Important Factors to Consider When Finding your Graduate Research Laboratory

About the author: Elahe is a second year Mechanical Engineering PhD Student. She is a steering committee member and publicist of the WiE (Women in Engineering) at UD and began her graduate research in Killian Lab since Spring 2017. She is interested in investigating the role of Fgf receptors and ligands on mechanical behavior of the tendon-bone attachment.

Starting graduate school is an exciting and influential part of any researcher’s journey. While undergraduate research and networking can be key factors in preparing you for the road ahead, graduate school can expose you to brand new networks and research opportunities. As you learn more about your field of interest, more focused areas of research and academic collaborations will become possible for you to choose from. Research laboratories are the frontline to graduate research and academic career and therefore it is important to know what to look for and how to find the lab that best matches your personal and research objectives. Professional communication, supportive mentors and lab mates, and proactive approach are three factors to consider when finding a suitable laboratory in your field of interest.

In the process of joining a lab, different factors can play a role and it is up to you to decide on the most critical criterion. Personally, I believe that it all comes down to communication. In the world of professional research, communication becomes the turning point for the success of a potential collaboration, whether it is between two labs or you and your advisor. In order to facilitate good communication, clarity in conversation and project objectives, as well as note taking during and follow up summarizing emails after each meeting are habits that need to be improved. Meanwhile, to be able to contribute to your group you need to be able to communicate vividly and respectfully with every one of your group members. You should be aware that joining a lab is a two-way commitment that both you and your advisor need to be happy with and knowing their expectations can help build towards your group’s research goals and plans.

Mentors and lab mates are also determining when it comes to establishing a healthy and productive research experience. Understanding advisors and supportive teammates that give you constructive feedback and help you hone your skills make a significant difference in your graduate experience. In order to find your best matching lab group, it is helpful to ask for the previous and current lab member’s experience, insight, and suggestions. You should keep in mind, however, that there is no “one way” of mentorship and personal experiences of previous graduate students should not be generalized. While someone might not have had a great working dynamic with his or her group, it might be a great match for you. Therefore, to get the best out of previous experiences, you should be aware of your personal research style and the type of support and mentorship that you need to be your best productive self.

Being proactive and interested in your field of research are also essential in the process of finding your graduate research lab. To be a successful researcher you should be sincerely interested, committed to your research goals, a team player, as well as an independent problem solver. You need to make an informed decision about the laboratory you are making a commitment to, review the related literature, be open to new research topics, and take a proactive stance in joining the group that you consider to give you the platform and resources you will need to meet your goals.

Research is an undeniable highlight of graduate school and being part of productive professional network is what helps you build your skills and meet your goals as a researcher. To initiate a healthy collaboration, it is important to improve your communication skills, find a supportive team that matches your personality and research attitude, and take a proactive stance towards joining the laboratory you are interested in.

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