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I just started grad school and my POIs are all leaving


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Hi everyone, so I just started graduate school, started my first rotation (going pretty well). I start thinking about my next rotations, and start emailing some of the people who I really loved their research topics. First replies that they are moving to a new university next month. Second replies that they are moving to a new university next summer. Third replies that they just took a fellowship and will not be taking new students for the next two years. I've been doing exhaustive searches to try and find other people who I might be interested in working with, but these three, plus my current rotation, are who I came to my school for. I don't know what to do. I love my program, my cohort, everything else that I'm dealing with, but I'm having so much trouble here, and as far as I can tell there is no one else who works on this topic, other than the four PIs I just described. I don't want to transfer, but I don't know what to do.

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Are you required to rotate through labs or can you stick with the one you're in if you're happy there? In my discipline, it's more common to come in wanting to work with a specific person and only changing if something isn't working out for whatever reason. Otherwise, people stay in the same lab with the same mentor until they graduate, possibly collaborating with other faculty. 

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Sorry you're facing this difficult situation :( Did any of those people (who said they can't take students) recommend other labs to work in? Do they have regular collaborating labs that seem to be taking students? Sometimes those labs/PIs may not be listed in your program's faculty page, but if they can take you as a student, they can be added to that faculty list. Also have you talked to any upperclassmen or program directors? You may also want to look into the really young PIs in your program, who are usually eager for students and open to taking on a potentially new direction. But in that case you have to be willing to be the first person in this young lab to work on this particular topic (which you seem pretty decided on).

I've been told that most students change research topics over the course of their rotations or even in their second or third year, so maybe you could try to be more open to other related areas of research. Does your program have a retreat coming up soon? That's usually a great way to get updates on what everyone's working on and get a feel of what other stuff may excite you.

At the end of the day, if you're happy with your first rotation, then worst case you'll just have to do 1-3 more less than relevant rotations (however many is required for your program) and eventually come back to the current lab. In the long run that's still okay, although right now it might seem a waste of time; on the flip side, this might actually be a good opportunity to (1) explore areas of research that you have never worked on but are low key curious about; or (2) learn a new skill through a "technical" rotation (where you tell the PI straight up that you're pretty decided on another lab already, and are just there to learn about a specific technique/computational skill/instrument).

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  • 3 weeks later...

1. Try talking to professors outside your department.

2. Talk to your head of department or whoever is in charge of graduate affairs, and tell them about your situation. They are supposed to give you some advice about this. They may even suggest a list of people to talk to that overlap with your interests.

3. Transfer to a different phD program in different university as a last resort.

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