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First Year graduate school- Confused. - first Year in graduate school - Confused (Mar/10/2009 )

Hi, I'm a first year graduate student right after my undergraduate. I have a few questions and was wondering if any one could be able to advise on these.
1. I have been doing my rotations in 3 labs and right now I'm very confused as to how I should go about picking labs. After joining the program I faced a problem of having very limited choices for picking my rotating labs due to the fact that some faculty decided not to take students etc. None of the projects that I have worked have been overly interesting to me. I was more involved with Microbio, research during my undergrad and the department has very limited micro reserach. I tried different areas in my rotations ie: cancer biology, etc but I have been having a hard time understand and getting comfortable with the work. I'm very kind of nervous as to how to pick my labs etc cos I will have to stay here for the next 5yrs at least and I dont want to be unhappy. Is there any advise that one could give. I'm also facing some problems with funding etc in a couple of labs too.

2. I also have been having a very hard time trying to understand research papers especially papers that are not in my area. I'm also an international student and I think that has some part to play as well. But I was wondering if any one could advice me on a method that would be the best way to read scientific papers. I have tried different ways of reading, but after trying for many many hours at the end of it I dont feel that I have understood the paper too well to carry out discussions as well as to contribute to discussions, which is very frustrating. I have a very hard time tryting to think about follow up experiments, and different methods of carrying out experiments etc and to think critically along with the paper. Is there any advise that anyone could please give on this, cos it makes me very worried about the written qualifying exam that we have to take in May and I feel that I will not be able to perform well due to the inability to understand material. Any advise on this is greatly appreciated.

thanks a lot!.


stop panicking and stop worrying. start enjoyimg your life and everything will proceed smoothly as and when the time comes. As for choosing labs, don't be overly choosy. I was and it didn't work out for me. In my experience, it is better to choose a lab based on how comfortable you are with your boss and your labmates. the type of project is not so important. In time, you will start to like it. Ask all your rotation bosses if they are willing to have you. It is best for you to join the lab of whoever is most eager to have you.
As for reading papers, go figure by figure. In fact you can understand the whole paper just by looking at the figures and reading the captions underneath them. don't bother with introduction if it confuses you. You will naturally get better over time.


For now, you can afford to be choosy in reading papers. Pick the ones that are most interesting, have pretty pictures etc. Dismantle them, as said before, figure by figure. At your stage, I was starting reading with the discussion - it was the easiest for me. After you start to inderstand, you will want to move to reading rather methods and figures, because the discussion is the part author can most manipulate. As soon as you pass the understanding barrier, ask yourself questions about the paper - how it was done, could it be done better, what could follow. Don't force yourself, just dream a bit.
If you are one of the holistic brains here, you'll need a book to make yourself a framework you can fit the papers into. Ask the profs, they usually have books.
And gradually, without worry, read up. It is a kind of foreign languange on its own.
The more you read up, the more interested you will become in the research. Anyway now, not quite getting the papers, you will choose blindly, so just pick up the lab with best atmosphere and at the same time best publishing lab.
And don't worry. Everybody's been there. Nobody expects you to get everything at your 1 year. Critical reading is more difficult than it seems, and people who can think of follow up experiments at a spot usually talk from experience.


Thank you Lotus and telomerase for your responces. I will take your adivce on it and see how things go. I hope things will fall in to place with time :)