Stanford Biosciences student reviewing data on a computer

Choosing Rotations and a Thesis Lab

Your choice of a thesis lab is the most important choice you will make in graduate school. Given this, it is essential that you think carefully about selecting your rotation labs. Many students approach this critical task by merely browsing lab websites. This is not sufficient; it is important to read the literature from the labs you are considering, get input about the personality of the faculty member, find out about the lab environment, and talk to others.

To aid you in the process of choosing your rotation labs, we have created step-by-step instructions to guide you through the process. We're giving you this information and recommending that you take these steps as early as possible to help you make a smoother transition and get off to a better, faster start in graduate school.

The list below is focused on finding the right scientific match. But before that, let's consider the bigger picture.

Students have different needs and interests in terms of mentoring, lab environment, and research project, but every student should go three-for-three in choosing her or his thesis lab:

  1. Find a great advisor for you. Your advisor should be someone with whom you can openly communicate and learn from, and who will put your interests first. You can only identify an advisor who meets these requirements by interacting frequently and openly with prospective advisors before, during, and after your rotation.
  2. Pursue research that you find interesting. You should love the science in the lab. To be successful, you will need to spend a lot of time there. Choose a research topic that you enjoy learning about and will be passionate about.
  3. Seek a supportive and complementary lab environment. Find student and postdoc colleagues with whom you are comfortable and who will further your science. You will work with these people on a daily basis. Supportive and collegial coworkers can help you develop as a scientist, while interpersonal tensions can make lab work less fulfilling and detract from your ability to focus on your science and development.

Give us feedback