Similar to most science PhD programs, during my first year I will complete three research rotations to identify possible research mentors. In my second year, I will officially pair with one of these scientists to conduct my research for my degree. We will be working together anywhere from 3-5+ years, so finding the right personality fit is extremely important. Each of my rotations will be nine weeks long and I have my first one starting this August. I won’t lie, choosing these rotations is extremely nerve racking to me! One of these individuals will very likely head my research in the years to come. It’s a big decision that takes a great deal of research. So how am I finding people to work with?
- Let the List Grow - Even though I am only doing three research rotations, I have a list of thirteen different researchers and am open to the list growing more! You never know who might already have too many students or may not have funding to take you on, so don’t limit yourself. Keep your door open to a multitude of opportunities.
- Google Binging - There is nothing better than googling people you are interested in working with. I have found videos, articles, and, of course, their publications. This has really helped me get a grasp of what type of work they do and if I would be interested in doing that work too.
- NIHReporter - This was a suggestion from my research mentor. NIHReporters shows all the investigators who currently or previously had grants with the NIH. This has helped me judge which individuals might have the funding to support a PhD student in the years to come. Although I don’t immediately cross people off my list if they do not have funding, it can still help give you a good idea. You can also search by city, state, institution, key words, and year.
- Talk with your Program Director - Because Clinical Translational Science is so broad, each individual in my cohort is different. We all have different research areas and are looking to build different skill sets. This means that my program directors don’t know everyone who does vision research at Case Western. But they do have a strong voice. Already my program director has done research on potential mentors for me and reached out asking if I can rotate in their lab. His voice and connections have made me feel unbelievably supported. I am in a huge field but my director wants to make sure I have an incredible experience. This type of support can be hard to find so I recommend paying close attention during your doctorate interviews. Was the director easy to communicate with? Did they discuss student success? Ask how the program supports students with unique research goals!
Even though my program director will not be my PhD advisor, I feel extraordinarily lucky to have such support from him. A PhD is a long degree and now I know I have a connection outside of my thesis research where I can safely go and ask for advice. A great mentor can open up so many opportunities.