First PhD student

Dodoosin
3 min readSep 15, 2023

They say that the first phd student is always special to the prof. New PIs make their first PhD student do a lot of work for them and call them special lol. It’s just weird because you’re supposed to be a senior student but you’re just a dumbass junior. But it definitely comes with many pros- you and your project get a lot of time with your advisor. You will most likely get a ‘safe’ project because your project is very important for their tenure. Basically you need them for your PhD and they need you for their tenure so the student-supervisor dynamic is more balanced and less hierarchical. Another huge pro is that they are keen on publishing and they really push you in that direction.

And of course you learn so much about setting up a new lab, here are some things I’d tell myself if I were to set up my own lab- 1. PLEASE GET A LAB ASSISTANT if you are setting up a new lab, otherwise your students will curse you so very much and you will definitely go to the most disgusting part of hell hated by the devil himself.2. CHECK QUOTATIONS PROPERLY- instead of complaining later that the vendor ‘cheated’ you without giving the wellplate incubator and letting your student beg for microscopy slots . 3. Set up good systems to manage the lab- Inventory system, Digital lab notebooks, enough data back ups, enough power back ups, professional communication space (No not whatsapp) ensuring that lab responsibilities are split fairly among students and no one feels burdened. 4. Do not bulk order DMEM bottles because they will expire by the time they are all used. To not order fancy aspirators that costs lakhs. 5. Teach your students lab cleanliness before teaching them experiments. 6. Grow team-spirit in the lab by organising activities outside the lab. 7. Take meeting notes yourself- do not tell things opposite to what you discussed last time, this applied to. new and old PIs lol. I also learnt some things about being a good PI from my other research internship- We were encouraged to share experiments that did not work and troubleshoot them during lab meetings and the PI also took part in the lab cleanups.

The biggest con is that you will have to pick up and learn most skills yourself. There are no seniors to ask you to be gentle with the PAA gel to not break it. Protocols are not standardised. You might have to wait for more than a year for your own micrscope/ main equipment of the lab to be delivered and then wait for another year for the wellplate incubator to be delivered, and in the meantime you already have another PhD in begging for microscopy slots xD. Nobody to fix your reports or to tell you what kind of questions you might get in your comprehensive exam. You will have to cycle a kilometer to figure out how to change the Co2 cylinder of your incubator. You are the only one trying to fix things that have broken in the lab. And anytime your supervisor needs something they come to you- that figure, this quote, the report, list of equipments in the lab and their serial numbers, call that vendor a thousand times, fix the lab right now, be at the lab right away because the -80 broke down. Honestly I try to hide from my supervisor and my lab mates because they keep giving me OTHER work that takes time from my work. One silver lining is that this motivates me to come really early to lab and finish my work by the time others start coming to lab xD

The growth curve is steep and frustrating. It’s a lot of personal growth. I’ve become much better at time management and prioritising things. I can talk and communicate better. It’s a lot of personal growth but at what cost? I do not get the time to run because I end up doing OTHER things that take up an extra hour and more importantly energy. I am too tired to do anything else because I’m exhausted at the end of a long day of mental fatigue figuring out and doing things I’ve never done before, doing too many things in a day. It’s a lot of personal growth but at what cost? I think an ideal lab to be in would be a lab that’s about 5–10 years old. Equipments, protocols are well established, there are seniors to help you, PI is still keen on publishing and will give enough time for you and your research (unlike old labs).

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Dodoosin

Poetry and some random words. Grad student trying to document my PhD journey semi-anonymously.