I have to start this post by saying that I’m incredibly glad my program does rotations. I’ve loved getting to be exposed to lots of different types of work that I can be involved with, and lots of the people I’ve met have been wonderful and helpful and very friendly.
For anyone reading this and unfamiliar with rotations, basically it means for the first semester or two of graduate school, you try out different professors before you pick one to be your advisor. So for me, in the genetics program, I get about five weeks in a professors lab to feel out the research and people and see if I could see myself in that program for the next few years.
I have to admit, I wish I had gotten a little more information about rotations before I started them. I would have liked to know a little more about how to choose my rotations, as well as how to deal with a rotation that wasn’t what it initially seemed to be.
I’m very excited to say I’m almost through with my rotations and almost ready to choose my home lab, advisor, and department. And because I’m just about through the process, I’d like to offer a little advice to anyone joining a program that does rotations or who is thinking about joining a program that lets you rotate.
First of all, talk to everyone you can in the lab before you agree to rotate. Talk to the professor, and the graduate students, and the researchers, and the post-docs. Ask everyone what they think about the research environment and why they think it, because the more perspectives you get, the better a picture you’ll have of how that group operates together. You’ll also have a better understanding of what you’re getting into if you decide to rotate there.
I also want to emphasize asking the professors as many direct questions as you can before you start your rotation as you can. Ask for reading you can use to get acquainted with what the lab does. Ask what their funding situation looks like. Ask about their mentoring style. Ask about their expectations of you, both as a grad student and as a rotation student. This will all be super helpful in making the choice to rotate with their group or not.
Also, if you get into a group and you quickly figure out it’s not for you, try your best to be patient. Usually, even if the first week or so is just terrible, eventually it will start to get easier for you to feel like part of the group. Alternatively, if it’s such a bad match that you couldn’t see it possibly getting better after a week or two, see if you can switch into a new group for that rotation. Staying with a group that absolutely will not work for you is a waste of your time and of theirs, and it will make you feel bad to have to go to work every day with a group you don’t really like.
Finally, if you love a group, give that rotation your all.
I mean, you should give every rotation your all. You’re there to learn and to talk and to understand the group, and to make friends along the way (hopefully) in a group that you might end up spending the next few years with! So show lots of interest, take notes, and take initiative when it comes to meeting people in the group and learning more about what everyone does.
But, especially if you know you really like a groups dynamic and their work, make sure you’re on time every day and ready to work hard. At the end of rotations, you choose a group, but that group also makes the call to take you or not. Make their decision very easy so it can be totally up to you when it comes down to where you end up for the next couple of years.
Serina Taluja is doctoral student in the Genetics program.