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I am set on going to graduate school in computational science, specifically computational molecular biology and biochemistry. I am from a CS/Math background however and intend on applying to computational science + engineering programs but with research focused on biological applications (for example, someone like the famous Vijay Pande would be an advisor I would love to work with). So my question is: Is it bad to do research with as many as three or four different professors at once?

I took 8-9 courses (double the normal amount) in each of my first three semesters, to get them out of the way, and also started doing research with one professor in my third semester. This semester (4th), and for all future semesters, I will be taking only 3-4 classes each one, mostly graduate-level courses (taking 4 right now probably 3 in all later ones). Because I have experience taking 2-3x the workload (a lot of grad classes are actually less work), I spend only a couple hours a week on my courses because I've learnt to be extremely efficient. Thus, the majority of my time is spent on research (I sleep about 7 hours a day, so I'm spending around 9 hours a day on research right now with ~3 hours in class, 1 hour eating, and 4 hours free time, on week days, and even more free time on weekends). I am currently doing research with two different professors, which is not uncommon at my university. One is in computational biophysics and one is in computational linear algebra. There is also a very interesting professor in statistical genomics that I'd like to get involved with next semester, as well as a professor in mathematics who I'd like to do research with. I view my free time as pretty useless to be honest, I'd rather be doing research, but with the 9 hours a day I already spend I'm finishing as much as there is to do until the next day I meet with my advisors and figure out the next steps. So is it bad if I get myself involved in even more research projects? My work with the two current professors will result in publications soon, and the work with the two other professors I'm interested in working with would likely result in publication considering the fact that most other students who work with those professors do end up publishing a paper. All are relevant to my area (because of its inherently interdisciplinary nature) but would grad schools look at me and see someone who is crazy and not committed, even if I do achieve enough depth in all of the four fields to publish a quality paper? I am also doing research in the summer with the same professors and next summer also. I really love to do research and I don't want to let any of these opportunities go but at the same time graduate school is my ultimate goal so if it means I should only keep doing research with two professors then I will do that. Because I don't want the schools to think they will accept me and then I won't commit to my advisor and I will go gallivanting off somewhere else. I am not flighty like that but I can see why doing so many projects might imply that.

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The sooner you learn to express yourself without going to wall-of-text, the better. –  Ben Voigt Mar 31 '14 at 0:50
I can be concise when necessary, but I typed a ton because I had to go somewhere and didn't have the time to decide which details were irrelevant. –  aakash Apr 2 '14 at 21:00
The level of detail is not as much of a problem as the fact that you didn't use paragraphs. –  Ben Voigt Apr 2 '14 at 21:01

2 Answers 2

There comes a point where a person will be spread too thin – that's inevitable. Only you can really say how much you can take on before your workload starts to interfere with your academic goals and achievements.

If you're already doing the work of two students, I'd be cautious about expanding that to three.

I'm spending around 9 hours a day on research right now with ~3 hours in class, 1 hour eating, and 4 hours free time, on week days, and even more free time on weekends

You make it sound like those four hours of free time are being wasted, when they might not be. Perhaps your brain is appreciating that rest more than you know. And I don't see any time allotted for physical fitness; besides being good for your health, fitness can be good for your mind.

If you decide you want to try a third project, you should be honest with yourself, and up front with the sponsoring faculty member from the outset. "I'm already working on two other projects, so, to be honest, this might turn out to be too much for me. But I'd still like to give it a try." Such a disclosure might make it a little harder for you to find someone willing to take you on, but it might help save your reputation if you find yourself in a position where you've bitten off more than you can chew.

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I'm not really doing the work of two students, although last semester I definitely was because of my course load. (I also had a job last year which I quit). Thing is, a lot of other students are involved in research along with some kind of clubs, or something. I guess physical fitness is something I do not pay attention to, but I never have. I could pick it up now or in graduate school I suppose. But other than that my free time is wasted, for reasons I won't go into I'm not having a great time at school outside of academic stuff and I don't have many friends to do things with so I'm bored. –  aakash Mar 30 '14 at 19:02
It sounds like a good idea to notify the third guy I have two more projects, I'll do that. After reflecting, four seems ridiculous even to me. –  aakash Mar 30 '14 at 19:04

First of all: congratulations and good luck. It seems you are quite enthusiastic about research. That said: be careful not to take too much on your plate, especially initially. Your time schedule seems very stringent which may lead to a burn-out.

I have the feeling that you are too erratic in your current research: there is no overall story to connect the different pieces you are (or plan to be) working on with different professors (computational biophysics, linear algebra, statistical genomics, mathematics, ...). It's true that there is likely some overlap but to do effective research you need to have a single point of focus, which you can tackle from different angles. What is your main focus?

I would say less is more. Having so many different professors in such diverse fields will inevitably hinder you from digging deep in each one. An important part in research is choosing your battles: deciding what to focus on and planning your work/collaborations in a meaningful way. It seems to me that you just want to do everything, which (while commendable!) rarely works out in the long run. You can't do everything, even if you want to.

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I haven't figured out what my ultimate research area will be. I know it will be something in computational biology (and definitely not, for instance, computational EVOLUTIONARY biology) but I don't know what yet. The algebra guy I work with actually does research with connections to computational biology which is why I picked him. The other two are of course computational biology projects. The last guy is a numerical analysis professor but he is also interested in applications and a friend said he was great to do research with. Although if I pick three I will likely pick the other three. –  aakash Mar 30 '14 at 19:06
I don't think I will burn out, I also took a very heavy course load in high school juggled that with a part time job and playing in a youth orchestra. I guess I am just wired to enjoy working all the time. But I appreciate your comment and I will probably pick three and not four. If I double the 9 hours I currently spend on research it would be 18 on average which is clearly not realistic even for me who likes working. –  aakash Mar 30 '14 at 19:08

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