Choosing your Epicsauce Laboratory: Part I

Jun 02 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

You’ve been accepted into your dreamsauce school with the plan of being the most badassed grad student evah. Small problem, how do you pick the lab that will enable you to succeed, young minion? No worries, your D-List Monktress is here to provide n00b guidance through this process. This post is currently a 5-page (and expanding) document that I’m dicing into manageable pieces, so if I haven’t mentioned something yet, fear not cause I’m probably totally going to talk about that shit.

Figure 1: You think She-Ra would have been as badass if she were from planet Ephermia? That was some seriously pro womb selection on her part.

Meet as many lab monk(tresse)s as possible
If Potential PI only allows you interaction with one graduate student/postdoc, dollars to donuts that’s the resident Golden Child and any information provided is next to useless.

What size lab do you want to work in?
If the lab could populate a small deserted island, chances are you’re going to rely on your labmates rather than your PI for guidance throughout your career. You would be surprised how many people pick enormous schmancy-pants labs and then are shocked when their PI sees them maybe once a month. Conversely, smaller labs tend to have greater PI involvement, so if having a boss that visits the lab-and even knows what you’re doing on a week-to-week basis-is not your thing, don’t pick that type of lab.

What is the mentoring style?
And I don’t mean just how often the PI meets with hir students (though that is also important). I mean what kind of mind-jitsu do they employ on their minions?

Do they issue orders, or actually listen to suggestion, or give orders while giving the impression of listening to suggestion (dangerous combo!)?  Some PIs put all psyches in the same box, refusing to alter for one person’s foibles and sensitivies. Others try to get in your head to try to figure out how to get you around to their way of thinking. If you feel a certain style of mentorship is demeaning, condescending, squicky, or rude, you should use it as a first cull to narrow down your lab choices.

What is the lab environment like?
Not every member of the lab is going to flove every one else equally. In larger labs it is almost inevitable that there will be clique formation. However, you want a lab environment where everyone is able to hold civil, intellectual conversations with each other and seek others out when they have questions.

A separate issue in some labs is the prevalence of academic hierarchies. IMO, labs where ‘shit rolls downhill’ from PI to postdoc to senior grad students to junior students to techs are incredibly toxic and unhealthy for your development no matter how hot the science. You don’t want to work in a lab where you can only get your jollies by making someone else as miserable as you are

And if you do decide you MUST join the lab with half a dozen many fiefdoms that are constantly at war with each other, you better make damn sure you have a gameplan on how to join up with the ‘right’ one and not get kicked into the moat once you get there.

Whew *wipes brow*. One page down, 5 to go, aren’t you excited?

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