Rotations and Choosing a Thesis Lab


Laboratory rotations are designed to provide incoming students with an opportunity to do research in prospective laboratories prior to selecting the one in which they do their thesis work.  Incoming students are paired with faculty mentors that help guide the student through the rotation and lab placement process.  Rotations provide first-year students, faculty, and other lab personnel a chance to get to know one another in terms of specific lab projects, scientific approaches and thinking, mentoring style, and lab atmosphere and dynamics.  Joining a lab at the conclusion of rotations is a mutual decision between the student and the lab director.

Sometimes students know early on that the rotation is not going to work out.  Ending rotations early and moving on is absolutely fine.  Contact the MDTP coordinator with questions.

Browse our trainer directory to see a complete list of faculty trainers.

Pitcher plants in lab
Encouraging egg-laying in the lab with the pitcher plant mosquito Wyeomyia smithii (photo by MDTP student Aldo Arellano, Coon lab)

Rotations may be performed for a variety of reasons.

  • Students may have the idea of joining a lab for several years of thesis research.
  • Students may rotate in a lab to gain experience with a particular technique or experimental approach.
  • Students may choose to rotate in a lab to get once-in-a-lifetime exposure to a particular field of study or type of work.
  • Students may rotate with a faculty member who they would like to be on their thesis committee.

Any of these rationales for doing a rotation are fine but should be clearly understood by both the student and the lab director from the beginning.  Even if students arrive with a focused idea of which lab they want to join, rotations offer valuable experience.

Hawaiian bobtail squid hatchling
Hatchling Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes). The bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri is a beneficial symbiont of the Hawaiian bobtail squid, and the Vibrio-squid system is used as a model for studying host-microbe interactions. (photo by MDTP student Ruth Isenberg, Mandel lab)

The best strategy for choosing a lab is to maintain an open line of communication between student and faculty member.

Joining a lab is a mutual decision between a student and a faculty member, and most students are able to join labs that are their first choices. Most importantly, students want to find a trainer who will nurture their career and encourage them to achieve their full potential.

On occasion, a student joins a lab and finds that it may not be a good fit.  It may be the research focus or something else that causes the mismatch. In such cases, program leadership is there to work through issues and ensure students join labs that make more sense. MDTP is committed to supporting students and endeavors to ensure all relationships in our program are respectful, professional and productive.