Thoughts on lab rotations

The thing with first-year rotations in a Ph.D. program is that anxiety starts kicking in somewhere along the way when you consciously identify the lab that you want to join and want to get started right away. Having realized that this is going to be a long journey and rushing into things may not help, I am now gaining patience and perspective, and hope to make the most of the remaining time of my first year.

Rotations are a great way to learn about a lab and get involved in the nitty-gritty of research. I was warned at the beginning by a few seniors that I would either love a lab or reject it within the first few weeks of the rotation. Mind you – this has nothing to do with the science pursued in the lab (one wouldn’t decide to rotate in a lab if they didn’t find the research interesting in the first place). This is more about getting comfortable with the way a lab functions and deciding if the environment is a good fit for you. An eight-week lab rotation is really like an eight-week long interview with a potential PI and the lab! It is essential to identify the kind of relationship you foresee having with your advisor for the next couple of years (and beyond). This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of a rotation for me, next to the research work. A good mentor-mentee relationship can go a long way and can be extremely beneficial to one’s academic/professional career. I prefer having an open channel of communication with my mentor and learn as much as possible from him/her.

Not all graduate programs require laboratory rotations. Many departments or programs accept or reject students simply based on their application and/or an interview. In the UK for example, students are recruited to work on specific projects and grants as a part of their Ph.D. for the time period of around 3 years. This may not benefit the candidates who wish to propose their own ideas and develop their own thesis based on their individual research interests. In the US, for most graduate programs in the life sciences (mainly biology and chemistry), the average time for graduation is around 5-6 years. I believe that the freedom and independence of this system trump the short graduation time of the other systems. Although I am certain that both sides have their set of merits and demerits, at the end of the day, the journey is unique to each one of us and what we make of the experience matters the most.

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Measles Outbreak: The Rise of Anti-Science

The recent measles outbreak in the United States with 121 reported cases (as of February 12th, 2015) along with the continuing spread is extremely alarming. Whether or not to have mandatory vaccination requirements should not be a debate when there have been constant affirmations from the scientific community about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Parents who believe it is in their children’s best interest not to vaccinate refuse to recognize the importance of herd immunity. This troubling trend in ignorance and denial of science is endangering thousands of lives. The war between science and anti-science is not a new one. Personal beliefs towards evolution, climate change, GMOs, and vaccinations should not dictate public health and safety. The current war against vaccinations is the most dangerous one because of its immediate threat as compared to the long-term perils of climate change or GMOs.

A recent vaccine discussion on Real Time with Bill Maher was troubling to watch due to the many misguided and misinformed comments that were casually thrown across by the panelists. The ignorance of Maher and his guests was exposed when comparisons were drawn between the safety of vaccines and climate change, antibiotics, and Monsanto. One panelist said, “The implication is that if you have any skepticism whatsoever, you are anti-science..and I think there is a difference between having skepticism against science and having skepticism against the pharmaceutical industry.” – This is an interesting point as well as an important one. Having mistrust over pharmaceutical industries should not prevent the parents from vaccinating their children. Questioning the ethics of large pharma corporations should not overshadow the larger issue that is public protection and immunity. Maher continued to compare vaccines with antibiotics, and the highlighted the concern regarding antibiotic resistance. These are different modes of treatments used in different situations. Trying to deduce the reasoning and thought process of the guests in this 12 minute conversation was just frustrating. Maher’s comment, “I’m not so sure that people who get a lot of them (vaccines) have as robust an immune system” proves that he is misinformed about the science just like many others. This is one of the many debates that exposes the gap between what the scientists know and what the public perceives.

Politicizing scientific truths seems to be the highlight of the decade. Skepticism is healthy and favored for the advancement of science and medicine. However, skepticism should not overshadow evidence and accuracy. Media and other outlets have the responsibility of communicating science with all its truthfulness. With a decline in trust and credibility of various media outlets, it is on us to bridge the gap between scientific reasoning and the rising anti-science brigade.

Insightful conversations:

  1. The Biology of Vaccinations
  2. The TRUTH about Bad Measles Charts the Mainstream Media Is Suppressing
  3. The politics of measles
  4. How science deniers use false equivalency to pretend there’s a debate