Sometimes The Best Laid Plans… Lead to 4th Rotations

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

In my previous articles, I talked about filling out grad school applications, going on interviews, and choosing the right lab and advisor. I spent a lot of time researching schools and reading about professors. I had a good plan and was pretty sure I could choose the right lab and right mentor. I carefully planned my rotations and classes, considering every option. And in the end, it all worked out. I ended up in the right lab, with the right mentor, and the right project. Good job you might say…. except that it didn’t quite go the way I had planned it.

I carefully followed my advice… it just didn’t work out the way I thought it would. I fell into several pitfalls along the way and underestimated the intensity of the 1st year of grad school. I emailed advisors, spoke with past mentors, and set up two of my rotations…. way in advance. Every advisor in my program said not to do this, and for a good reason, I discovered. But I thought for sure I knew where I wanted to be. I had some difficulty scheduling my fall rotation as both of the labs that I had confirmed to rotate in did not want to have a fall rotation student and preferred that I rotate in the winter or spring. I panicked a bit but finally convinced lab #1 to take me. Much to my surprise, I found out pretty quickly that they were moving into a new research area and no longer really studied what I was interested in, but I liked the PI and the lab. I didn’t have my second rotation set up yet, and the lab I was interested in was waiting on funding. Therefore, a new friend was able to convince me to rotate through his lab, lab #2. It was a fun lab, and the people were awesome, though it wasn’t the type of science I was really interested in pursuing. Lab #3 had the most potential. The project was interesting, and it was the best fit of the three.

Finally, April rolled around, and it came time to choose a lab. I hadn’t found the perfect fit, but I had several good choices. However, my options quickly began to look thin. Lab #3 accepted three students prior to the end of my rotation and had no room left, so that was out. And although the people in the other labs had been awesome, and they were doing great research, my heart just wasn’t in it. It also turned out that lab #1 wouldn’t have been an option even if I had been interested, since they decided not to take any students.

So there I was, considering the slightly frightening possibility of a 4th rotation. It was a bit scary since the 4th rotation is kind of your last chance, but I decided to go for it. I met with several PIs and had a mixed bag of results, no funding, not interested, etc. Then I met my current advisor. I had spoken with her briefly at a poster session earlier in the year and was really interested in her work. After meeting a couple of times, it felt like this was the type of mentor I needed. Young and ambitious, smart and laid back. The lab was small, but growing, and it just felt like the right environment. And, I would get to do the type of science that I loved.

Three months later and it is definitely the right place. It’s the first time since I’ve been in grad school where I feel like I can be myself, and I’m genuinely excited about my project. It’s funny how things work out. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you plan or think you know; the universe just has different ideas. And when that happens, recognize it and go with it. Breathe for a moment, and then realize that whatever you were planning, it just wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes the path you are on doesn’t take you where you think you want to go, and often it’s for the best.



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