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Would you be wiling to put up with a toxic PI if it meant you could do groundbreaking science?

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Right now, I'm between 2 PI's, and I really need help choosing. Please help me out :')

I'll describe what they're like first.

PI #1:

  • The type to publish in only Nature/Science/Cell. Successful grad students/postdocs can publish up to like 3-4 of these papers in their training...
  • The science is exactly what I want to do. Not just for the allure of it all, but it is downright an almost perfect match.
  • Everyone who's "made it out of his lab" has gone on to amazing jobs (e.g. students have gotten tenure-track professorships right out of grad school)
  • The PI is a literal genius. When I talked with him, he proposed an entire project within 15 minutes that totally made sense.
  • BIG BUT. Some people have said he's very hard to work with. Micro manages (you can see why the first bullet points relates to this one, kind of). Sometimes yells at his grad students/postdocs in lab meeting. The stereotypical old, angry PI who you shouldn't argue with.

PI #2:

  • Does great science that I'd consider a pretty good fit. But it's not "crazy" science. Think Nature Metabolism or Science Signaling, rather than the Nature and Science. But it's all really interesting and could definitely synergize with what I do in the future as a physician-scientist.
  • An amazing mentor who everyone loves (I've yet to hear anything negative about him). He's also MD-PhD trained and demonstrates how much he's committed to mentoring MD-PhD trainees (such as myself).
  • I just vibed really well with him when we chatted? It's when you click with someone — hard to articulate exactly what it was...

I'll definitely rotate with the two of them. But what are your guys' thoughts? I've talked with my past mentors (some who've actually trained with PI #1), and they say based on what they know about me, I can manage but might not be the happiest. I'm also the type of person who wouldn't mind setting aside his own happiness if it means I can do not only great science but amazing science. Given how MD-PhD positions are getting more and more competitive, maybe the several years of "angry PI management" might be worth it. On the other hand, I could have a really great mentor — but wouldn't be as set up to be as successful (maybe).

Has anyone been in a similar position? Would love to hear your thoughts...


Thanks for your guys' feedback! First post here, so I apologize if I did something wrong.

Edited by MDPhD Incoming
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I would choose a professor you felt was a good fit. You'll be successful and do good research in either lab, what really matters is: will you be happy? A Nature article isn't worth being yelled at. micromanaged, and stressed for 4-6 years. That will only break you down and sour your experiences with research. A great PI who respects and supports you will make any paper, big or small, feel important, and will facilitate a healthy research environment. You'll be happier and less stressed, which is more important than fancy publications, in my opinion.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've had a toxic PI.  Learned what a panic attack was in my 4th decade of life thanks to her.  Personally, nothing in the world is worth that, but I'm older and less inclined to put up with people's BS.  For me, grad school is about the journey, not the destination so I would never put up with someone totally ruining this experience for me.

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