UPDATE (7/21/17): We finally published the paper from this work. You can read it here!
Well, I have less than a week left of my first research rotation, so it’s seems appropriate to write about my experiences so far.
Overall, it has been fantastic. In fact, I felt so comfortable in the lab and supported by my supervisor that I kept waiting for someone to jump out and tell me it was all a joke and no lab is really that good. Of course, I am sure that the longer you are in a place the more flaws you see, but it has been a great experience for a research rotation.
My research focus is substance abuse in humans, so my labs are not filled with benches or chemicals or mice, its mostly computers and people. Prior to my first day I had emailed my supervisor to develop a specific area and question that I wanted to focus on, and he made sure that the data I needed to look at would be available to me upon arrival.
My first day was a confused blur. My P.I. showed me around, took some time to talk to me about what I was thinking of studying to make sure we were on the same page, and then sat me at a computer with an Excel file and an SPSS file that I needed to merge. My first week or so was pretty filled with literature review and frustration. I had wanted to look at PTSD and substance use, but not enough participants endorsed PTSD so there was nothing to really look at. After a few days of pseudo-floundering and becoming acquainted with the data, I was offered more data in order to look at other psychiatric co-morbidities; of course, this meant more lit review before I could start analyzing the data!
The next couple weeks involved learning how to conduct analyses in SPSS (when I arrived I only knew how to do bivariate correlations and chi-square tests, now I know how to do a whole variety of regression analyses and even create mediation and moderation models!). I began to develop a real idea of a question and a way to answer it and started developing specific aims for my project.
I have to mention that throughout all of this my P.I. checked in every day to see if I needed help or to go over anything, and he had a open door policy throughout. Not only did he provide input and advice, but so did a number of other members of the lab. This culminated in a lab meeting in week 5 where I presented the results I had so far. The conclusion of the 2-hour meeting: I had too much data! Well, at least I had done too much rather than too little.
Week 7 is just beginning and I have a draft of a manuscript completed. Should it ever get published, I will make sure to post a link here. I have less than a week to go, and will give a presentation at the end of the week (all summer students will be giving a presentation on their projects to the lab). Frankly, I am sad to be leaving. I really hope to have time to continue in some capacity throughout the year because working in this lab has been really fun and I have learned a huge amount in a relatively short period of time.
The major take home message: what a difference a good mentor makes! I felt engaged and comfortable asking for help when necessary, and I received thorough (and amazingly fast!) feedback on my drafts, and was able to attend other meetings to see what else was going outside of the lab. I am excited to go to lab in the morning and even want to work late some evenings. I have a feeling I have found my PhD lab!