Jump to content

Volunteering in POI's lab before applying?


Recommended Posts

Hey folks. Has anyone volunteered or worked for a POI's lab for a period of time BEFORE applying to their PhD program? Do you think this experience has significantly helped you in any way? Of course it helps because the POI knows you and your work ethic, but is that enough to overcome another candidate that may be stronger? I've heard some horror stories of folks applying to their own labs and getting rejected because their POI wants them to "explore other programs"...

Edited by dancedementia
Link to post
Share on other sites

Although I have never been in this situation, I think it not only depends on the relationship you have with your POI but also on the profiles of the Ph.D. candidates who would be wanting to work with your mentor. If the POI finds applicants that are much better than you then he/she is under no obligation to reserve a Ph.D. position for you.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If this had been an option before I applied I would have taken advantage of it (I applied to out of state programs so it wasn't).  From that experience I would have decided not to apply to my POI's lab during application season and that would have been a good thing.  Instead we are like oil and water and it has created a lot of tension and I've had to find alternatives to meet my needs.  So while yes it is possible that the POI will decide a volunteer wouldn't be a good lab member it also may be that you decide you don't want to be there.  Even if you do want to be there you should never put all of your eggs in one basket and apply to other programs.  You might end up with drastically different funding offers and that could also significantly impact your decision in the end.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm in the Human Factors field of Psychology so take this with a grain of salt. I used my undergraduate research internship as an opportunity to work in my eventual graduate advisers lab. This research internship probably gave my application the extra boost it needed to be accepted. The research internship gave my application the extra boost because I was able to run my own experiments, create a manuscript, gain valuable programming experience, and socialize with the faculty and students in the graduate program while I was an undergraduate. 

The success of being accepted into a graduate program you volunteered in before applying probably varies by the field. Bottom line, more than likely, if you volunteer and do an excellent job, it'll help and not hurt your application. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

At least in clinical psychology, most PIs will want to get an external candidate to diversify their lab. My PI was pretty open about that, and I was her lab manager for two years before applying to PhD programs. Her connections and influence were SO helpful to me as I applied, but unfortunately there is a stigma against "breeding your own graduate students" in your own lab among PIs, so an external candidate is preferable. Hope that's helpful!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi! I've actually had experience with this - I volunteered in two of my POIs' labs before applying to their lab for graduate studies. While I can say that this did give me an edge in the sense that they became familiar with me and my work ethic (and external applicants don't have this when applying), it didn't "guarantee" me a spot in their lab by any means. I think everyone above me summed it up pretty nicely, but your POI by no means "owes" you an interview just because you put in some hours into their lab. While it makes the chance of an interview likely if you and your POI had a good relationship/they liked your work ethic/think you have potential, they will also give any other external candidate an interview as well if all of these categories are ticked off. In fact, in my experience, I was only offered an interview with one of these POI's and I didn't make it to the short-list afterward. Again, it's important to not take it personally and know that there are probably hundreds of qualified applicants who apply, some of who have a better fit with my POI than I did. If I went into it with the mentality that I somehow "secured a spot" because I worked with them, I probably would not be feeling so hot.

However, I found my time in both these labs to be crucial to my success in actually being accepted into a Clinical program. Both these labs were within my realm of research interests, so through my volunteering, I made lots of connections in my field and also secured some strong reference letters. All in all, I'd say you have nothing to lose by volunteering in your POI's lab. If you don't get an interview, you might still get a strong reference (and also a potential collaborator in future papers, conferences etc) that would secure you a spot elsewhere. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the concern about “exploring other programs” is more relevant when undergrads in the lab want to continue there for grad school rather than considering other options. Some programs also have regulations about accepting their own former undergrads (e.g., prohibited completely, only accepting a limited number, etc.). However, I do know many labs that have accepted their former RA/coordinators, so working in the lab probably isn’t an issue for most programs. 

Edited by Clinpsyc01
Link to post
Share on other sites

Try if you have the time and funding to support you. For me, I worked with the potential supervisor for one semester, and during this period, I was involved in the lab meeting, manuscript writing, data analysis. It gave me a better understanding of her mentorship style (which is super important for 4-6 years PhD), lab air and living environment at that town. No matter you are accepted or not, you will have a greater exposure which helps you view things differently. Go for it! 

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/10/2019 at 3:55 AM, dancedementia said:

Hey folks. Has anyone volunteered or worked for a POI's lab for a period of time BEFORE applying to their PhD program? Do you think this experience has significantly helped you in any way? Of course it helps because the POI knows you and your work ethic, but is that enough to overcome another candidate that may be stronger? I've heard some horror stories of folks applying to their own labs and getting rejected because their POI wants them to "explore other programs"...

I would potentially do this but also keeping an open mind to the possiblity of having the POI not accept you into their PhD program. I don't think it would hurt at all, but certainly no guantees. I wouldn't be straight up with your POI about what happen AFTER you're done volunteering with them (I'd imagine your POI would think "whoa, let's just see how this volunteering works first")

But I do also like this idea from the standpoint that if you're volunteering with someone conducting research that interests you then you'll inevitably hear about other similiar people/opportunities at other programs where you can then apply for a PhD and have a super strong LOR from your connected POI who you would have been volunteering with.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.