Rotations and Advisor Selection


First-year students complete three laboratory rotations. The purpose of rotations are to allow students to familiarize themselves with the people and research taking place in program laboratories. The ultimate goal is for students to find a permanent laboratory for thesis research at the end of their first year in the program. A fourth rotation over the summer is also an option, if needed. If a student wishes to rotate with a faculty member who is not a part of the graduate program the student will need to receive approval from their academic adviser. The student and academic adviser should notify the program manager that the rotation outside the program has been approved. Rotations should be confirmed by the start of each quarter, but no more than one quarter in advance, e.g. you cannot confirm a Spring rotation in Fall quarter.

Selecting a research advisor

Selecting a research advisor is the most critical decision to be made during a student’s graduate career and must be made on a fully informed basis. Students are encouraged to discuss research interests with a variety of faculty members in the graduate program. This is considered a part of the learning process and an activity essential to graduate education.

The research advisor:

  • Serves as chair of the thesis (dissertation) committee.
  • Signs forms regarding a student’s academic status.
  • Provides financial support for each student advisee.

The research advisor must be a member of the UCSF Academic Senate and a member of the graduate program faculty. Students select a research advisor by the end of spring quarter of the first year.

A faculty member’s perspective on selecting a research advisor

When selecting a research advisor, the first consideration should be the scientific research conducted in his or her laboratory.

  • Are you excited by the science?
  • Have you read the manuscripts coming from the laboratory?

Aside from the science, there are other important considerations in selecting an advisor. It is not just the professor who determines the overall environment of a laboratory but also the other graduate students, research scientists, postdocs, technicians, and support staff.

Therefore, it is important to talk not just with the professor when choosing an advisor but also with other members of the research group as well. Questions might address the:

  • Type of project a student might work on.
  • Average length of time to graduation.
  • Amount of time the professor spends in the laboratory (or on campus).
  • Amount of long-term funding available.
  • Leeway to develop projects firsthand.

Methods of mentorship will vary among professors and depend on the professor’s assessment of an individual student’s needs and skills. More personal considerations might involve the professor’s attitude towards such issues as working hours, vacations, and time off. On rare occasions, irreconcilable problems develop between a student and his or her advisor. In those instances, a student will be allowed to choose another research advisor.