What to Look for in a Research Group

Laboratory & Research Advice

What to Look for in a Research Group

In a research program, you will spend most of your time and energy within your laboratory group. Your group and your professor will be the people whom you will know closest. Your well-being and success will hinge on the relationships you have with them. For an obvious example, if you have bad relationships with your coworkers, they may naturally omit you from conversations, and you may struggle to learn new information and network. Picking a group where you can thrive is just as important as picking a top program. In essence, you are applying to a group as much as you are applying to a program. So what is important in a laboratory group? Here are some things you can consider.


  • What research does the group do? It is not impossible to get into a good program, yet fail to find a group that matches your interest. A good rule is to only apply to programs where three or more groups have projects that interest you.
  • What is the managing style of the professor: are they hands-on or hands-off? How big is the group? This is key, as it will define how much support you will get from your professor, and how much you will have to teach yourself.
  • How close together is a group? Does it feel like a team? What is the atmosphere like in the group?
  • How many people of your nationality do you want around you? You may want a stronger support network of people similar to you, or you may want to consciously immerse into something new with new people. In either case, find out what you are getting into.


This will matter more than you think, and will define your life more than you think. Give it attention. For me, the feeling of a team makes all the difference.