How to Choose your DPhil Lab

By Lizzie Horton

The first thing to consider is the project itself. Firstly, you must be interested in the research question, as you’ll be working on it for 3-4 years! Then, consider whether there is any preliminary data for the project. One extreme might be finishing up someone else’s project from the lab, the other extreme is starting completely from scratch on a project.

Both have pros and cons:

  • Continuing someone else’s project might mean experiments are already optimised and reagents are ready to use, however there may be authorship quibbles, and you may not have autonomy on your project.

  • Starting from scratch means you often have total autonomy and the project feels your own, but it’s a steeper learning curve with optimisation and can be more risky in terms of data output.

Next, check out the supervision of the project. How involved is the PI, and who will your day-to-day supervisor be? Ensure that you meet these people, and that you think you can work with them. How many meetings can you expect to have with each? For many, supervisor relationships are more important than the project.

Then, consider the people in the group. Is it a small group of 4-6 people, or a very large group of 15, or somewhere in the middle? Are they chatty, or do they work in silence? Consider how this might affect the working atmosphere, and choose an environment that you’re comfortable in.

Also make note of the building that your lab is in. What equipment and facilities do they have? What is the training like? These questions are often answered on building or departmental websites.

Another consideration is the funding. Does the position come with funding, or is there guidance on applying to external scholarships?

Good luck choosing!