Sometimes, my lab is a circus. You know how in "St. Elmo's Fire", Demi Moore's character lives a life of self-created drama. Yeah, that's a lot like what goes on in my lab (well, without the coke problem). I can't really say what's going on at this moment, but it's definitely out of control. On top of all the chaos, I somehow managed to sprain my ankle two days ago so I'm having trouble moving around. So you can picture it--lots of yelling, angry emails, crazy lab and protocol inspections, and me, hobbling around on my Stay Puft ankle. It's all so pathetic that you have to laugh your way through it.
The lesson that I've learned from this experience is that it's very important to set clear ground rules at the beginning of any mentor-mentee relationship. You must be your own advocate from day 1. Define what your roles and responsibilities are in terms of your program, your mentor, and the lab and what you want in return.
Picking a lab is one of the hardest choices one makes in graduate school, and, unfortunately, there is no perfect formula for making the right decision. All I can tell you is that people don't change. Before committing to any lab, do your research. Talk to people in the lab and people who used to be in the lab. Look at publications coming out of the lab and how successful the lab has been in attaining funding. Look at how many students have been in the lab, how many years it took those students to finish (if they finished), and where the students went after finishing their theses. Think about the mentor's background, personality, and culture and how you fit in to the picture. Also, it is important to observe how the mentor treats others associated with the department, from administrators to vendors.
I wish there was a way to know beforehand how things will turn out...good luck.
Today, I think I will learn to juggle.