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Miro

can you make a PI change his mind about you?

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One of my friends wanted to join a very respected lab on campus in his department. The adviser is ranked top 4 in his field, publishes every week and graduate students in 4 yrs max. In the beginning of this semester, he had a meeting with the adviser and ask if he could do a rotation in the lab. The adviser told him that he should do his first rotation somewhere else and then come back since he had just taken in four new grad students. After he finished his rotation, he e-mailed the adviser again to tell him that he had finished the rotation and is now ready to start his. The adviser respond is this " Thanks for the note. It looks like I won’t be able to host you and eventually take you into my group since all four new students are doing well and it will be hard for me to take another one." 

 

he really likes this advisers since the lab is really aligned with what he wants to do and would join the lab even without a rotation. 

 

Can he convince the adviser to still take him? is so how. 

 

The other rotation that he did was okay, the adviser is respected however the lab has not been publishing well in the last five years and the research is not what he wanted to do in grad school. 

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In my opinion: Secure your own funding from another source and you'd have a chance or try again next year.

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How easy or hard is it to change advisors in your field, and how important is it to stick to an advisor with the same research area for a long period of time while working on your degree? If it's very important that your friend connect with an advisor superbly suited to his interests early on, then I agree with jenste, it's time to look for funding elsewhere. If not, I'd suggest he wait it out for another couple of semesters and see if he has the option to change at a later date.

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Like any other workplace, this completely depends on the personality of the professor. Some professors/bosses will say something like "I don't have financial resources to take a student right now" to mean exactly that--they would love to take you if they have more money, but they can also use it as a way to say no to you in a more gentle way (i.e. instead of saying "I don't think you will do well in my lab"). For some people, asking them a couple more times might show that you are determined and make them want to hire you (i.e. look for more funding if that's the case) but for others, asking them further after this point will just annoy you and they might wish you would just accept that they don't want to work with you. 

 

I think it might be worth talking to other students to see what kind of person this professor is in order to determine if it's worth pursuing this further and what would be the best course forward.

 

I also think jenste's suggestion of finding your own funding is great (even if you don't want to work for this lab after all). It's always better to have your own funding and then you can have much more freedom and options on what you do research on!

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I thought your friend had some kind of conflict with his rotation advisor-- at least this was the impression I got from reading the title. It's very common for famous labs to attract a lot of students, and it's good that the said PI actually acknowledges he's reaching his maximal capacity (assuming that's the case) -- unlike some PIs! Taking on students without really considering whether s/he is able to provide adequate attention and guidance to fledgling students. If this PI is someone your friend really really want to work for, s/he would need outside funding sources. 

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Just to note:

 

It seems like everyone is assuming this is financial. The PI didn't mention anything about funding, they said it would be hard for them to handle another one. Generally, good PIs won't take in more students than they feel like they can effectively oversee and mentor. If the PI is as well published and respected as indicated, I doubt the issue is funding, but the number of new students/size of the lab the PI wants to maintain. 

 

In that case, you might be able to convince them or not, but I've found it's generally a pretty set decision. 

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^I agree with Eigen.  My first impression was that the PI realizes that he has hit his max.  Four brand-new doctoral students is a pretty heavy advising load.  It's possible that it is a funding thing (the PI doesn't say), and if it is, there's the potential that if your friend got outside funding the PI might be able to take him in.  But there's also the possibility that the PI simply realizes that he can't take anymore brand new grad students, regardless of money.  In that case, your friend will just need to find a different adviser.

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Thank you all for the reply. The student received the NSF-GRFP so he has money. 

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In this situation I don't think it would be possible to change the advisor's mind. It sounds almost as if the PI knew he was unlikely to take the 5th grad student in when they first discussed the matter, otherwise he would probably have said "Come and do your second rotation with me" instead of "Email me back after your first rotation is over to check in."

 

From what I've seen of the most popular labs, it really is a first-come first-served system for getting a place in them. The way that you typically demonstrate commitment to a powerhouse lab is to start research in the summer before 1st year begins (unpaid, often), then do your first rotation with that PI as well. At this point if you've made good progress on the research and integrated well with the group, the PI is going to prefer to formally admit you over any "unproven" students. Which is harsh, but just the way it is.

 

The limiting factor for most successful science PIs is not funding...but space. Every student needs a desk and a fumehood - that kind of space is always finite. Four students is a hefty advising burden - if your university has things like quals or research proposals, then the PI has to read & edit & re-read all 4 proposals, and then organise their schedule around 4 afternoon-consuming defenses...all within the same semester. Most PIs are really busy people.

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