Laboratory Selection - Case E1Amos Jones was accepted to an excellent graduate program in molecular biology. The faculty was relatively small but there were two outstanding professors, Claire Cheng and Patricia Slocum, who really determined the quality of the graduate program. Amos had been encouraged to train under Dr. Slocum by his undergraduate advisor.
Amos planned to do rotations in both the Cheng and Slocum laboratories. When inquiring about the research activities in the labs, Amos was told by Dr. Slocum's trainees that whether for a rotation or a thesis, Amos would be given a specific project, he would be expected to communicate results only to his direct supervisor, and he would have to give a formal presentation on the progress of his research once every two months. They noted that daily handwritten and dated entries were required for their laboratory notebooks. Much of the work had potential for commercial applications, so the laboratory was locked even during the day, with entry limited to the staff. The graduate students were reluctant to describe their experiments. The pace was very intense and trainees were required to prepare abstracts for the two important national meetings every year .The trainees also noted that many famous investigators visited the lab, spending time in formal and informal scientific discussion. Trainees were allowed to examine copies of papers that Dr. Slocum had received for review and to discuss them at lab meetings. They also saw an occasional grant application that she was asked to review. The trainees expected to be in great demand for postgraduate fellowships.
Professor Cheng's students reflected on the openness of the laboratory and her constant and immediate availability. They thoroughly enjoyed broad scientific interplay within the lab and with investigators on campus and elsewhere. They indicated that they were encouraged to explore their own ideas and expected to select their own thesis project. The students gave no formal presentations except when rehearsing for meetings. Progress in the laboratory was episodic rather than steady as various concepts were explored. Although their notebooks were not specifically examined, Dr. Cheng knew about every experiment and provided constructive criticisms and suggestions. Dr. Cheng did not go to many meetings and refused to show papers she received for review to her trainees. The students admitted that they felt a little out of touch with the newest developments in the field. Although Dr. Cheng did not enjoy the same prestige and reputation as that of Dr. Slocum, the trainees said Dr. Cheng's lab was a much more pleasant and collegial environment in which to work.
- If you had to prioritize, which features would you value most highly in the selection of a laboratory for your rotation or for your thesis work?
- What criticisms would you have of each laboratory as described? What would you describe as the strengths of each lab?
- What would you like to know about an investigator and laboratory prior to selecting that individual as your thesis advisor?
- The two laboratory chiefs presented in this scenario represent somewhat different philosophical views of science. How do you view a career in science?