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Choosing between two rotation labs...perspective appreciated!


ss2player
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Hi y'all,

 

So I have to choose my thesis lab within the next month and was hoping the great people here might have some insight. I'll have a comparative list going of different aspects of Lab A vs. Lab B.

 

Lab A, my current rotation:

  • Advisor: available, supportive, friendly, everything you would want...the more "cuddly" option. Less well known, an associate professor.
  • Funding: OK but not spectacular. Lab will always be small because of this and won't have fancy equipment; two students just graduated, a postdoc left for industry, now has two postdocs, tech, and me. Past students have had success getting fellowships. Department has enough resources that we don't feel "poor", but it can be a struggle.
  • Research: everything is in my interest and advisor would allow me to pursue whatever I want, essentially. But because lab is small it might be more difficult to accomplish.
  • Publication record: smaller but solid journals (Blood, Journal of Biological Chemistry, etc.) Won't be as high impact as Lab B but a better work-life balance.
  • Career impact: seems more open to non-academic career paths and would encourage me to pursue them. Rec letters won't open as many doors but has a lot of collaborators.
  • Miscellany: lab is next to the free gym and has cheap parking (though I currently bike). Older building but decently remodeled and has windows. Farther away from main campus where lectures are, but closer to program HQ.

Lab B, my previous rotation:

  • Advisor: more aloof, emotionally cold, kind of stubborn with ideas, but makes time for you and will go to bat for her students. Well known, just promoted to full prof, has tenure.
  • Funding: prodigious and good track record. Lab is 3x size of Lab A: 5 students, a couple post-docs, lab manager, tech, medical fellow, and instructor. Not as pressured to get fellowships, lab is well balanced and run super smoothly, things just WORK.
  • Research: more basic genetics and developmental, but graduating student would "leave" me his project which has a lot of potential and excites me. Don't want to bank on one project though; nothing else in the lab intrigues me and advisor isn't the most open to new ideas.
  • Publication record: big-wig who regularly gets Nature papers. Student mentioned above got first author in Nature and now going to Genentech. High impact but a lot of work.
  • Career impact: more academic focused lab, not sure would have time to explore other options (internships, networking, etc.) Rec letters and reputation can take me far in the academic world.
  • Miscellany: gym is out of the way and parking is 10x more expensive! If I end up having to move and therefore drive to campus, it could become painful. New building is host to many lectures, but program events would be farther away.

 

 

As someone who doesn't intend to pursue an academic career, I'd be crazy not to chose Lab A, right? I'm really attracted to how efficient and impactful Lab B is, but I feel like I might be stifled and feel unmotivated due to that. However, I previously had a bad experience with my old lab losing funding and me becoming de-facto lab manager, so I don't want that to happen again, and the funding in Lab B would prevent such a thing.

 

What does everyone think? I keep hearing having an advisor who helps you achieve your goals is the most important thing, but I'm not sure if the supposed benefits to Lab B are all smoke and mirrors or not.

 

Thanks to anyone who has thoughts on this!

Edited by ss2player
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Hi y'all,

So I have to choose my thesis lab within the next month and was hoping the great people here might have some insight. I'll have a comparative list going of different aspects of Lab A vs. Lab B.

Lab A, my current rotation:

  • Advisor: available, supportive, friendly, everything you would want...the more "cuddly" option. Less well known, an associate professor.
  • Funding: OK but not spectacular. Lab will always be small because of this and won't have fancy equipment; two students just graduated, a postdoc left for industry, now has two postdocs, tech, and me. Past students have had success getting fellowships. Department has enough resources that we don't feel "poor", but it can be a struggle.
  • Research: everything is in my interest and advisor would allow me to pursue whatever I want, essentially. But because lab is small it might be more difficult to accomplish.
  • Publication record: smaller but solid journals (Blood, Journal of Biological Chemistry, etc.) Won't be as high impact as Lab B but a better work-life balance.
  • Career impact: seems more open to non-academic career paths and would encourage me to pursue them. Rec letters won't open as many doors but has a lot of collaborators.
  • Miscellany: lab is next to the free gym and has cheap parking (though I currently bike). Older building but decently remodeled and has windows. Farther away from main campus where lectures are, but closer to program HQ.
Lab B, my previous rotation:
  • Advisor: more aloof, emotionally cold, kind of stubborn with ideas, but makes time for you and will go to bat for her students. Well known, just promoted to full prof, has tenure.
  • Funding: prodigious and good track record. Lab is 3x size of Lab A: 5 students, a couple post-docs, lab manager, tech, medical fellow, and instructor. Not as pressured to get fellowships, lab is well balanced and run super smoothly, things just WORK.
  • Research: more basic genetics and developmental, but graduating student would "leave" me his project which has a lot of potential and excites me. Don't want to bank on one project though; nothing else in the lab intrigues me and advisor isn't the most open to new ideas.
  • Publication record: big-wig who regularly gets Nature papers. Student mentioned above got first author in Nature and now going to Genentech. High impact but a lot of work.
  • Career impact: more academic focused lab, not sure would have time to explore other options (internships, networking, etc.) Rec letters and reputation can take me far in the academic world.
  • Miscellany: gym is out of the way and parking is 10x more expensive! If I end up having to move and therefore drive to campus, it could become painful. New building is host to many lectures, but program events would be farther away.

As someone who doesn't intend to pursue an academic career, I'd be crazy not to chose Lab A, right? I'm really attracted to how efficient and impactful Lab B is, but I feel like I might be stifled and feel unmotivated due to that. However, I previously had a bad experience with my old lab losing funding and me becoming de-facto lab manager, so I don't want that to happen again, and the funding in Lab B would prevent such a thing.

What does everyone think? I keep hearing having an advisor who helps you achieve your goals is the most important thing, but I'm not sure if the supposed benefits to Lab B are all smoke and mirrors or not.

Thanks to anyone who has thoughts on this!

If it were me, I would choose lab A. The research fit is better, and overall it would seem like you would be happy there. Like you, I'm not really in it for the fame and glory or to get into academia. As long as I can land a decent post doc and industry position, I don't really care. The smaller lab setting may also benefit you because you're forced to learn a lot on your own. (Painful at first, but worth it)

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I'd probably go A, because I like the flexibility you described and I'm not focused on high impact because I don't see myself staying in academic science. If you want to stay in academia or if you really want that job at a fortune 500, go with B.

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  • Advisor: available, supportive, friendly, everything you would want...the more "cuddly" option. Less well known, an associate professor

As someone who doesn't intend to pursue an academic career, I'd be crazy not to chose Lab A, right? I'm really attracted to how efficient and impactful Lab B is, but I feel like I might be stifled and feel unmotivated due to that. However, I previously had a bad experience with my old lab losing funding and me becoming de-facto lab manager, so I don't want that to happen again, and the funding in Lab B would prevent such a thing.

 

What does everyone think? I keep hearing having an advisor who helps you achieve your goals is the most important thing, but I'm not sure if the supposed benefits to Lab B are all smoke and mirrors or not.

 

Thanks to anyone who has thoughts on this!

 

I laughed at the "cuddly" part. Never actually heard anyone describe PIs like that before!

 

I currently work at Genentech, and I can say that if you're really looking to get into the company as a postdoc or directly from your PhD program, publication does matter a lot. Many of the labs here are run by PIs that work as those coldly efficient labs you described in B.

 

However, if you want to work your way up to a company like Genentech, many people take the route of working at a smaller company and building experience there, and then applying for a job at a more well known company (Pfizer, Genentech, Gilead, etc.) once their work experience speaks for themselves. In that sense I would say you should choose A so that you'll for sure be very comfortable, passionate, and knowledgeable about your project. Also, being able to research what you want is important as well - you'll be able to choose something you genuinely care about.

 

I would personally talk to the students currently in both labs (you probably have) about their perception of job prospects after being in their respective labs. If possible, try to contact the people that have left the labs as well in order to better get an idea of if those "perceived benefits" are real.

 

Personally speaking, I would choose lab B and hope that you get that project you're really interested in. But I can definitely see picking A as the comfortable lab. Either way, it's all about how hard you work in the labs and what you do during your time there.

Edited by SublimePZ
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Lab A for sure. Its better to have a supportive PI that's "everything you want" than a well known prof who isn't open to new ideas. If the current project in Lab B doesn't pan out how you would like it seems as if you would be stuck doing a project you're not really interested in. Especially if Prof B isn't into new ideas/projects. If you're not interested in an academic career Lab A sounds like the better option since the PI is supportive of that career path.

 

Seems like you've pretty much decided on Lab A. Lab B can be tempting especially when students/post-docs are regularly publishing in Nature/Science/Cell, funding isn't an issue, and the PI is well known in their respective field.

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I'd pick Lab A, because it seems like that choice will give you more room to grow. However, I definitely agree with some of the other posts which mention talking to the current students in those labs. They can give you a little more insight into what is expected from the PIs in question. Good luck!

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I won't say which lab you should go since I am not you

But please remember one thing: This is a choice that will follow you for at least 5 years. Apart from class and your bedroom, you will spend most of the time there so you want to have n environment that you feel good about. Equipment is one of the factors, but how about people? Apart from adviser, are other people also friendly, helpful and make you feel warm? If yes, go ahead and choose that lab

 

In your case, money seems not to be a problem as both labs can obtain money to support their project

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It sounds like you want to do A, but I'd do B. (And this is regardless of wanting to stay/leave academia.) What sells me on it is that the lab is well run. This means that there's a highly functional lab manager in place that can get stuff done, so you won't ever be stuck like that again. It also sounds like there might be older staff scientists in lab B who have institutional knowledge of how a lot of things work and could be very valuable resources.

 

My PI sounds very similar to the PI in lab B (although we're not pumping out nature papers...), and I really like that highly independant type of work environment. I think it just depends on how you work and what you want to get out of your PhD. I know people who *have* to work at the bench with their PI, but I'm fine seeing my PI 1-3 times every week (some weeks only in lab meetings). However, I wouldn't call my
PI aloof. Also, don't under estimate a PI that has the weight to go to bat for you. That's important and having money means your cool project won't get dropped because the lab didn't get a grant renewal and can't fund it (although that's happening at bigger labs these days).

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Thanks everyone, I appreciate your thoughts on this.

 

I am pretty sure I'll go with Lab A; they may not be as rolling in $$$ or prestige but it fits my goals better. Anecdote: Lab A advisor invited me to breakfast with a visiting lecturer back in October, months before I was to even start my rotation. Meanwhile, Lab B advisor didn't meet individually with me or another rotating student unless we specifically requested it. I think that says a lot right there.

In terms of mentorship, Lab B lab meetings consisted of people presenting their work and B advisor telling them what they should do next, so it would get into a good journal. I didn't see much back and forth dialog, if anything the students seemed scared to voice their opinions. Lab A meetings had plenty of discussion and A advisor asking us questions about how we would approach a problem, then working through it from there. I want a lab that encourages independent thinking and problem-solving, not where you're following orders from on high. To be clear, Lab A advisor is pretty hands off but more available, while Lab B advisor tends to be gone a lot and you won't see her more than once a week, period.

 

I've talked to the students extensively. Lab B has placed people in great postdocs, so Genentech student is the first to buck that trend, while Lab A has been more varied based on the students' interests. Lab B Genentech student also told me Lab A would give me great mentorship and an easier life, but I wouldn't get as high-impact publications, so it was up to me and what my goals were. I should note these labs have collaborated in the past, so I'm planning on floating the idea of collaborating on some of his project between lab A, lab B, and lab C at a nearby institution. And I'd like to have B advisor on my committee if possible, I do respect the hell out of her.

 

Onward and upward!

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