfortable we become
with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the
unknown and the more likely we are to make big
discoveries.”
MA Schwartz. J Cell Sci (2008) 121:1771
Ideal Lab (…Is Different For Everyone)

Funding for supplies (at least for your project)

Technique gurus


The opportunity to share your data and have it
critiqued
Right environment for you
Warning signs



High turnover rate, students rotate but don’t join
Grad students and postdocs have been there awhile
with little to show for it
You find yourself making excuses
“I don’t get along with my PI/lab mates, but that will change
when I join the lab.”
 “If I just work harder, things will get better.”



Your PI downplays your needs and your input
It’s difficult to communicate with your PI well when things
go wrong
If you haven’t found a lab to join




DON’T do nothing
TALK to an advisor/gets lots of advice from
professors you trust
Don’t be afraid to switch rotations, even at the last
minute
Think very carefully about what you are looking for
and be proactive
Part 2. Project
Part 2. Project

Project options
 Risk
vs. reward
Is the project reasonable?
Is the project reasonable?
1.
2.
3.
4.
Look up papers in the field. How many authors are
on the papers?
Are all the papers coming out of one or two labs?
How much optimization is required?
Will this project win the Nobel Prize?
Is the project reasonable?
1.
2.
3.
4.
Look up papers in the field. How many authors are
on the papers?
Are all the papers coming out of one or two labs?
How much optimization is required?
Will this project win the Nobel Prize?
Is the project reasonable?
1.
2.
3.
4.
Look up papers in the field. How many authors are
on the papers?
Are all the papers coming out of one or two labs?
How much optimization is required?
Will this project win the Nobel Prize?
Is the project reasonable?
1.
2.
3.
4.
Look up papers in the field. How many authors are
on the papers?
Are all the papers coming out of one or two labs?
How much optimization is required?
Will this project win the Nobel Prize?
Part 2. Project

Project options
 Risk
vs. reward

Back up projects

Publications and meetings

Collaborations in and out of the lab
“In my rotation, you said guaranteed/One year first author is all I would
need/But you just lied/Lied, lied, lied, but you just lied.”
I
“Bad Project”, Zheng lab (Baylor College of Medicine), youtube
Part 1. The Mentor

What type of relationship
“Hands-on” vs. “Hands-off”
 What do you need to work best?


Travel schedule and availability

Time commitment


Past mentoring experience


Policy on vacations, weekends, classes
Previous grad students? How long were they there and what
are they doing now?
Publications and meetings
Part 3. Funding

Can he/she pay my bills?
 Short-term
 Long-term

RePORTER (http://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm)

Predoctoral Fellowships
 NRSAs
 NIH
(individual)
Training Grants (university)
If there is trouble…

Step 1: Talk to your mentor or a PI you trust

Step 2: Consult your program director

Step 3: Talk to Dr. Horn

THERE ARE ALWAYS OPTIONS!
Anticipating change
Transitioning into grad school



Your first semester is especially challenging, but it won’t
stay that way
You will probably feel mediocre/pathetic/stupid/illprepared/alone/lost/etc…it’s normal and it’s not true
It is possible to invest a lot of time into something that
doesn’t work

Sometimes, no one knows the answer

Be proud of your challenges…they build character
Helpful reading




At the Bench: a laboratory navigator. Kathy Barker
MA Schwartz. “The importance of stupidity in
scientific research.” J Cell Sci (2008) 121:1771
K Powell. “When personalities clash.” Nature (2006)
439:758.
K Powell. “Mentoring mismatch.” Nature (2006)
440:964
Questions?

Hilary Stevenson


[email protected]
Brooke McClendon

[email protected]

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