Family dog Maggie, an eight-year-old Labrador retriever, keeps an eye on things as UW-Madison undergraduate student Ali McGowan studies in the first-floor Moka Coffee and Tea lobby inside The University Book Store (UBS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Feb. 15, 2021. Ali’s father, Pat McGowan, is president of UBS and periodically brings Maggie to work. Ali is a junior majoring in community and nonprofit leadership plus environmental studies with a certificate in entrepreneurship. She is wearing a face mask as the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic continues. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

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Thinking about graduate school?  Questions to consider asking a potential lab:

Environment

  • Do lab members collaborate within the lab?
  • Are lab members friends outside of lab?
  • Describe lab mate relations? Are people friendly?
  • How is the lab treated by the PI?
  • What are the requirements for work hours? Work days?
  • How are work place conflicts dealt with? (look for signs of tattle tailing to the boss)

Funding

  • Is experiment funding limited?
  • Are you expected to find funding for most of your projects?
  • How many conferences are covered by the lab?

Turnover

  • What is the turnover rate? (rate of those that come into the lab and leave with the degree that they wanted)
  • Do people leave the lab before they earn their degree? Why?
  • What is the average length of PhD for students in ____ lab?

Research

  • Do grad student have freedom in what they research (to an extent)?
  • Do grad students graduate with a first author publication?
  • Can interdepartmental collaborations occur?

Mentoring

  • Does the PI support continued education?
  • Does the PI provide constructive support to help your projects?
  • Are their lab meetings and how helpful are they? Do other members contribute their ideas on how to improve the project trajectory?

Vacations

  • How many vacation days do you get?
  • Is it okay to take vacations?
  • Will there be push back/penalties when you take vacations?

***Things to notice:

  • PI making you avoid certain members – could be hiding the “ugly truth” of their lab
    • Ie, an upset 6yr grad student without a publication
Questions generated by Lexi Johnson, Molecular & Cell Biology Student