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samman1994

How to email a lab you want to join

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I understand. It appears I'll only be potentially hurting my chances while gaining very little from it. Thank you for everyones advice by the way! This was the whole reason I made this thread. I didn't want to burn any bridges or create negative connections before I even get involved in the field. So thank you again!

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I mean zero disrespect, @samman1994, but from what I've read of your posts, you come off as very set in what you want to do and how you want to do it. I said it earlier and now that @TakeruK has said something similar, I'd like to give more unsolicited advice/anecdote regarding this. 

I interviewed with the director of my graduate program and I mentioned that even though I was most interested in behavioral neuroscience, I wanted to rotate in labs that gave me exposure to different techniques than what I'd done previously. He then spent 10 minutes of my interview talking about how he gets frustrated when graduate students come in with the idea that they will be sticking to previous techniques and research areas, because inevitably you will not end up doing what you thought you'd be doing even a semester into dissertation research. I would be very careful in how you phrase your previous techniques vs. what you think you'll be doing with your PhD in your personal statement - being viewed as closed-minded would be a huge detriment in your application. 

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2 hours ago, aquamarine said:

I mean zero disrespect, @samman1994, but from what I've read of your posts, you come off as very set in what you want to do and how you want to do it. I said it earlier and now that @TakeruK has said something similar, I'd like to give more unsolicited advice/anecdote regarding this. 

I interviewed with the director of my graduate program and I mentioned that even though I was most interested in behavioral neuroscience, I wanted to rotate in labs that gave me exposure to different techniques than what I'd done previously. He then spent 10 minutes of my interview talking about how he gets frustrated when graduate students come in with the idea that they will be sticking to previous techniques and research areas, because inevitably you will not end up doing what you thought you'd be doing even a semester into dissertation research. I would be very careful in how you phrase your previous techniques vs. what you think you'll be doing with your PhD in your personal statement - being viewed as closed-minded would be a huge detriment in your application. 

Thanks for the feedback aqua.I think I understand where my main mistake is here. I thought proceeding with this entire process with the attitude of, I know what I want to do and how I want to do it, would show that I'm motivated and focused. But really, it appears its primarily a detterent because it makes the schools (and POI) think that I don't want to do anything else (i.e. I'm too focused). I think the biggest issue following from that is, it's coming off that protein NMR is a requirement, not a preference. Now for me, ideally I'd want a protein NMR lab, and will try and navigate my route that direction as much as possible (e.g. choosing to do rotations in labs that focus on that), but I definitely do not want that concept (requirement vs. preference) to get confused in my POS. 

I'd also like to add (personally), I really don't want a lab that just does protein NMR. I want a lab that uses multiple instruments, but focuses mostly on NMR (e.g. why my email asked the POI if they used other instruments even when their focus is NMR). I also stated in another post that I'd like to join a lab that has a small developmental/theoretical side so I could see a little bit of that as well. I like to have one primary big focus, but I also really want to dabble my hands into a lot of things as well. At the end of the day that's what I really want to get across. I've done protein NMR work, and I really liked it, and I'd like to continue it, while expanding my horizons to include other instrumentation and biophysical methods. 

I think for all these reasons, there is no point to email the POI. Doesn't matter which part of their project I like now, by next year they may be moving in a completely different direction with it, they may have a new project I might like. Really, it's not even up to me, I'll join the lab, and try and join a project I like, but it'll be up to the funding, available space, and POI what they choose to assign me. Using their specific research in my SOP will give me the problem I have now, it may come across as too focused. I want to show the school I've done my research, but I can do that by stating the labs, or just a brief summary of what they do, not specific project details.

I guess a question that arises form all of this is, do you think protein NMR is too focused for my SOP? Each school may have at most 2 to 3 members that do that kind of research, and I don't want the school to think "oh well if those 2 or 3 faculty members don't have room, he won't be interested in anything else, so we don't want somebody like that". Should I expand my focus to be just proteomics in general, and only use NMR (and the faculty members) as an example? 

E.G.

I like biochemistry and think proteins are cool, key factors in disease bla bla bla, your school has a great NMR and crystallography facility with a variety of researches such as X Y and Z that have really interesting research (maybe only discuss in brief about one of the PIs research)

versus

I like protein NMR and think its cool and has a lot of potential for drug design. NMR has lots of benefits bla bla bla your school has researcher X Y and Z that focus on this and use your NMR facility (discuss instrumentation in a bit of detail) that look at (discuss projects of X and or Y)

One is generally discussing Biochemistry and proteins as my focus, and discusses the facilities they have there that would just be great in general for disease and proteomics (and if look at it that way, you go from 2 to 3 faculty members to literally 30+). The other is discussing protein NMR as my focus and how great their facility and those researchers are for my focus. One is very focused into a particular sub-field (structural biology of proteins and biophysical technique of NMR as the theme, with researchers X Y and Z as examples), the other is more general (basically all of proteomics as the theme, with structural biology and biophysics as examples).

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19 hours ago, samman1994 said:

Thanks for the feedback aqua.I think I understand where my main mistake is here. I thought proceeding with this entire process with the attitude of, I know what I want to do and how I want to do it, would show that I'm motivated and focused. But really, it appears its primarily a detterent because it makes the schools (and POI) think that I don't want to do anything else (i.e. I'm too focused). I think the biggest issue following from that is, it's coming off that protein NMR is a requirement, not a preference. Now for me, ideally I'd want a protein NMR lab, and will try and navigate my route that direction as much as possible (e.g. choosing to do rotations in labs that focus on that), but I definitely do not want that concept (requirement vs. preference) to get confused in my POS. 

I'd also like to add (personally), I really don't want a lab that just does protein NMR. I want a lab that uses multiple instruments, but focuses mostly on NMR (e.g. why my email asked the POI if they used other instruments even when their focus is NMR). I also stated in another post that I'd like to join a lab that has a small developmental/theoretical side so I could see a little bit of that as well. I like to have one primary big focus, but I also really want to dabble my hands into a lot of things as well. At the end of the day that's what I really want to get across. I've done protein NMR work, and I really liked it, and I'd like to continue it, while expanding my horizons to include other instrumentation and biophysical methods. 

I think for all these reasons, there is no point to email the POI. Doesn't matter which part of their project I like now, by next year they may be moving in a completely different direction with it, they may have a new project I might like. Really, it's not even up to me, I'll join the lab, and try and join a project I like, but it'll be up to the funding, available space, and POI what they choose to assign me. Using their specific research in my SOP will give me the problem I have now, it may come across as too focused. I want to show the school I've done my research, but I can do that by stating the labs, or just a brief summary of what they do, not specific project details.

I guess a question that arises form all of this is, do you think protein NMR is too focused for my SOP? Each school may have at most 2 to 3 members that do that kind of research, and I don't want the school to think "oh well if those 2 or 3 faculty members don't have room, he won't be interested in anything else, so we don't want somebody like that". Should I expand my focus to be just proteomics in general, and only use NMR (and the faculty members) as an example? 

E.G.

I like biochemistry and think proteins are cool, key factors in disease bla bla bla, your school has a great NMR and crystallography facility with a variety of researches such as X Y and Z that have really interesting research (maybe only discuss in brief about one of the PIs research)

versus

I like protein NMR and think its cool and has a lot of potential for drug design. NMR has lots of benefits bla bla bla your school has researcher X Y and Z that focus on this and use your NMR facility (discuss instrumentation in a bit of detail) that look at (discuss projects of X and or Y)

One is generally discussing Biochemistry and proteins as my focus, and discusses the facilities they have there that would just be great in general for disease and proteomics (and if look at it that way, you go from 2 to 3 faculty members to literally 30+). The other is discussing protein NMR as my focus and how great their facility and those researchers are for my focus. One is very focused into a particular sub-field (structural biology of proteins and biophysical technique of NMR as the theme, with researchers X Y and Z as examples), the other is more general (basically all of proteomics as the theme, with structural biology and biophysics as examples).

I think that as long as you don't make it sound like you're going to grad school to do a technique, you should be fine. Remember, at the end of the day, NMR is still just a means to answer a question. 

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5 hours ago, Bioenchilada said:

I think that as long as you don't make it sound like you're going to grad school to do a technique, you should be fine. Remember, at the end of the day, NMR is still just a means to answer a question. 

I know you probably didn't mean it this way, but the exception is obviously people who specialize in method development, where NMR is very much a question. Just putting it out there for people reading this in the future.

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The prof from LSU replied and told me to send her my motivation letter, she said she will have a look at it. After that, she has sent me the edited sop. She is all excited for me to apply.

Does that mean she has accepted me to her lab???

Or should i ask her boldly, coz the 100$ form my hard earned money......im confused

 

 

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3 hours ago, AD said:

The prof from LSU replied and told me to send her my motivation letter, she said she will have a look at it. After that, she has sent me the edited sop. She is all excited for me to apply.

Does that mean she has accepted me to her lab???

Or should i ask her boldly, coz the 100$ form my hard earned money......im confused

 

 

As people have stated before, a PI will RARELY commit to taking you to their lab via email as an applicant. She is simply encouraging you to apply, doesn't mean anything else. In fact, there are many examples on previous admission cycles here of people that were told to apply by a PI and ultimately get rejected. 

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6 hours ago, AD said:

The prof from LSU replied and told me to send her my motivation letter, she said she will have a look at it. After that, she has sent me the edited sop. She is all excited for me to apply.

Does that mean she has accepted me to her lab???

Or should i ask her boldly, coz the 100$ form my hard earned money......im confused

 

 

I wouldn't assume that quite yet. I'd say the only time you can make an assumption like that is when the POI literally says for you to tell them when you apply so they can personally look at your application and move it forward. Saying she's excited for you to have her in the lab just means, "I'd like to take you if you got in", not, "you're in". 

There is also a big difference in getting into her lab, and getting into the program. Even if she wants you in the lab, there is no guarentee you'll get into the program (at least, not because of her). And even then, as stated above, there are occurrences of POIs that want you in, but then you get there and they don't have room or funding available (from what I've seen, this is usually due to their grant getting rejected. Also keep in mind, almost a full year has passed since you applied and a lot changes within a year for a lab). 

I think the most important thing to state though is, even if the POI says they'll personally get you in, even if you think you've overqualified for the school or something, even if they're super excited for you to join their lab, there is never a guarentee for anything. You could potentially get rejected at every level (they want you in the lab, you don't get in the program, you get into the program, they don't want you in the lab, etc.) So apply on the basis there are other peoples labs you'd like to work with, so if that doesn't work you have a back up. Also apply with the full expectation that no matter what the POI says or no matter what you think, you could still get rejected. This is why I'd advise when you're picking schools, pick them on research interest, not names or ease of getting in. 

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I'm also under the impression that programs will specifically say whether they do the rotation method (as in, no single PI can immediately accept a student, they need to go through the formal application process with the admissions committee) or programs will state that all incoming applicants need a PI who is willing to take them as a student before they are even admitted to the program.  I would check how, exactly, students are admitted to that program because some are different than others.  

I don't think that response means you are accepted into her laboratory, but that she is encouraging you to apply.

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On 9/15/2017 at 7:52 PM, Bioenchilada said:

As people have stated before, a PI will RARELY commit to taking you to their lab via email as an applicant. She is simply encouraging you to apply, doesn't mean anything else. In fact, there are many examples on previous admission cycles here of people that were told to apply by a PI and ultimately get rejected. 

shit man.....shit.....:(

 

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13 minutes ago, AD said:

shit man.....shit.....:(

 

yeah, honestly with your mindset, I think the best action would be not to even think of her. Assume she will do absolutely nothing, and apply and plan with that mindset. 

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6 minutes ago, samman1994 said:

yeah, honestly with your mindset, I think the best action would be not to even think of her. Assume she will do absolutely nothing, and apply and plan with that mindset. 

yeah man i run 2 polyclinic in my country, i wanted to work in Neurodegenerative diseases, I donot think i will apply if she is not taking me to her lab. i think  I will ask her the question boldly.

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Just now, AD said:

yeah man i run 2 polyclinic in my country, i wanted to work in Neurodegenerative diseases, I donot think i will apply if she is not taking me to her lab. i think  I will ask her the question boldly.

I would highly advise against doing that. Again, faculty do not have a direct "you're in" power in the admissions. They can, if they really like you, help bring your application some attention, but that is it. What you risk by going all out is either potentially annoying her (ruining your chances), or getting a "I'd like to have you in, I encourage you to apply" which again doesn't mean anything. If you were only going to apply because of this one person, I would advise applying to the school in general. Every school you apply to should have at least 3+ (some advise minimum 5+) faculty members you'd like to work with. Setting yourself up with only one can cause a lot of problems now and in the future. 

 

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8 hours ago, AD said:

yeah man i run 2 polyclinic in my country, i wanted to work in Neurodegenerative diseases, I donot think i will apply if she is not taking me to her lab. i think  I will ask her the question boldly.

You're asking something that is impossible for them to commit to. You will never get the answer you want. 

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There ARE programs out there that will take direct admit students and those that admit students to undergo rotations.  I would carefully look at the programs you want to apply to, look at their websites, to see what their admission cycles look like.  Many programs will admit students through a process where applications are vetted by an admissions committee and your PI of interest may have no say or power in the admissions process.  Some programs, however, will only accept students if they are accepted by a PI/lab that has agreed to fund them.  If a school does rotations, you need to have multiple faculty identified who you could work with.

If you're contacting a PI who is part of a program that admits students for rotations, there is no way they can commit to taking you on a student even if they are looking to take a graduate student, because like other applicants, your application is likely to be reviewed by an established committee.  You could ask if they anticipate taking rotation students next fall to get an idea if they are seeking students, but sometimes that is too far in advance for a PI to know for sure.

I was advised against contacting labs during this application season because it would be 1.5-2 years by the time I would officially join a lab.  During that time, it is possible that a PI hasn't secured enough funding to take another graduate student, maybe a student they thought was ready to graduate isn't, and maybe this year they take a new student after this round of rotations and therefore don't have space in their lab anymore.  You never know.

I'm personally a fan of the rotation method since you'll hopefully have an idea of whether you like the research you're doing in the laboratory, if you get along with the PI and the lab, and if the PI's mentoring and work styles are compatible with yours.

Edited by StemCellFan

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On 9/13/2017 at 1:13 PM, aquamarine said:

I interviewed with the director of my graduate program and I mentioned that even though I was most interested in behavioral neuroscience, I wanted to rotate in labs that gave me exposure to different techniques than what I'd done previously. He then spent 10 minutes of my interview talking about how he gets frustrated when graduate students come in with the idea that they will be sticking to previous techniques and research areas, because inevitably you will not end up doing what you thought you'd be doing even a semester into dissertation research. I would be very careful in how you phrase your previous techniques vs. what you think you'll be doing with your PhD in your personal statement - being viewed as closed-minded would be a huge detriment in your application. 

Alternatively, I've heard that including the research you'd like to see yourself doing in the context of the "what's what" in your field can help your statement stand out. This is made even better if you've identified a gap in understanding in the field that you can perhaps work towards filling. I don't think it's exactly impossible or that unlikely that you would be doing what you set out to research in the first place. This is especially true if, like me, you mention a topic in which  you are seeking to branch out that's distinct from your previous topic of research anyway. That being said, people and interests change multiple times after they're admitted/enrolled into a program. However, that's not to say speaking about your specific topic of interest should be held against you in anyway simply because the professor believes you will not stick to it.

Edited by Bio-warrior

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2 hours ago, Bio-warrior said:

Alternatively, I've heard that including the research you'd like to see yourself doing in the context of the "what's what" in your field can help your statement stand out. This is made even better if you've identified a gap in understanding in the field that you can perhaps work towards filling. I don't think it's exactly impossible or that unlikely that you would be doing what you set out to research in the first place. This is especially true if, like me, you mention a topic in which  you are seeking to branch out that's distinct from your previous topic of research anyway. That being said, people and interests change multiple times after they're admitted/enrolled into a program. However, that's not to say speaking about your specific topic of interest should be held against you in anyway simply because the professor believes you will not stick to it.

I spoke plenty about my specific topic of interest (neuropharmacology), while making it clear that I was in no way 100% committed to exactly what or how. The important thing that I might not have conveyed clearly enough is to show that you are open minded, especially with techniques. In the context of my interview, he was referring to interviewing with other students who essentially said "I am studying ONLY problem X using method Y with Prof Z". If your SOP/interview come off as too narrow, it is a detriment in your application. 

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3 minutes ago, aquamarine said:

I spoke plenty about my specific topic of interest (neuropharmacology), while making it clear that I was in no way 100% committed to exactly what or how. The important thing that I might not have conveyed clearly enough is to show that you are open minded, especially with techniques. In the context of my interview, he was referring to interviewing with other students who essentially said "I am studying ONLY problem X using method Y with Prof Z". If your SOP/interview come off as too narrow, it is a detriment in your application. 

And in context of this thread, I think I appeared to come off very one-sided (I only wanted to work on protein structure using NMR with professors who did exactly that). Although from initial feedback of my SOP, it appears I'm now to general and need to specify it more. So you have to find a happy balance between focused, but not limited. 

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14 hours ago, aquamarine said:

I spoke plenty about my specific topic of interest (neuropharmacology), while making it clear that I was in no way 100% committed to exactly what or how. The important thing that I might not have conveyed clearly enough is to show that you are open minded, especially with techniques. In the context of my interview, he was referring to interviewing with other students who essentially said "I am studying ONLY problem X using method Y with Prof Z". If your SOP/interview come off as too narrow, it is a detriment in your application. 

@aquamarineThank you for your perspective. From this, I gather it would not hurt to mention the topic of research in its context without mentioning any techniques. However, I'm wondering how specific you can/should speak about your topics in your SOP/interview. Is it okay/better to mention the specific thing in the style of 'We don't know why circumstance W causes gene X to trigger proto-oncogene Y to become oncogenic, but we think it has something to do with protein Z. I want to study this phenomenon.' or simply 'I want to study the circumstances underlying the causes for certain genes triggering proto-oncogenes to become oncogenic.'? To me, both of these sound better than just "I wanna study what causes cancer".

P.S. Not a cell bio guy, just using that as an example.

Edited by Bio-warrior

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50 minutes ago, Bio-warrior said:

@aquamarineThank you for your perspective. From this, I gather it would not hurt to mention the topic of research in its context without mentioning any techniques. However, I'm wondering how specific you can/should speak about your topics in your SOP/interview. Is it okay/better to mention the specific thing in the style of 'We don't know why circumstance W causes gene X to trigger proto-oncogene Y to become oncogenic, but we think it has something to do with protein Z. I want to study this phenomenon.' or simply 'I want to study the circumstances underlying the causes for certain genes triggering proto-oncogenes to become oncogenic.'? To me, both of these sound better than just "I wanna study what causes cancer".

P.S. Not a cell bio guy, just using that as an example.

In my SOP I wanted to focus on understanding how proteins function in pathways to help aid drug design. I focused on elucidating their structure, probing their dynamics, and observing their binding. However, I didn't mention any specific instrumentation, I instead simply stated "biophysical, computational, and cellular" methods to do this. Then I discussed the schools various instrumentation (NMR, microscopes, mass specs, etc.) and how they can be used for what I'm trying to do. 

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3 hours ago, Bio-warrior said:

@aquamarineThank you for your perspective. From this, I gather it would not hurt to mention the topic of research in its context without mentioning any techniques. However, I'm wondering how specific you can/should speak about your topics in your SOP/interview. Is it okay/better to mention the specific thing in the style of 'We don't know why circumstance W causes gene X to trigger proto-oncogene Y to become oncogenic, but we think it has something to do with protein Z. I want to study this phenomenon.' or simply 'I want to study the circumstances underlying the causes for certain genes triggering proto-oncogenes to become oncogenic.'? To me, both of these sound better than just "I wanna study what causes cancer".

P.S. Not a cell bio guy, just using that as an example.

So based on those two statements as an example, I feel like you could link them in a way that shows you're open-minded: "I'm interested in how different circumstances can result in genes triggering proto-oncogenes to become oncogenic. I've seen some recent research about how circumstance W causes gene X to trigger proto-oncogene Y to become oncogenic... and I think protein Z is a factor." (This might be better in an interview context instead of an SOP). For a SOP, the second one might be better, especially if there are multiple faculty at your schools of interest doing something along those lines. 

Not a perfect example, but you get the gist. I think @samman1994 has the right idea with his SOP right now. There's definitely a sweet spot between sounding like you've done enough research to have a mostly focused path in graduate school vs. being way too specific. 

 

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1 hour ago, aquamarine said:

So based on those two statements as an example, I feel like you could link them in a way that shows you're open-minded: "I'm interested in how different circumstances can result in genes triggering proto-oncogenes to become oncogenic. I've seen some recent research about how circumstance W causes gene X to trigger proto-oncogene Y to become oncogenic... and I think protein Z is a factor." (This might be better in an interview context instead of an SOP). For a SOP, the second one might be better, especially if there are multiple faculty at your schools of interest doing something along those lines. 

Not a perfect example, but you get the gist. I think @samman1994 has the right idea with his SOP right now. There's definitely a sweet spot between sounding like you've done enough research to have a mostly focused path in graduate school vs. being way too specific. 

 

I see. Thank you very much for your insight!

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