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The purpose of laboratory rotations is two-fold. First, they expose students to a broad range of research topics and research environments available in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Secondly, they allow students and faculty to decide who will mentor a specific graduate student. The core and affiliated faculty represent a diverse group, with research interests ranging from cell biology to molecular biophysics. Upon entering graduate school, many students will not have been exposed to all potential research topics and thus may not really know what is interesting to them and what is not, or which projects are reasonable for thesis research and which are not. Students complete three term-long rotations in their first nine months at OSU. Rotations should be generally agreed on or planned by the beginning of Fall term (see form Appendix 1), but changes are allowed.
Faculty members run their laboratories in distinctive ways. Labs may be large with many postdoctoral research associates, technicians and/or undergraduate students, or they may be smaller with primarily graduate students responsible for much of the research in the lab. The mentoring professor may by intimately involved in all aspects of research and may actually work in the laboratory, or may be more distant from the lab, primarily functioning to define the broader research goals of the lab and as a fund raiser. Each student needs to find out which style may be more appropriate for them. Lab rotations allow students to "try out" laboratories and, similarly, allows labs to evaluate prospective students. One important component of finding a mentor and lab for thesis research is how well students mesh with the people in the lab.
The most successful lab rotations occur when students maintain good communication with the professor. Students need to find out what they are expected to accomplish during the rotation, and by what standards their performance will be judged. This topic should be discussed with the professor even though rotation students are often directly supervised by a postdoctoral associate or a senior graduate student. In these situations it is in the student’s best interest to clarify the chain of communication and responsibility. This initial understanding should be revised as the rotation progresses, since research projects usually take unforeseen turns. During a rotation, students should also try to learn as much about all the different currently ongoing research projects from other members of the group. This generally requires communication with all members of the research group, as well as attendance of all group meetings or journal clubs held by the laboratory.
At the end of a student rotation, professors are required to complete a form evaluating the student's performance (a copy of the evaluation form can be found as Appendix 2 at the end of this Handbook and online here (6)). This evaluation is discussed with the student and the form signed by the professor and the student. Evaluations become part of the student's record and are considered during the general evaluation of each student at the end of their first year in the department.