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" I advise my students not to stay in the United States"

  1. Jun 28, 2014 #1
    Yale professor James Rothman, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine, to prospective biomedical researchers at a panel discussion about declining federal funds for science research in Washington, D.C. last year.


    I'm currently in a lab that is getting rocked with funding cuts and has no hope in sight of securing any type of funding (PI has submitted 12+ grants, all rejected. Even the university rejected his bridge funding application).

    Today he sends out an email with a line basically saying "I'm not sure what is going to go on with my lab in the fall."

    What should I be doing now in the next two months to prepare for the worst? What are your university policies to deal with students in limbo? What if my PI gets fed up with the whole academia and funding scheme, decides to quit, and goes to work in industry?

    Not sure what I should be doing.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2014 #2
    Are you a grad student? If you are, then you need to be looking for a new lab to join, because it sounds as though your PI is saying "I have no money so I'm going to start firing students this fall. Here's the heads up before the crap hits the fan." It doesn't really matter if your PI leaves academia or not. Based on what you posted, it doesn't sound as though his/her lab is viable anymore. Take a few moments to look at what research other professors in your department (or related departments) are doing and find a few whose research interests you. Contact them, and set up meetings ASAP to discuss the situation and the possibility of working with them. At my own institution we are also facing a funding situation because the administration had more students accept admission offers than they can afford to pay and our four research centers are up for funding renewal; one center has already been cut by the NSF. However they still let students move around and change advisors at no cost up through the third year. Also, if you already have a PhD thesis committee then contact them. At most universities the PhD committee is supposed to act as a safety net, and they may be able to help you get into a new lab and salvage the work towards the PhD that you have already done.

    But time is of the essence. Act quickly. If you get an offer to switch labs before the end of the summer, then do so, because it sounds as though all projects in that lab are going to come to a halt soon and if you want to finish your degree in a timely manner then you need to get into a lab with a stable funding situation as soon as possible.
  4. Jun 28, 2014 #3

    Yes, I'm a grad student. We've already gotten rid of 2 post docs and a grad student that will be leaving in August. The lab is now down to 2 PhD students and 1 post doc. We submitted 2 R21s recently, and I have a hunch he got back the reviews and they probably aren't good. What worries me is not that I'd be let go to downsize the lab, it's that the lab might not exist at all in the future and my PI will simply leave academia all together (I'm pretty sure part of his salary comes from grants, he has kids to feed, and his family will come first if he can no longer secure grant funding). It's not like my PI is a slouch either--he's a MIT trained scientist that's already won multiple RO1 awards and is a tenured at a prestigious institution that receives huge amounts of NIH funding every year. If it is this bad here, I know it has to be pretty grim at a lot of other institutions.

    Thanks for the insight. I just hope I can get out of here in 2 years without having to re-establish myself with another PI and finish the project I'm currently working on.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2014
  5. Jun 28, 2014 #4


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    I know nothing about the specifics here, but "hoping the problem will go away" isn't likely to be a good strategy. Be proactive, not reactive.

    If you think being disrupted with 2 years to go is a pain, think how much more of a pain it would be with 1 year to go, or even 1 month.

    In my experience, if you don't have access to all the facts, things are usually worse than they appear, not better, because the people in charge have to keep up an outward appearance of "business as usual" for as long as possible. My advice would be jump before you are pushed.
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