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Participating in more than one research/lab


beefgallo
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Is participating in two different researches, with no connection between them - possible? Common?

 

I have several interests in my field, and think that doing that might be helpful in deciding what to focus on in my future dissertation; and frankly, I generally see positive sides to focusing on more than one narrow research direction if there is such an option.

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This really depends on your program. In my program, we are required to do two research projects that are not connected to each other (and then defend them at the end of the first year in a quals exam). So here, it's not only normal, it's required!

 

Obviously I have a biased opinion because I chose this program knowing that this was the requirement, but I think it's a really good idea for most graduate students to have more than one project. I think that having only one project puts you at risk of becoming irrelevant if the trends in your field change (or if you get scooped). Also, if you want to continue in academia, having more than one project means you can churn out more papers and also have more than one network of people / skills / expertise / research ideas. 

 

I would say that students should still keep their multiple projects connected enough that they can go in the same dissertation though (unless this is a side project that you are only spending a little bit of time on). But in my field, dissertations don't have a lot of requirements and it's common for a dissertation from my program to be 3 separate projects with a common theme (e.g. using a similar method on multiple unrelated data sets). Overall, I'm not sure if the benefits of having side projects is worth it if they don't count towards your dissertation.

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I'll elaborate on my intention. 

 

I didn't mean my own projects/papers, I meant participation in someone else's research, your adviser, or a lab in the department. Though, I am not sure whether the two things (my own projects vs. someone else's) are actually separate in all cases.

 

Say, I am going to a university where a professor has shown interest in me assisting them with their ongoing research, since my previous experience and knowledge are relevant to said research. However, their research interest is (close to but) not exactly what I would like to write my dissertation on. Am I 'stuck' only doing RA work for that professor, or is it acceptable for me to ask to participate in someone else's research (which is a bit closer to my personal interests) at the same time?

 

I hope this is coherent....

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Sorry for the confusion. In my field, while we do work on projects for our supervisors, they are always considered "our projects". That is, "our project" does not mean that we necessarily came up with the idea, but we're the ones responsible for doing the actual work. 

 

I think whether it's okay to work on someone else's work at the same time will really depend on your department and your "first" advisor. If your funding is tied to doing RA work for this first professor, then you would have to make sure that you are meeting the requirements of that commitment. 

 

In my field, RA work and dissertation work are one and the same. It's rare for us to do RA work for another professor for funding only, without progressing on our dissertation. But I know this is different in different fields. In my opinion though, I generally would say that it's important to be flexible on what you want your dissertation to be about, especially if you are starting a new program. That is, I would actually pick a dissertation topic based on factors like: 1) does it teach me the skills I want, 2) is this subject a hot topic in my field right now, and 3) do I get along well with the professor and the lab. It's a lot easier for us to change our interests than it is to change these factors I listed.

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Thank you. I definitely will not decide on the topic of my dissertation prior to starting a program. I currently just have several things that interest me and I will try to figure out how they can fit the program I will soon start. Since it's gonna be a new university with a different research direction than my previous university, there is also the chance I will get into something new I haven't previously thought of.

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  • 4 weeks later...

In my field and department, it was quite common for students to work in more than one lab on projects in different areas. However, they usually had some idea about how the work in the two labs were related to each other, and their research married the work in some new and interesting way. I think it would be difficult to work in two completely unrelated labs doing unrelated work, especially if you are really only working in one lab for the research funding and mentorship and the other lab is really what you want to do.

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