Nearing the middle of the third rotation, a new graduate student should have a good idea about where they would like to do his/her thesis work. However, before making a final decision about where to carry out his/her thesis work, the new graduate student should have a frank discussion with their prospective supervisor to determine whether the supervisor wishes to mentor the rotating student for the remainder of their graduate career. At the same time, the student should be chatting with their other rotation mentors and let them know if they are not interested in working in their lab for their thesis project. If the student is not excited by the prospect of working in any of the three labs in which they rotated and/or if any of the prospective mentors do not wish to take on the rotating student on a permanent basis (which rarely if ever happens), then a fourth rotation is permitted.

 

Here are some questions that students who are considering prospective supervisors should ask themselves and or their prospective supervisors:

  1. ‘Does this science excite me?’ If the answer is clear either way, then your choice becomes simpler. Even if you love the lab personnel & atmosphere and like the supervisor, if the science doesn’t excite you, do not join that lab. Enjoying the science is key to success. If the science does excite you, then consider other questions…
  2. ‘Does the supervisor’s level of attentiveness suit my needs?’ It depends on the supervisor, but some supervisors may pay more or less attention to rotating students, so prospective students need to inform themselves from other lab members about whether their experience is likely typical for that supervisor or not. Students should also keep in mind that September and October are often very busy times for supervisors as they are writing grants and may be teaching as well and their ability to attend to rotating students may or may not be affected by this. That said, there is a pretty good chance that the behaviour of the prospective supervisor will reflect how he/she will interact with you throughout your degree. If you are happy with the prospective supervisor’s level of attention to you, then consider the following…
  3.  ‘Will the project likely yield a first-author paper for me in a reasonably-well read journal?’ For those who are certain that they only want to pursue an M.Sc., this question is not so important because a complete publishable unit of work is not important for the completion of an M.Sc. degree, nor is it typically important for career development (although there are likely exceptions to this). For those considering, or are certain to pursue, a Ph.D., then this question is very important because the ability to pursue a long-term career in science is dependent on publishing your work and doing so during your Ph.D. demonstrates your potential. It is also important to be working on a problem that is likely to yield first-author publications because the Department sets a goal of two data chapters in a Ph.D. thesis that could, in principle, be published, as one of several criteria for granting a Ph.D. degree.  

You may want to ask your supervisor to outline what your first paper might look like and ask him/her point blank about whether you will be first author on said paper. You may want to talk to other students in the lab about whether they too think that the proposed project is likely to yield first-author publications. That said, consider these things: i) There are no guarantees in science; sometimes the best ideas fall flat, and initial drudgery sometimes yields amazing results. ii) Science can be a highly collaborative endeavour and even if a piece of work is not likely to yield a first author publication for you, it may be important to pursue for many other reasons. However, it is important to always keep in mind that you should be working on something in parallel that you are championing and are the lead scientist on. iii) If after doing some soul-searching you are uncomfortable about the proposed project, but are still excited by the science and feel at home in the lab and get along well with the prospective supervisor, then discuss other potential projects with the prospective supervisor.