It’s the second month of school, midterms are coming up quickly and alongside studying you have your weekly research tasks. Everything seems to be a top priority, but you know that something will eventually have to give. Sound familiar? I’ve been in this position several times, and from my own experience I can tell you that (1) everything will be ok, and (2) you need to let your PI know.
When I say you need to let your PI know, I mean that you need to ask your principal investigator which tasks have hard, fast-approaching deadlines and which can wait until next week. By starting this conversation, this will trigger three thoughts in your mentor’s head, (1) you have great communication and organizational skills, (2) you care deeply about the research you are conducting and (3) maybe you have too much on your plate right now and need to make educated decisions and perhaps delegate some of your research responsibility.
Starting honest, open conversation early in your undergraduate research career will allow you to easily communicate your needs as they evolve each semester and build a stronger connection with your PI as they get to learn more about your passions and responsibilities outside of research. If you have an extracurricular commitment that you know will occupy most of your time for a few days, let your PI know. If you are planning a trip home for a big event that will conflict with your usual dedicated research time, let your PI know. If you have three midterms scheduled for the same week, let your PI know. If you find that you don’t have enough research tasks to cover your required hours, let your PI know. If there is a project in your lab that you really want to get more involved in, let your PI know. If you are applying for an opportunity and need a letter of recommendation or would like feedback on your materials, let your PI know. If you’ve come up with your own research question while working in the lab and want to get feedback and potentially develop your own project, let your PI know. I think you get where I’m going here… let your PI know!
The most important aspects of letting your PI know are to (1) be specific with dates or periods of time, (2) clearly communicate the time and effort you will have to give during those times to research, and (3) let your PI know as soon as possible. In my personal experience, I have taken on additional opportunities to co-author manuscripts, present at conferences, and to conduct my own research projects, and I have turned down offers to co-author or lead new projects in the lab. I have asked for more research responsibility to meet my Work-Study Research Assistant Program required hours per week, and I have asked for less hours during midterm season or when preparing for medical school interviews. The deciding factors in choosing your degree of research involvement should always be these three things: Do I have the time, effort, AND passion to produce high-quality work and to guide me through the stressful days to see this research to its completion? Whatever your instinctive answer to that question is, trust it and save yourself from the potential stress and sleepless nights like I did.
Lauren is a senior majoring in Exercise Science and minoring in Biological Sciences. Click here to learn more about Lauren.