I want to go to graduate school to study computational molecular biology and biochemistry.

During my first three semesters as an undergraduate I finished my distribution requirements and started doing research with one professor. During my fourth semester I started doing research with two more professors (working in computational biophysics and computational linear algebra). My work with two of these three professors has already led to work that will be published soon. I am considering starting research with yet another professor (in statistical genomics).

Is it wise to begin research with yet another professor? I fear that having engaged with too many professors makes my resume read like that of a dilettante rather than a promising computational biologist.

  • 6
    The sooner you learn to express yourself without going to wall-of-text, the better.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 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
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 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
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 21:01
  • 2
    I see your situation as a perfect recipe for burn out. Please, be careful and take care of yourself.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 23:23
  • 4
    didn't have the time — Huh? StackExchange doesn't impose deadlines. Graduate schools will definitely look down on poor writing.
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 2:17

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 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
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 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
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 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.

  • 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
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 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
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 19:08

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Your schedule reminds me of my marathon days of thesis writing and of my 24-hour calls on surgery. In both cases I accomplished a lot in the moment, but retained little. College is your first formal exposure to academia. Racing through it could shortchange your longterm foundation. Just as with muscles, you need to alternate periods of stress and relaxation otherwise the adaptation to that stress never occurs.

Publishing one paper doesn't indicate mastery of a field.

Few outstanding scientific issues are definitively solved in one paper. A string of publications on the same topic is more common and, for a CV, more impressive. Someone who can attack the same problem from different angles with different approaches is a promising candidate.

Form an informal committee; don't add to your collection

Instead of being a human ping-pong between PIs, why not ask a few of the professors to guide you in writing papers at the intersection of their interests. Those sound like interesting discussions even if no paper comes from them.

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