Thursday, August 25, 2011

cold feet: a lab rotation saga

Two weeks away from beginning my first rotation, I am awake nights thinking [mostly unproductively] about the decisions I’ve made since January of this year and how badly I may or may not be screwing myself over.  You would think that having already acquired two prestigious fellowships would set my mind at ease... and you would be wrong.  I have narrowed the cause of my anxieties to one thing: fear of change.

Having been highly invested in a certain area of research for the past four years, and particularly after publishing four first-author and two co-authored manuscripts in the last year, I am loathe to abandon what is now a great love.

I have the opportunity in my first New Home Base rotation to work on a project in an area of research very closely kin to my Great Love.  However, this project is very likely the end of the line, as it is not my rotation advisor’s main vein.  Therefore, during said rotation I plan to also learn (or at least shadow) other techniques used for the Main Vein so as to familiarize with what I would most likely be doing if I remained in this lab for my dissertation.  The first problem here is the unknown and limited amount of time I will actually have for Main Vein learning alongside my own rotation project.  If I’m going to abandon my Great Love in this new lab, I want to be thoroughly introduced to what new delights I am getting into. 

I can’t help but revert to the knowledge that if I had stayed with Boss Man, I may not have gained experience in a new research environment, but I would have learned a new (and sexy) technique on a fine set of projects and continued to grow at my current momentum.  I discarded that option for lesser known opportunities in a strange and uncertain new world.

There is another lab at New Home Base which is collaborating with my rotation lab on my rotation project, so it is possible that though the line of study will not be continued in one lab, I might continue it in the collaboration lab during second rotation and forward.   Of course, I presently have no idea how likely this may be.  In addition, the PI of Collaboration Lab, although frequently published, has not published a manuscript as a senior author since 2009, and that was the first incidence since several years before.  This is concerning as a PhD student hoping to land a strong (or at least desirable) post doc position down the line.

Yet a third lab does work somewhat similar to my Great Love, but this PI does not publish in journals of the prestige that I hope for, nor would I learn any new techniques.  They are widely read and strong journals, to be sure, but I have already published in several of them and had ambitions for a more powerful impact factor for my dissertation.

Ambitions high and will strong, I face these options with cold feet.  Fear of diversion from my Great Love (which would not be wise should I want to come back to it as a post doc or PI), fear of entering a less prestigious lab and hoping that in it I will be able to improve the trends of the last four years, and fear of losing the momentum which I have established in my last four years.  Just because I am beginning to pursue a PhD in a new place does not mean I intend to take any steps backward in the career I have thus far developed.  And I have a way of meeting my intentions in at least some recognizable form.  Fear of change be damned; it can be done... maybe.


  1. Maaannn, I wrote a whole lengthy response to this and Firefox ate it! Probably it's better suited to a post on my own blog, anyway. But the main point was: Your feelings at this stage are completely understandable; it is scary when you're facing a major decision. But ultimately, the science part almost doesn't matter. Find a great mentor who will give you what you need out of your PhD training (more on this in my own post!) and you can rejoin your Great Love as a post doc with a much broader scientific repertoire. I have every confidence in you, and so do the people who awarded you those fellowships!

    Is it OK if I link to this post on my blog? I think the questions/concerns you bring up are really common amongst new grad students (and really important to consider, for the grad students who didn't think of them on their own) and people would benefit from reading them, in addition to my spouting off advice.

  2. many thanks, Laura :) very interested to see your extended thoughts on the matter... and who could resist some blog link love?

  3. Fear of change is such a universal thing. Did I make the right choice? Will I make the right choice? I'm facing the choices at the moment and I have to keep reminding myself that there is no right choice and once we've made the choice we just work with it. Still hard. I'm glad you've seen some good sides to the move (your newest post).