Research Rotations

Students in their first year must complete a minimum of three (3) research rotations in three (3) different laboratories. Rotations are evaluated in writing and graded by the program director as pass/fail. Success in a laboratory rotation is measured by motivation, curiosity, work ethic, lab citizenship, and knowledge gained.

Purpose of a rotation

The main purpose of research rotations is to allow students to investigate the science
(includes types of questions and approaches) and culture (includes mentoring practices and lab community practices) of potential laboratories and thesis advisors for their subsequent thesis research. This is also an opportunity for the advisor and advisor’s lab to decide whether the rotation student is a good fit for the lab.  

Process for confirming rotations

Once students have discussed the possibility of a rotation with faculty (see “Key Considerations for Rotations” below, the established procedure is as follows. Each student submits a ranked-ordered list of faculty names to the Program Coordinator (Toni Hurley) by a specific deadline. After taking input from the faculty, Toni will then assign rotations in a way that maximizes the number of students who receive their first choice.

The student’s rotation begins after assignments are confirmed by the Program Coordinator. The purpose of this procedure is to ensure that the rotation assignment process is transparent and fair, so that students are not compelled to rush around securing slots with popular faculty in advance of the deadline. The program will do its best to enable each student to get their first choice at least once.   

We encourage open communication between faculty and students in terms of possible rotation fit. However, we ask that the faculty do not make any formal commitments without first consulting with the Program Coordinator and if needed Program Directors.

Key considerations to enable a successful rotation experience

Below are some recommendations to faculty and students for maximizing the student’s learning experience as a rotation student and the faculty’s experience as a rotation advisor.

For Faculty:
1. Communicate to the student the types of questions and experimental methods involved in the rotation. This will help the student compare different rotation projects and choose amongst those options.

2. Students take courses during their rotations and are all adjusting to graduate school.  Recognizing that students have these other demands generally allows for more successful crafting of rotation projects.  Explain your expectations of productivity and research outcomes to students. Share how current students in your lab balance lab work and other time-intensive obligations.

3. Based on your experiences and opinions, share what you think makes for a successful rotation. This may include expectations about work ethic, lab citizenship, and scientific knowledge gained.

4. If you plan to assign a secondary mentor for day-to-day mentoring, please discuss your expectations of the secondary mentor and the rotation student with the secondary mentor.
For Students:

1. Ask faculty what types of scientific questions and experimental methods are involved in the rotation project. It is not uncommon for the details of a rotation project to change from the time you meet with the faculty and the time your rotation begins. However, if you are able to learn about the scientific questions and methods, this can help you better compare and choose amongst your different rotation options.
2. Because you are taking courses while you do rotations, there will be a natural tug-of-war between focusing on coursework and performing experiments for your rotation. You will encounter competing demands for your time throughout your graduate career, so learning how to balance courses and rotations is important. Your ability to make choices that allow you to learn from courses and have a good rotation experience depends on the environment and expectations of your rotation lab. Feel free to ask faculty how they have learnt to juggle different time-sensitive obligations.
3. Ask faculty what they think is necessary for a successful rotation. You should consider discussing expectations around scientific curiosity, work ethic, lab citizenship, knowledge gained and frequency of meetings. Depending on your comfort level, discuss how you feel about the outlined expectations and share any boundaries or constraints you may have.
4. Keep in mind that rotations are a two-way process. While the lab is exploring if you would be a good fit, you are also deciding if the lab is a good fit for you. This is a subjective process and what works for you, may not work for someone else.
5. Explore broadly. This is a unique opportunity to experience new types of research.

6. Reflect on what is important to you. What type of mentorship do you think you need? Are you willing to work on a topic outside of your current interests if it means your mentorship needs are fulfilled?
7. If you would like additional input on how to discuss these issues with prospective rotation mentors, please do reach out to your 1st year faculty advisor, current graduate students in your potential rotation lab and older Tetrad students.


Here are some external resources for students to consider during research rotations and before choosing a thesis advisor:

How to Pick a Graduate Advisor, by Ben A. Barres (print)

How to pick a Graduate Advisor, by Ben A. Barres (video)

OCPD Guide to Conducting Successful Rotations