Choosing a Research Area & Primary Research Advisor


You are strongly encouraged to keep an open mind about what type of research you would like to carry out and with whom until you have had a chance to explore different research groups. Graduate school will form an important part of your life, but many if not most of you do not know exactly what type of research will suit you the best (and excite you the most)---this is absolutely okay. We encourage taking your time and making an informed decision about research groups after meeting several potential advisers, future lab-mates and groups.

Active Exploration Requirement: Participation in at least 3 research groups is required before selecting a Primary Research Advisor. A “rotation” may vary greatly from one research area to the next and is defined by the DCB as any one of the following:

  • Attendance at a minimum of 3 group meetings
  • A multi-week lab rotation including collaboration on a project
  • A series of interviews and lab tours with at least 3 students and/or post-docs from the same research group
  • Other forms of active exploration as agreed upon by the student and PI

Students are also encouraged to interview additional members of the faculty with whom they share research interests and participate in additional rotations, if desired. Students are not obligated to make a commitment to a particular group before their second quarter and prior to completion of the rotation process.

Area and Advisor Selection: In order to remain in good academic standing, students are required to formally join a research group by the end of the second quarter (by submitting the Advisor Selection Form), but not sooner than December 1st of the first year. The choice of research advisor is one of the most important decisions made in graduate school. For this reason, students are strongly encouraged to take the time to consider this decision carefully in order to make the best choices for themselves. Choices made too soon, with inadequate information, or from a feeling of obligation may negatively impact the student's graduate career. Students should consider all options and make an informed decision that is mutually agreed upon by the student and research advisor. 

The choice of research advisor is not an absolute commitment. If the original choice is not ultimately the perfect match, students are permitted to switch groups. This can cause a student's time to degree to be significantly delayed and should be avoided when possible. Students intending to switch groups must complete the petition process, but are not required to complete additional rotations or interviews.