First year students are required to complete 3-4 lab rotations or tutorials (BIOL 504: Mentored Reading) to explore a range of techniques and research areas. Benefits to conducting rotations include more opportunities to hone your research interests, networking, and learning laboratory skills.
A rotation is a 10-week residency in a lab group. The rotation has two parts: (1) a tutorial with the faculty sponsor to delve into the conceptual basis underpinning that group’s research (see below for more details), and (2) a practical application of the group’s methods and techniques. The specific format of a rotation should be established at the outset through a conversation between faculty host and rotation student. It may include an established minimum number of hours the student is expected to be in the lab; a set of journal clubs or lab meetings that the student is expected to attend and/or present in; a reading list; a secondary research mentor that may be a more senior graduate student or postdoctoral scholar; a specific project with an set of milestones that are explicitly communicated to the student.
A rotation is an immersion experience that should introduce a student to the host lab’s research and culture. To fulfill the tutorial aspect of the rotation, the faculty host must meet at least five times with the student for one hour meetings. These meetings should include a discussion of scientific literature relevant to the rotation project, likely including papers from the host lab. At the end of the quarter, the rotation student and faculty host should meet for an exit interview during which the student’s learning is discussed, as well as expectations for the First Year Review Conversation (see below). This is also an opportunity for the faculty host to communicate information about availability of a position for the student in their group. Students should not be asked to communicate their commitment to a lab at this time, although they may do so if they wish.
A student must contact faculty directly to arrange a rotation. Faculty outside of the department may host a rotating Biology student, so long as that faculty member agrees to the tenets of the goals of a rotation. If a student chooses to be directly admitted to a lab, the home lab may count as one rotation out of the total number of rotations/tutorials. The student should register for four credits of BIOL 504 during a rotation.
A tutorial is an intensive 5-week dive into a tutor’s area of expertise (there need to be at least five meetings in total with 1 hour for each meeting). The goal of a tutorial is to introduce the student to theory, methods and current research in the tutor’s research area, as well as providing a structured opportunity for the student to practice scientific discourse. The tutor’s responsibilities include: setting expectations for the tutorial (what form will it take, what will the student be expected to prepare before the meetings, any journal clubs or lab meetings that the student is expected to attend and/or present in, etc.); helping the student develop a list of readings for the tutorial; meeting once per week to discuss the content of the readings.
Discussions should be student-led. They are an opportunity for first-year students to practice asking questions and crisply summarizing foundational literature. Discussions can take many forms, including follow-up conversations inspired by lab meetings, journal clubs or courses happening during the same or a previous quarter. Faculty hosts are not expected to do any preparative work for these conversations. The faculty should not prepare a lecture; rather, they should provide insights, guidance and clarification. As with rotations, acceptance of a student into a tutorial is not a commitment to accepting the student into their group. Upon completion of the tutorial, the student and faculty should meet for an exit interview during which the student’s learning is discussed, as well as expectations for the First Year Review Conversation.
A student must contact faculty directly to arrange a tutorial. A student may also choose to set up a tutorial independently with a faculty member outside of the department, so long as that faculty member agrees to the tenets of the tutorial program. The student should register for two credits of BIOL 504 for a tutorial.
First Year Review Conversation
The First Year Conversation is a 90-minute meeting aimed at discussing the student’s breadth of knowledge prior to entering into the more research-intensive second year. Conversations will be scheduled by the student and faculty hosts/tutors during Finals Week of Spring Quarter. The conversation includes the student’s three (or four, if the student prefers) faculty with whom they participated in a rotation/tutorial. The conversation is expected to focus on what the student studied during their time under each participating faculty member’s mentorship. The Conversation is not graded nor evaluated as Pass/Fail. Instead, Conversations should be used to identify further areas of study that the student should pursue to facilitate success in their thesis research. In addition to reviewing the student’s knowledge of biology, the First Year Review Conversation will introduce the student to an interaction similar to the General Exam.
A document summarizing the conversation must be compiled by the student, and sent to the faculty present for the conversation (for confirmation), as well as to the Graduate Program Manager. This document will be presented to the student’s future Supervisory Committee Chair (i.e., Advisor) and Supervisory Committee members for review at the beginning of the General Exam.
How to Join a Lab
To join a faculty member’s lab for a rotation, you must contact that faculty member directly. Your temporary advisor can assist you in identifying faculty whose research may be of interest to you, but ultimately it is your responsibility to connect with the faculty to find a spot in their lab. While this can be intimidating, it is good practice in networking and relationship building.
Choosing a Permanent Lab
The lab that you would like to choose as your “permanent” lab should be that of your Supervisory Committee Chair. Again, you are responsible for directly asking the faculty member to be your Chair.
Once this relationship is established, you can begin asking additional faculty to join your Supervisory Committee.