Advice for rotating graduate students

Sep 14 2012 Published by under Grad School

This is a follow up to Sci's advice for undergrads.  I know some schools don't do rotations but mine does.  So here are a few pearls of wisdom for you noobs.

1.  Study for classes.  If you fail out you are worthless to the labs, plus you undergo extra scrutiny when you  have a less than stellar academic record.  Your committee will catch a whiff of the intellectual lightweight stank and pounce on you like a fucking lion on a zebra.  You don't need great grades, just good ones.  Also don't burn up too much time studying that you could be spending in the lab.  I've watch many a rotation student study themselves out of a lab because they spent all the working hours of the week studying and not in the lab.  You've got plenty of time at night and on the weekends to study.

2.  Be on time.  Remember that the senior graduate students and postdocs who you may be shadowing and working with don't view you as a future trusted colleague.  The hard fact is that you are likely ill-prepared and not educated enough to immediate contribute to what they are doing and you were heaped on them by a PI.  So be on time and do what they say to do when they say it and if they give you homework, you damn well better do it.  Sure somebody trained them, but they are training you, be appreciative of it too.

3.  "We used to do it this way"  This is for those of you with a little bit of experience.  No one cares how you did it wherever you came from.  This is how we do it here.  STFU, you haven't earned the right to an opinion!  You will soon, but don't go telling us how you did it and how we should too.

4.  Technicians are like gold.  Treat them as such, they will bend over backward to help you if you show them respect.  And lets face it most of them have been doing science longer than you and at a higher level than you ever have.  Remember we are the transients that come and go, they are there to stay.  Also remember that technicians, especially the lab manager, tends to be the eyes and ears of the lab for the PI.  While you are in the lab, you have a well oiled covert spy system watching you, act accordingly.

5.  The PI's time is worth more than gold.  Don't bother them with trivial shit.  They are also not really there to be your friend, drinking buddy, or shoulder to cry on for personal problems.  PI's are happy to see you when you are generating data or need some help on the project, so if you want face time you've got to come with the data.

6.  It's all a game!  Learn to play the game and you will get to the finish line faster.  This means doing things that placate your PI, learning who to go to for what you need, who to go to in order to get out of doing stuff.  Also a big part of graduate school is learning how to say no to certain things that are of no benefit to you and your project and prioritizing what you are going to do.

7.  Have fun.  Its hard and its a lot of work, but its also a lot of fun.  In all of my random jobs I have never worked with a more diverse and interesting group of people.

10 responses so far

  • scicurious says:

    #4. Dear GOD #4. For grad students and postdocs and undergrads and EVERYONE ELSE. I have seen so many completely stellar and highly qualified techs get looked down on by some n00b because, well, they're a TECH. No fancy degrees and they don't go to journal club and basically people are looking for any stupid excuse to make themselves feel better than someone else.

    No, you jerks. The techs know what they're doing, and for many techniques they know more than the PI does. They get their shit done. And you looking down on them will make them hate you and not want to help you. You NEED their help. You NEED their friendship. Don't be an egotistical ass.

  • katiesci says:

    "You've got plenty of time at night and on the weekends to study."

    As a non-traditional student, I'm conflicted here. I had plenty of time because my kid is a teenager and can pretty much take care of himself while I'm studying. I hope that PIs are a little more understanding of students with little, little ones at home. But I also realize this is NOT the norm. also, the other part to this is that hey, I've known people with little kids who HAVE found time to study at night and on the weekends so if you are a young pup without other responsibilities suck it up and study instead of going out drinking with your buds and then complaining that you haven't had time to study.

    For all of the rest: YES.

    • Genomic Repairman says:

      I agree some accommodations may need to be made for non-traditional students or students with kids at home. This comment was largely directed at those who have no kids, spouse, obligations, etc. outside of work that would prohibit them from studying.

  • Can you come and work in my lab. Or at least come and kick my students up the ass?

  • Jordan says:

    I don't think there's too much harm in saying, "We used to do it this way." Unless it's said in a know-it-all or suggestive way, of course, I think people can always benefit from this kind of knowledge cross-pollination. People become accustomed to procedures such that they could repeat them in their sleep—they likely forget the science behind it. Considering new procedures allows us to re-think what we've been doing. Might not always help in terms of increased yield or decreased expenses, but I don't think a little extra knowledge ever hurt!

    • Genomic Repairman says:

      I agree that this can be brought up, but remember the roton is the new guy and thus should go with the flow. The "we use to do it this way" doesn't extend only to techniques. We had a postdoc try to tell us how we should do certain procedures and archiving in the lab when we already had a system in place that had been working for years.

      Also one thing that labs strive for is consistency. If everyone in the lab is doing a common technique, its best to do it the same way, that way you can compare results. Thus you do it the way we do it since you are here in OUR lab.

  • Bashir says:

    Glad I didn't have to do rotations!

  • [...] down to research interest. Some of will you will go through lab rotations, which serve as 1) an audition, and 2) to determine if your interests align. But don’t forget to consider the intangibles: Are [...]

  • Kate in SB says:

    YES! #2! Nothing is more frustrating than a new grad student who doesn't respect the time of older grad students or postdocs.

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