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a shot of humility never hurt anyone

I was reminded of a funny story today.  One piece of advice that was passed on to me and that I pass on to younger students is that when you are looking to engage a P.I. about doing a rotation in their lab, specifically indicate that you would like to meet with them ONLY IF they have a space open in the lab for a rotating student during your desired time period.  I have known a lot of students–mostly for purposes of graduate school lab rotations–who have not specified this and then end up wasting an hour of their time.  I, on the other hand, have always specified this space requirement in my emails to P.I.s and this strategy has saved me a lot of time.  Except for once.

mudphudder got smacked down

mudphudder got smacked down

It was during first year of medical school and I was trying to line up a lab rotation for during the summer (for those who aren’t familiar: most mudphudders do graduate school lab rotations during the summer between first and second year of medical school to save some time).  It was probably a little late to be just starting to look into labs–ahem… it was definitely a little late.  But to be honest, at our institution mudphudders are sought by P.I.s–whether right or wrong–and I was definitely taking that to heart in my nonchalance.  (I was young… What can I say?)  So any way, after lectures and lab one afternoon, I went to see a P.I. who had indicated in his email to me that there was space in his lab for a graduate student rotation over that summer.  A little background–this guy is very well known at our institution and a member of some very prestigious organizations; also a bit wierd but that could be my lingering resentment–you’ll see.  So I went to talk to him and we talked for an hour.  I indicated that my research background from experiences in college was not in his area of research but that I was willing to work hard and learn.  And after an hour of conversation, he looked at me and said: “Yeeeaahh, I don’t think we room in the lab this summer for another student.  But maybe next summer.”

I think there was like a three second silence where I just sat there staring at him.  In my head: HE TOLD ME THERE WAS SPACE IN HIS EMAIL.  Now of course, there were several possibilities: 1) he made a mistake in his email; 2) there was space but one of his major grants fell through and he could no longer support a graduate student for the summer; or 3) mudphudder just got REJECTED.  So obviously, mudphudder definitely got rejected. 

That was cold.  Freezing even.  And I was ticked.  Of course I knew what had happened and of course he knew that I knew what had happened.  Well, I politely thanked him for his time and even sent a nice “thank you” email when I got home that night.  Later that summer I talked to a technician working in that P.I.’s lab who indicated that they were indeed looking for graduate students as there was definitely room.  This person also wanted to know why I asked…  Cold.  Just cold.

Seven years later, I’m still not completely over it.  I mean, how do you NOT take that personally?  Right?  Of course, these days, I mostly laugh my head off thinking about it–but still…


One Response to “a shot of humility never hurt anyone”

  1. 1

    Hi there,

    So I read your latest post about getting snubbed by a PI (my worst nightmare.) I’m in the process of shopping for a rotation this summer. I’m an M2 now. I did one rotation prior to MS1 and one between MS1 and MS2. The first PI is bananas, the second one retired unexpectedly. So I gotta make the next one count. I have a few viable options. They all have R01’s so I’m not too worried about funding. One is doing research on the olfactory bulb, and since I plan to apply to ENT, this feels like a good option for me. However, this person has a teeny-tiny lab and publishes in middle-of-the-road journals. The main reason I am considering working there is because it’s ENT-related. Since my school has a small ENT department with no residency program, I feel like my app needs a shot in the arm that this could provide. I think I would be happy there also. Another guy is doing research that I think is absolutely incredible. I think about it and read about it just for yahoos. His publishing record hasn’t been great but he claims to have 3 manuscripts in the works. There are two other labs I am also interested in (sorry this is getting long but I have almost zero mentoring in my program). One is a small lab with an amazing PI that I get along really well with and I think would be a really good mentor. The research, however, isn’t particularly exciting to me, but perhaps that could change (?) Another lab is run by a well-know PI (in his field) using fancy-pants techniques that said he could get me out in 3 years unless I “really stunk.” Again, research topic is just “eh” to me. Any advice at all is appreciated! Also, not sure what you’re applying to, but since I’m interested in surgical subspecialties (namely ENT), I’m wondering if my research topic will matter at all to programs. No one has matched into ENT from my school in 15 years and the department is excited that I’m interested but kind of out of the loop about match stuff. Thanks so much for reading this beast of a message.

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