A PhD is a long process and you need to feel like the time investment is worth it. Ultimately, if you feel like the lab you’ve chosen is not going to help you get the career you want after you graduate, you have a good reason to change labs. It should all come down to what the success of your PhD means to you.
Every year, lab changes occur due to various reasons. If you’re considering switching labs after your rotation period, you should know that many people have successfully done this before you. It’s important to recognize that these changes must occur before the Senate Exam. We highly recommend discussing lab changes with Vanessa (graduate coordinator), Adam Engler (vice chair), Kun Zhang (chair), or Pedro Cabrales (Chair of Graduate Studies Committee). Talking to any of these people doesn’t commit you to leaving your lab until you give the official go ahead, and we highly recommend you take this route. Make sure to get a verbal agreement of confidentiality. Once you’ve decided that the best move for your career and wellbeing is to change labs, here are some tips to do before telling your PI you are leaving the lab collected from students who have successfully changed labs:
There are three main choices that you will be given when you discuss the issue with Vanessa (graduate coordinator), Adam Engler (vice chair), Kun Zhang (chair), or Pedro Cabrales (Chair of Graduate Studies Committee):
1. Stay in the program and find a new lab
2. Stay in your current lab and work out issues
3. If you have passed your Senate, changing labs is not possible and your only option is to Master out of the program. Otherwise, this option is always available.
We recommend talking through each scenario with Vanessa, Adam, Kun, or Pedro and thinking about your options carefully. This can be hard to hear when you are confused about the next step and looking for validation, but understand that they cannot (and will not) tell you what you should do.
Before you officially leave the lab, you will be asked about your plan, so have it ready:
1. Leaving beginning next quarter
2. Rotation choices and why
3. Kindly ask for funding support through the next quarter
Typically you will have to TA courses (even if you are finished with your TA requirement). This is the most common method of funding.
Your main goal is to identify a lab that you can finish your PhD in. Here are some tips:
1. Research your interests
2. Read the recent publications from the lab
3. Email lab members to assess the funding situation.
4. In the past, professors who are newer to the department, affiliated professors in the department or out of department choices tend to be more receptive to transitioning students.
5. Contact the PI, tell them who you are and why you are interested in their research, and ask if they are willing and able to take you as a transitioning student if the rotation goes well.
Prepare the conversation with your PI. We highly recommend rehearsing this conversation and talking it through with Kun, Adam, or Pedro. In the past, Adam has assisted in writing the email to your PI to signal your intention to leave the lab. This is a great way to make sure nothing is misunderstood and that you are supported by the department.
Be clear that you have made your decision with your PI and be confident in it.