Finding the Perfect Fit: A Guide to Choosing the Right Research Lab

Alyssa Wright-Brown

Choosing the right research lab to join can be a daunting task for any graduate student or postdoc. Your decision can have a significant impact on your research career and even your personal life. Joining a research lab is a long-term commitment, and it is essential to find a lab that aligns with your research interests and career goals. Here are some factors to consider when looking for the right research lab to join:

1. Research Interests: The first factor to consider is your research interests. Before choosing a lab, you should determine the type of research that you want to pursue. It is important to choose a lab that conducts research that aligns with your interests and career goals. Take some time to research different areas and topics if you are unsure of your research interests.

2. Lab Culture: The culture of the lab is also important. You will be spending a significant amount of time in the lab, so it is essential to find a lab with a positive and supportive environment. Talk to current and former lab members to get an idea of the lab’s culture. You can also attend lab meetings or seminars to get a sense of the lab’s dynamics.

3. PI’s Management Style: The Principal Investigator (PI) plays a significant role in shaping the lab’s culture and research direction. It is important to choose a PI whose management style aligns with your working style. Some PIs are hands-on and prefer to be involved in every aspect of the research, while others are more hands-off and provide more independence to their lab members. Consider how involved you want your PI to be in your research and look for a PI who matches your preferences.

4. Location: Location, location, location! Take into account the distance from home, the lab’s location, and transportation options. Take time to consider the cost of living in this new city. Research the average rental prices and if you’re looking to buy a house soon, see how competitive the housing market may be.

5. Funding: Funding is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a research lab. Make sure that the lab has adequate funding to support your research project. Lack of funding can limit your research opportunities and hinder your progress. In some cases, labs that have limited funding may often require graduate students to teach while also conducting research. Think about if that is something you may or may not be interested in.

Once you feel like have narrowed down your choices to a couple of options, ask yourself these questions: Where are previous members of the lab currently working? What kind of positions do they have? Are they in academia or industry? The answers to these questions can help identify if the lab’s PI supports all career options for trainees. By taking the time to do your research, you can make an informed decision that will set you up for success in the next step of your career.

Written by Alyssa Wright-Brown