In addition to course work, all doctoral degree students are expected to perform 2-3 separate laboratory rotations during the first year (MEDS 6496). Students who want to explore research in neuroscience are encouraged to perform these rotations in laboratories of Neuroscience Graduate Training Program faculty. Students should confer with their first year faculty advisors in choosing a laboratory for rotation research. Students on assistantships from the Graduate Program Committee must obtain permission from their first year advisors to register for laboratory rotation. Registration requires a lab rotation form.
It should be recognized that research rotations are a combination of two components: 1) The work obligation for the graduate research assistantship that provides the student’s stipend and tuition waiver; and 2) A graded course (MEDS 6496) for which students earn 1 credit in each semester of the first year. The laboratory of the rotation research project will become the student’s home base during this time of exciting exploration. Thus, when students are not in class, they will be in the laboratory working on the rotation research project. Balancing the demands of course work and the rotation research is essential to a successful laboratory rotation.
At the end of the semester, students present a short, 15-minute talk to fellow students and faculty describing the background, goals, and findings of the rotation research project. All students performing rotation research projects in neuroscience program laboratories are also required to prepare a rotation report, which is a written abstract summary of the laboratory rotation project (two-thirds of a page). This report, which is submitted during the week preceding the rotation talk, is signed by the rotation faculty advisor and forwarded to the associate director for review by the Student Progress Committee. Grades are contingent on receipt of the rotation report.
Laboratory rotations serve two important purposes. First, they enhance the breadth of the graduate educational experience in the first year by exposing students to new techniques and paradigms and providing training in proper experimental design and analysis. Successful performance in classes depends on a good grasp of the scientific method and an ability to understand and interpret experiments. Second, rotations afford students an intensive opportunity to learn about the research of laboratories that could become their thesis laboratory. Thus, the benefit of a laboratory rotation is not only intellectual. It could have tremendous practical impact on the student’s ability to move quickly into the thesis research project. Moreover, effort invested and expertise gained from carefully chosen laboratory rotations could result in great dividends for the rest of the student’s graduate career. Finally, the rotation project will let the student become sufficiently engaged in the performance of a research project to determine whether he or she has the passion for research that is necessary for successful scientific careers in academics or industry.