Our goal for first-year students is to help them integrate with the Harvard neuroscience community and choose a lab for their thesis research. Orientation events held in mid-August prepare students to ask scientific questions and engage in scientific discussion with peers, and introduce first-year students to the research of a range of faculty and upper-year students through a series of lightning talks and poster sessions at HMS, the Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Center for Brain Science in Cambridge. In collaboration with the HMS Department of Neurobiology, PiN also provides regular opportunities for first-year students to socialize with senior students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty to help facilitate community building and guide students in choosing a lab.


First-year coursework and rotations help students identify PIs whose research interests, mentorship style, and lab culture are a good fit for their personal and professional goals. While PiN students are required to complete at least two  rotations (lasting at least 6 weeks long and typically 8-12 weeks in duration), most students choose to complete three rotations (and some will do four). Students are expected to join a lab by September 1 of their second year. In addition to serving as a basis for the selection of a dissertation advisor, rotations are designed to provide hands-on experience in different research areas and techniques. To help students get the most out of their rotations, PiN connects them with upper-year peer mentors, schedules SAC advising meetings throughout the year, and provides resources designed to help students develop metacognitive skills that will benefit them throughout their career. 

Rotation Guidelines for PiN Students

Rotation Requirements

PiN students are required to complete at least two rotations before committing to a thesis lab, though we encourage students to complete at least three rotations to gather more information about differences in lab environments, PI mentorship styles, scientific approaches, etc. There are no standardized start and end dates for rotations or duration; students may schedule rotations to begin and end at mutually agreed upon times with the PI. Rotations typically last 8-12 weeks, though students can opt to extend or shorten rotations beyond this period. For a rotation to "count" towards the minimum requirement it must last at least 6 weeks. Typically students are required to commit to a thesis laboratory by September 1 of their G2 year. However, the program can be flexible with this requirement; our priority is to help you find a good lab home!

Selecting Rotation Labs

PiN encourages students to reach out broadly to PIs to find out more about their lab and to express interest; reaching out does not commit you to doing a rotation in that lab! PIs understand how the system works and will not take offense if you communicate with them and then choose to not rotate. While identifying potential rotation labs, be sure to reach out to the program directors, your SAC advisor, and fellow PiN students to brainstorm ideas and to learn about students' experiences in various labs. A great way to start to learn about labs and to identify potential rotation labs is to sit in on lab meetings. We encourage students to reach out to any of the PiN faculty to ask about attending lab meetings. Collect as much information as you can when planning your rotations by talking not just to PIs but also to current lab members and to students who rotated in but did not join the labs you're considering. The PiN student Slack workspace can help you solicit feedback from your peers. 

If you begin a rotation and realize soon after that it isn't a good fit, feel free to end the rotation early and move on! Faculty understand how the system works and they won't be upset or offended. Everyone in PiN wants you to find a lab where you'll be happy and successful. It's important that you give yourself the opportunity to do so by trying different labs and being flexible in your plans.

    Scheduling Rotations

    PiN offers total flexibility to students for scheduling rotations. In general, rotations should be part-time, and students should prioritize PiN coursework. It might be helpful to consider the timing of required coursework and exams when planning your rotations:

    • The Discipline of Neuroscience, which forms the backbone of the PiN curriculum, meets early September through mid-December and late January through early May. The fall semester includes a midterm in late October and a final exam in December. The spring semester doesn't include exams and is instead more focused on writing. It culminates with a mock grant proposal in the style of the NRSA that is due near the end of the semester. The end of the semester can be a particularly busy time from a coursework standpoint.

    • Harvard has a special January term (J-term) during which intensive bootcamp courses are offered. Courses that meet during the regular fall and spring semesters (including NB215) do not meet during J-term. As such, January can be a great time to immerse yourself full-time in a rotation lab. There is also a spring break week in mid-March during which classes do not meet. This week can also be a good time to start a new rotation and have an entire week of full-time immersion before classes resume.

    Administrative Logistics

    Students arrange rotations directly with the lab heads (PIs). Upon confirming a planned rotation with the PI, students should log it with the program administrator using this form. Prior to the start of each rotation, students are required to complete a formal PiN Rotation Registration with the PI or lab supervisor. Within one week of completing each rotation, students are required to submit a Rotation Reflection, including a scientific summary of the rotation and a reflection on the lab and rotation experience.