Looking for the Right Lab


Isabella Finkelstein: It seems that you have the best of both worlds. You have a research focus that you enjoy and colleagues in your laboratory that are “kind, respectful, and very helpful.” You also have friends in another laboratory that you enjoy. I think that the advice you have been given is correct. You should stay where you are. However, you should make an effort to join your laboratory colleagues in some of the nonacademic activities. Perhaps if you give them a chance, you would find that you enjoy their company. You are lucky that there is a laboratory nearby that is more ethnically diverse. Many of my students find that they are very much alone in their graduate programs.

Your statement that “you do not want to be miserable the rest of the time you are in graduate school” concerns me. You must change your attitude. Look at the positives in your situation and do not dwell on the negatives. Good luck!

Judy Jackson: You’ve probably heard many times that happiness is an elusive state. Let me add that you also never know just where you might find it. It seems short-sighted and unwise for you to choose your lab solely on the basis of camaraderie with your friend and his lab mates. This research will endure for just a short while compared to how long you’ll be working in the profession. Moreover, there’s no telling what serendipitous fortune will accrue to you by pursuing your real research desire in your current lab.

If you were to make overtures to some of your own lab mates and let someone know how you feel, you might find that some of them want to be friends with you, not to mention the possibility of enriching your research. Opting out of a situation whenever you feel uncomfortable may not always be an option. You should give it your best before you decide to exit. Such tenacity will benefit you later on in your professional and personal endeavors.

Talk to your advisor and a couple of your lab mates and see what might follow by your simply letting them know what you desire. You might find like-mindedness where you least expect it, and thereby catalyze benefits to your entire lab. Best wishes.

James Stith: You indicate that you enjoy your current research focus and that everyone in your lab has been kind, helpful, and respectful. This is good! You further indicate that you are drawn to your friend’s lab because your feel more comfortable and suggest that a reason for this heightened comfort level is that the lab is more ethnically diverse. This is also good and your association with this group will play a significant role in “rounding out” your graduate experience. Given that you enjoy the work in your lab (and I assume you find it professionally rewarding) I agree with those who argue that your reason for considering changing labs is flawed. (I am somewhat concerned by your statement that you “don’t want to be miserable the rest of my time in graduate school” for it doesn’t seem to fit with your statement that you enjoy your current focus.)

Given that you “enjoy” your current research focus, I strongly advise you to stay with your current advisor. I am assuming that in addition to being “kind, helpful, and respective,” he or she is also supportive. I believe that the most important reasons for choosing a field are that one enjoys it and excels at it. There is no reason that you cannot continue to enjoy the social support from your friend’s lab as well as the mentorship that you get from your friend’s advisor. You will find that as your career progresses, there are many segments to your social and professional life. As you strive for the “balance” which results in a rewarding and satisfying career, you will most likely need to look in different quarters. Good luck as you make this very important decision.

The Long and the Short of Research Contracts

From Cardiff to the Cosmos