Laboratory Rotations

A strength of NUIN is that each student enters as a free agent, that is, not attached to a specific laboratory or faculty member. But research is the essence of the PhD, and during their first year in the program, each student is required to complete research rotations in at least three different laboratories. These usually take place in fall, winter, and spring quarter, although it is possible to complete a rotation in the summer before matriculating. The rotation system allows students to explore various areas of neuroscience and different research environments before committing to a single lab to conduct thesis research. Students are strongly encouraged to do at least one rotation on each campus since each has its own unique culture and research opportunities.

There are several goals associated with the laboratory research rotation experience. Of course, the primary goal is to identify a thesis laboratory. But more than that, laboratory rotations give students an opportunity to learn which research questions excite them, what techniques they favor, what kind of lab environment they think best suits them, and what qualities they prefer in an advisor. At the same time, of course, rotations provide faculty an important mechanism for evaluating students as candidates to join their lab. Ideally, each student finds a good match with a thesis laboratory by the end of year one. Students who don’t find a thesis lab after three rotations do additional rotations during the summer after year one.

Arranging laboratory rotations is primarily the responsibility of the student, though the NUIN Assistant Director and the student’s Advising Committee are always available to help. Subsequent to arranging each rotation, students submit a Research Rotation Advisor Agreement Form to the NUIN office. Typically a student should rotate in a lab only if there is some reasonable option to join that lab permanently, should the rotation go well. Students should not join a lab that is unlikely to have space or financial resources to support a new student in the near future. Although not always the easiest topic to discuss, it is an important one when interviewing prospective faculty advisors.

An exception to these cautions exists for the student who identifies a thesis lab before completing all three rotations. Students in this situation still need to complete the requisite number of rotations, but the certainty of having a thesis lab affords them more flexibility. For example, a student might rotate in a lab in order to learn a specific technique to compliment what she plans to do in her thesis lab. Faculty are more open to such arrangements when they know the student will be in the lab short term.

Rotation Evaluations

Toward the end of the laboratory rotation, the rotation advisor completes an online evaluation that the student will receive. Students and rotation advisors are encouraged to have an exit interview to go over the evaluation and discuss how the rotation went. This is a valuable opportunity for the student to receive formative feedback. The rotation evaluation is used by the program as one measure of success in the laboratory.

Laboratory Rotation Scientific Poster

At the end of the first rotation (usually fall), students will prepare a scientific poster describing their research project. Instruction on creating scientific posters will be provided towards the end of the fall quarter. A rough draft of the poster in electronic form is due by 11:55 pm on Friday of exam week for the quarter. Posters are to be submitted to the electronic dropbox on the NUIN Blackboard site. Students will finalize and present their posters during one of the recruiting events in winter quarter. (Students doing a rotation in the summer before their first year may elect to create a poster for their summer or fall rotation.)

Students failing to submit by the deadline will receive an incomplete for the NUIN 590 course.

Laboratory Rotation Report

At the end of their 2nd and 3rd rotations, students will write a scholarly report, 8-10 pages in length (single-spaced, 12 pt. font) organized as described below. Reports are to be submitted by 11:55 pm on the last day of final exams for the quarter. Reports are to be submitted electronically, one copy to the advisor and one copy to the electronic dropbox on the NUIN Blackboard site. The advisor will communicate his/her assessment of the report to the Assistant Director as part of their evaluation of the rotation student.

Students failing to submit by the deadline will receive a No Pass for the NUIN 590 course.

Report Format

a. Title Page. The title of the research project, student’s name, and rotation lab.
b. Specific Aims. Provide a clear, concise, point-by-point summary of the aims of the research project. Do not exceed one-half page.
c. Background and Significance. Briefly sketch the background to the research project. Indicate the importance of the project to long-term research goals. Include relevant references. Do not exceed two pages (not including references).
d. Experimental Design and Methods. Describe the procedures and biological materials used in the project. Clearly indicate the contributions of others currently involved in the project. Do not exceed two pages.
e. Results. Describe the results of all experiments. Use tables and figures to present data.
f. Conclusions/Discussion. Discuss interpretation of results, significance of findings, limitations of the procedures, and future research directions. Do not exceed two pages.
g. References. List all references cited in the text, including all authors and the full title of the publication.

Joining a Laboratory

  1. Once you have a good idea which lab you think you would like to join, discuss the possibility with the PI.
  2. Inform the NUIN Program Manager once you and the prospective advisor have made verbal commitments to one another.
  3. The advisor, chair, and student will be asked to sign and return the NUIN Thesis Advisor Agreement, formalizing the advisor-advisee relationship and affirming the combined commitment of the advisor and the department to supporting the student.