Choosing a Supportive Research Group

Share This:




Choosing a Supportive Research Group


Joseph Tibbs, Bioengineering PhD Student, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Choosing a research group can feel daunting. It’s important to be passionate about the research you do, but passion isn’t enough to keep you going if you aren’t supported in the lab. I’m fortunate to be in a great lab and do research I care about, but that isn’t always the case.

What does it take to feel supported? For me, clear communication and a network of people inside and outside of the lab who I can turn to when research life gets tough.

One of my professors told our class that there’s no such thing as a perfect model, only a useful one. I reflect on that sometimes when I think about choosing a research group. Before I committed to the program, I had questions. What is the group like? How many people? How cutting-edge is the research? How hands-on is the professor? Will I be supported or be on my own? These questions had no perfect answers, just answers that were best for me.

When you’re considering a research group, learn what you can from the students already in that group—many will be willing to answer emails or have a quick Zoom call. Then think about what is important to you and whether this research group will give you the support you need.

Learning and adapting is part of grad school. Be willing to set boundaries and goals, and review your progress with your advisor regularly. If something isn’t working, address it. Get help if you need it. Graduate department coordinators can be a great resource. Starting grad school is a big transition, but it gives you the freedom to determine how you want to work and learn—take advantage of that!


More from this department