Had lunch with the seminar speaker today, and he talked a lot about getting students to join a lab. He was kind of complaining that he gives students a rotation project with a good question, which they struggle with and then in other rotations, they get nice “cookie-cutter” projects that result in a neat graph. He lamented that students then ended up joining the cookie-cutter graph labs.
I am no expect in this, as I am a mere grad student myself, but when I picked my lab, it was based on the personalities of the people in my lab (PI is easy to approach, other students were friendly) as well as the lab’s focus (flies!). At the end of all of my rotations, I had approximately the same results: here is a result from an “easy” project I started early on, and here are all the lovely plans we had that ultimately failed because 10 weeks is not enough to do science when you are a total noob in the lab. So I kindly suggested to him to maybe give rotation students a simple project that they can get something presentable for their rotation talk and then also the beautiful question experiment, so if that does fail (it might. Remember, NOOBS ABOUND), they will have something and also feel like they were productive.
He also recalled a few situations from other labs where post-docs or grad students were joining a lab (not his), and then the lab suddenly moved, or the lab lacked funding and the students had to TA their entire career. A bunch of sneakiness.
If I was a PI and I was trying to get a post-doc or grad student to join the lab, I would be upfront with them about these things. Funding is tight, and if there was a grad student wanting to join my theoretical lab, I’d tell them exactly that. Thankfully, when I was interviewing for lab, the PIs I spoke with all told me about their funding situation. TAing sucks and I am so glad I don’t have to anymore, but when I joined my lab, I figured that I would probably have to my entire time. I know people who WANT to TA for the experience. I also know people who hate it and resent that they have to TA beyond the 2 required semesters. I feel like this is a conversation that needs to happen between the PI and student. If a PI leaves that bit of information out, it is forming a bad foundation for the relation between that PI and their student, and that could ultimately affect research.
I am starting to think about Post-docs now (and also industry jobs!) and I will probably have to move to another city for the Post-doc. Which means I’ll have to move my cats and boyfriend along with me. I would be incredibly pissed if I moved all the way to someplace, only to have my new PI tell me a month later that the lab is moving to some other place. If it’s in the same city, no big deal, but moving to a different part of the country is a big deal.
When talking about these situations, the speaker pretty much rationalized (but I don’t think agreed with) their behavior by saying it was the PIs trying really hard to get people to join their lab. But is it really worth it get someone to join your lab under not-entirely-honest circumstances? That seems like a recipe for disaster, especially for the post-doc or grad student who joined the lab.
I am extremely grateful that my boss is not that kind of sneaky.