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I need help choosing a lab!

Maura Ishii

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I really need help choosing a lab from two options!

Lab 1 - Very well established, well funded lab. The professor has graduated many students before and all of them have a great track record. I absolutely love my research topic, and I got along very well with the lab mates. It was almost like family honestly, everyone came to my rotation presentation and told me how proud they were about me. The only hurdle (big one) that I can see is that I REALLY want to bring in a new technique/aspect into the research question. I already conversed about this to the professor, and he is totally open for me to do collaborations and take whatever classes I need to learn it, but quite frankly I am terrified. Essentially I will be investigating a transcription factor, and would want to see how this transcription factor differentially regulates different cell types doing things like ChIP-seq etc However I have almost no coding experience.... But my professor was optimistic since we do have a pretty solid genetics core and potential collaborators if need be. 

Lab 2 - The hip, awesome go-getter new female PI around the block. Her and I get along well, and the lab members are extremely supportive and have made sure I don't derail during my rotation. Ample funding, the techniques she uses are novel, and the lab's interest in genetics fits with mine but just not in my field (although that isn't a big deal). Essentially, they have all the techniques and expertise that I want to learn but in a different field. The only red flag that I see is that the employees (post-docs & RA's) are not treated the best in terms of HR policies etc. but none of those issues will pertain to me since I am a graduate student. However, it does make me wonder if problems will arise later on if the other employees are unhappy. 

Summary: I love the lab#1's topic but I will have to work my butt off to learn something really complicated and COMPLETELY new to me for one aim. I am not-so-in love with topic #2 but they have the expertise of the techniques and there will be a lot of people to help me in regards to that. I get along with both labs. 

This has been an extremely hard decision to make since both labs are well funded and I get along with the PI and lab mates. I have pondered about a co-mentorship between these two PI's but they don't even know each other, and I'm pretty sure PI#2 wants to stay within her field since she is just getting started...

Edited by Maura Ishii
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Write a pro-con list for each lab and see if that helps. Then think about what would happen if you asked to join one of those labs and they told you no. Would you be more disappointed in not going to Lab #1 or Lab #2?

In addition, as long as you're reasonably interested in the project and know that you'll get good training, the most important things become how you interact with the mentor, the lab environment, and funding. You can pursue your dream projects later. It seems like you may have some concerns with Lab #2 as far as environment and that you have concerns with Lab #1 as far as field.

It makes me happy to see that you're not discounting the new PI just because she is new; I'm someone who joined a lab with a brand new PI, and it has been nothing but a positive experience.


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Depends on your personality really. It sounds like both Lab 1 and Lab 2 appear to be good viable options for you, although on one hand you seem daunted by Lab 1, but on the other you seem concerned Lab 2 is not as good as a fit for you as lab 1. A PhD is about innovating the field, adding to it, and becoming an independent researcher. To do so you'll have to learn new techniques, push out of your comfort zone, and come up with research and ideas no one else has done before. So the idea of something "new" or knowledge that you don't have, I don't think should ever be a deterrent, I think the main concern should be interest. I'm the type of person who actually gets excited at going into a field I'm not super familiar with, and have no problem going outside my comfort zone. So based off what you've told me, I'd definitely choose Lab 1. But again, it's based on your personality. 

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