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So I emailed a professor I was interested in doing a rotation with, and his response was yes. However, he also mentioned that he will be retiring soon and thus will not be able to take me in as a student in his lab.

I'm pretty bummed because I was hoping that he'd become my PI someday, but I guess I should have asked before accepting to this school :/

Anyways, I wanted to rotate in labs that I will potentially be able to stay in, since there are only three rotations in my program. But then again I feel rude replying to him, "ok never mind, I'll look for somewhere else to rotate in". Is it common for ppl to rotate in a lab knowing that they won't be able to stay/return? Should I look for other labs to do rotations in?

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I've heard of it happening before. Usually it's to pick up a particular technique, so that even if the PI can't take you it's a valuable rotation. I think the PI will certainly understand if you choose to rotate with a different PI though. 

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14 hours ago, srmi said:

So I emailed a professor I was interested in doing a rotation with, and his response was yes. However, he also mentioned that he will be retiring soon and thus will not be able to take me in as a student in his lab.

I'm pretty bummed because I was hoping that he'd become my PI someday, but I guess I should have asked before accepting to this school :/

Anyways, I wanted to rotate in labs that I will potentially be able to stay in, since there are only three rotations in my program. But then again I feel rude replying to him, "ok never mind, I'll look for somewhere else to rotate in". Is it common for ppl to rotate in a lab knowing that they won't be able to stay/return? Should I look for other labs to do rotations in?

I know this is not what you want to hear, but do not rotate in that lab. Your first two rotations should be in labs that could potentially be your thesis lab. If after your second rotation you know where you will join, then you can use your third rotation for a technique or a topic. Most people use all three to find the right lab or they join as soon as they find a good fit. 

This PI seems really nice. He is being nice by offering a rotation position, but it may not be the most professional move. You should respond by thanking him for the opportunity and the information, then tell him that you want to use your first rotations to find a thesis lab. If he's still there after your second rotation and you know which lab you are going to join, rotate in his lab then. 

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On 7/10/2017 at 9:24 AM, blc073 said:

I know this is not what you want to hear, but do not rotate in that lab. Your first two rotations should be in labs that could potentially be your thesis lab. If after your second rotation you know where you will join, then you can use your third rotation for a technique or a topic. Most people use all three to find the right lab or they join as soon as they find a good fit. 

This PI seems really nice. He is being nice by offering a rotation position, but it may not be the most professional move. You should respond by thanking him for the opportunity and the information, then tell him that you want to use your first rotations to find a thesis lab. If he's still there after your second rotation and you know which lab you are going to join, rotate in his lab then. 

This hit the nail on the head. A retiring PI will understand that you need to prioritise finding a dissertation lab. Additionally, if you end up finding a lab that studies similar things and the retiring PIs lab has a useful technique, they'll usually let you rotate in their lab for a final rotation to learn that technique.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thanks guys for the feedback.

I mustered up the courage to say "thanks, but no thanks" to that professor, and he was very understanding about it.

Problem is, the same thing happened with two other PIs whom I met during recruitment week and discussed the possibility of rotations. When I asked then if they had availability/funding for someone like me, their response was "well, I can't really be sure right now but maybe". Now, it seems to be a flat out no.

I don't know if this is somehow related to the timing that PIs find out about funding, but to me it kinda seems deceiving. Like, I was hoping there would be a chance to work with them and thats why I accepted this school. It seems as if all of the labs I wanted to join are full/have no prospective of funding... Should thesis lab hunting be a numbers game? Perhaps I chose the wrong school?

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Hi srmi, 

So this happened to a person I know, thought it might help you out:

They found their dream program, the PI assured them they had the funding for him, and that he would love to take him into his lab. My friend had acceptance letters from multiple schools, but when he heard the funding was good, he chose that specific school. Fast forward a few month, friend moves over there, gets settled, is going to start in a couple weeks, PI emails him telling him he is sorry but his grant got rejected and he has no place for him in his lab. So my friend ends up basically joining any lab that will take him, and spends a miserable year in that lab. Luckily for him, the lab he wanted got their grant approved the next year and he switched over into their lab and is now happily working toward his degree. 

Now ideally, for this exact reason, you want to chose a school that has multiple programs you are interested in, so if one or two don't work out, you have other options. But it seems like all the labs in your situation are full. It's not ideal, but you can just waste a year in a lab, gain experience a little, but no progression to your PhD degree (it sucks, but it happens more often then you think for various reasons). The important thing is, avoid choosing a lab you don't like at all costs, because a year is a long time, and you will be miserable. So if there are no other labs you could join that interest you in continuing your thesis work, I would join the retiree's lab for the time being, but make sure the other labs know you have an interest in joining their lab so they hold your spot for you when they do get funding. Best case scenario, they get funding right away, and you can leave the lab you're currently in and go join theirs with only wasting a little time. Worst case scenario, you didn't find a lab by the time your PI retires, and you may have "wasted" a year, but you gained experience and enjoyed the process at the very least. So all it does is boost your resume. But from every PhD student I've ever spoken too, do not go into a lab that you dislike or has a bad PI or lab members (unless you really have absolutely have to). Not only will you hate your first year as a PhD (not a great way to start), but if the PI is an asshole, they can also actually hurt your reputation in the school. In my university, there is a nasty PI who's opposed to anyone leaving his lab for whatever reason, no matter how long you've been in his lab. Knew a girl who spent 3 years in his lab and wanted to switch out to another lab (the lab I was in). Not only did he not recommend her, he went out of his way to tell our PI repeatedly that she was a horrible lab member and it was in our best interest not to take her on. Lucky for the girl, my PI hated said PI, so she took on the girl anyways. Needless to say, the girl was actually incredibly smart and ended up giving my PI 2 publications. My friend I told you above, he considered leaving the program multiple times because of how bad his lab was (the research was boring and going nowhere, the PI was upset by this and was taking it out on all his lab members, the lab members got upset and took out on each other), it was just terrible. Now he's incredibly happy and saying he's having the best time of his life in his current program. So just some food for thought from other people's experiences. 

Edited by samman1994
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