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About Lashanda Skerritt and Jiameng Xu

Lashanda Skerritt is a fourth-year MD-PhD student at McGill University. Her PhD research is in family medicine and primary care, and it focuses on the reproductive health care needs and priorities of women living with HIV in Canada. Prior to medical school, Lashanda completed a bachelor of science in biochemistry from the University of Ottawa.

Jiameng Xu is in her sixth year of the MD-PhD program at McGill University. She completed undergraduate studies in life sciences, concentrating in neuroscience, at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She has been involved in initiatives to create a space for the arts and humanities within health professional training and in spaces of health care delivery. She aims to continue writing about narrative and experience, and to dedicate herself to working with patients and their families.


In a discussion with a friend facing the decision of whether she should stay in her current research group or transfer to a different one, I began thinking of our research groups as a series of villages. When joining a village, for the next 3–4 years you will be tasked with learning their language, customs, values, and traditions. The neighbors of the village, both near and far, will also become your neighbors and ultimately your network. Therefore, it is important to select a village that can help you, as a student, answer the questions that you want to study. It is perhaps easier if the village is already asking questions similar to your questions, indicating a shared interest. You should also feel welcomed and accepted by the village; it is difficult to thrive in a hostile village. It is also vital that the country where the village is located is safe, stable, and has adequate resources; a research group can be very attractive, but if the department is facing overarching issues, such as a lack of funding, that will affect you as well.


  • Consider how you have learned and performed best in the past, and what you want to accomplish and learn as a PhD student.

  • Speak to current and former students to determine how you would fit with a specific supervisor or research environment.

  • Invest time preparing for your meetings with potential supervisors. Use this chapter to develop your list of questions.

  • Be ready to be flexible with your thesis research project and expectations.

  • Search for a supervisor that can help you achieve your broader education and career goals.

Much like choosing a village, choosing your research lab necessarily raises some important questions: “Do I want to learn their language, and customs? Will they accept the values and traditions I have learned from my previous village and help me to develop my skills further? Would I enjoy living in this village for the next couple of years?”

The ...

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