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When to contact PIs for the rotations


AjjA

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I'm still working as a full time technician. I accepted a grad school offer for the Fall 2016. When should I started contacting PIs and ask them about rotating at their labs? Should I contact them directly or through some office in the school?

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It might depend on your program.  I don't think that its bad to contact them now to show interest, but it also probably isn't necessary.

I know at my school during the first week before classes start they do an orientation.  Part of the orientation is that all of the PIs looking for rotating students do a 15 minute talk on their research.  Then, at the end of the week, everyone writes down their top 3 choices and the PIs get to see those and pick which students go where.  In that case talking to them before might help, but it also might not matter at all.

Obviously this only works in a smaller school setting.  My incoming class will be around 15 so this won't be too hard.  If you school is different or if they don't do an intro/orientation type week then it might help to contact them sometime before classes start.

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12 minutes ago, HopefulPHD14 said:

It might depend on your program.  I don't think that its bad to contact them now to show interest, but it also probably isn't necessary.

I know at my school during the first week before classes start they do an orientation.  Part of the orientation is that all of the PIs looking for rotating students do a 15 minute talk on their research.  Then, at the end of the week, everyone writes down their top 3 choices and the PIs get to see those and pick which students go where.  In that case talking to them before might help, but it also might not matter at all.

Obviously this only works in a smaller school setting.  My incoming class will be around 15 so this won't be too hard.  If you school is different or if they don't do an intro/orientation type week then it might help to contact them sometime before classes start.

Wish ours was that straightforward. We have 50+ affiliated faculty members in our dept. and on top of that we are allowed to rotate w/ any faculty of our choosing across the university or at an affiliated research foundation. 

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Even if you start contacting them now, I wouldn't set up more than the first rotation. You won't know who you'll want to work with next, and if you interests change (after hearing faculty talks, more from other grad students, etc.) you don't want to be locked into other rotations and not get the chance to rotate with someone that you decide you want to!

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I didn't set up my first rotation until about 2 weeks after arriving (and about 2 weeks before the rotation itself started) and definitely didn't set up all of my rotations at once. I really think it's program-specific though. One reason I'm really glad I waited was that my program (which is relatively large) also did a series of "mini-talks" where faculty present their current research and mingle with the incoming first years which was super helpful. Granted, there are A LOT of faculty in the program so it was a little overwhelming (though certainly not all of them gave talks) and did drag on after the first few rounds, but it was also very informative. On the other hand, it can't hurt to reach out earlier than I did, like say the summer before.

But I definitely wouldn't do it too early because you'll be wanting to set up meetings with faculty and that will be much easier when you're physically there/know your own schedule a little more, in my opinon. I guess the one caveat to this might be whether or not it's common for students to have to "compete" with each other for rotations and, if so, getting a foot in earlier than others is necessary? This was never the case for even the most popular labs in my program, but it might be a concern I suppose.

As for later rotations (however many that is for your program), my top choices definitely changed throughout the first semester from getting more familiar with the program and faculty and talking with current students and post-docs in the labs I was interested in (which I highly recommend doing before choosing a rotation!!). Both my second and third rotations were overall much better informed decisions than my first, but also went in much more surprising directions research-wise after unexpectedly hitting it off with both PIs at random department events.

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