I'm a PhD student and there are two labs that work in very similar fields, but different departments. Both look great, but I'm not sure which will benefit my research more (resources, collaboration, job opportunities, etc.).

Would you recommend I join both labs at first and then decide 1-2 years later? And, if both are really great down the road, is it okay to stick with both at the same time?

Note: I'm in social sciences. One lab in CS department and the other in Arts/Humanities department.

  • 1
    Does your program allow you to join two different labs? For the PhD program I was in, it was normal, expected, and supported for students to rotate among 2-4 labs during their first year and then choose one, but not every program supports this trajectory.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 11, 2020 at 19:32
  • Good question, and I don't know ATM. One thing that I should note is that in social sciences, it isn't expected that every student should even join a lab. Finding a lab, and joining, are up to the initiative of the student. Like no professor has told me that I should find a lab as a first year student yet.
    – juanjedi
    Aug 11, 2020 at 19:34
  • Eh, I'd suggest you look into that: "joining a lab being up to the students' initiative" and "it isn't expected that every student should even join a lab" don't necessarily go together: the first can be true even if the second is not. Ultimately, you need need need a research advisor. "Joining a lab" and choosing an advisor are ultimately the same step.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 11, 2020 at 19:36
  • 1
    @AlexanderWoo OP still needs to choose an advisor to work with. Probably the one in CS considers their group a "lab", even if employees work in libraries, archives, and the field, rather than a proper laboratory. Maybe the one in an arts/humanities department does not consider themselves a lab, but OP's use of "lab" to describe them suggests that they do.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 11, 2020 at 19:47
  • 1
    If your faculty advisor agrees, and your department chair agrees, and if the person or persons in each lab that you would be reporting to all agree, maybe. Do all those people agree?
    – puppetsock
    Aug 11, 2020 at 20:04

1 Answer 1


Generally speaking, these sorts of relationships are encouraged. People like to see collaboration, not only from a scientific perspective, but from a networking and professional development standpoint.

Usually, nothing is needed to join a lab, other than a willingness on your part to participate. If you want a mentor-mentee relationship with an advisor who is not in your department (i.e. the department you were admitted to), that is something you will have to negotiate with them. As I mentioned in the comments, students in the advisor's own department are their first priority for mentorship and time.

You say in the comments:

I would have to verify this, but my primary advisor may officially be in my dept, but I would be working more closely with prof. outside my dept.

While possible, I just want to warn you that this is probably not the most likely outcome, although it's possible standards in your fields may be more permissible.

You should also keep in mind obligations to your home department. If you are funded on an RAship (or an internal fellowship, likely), then you are expected to devote 20 hours/week to your funder's lab, not leaving you much time to work for the other advisor. Of course, the other advisor may fund you, but again, it is probably hard to devote a line of funding to a student outside of the department. Your primary advisor may make your duties including working for the other professor, but I can't tell you how likely that is.

If you are on an external fellowship, your time is much more flexible.

Tl;dr: Having a primary mentor outside of your home department is probably not likely, but a good mentor would help you arrange something to the best of their ability, as long as you are a good communicator with all three parties.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .