In addition to learning about some fantastic science and research, one of the major benefits of attending American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions (or any other national meeting) as a fellow-in-training is the networking opportunities. Trainees can take advantage of the opportunity to interact with principal investigators and/or members of labs that they may be interested in joining in the future.
While there are many benefits to joining an established lab, I strongly encourage trainees to consider meeting with and possibly consider joining a new/early career investigator’s lab. There are several benefits to joining an early career investigator’s lab.
I recently joined an early career investigator’s lab for my postdoctoral fellowship. I am a Cardiology physician-scientist trainee. I completed a Medical Scientist (MD/PhD) Program and then joined a Physician Scientist Training Program in Internal Medicine. I completed my Internal Medicine residency and then started my Cardiology fellowship. I spent a long time finding a lab to do my research postdoctoral fellowship. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to join Dr. Kurt Prins lab. Dr. Prins is a Cardiology physician-scientist who studies the mechanisms of right ventricular dysfunction in pulmonary hypertension and is an early career investigator.
Below are some of the benefits of joining an early career investigator’s lab:
- Mentorship: As my mentor’s first and only postdoctoral trainee so far, I have received a lot of individualized mentorship. His office door has always been open and I talk to him almost every day about science, career advice, and/or our personal lives. Due to Kurt’s approachability and availability, I feel that I may have been able to be more productive in the lab, partly due to the ease of working with him to troubleshoot experiments.
- Establishing the groundwork for many projects: In smaller labs, the lab members are often involved in multiple/all projects. It is exciting to be able to lay the groundwork for multiple projects that the lab may be involved in for years to come or may be the foundation of my lab in the future. Being involved in multiple projects may also lead to multiple publications.
- Learning how to start and set up a lab: I joined Kurt’s lab a year after he started his lab. Watching the process of starting and setting up a new lab is invaluable. As a trainee who is interested in starting her own lab in the future, being closely involved in writing/reviewing animal protocols, reviewing grant applications, and even organizing the freezer racks will help with tackling the inevitable steep learning curve of being an independent investigator. Sometimes in a more established lab, one may not receive the experience of learning all of the processes involved in setting up and running a lab.
- Mentor can empathize on the potential struggles of being an early stage investigator: Early career principal investigators can often empathize with trainees on the challenges of obtaining grant funding and publishing papers during the current research climate along with possible other scientific/personal challenges. Early stage investigator can provide trainees with relevant career advice that are applicable in today’s scientific environment.
- Doing experiments with principal investigator: At this time, my mentor spends a lot of time in the lab doing experiments alongside the other lab members, which makes the lab environment a lot of fun! Kurt and I have developed a lot of inside jokes between us because of the amount of time we spend together!
While there are many benefits to joining an early career investigator’s lab, there are also some potential difficulties that can easily be overcome. For further career development, it may also be valuable to have a senior mentor. As you have probably heard before, ultimately deciding which lab to join for your graduate or postdoctoral training is like finding a spouse – you have to find a good match. For those who are interested, there was an article published in Nature about the potential benefits of joining a new lab (1). For those of you who want to discuss more about potentially joining an early career investigator’s lab, please feel free to reach out to me. For those of you who joined an early career investigator’s lab, I would also be interested in hearing about your experiences.
- Woolston C. Why a new lab can be a valuable destination for postdocs and graduate students. Nature. 2018;558:333-335
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