Friday, February 11, 2005

rotation dilemma

you know, i don't usually ask for 'audience participation', but i'm really torn about this idea of a third rotation. here's the situation:

i really liked my first rotation. i liked the PI, the general attitude of the lab, and the research area (generally related to diabetes/metabolism). there are no other labs on campus that focus in this area that would be suitable for me to work in, really, and it happens to be what i am most interested in doing for the rest of my career (regardless of whether i end up in industry/academia/clinical practice).

my second rotation - ehh, i'm not hating it, really, but i don't feel like i really 'fit' here. i do like the PI a lot, and i'm impressed with the general direction that the research in this lab is going, but the environment overall feels a bit too high-strung and i sense a lot of frustration in some of the older graduate students. i think i could end up doing very repetitive work, and i'm afraid of that. furthermore, i'm not as genuinely excited about the field of research, and i don't see it relating as well to a future career.

i was all set NOT to do a third rotation, and i was planning on starting in the first lab in april. i figure -- the sooner i start, the sooner i get in the swing of things. but then i had this talk with a grad student in that lab (and also another grad student, one from the second lab) and both seemed sort of against skipping the third rotation. in essence, they worried that without that extra experience, i might have to look back 3 years later and wonder, "oh god, if only i had done that third rotation!"

based on other people's recommendations, i identified one more lab i'd possibly be interested in, but in reality i very highly doubt i would want to end up there, mainly because the area of research (not related to endocrinology but rather to oncology) just doesn't excite me in the same way. there's this idea that i'll learn techniques and things that will be valuable when i do matriculate in the first lab -- but isn't it sort of misleading to take up space, time, and resources in a lab i am almost sure i'm not going to join? wouldn't it make more sense to spend that time working on getting settled in the new lab?

i don't know. i feel like i was pretty decided until i had the talks with the 2 graduate students. i didn't expect them to say what they said. if anyone has any ideas for me, or experience with this issue, i would love some opinions.


  1. Anonymous7:54 PM

    I feel like at this point, if you're sure you want to join the first lab, you should just do it. Quickly. As an MSTP, you have sooooo much more training ahead of you than a "regular" grad student. Get into a lab, get your PhD, and move on. By the time you finish residency and think about doing either a post-doc or a fellowship, so much in science will have changed. You don't want to get stuck in your PhD program for too long - get in, get out, move on. Whether or not you end up in academica, industry, or clinical practice, more people will be impressed by your having finished your PhD at all and not how many rotations you ended up doing.


  2. thanks cara - i miss your blog so much by the way!! please please start another one!

    i understand your point of view, too. but i also definitely don't want to do the rotation for the sake of 'impressing' anyone (as if my blundering around in a new setting is going to do that :) ) . . . it's more like, no matter how long it takes, i want to make sure that i'm HAPPY in the lab that i end up in.

    and i also understand wanting to get done early - but at the same time i've developed the philosophy that i don't want to rush things. at duke, it's much more common to do a 5-year phD than a shorter one, and i'm okay with that. thankfully, we save a year during the med school part (so i only have one more year left!), so this isn't so bad.

    one more thing - so josh is going to do general surgery. i'm not sure how long his program will be (probably 6 years, but possibly 7), but the plan is for us to move together after HE finishes. after all, i am keeping him in durham and severely limiting his residency options; it makes sense for me to then go with him where he wants to go after he's done, and do my residency there.

    plus there's the whole having kids issue.

    so i'm not sure how timing is going to work, but i'm not in too much of a rush to finish. i figure things will fall into place somehow or other. not that i don't obsess about it daily (because i do).


    ps: come on, others reading this! i really want input here!

  3. Anonymous7:06 AM

    Hi Sarah--

    I would say do the third rotation. It's only six or eight weeks, and in the grand scheme of a four or five year PhD, six weeks is nothing. A PhD is not a linear process, by which I mean that "saving" six weeks now is not going to mean that your thesis is finished six weeks earlier five years from now. (Also, if you start obsessing now about every week that goes by, you are in for a really painful five years. You will have weeks in which you make no tangible progress towards your PhD, even once you're well-established in the lab, that's just how research goes.)

    Anyway, back to the rotation: during that six weeks, you'll meet more people (who might know how to do something you'll need help with in a year's time), learn new techniques, and get exposed to another area of research (inspiration on your own project often comes from unlikely sources, and it's a real pet peeve of mine when scientists refuse to think about any field but their very own, which happens surprisingly often). At the very least, you'll get another verification that the first lab is really the place for you.

    Anyway, hope that helps!


  4. Anonymous8:53 AM

    I realize that the following anecdote is probably of tangential value at best, but here goes: your uncle Jake rotated through several law departments at Schnader before he ended up settling on labor law, and loving it. What's interesting about that is that he had had ZERO experience OR interest in that area of law in law school. It wasn't until he DID it that he learned how well it fit him. Just a thought....L, da