So, I had to own up and deal with one of my other freshman mistakes today. I *WAY* overcommitted myself to rotation students at the beginning of the year. I don't mind having lots of them come through my lab, and besides it's always a gamble: how do I know which and how many of them will want to join? How do I know which and how many of them will do well on our science? There's no formula for predicting that, so I gambled with a big hand (kind of like how I did with my startup money) and flushed the lab with students to see who would pan out. I also EXTREMELY naively thought it would be FINE to take on 5-6 students, after all, lots of people have groups that size. What I forgot about was all the students who would be joining the program next year, and the year after that, and so on--typical noob mistakes.
These noob mistakes wouldn't bother me so much (I have no shame and just bonk myself on the head for being dumb), except that they affect the aspirations of some of those students. That I feel terrible about. Today I had to tell the two rotation students who are still to come through the lab that there just isn't any way I can hold a spot for them. I decided I had to let them know now instead of later, so they have the option of rotating somewhere else that will have a spot for them in the end. It is heartbreaking and makes me feel like such a bad PI for putting them in this situation. Particularly because one of them had deliberately saved my rotation for last with the hope that they could just keep on working here through the summer to get started on their graduate project. I know we have to learn to say no, and that overextending the lab and my own personal resources would not help anybody around here, but I still think saying no to hopeful students is one of the suckiest, craptacularest aspects of this whole job.
I've played a risky hand this year, not knowing how things would pan out. Most of my gambles have been paying off, and in a way this one did, but I can't feel victorious knowing that these students will have to settle for something that wasn't their first choice when they'd been really hoping that my lab would end up as their home.