Choosing a Ph.D. Research Advisor

In summary, an advisor's behavior and character can greatly affect your experience as a graduate student in experimental physics.
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gleem
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The recent edition of Physics Today has an article that should be of interest to prospective Ph.D. students. I think that new graduate students will benefit from this article as well as new faculty on how to find a good match between student and advisor.

https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/PT.3.4588

This article is of particular interest to me because of my experience. On the surface my paring with my advisor was great but on a less obvious level, it was not. He was hands-off and I was reticent about confronting research difficulties. This cost me considerable extra time.
 
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I'd like to add a little piece of advice for prospective students who may be reading this thread. Getting to know potential advisors is important, but equally important is getting to know the students you would be working with. You will spend more time with the other students than your advisor (but your advisors will have a huge influence on your research trajectory, so don't neglect either!). When you tour labs, spend time talking to students. If you can get a one-on-one conversation, probe them about lab politics. It might be awkward, but trust me you don't want to dive headfirst into a situation where you're pulling grad student hours with someone you can't work with, or even worse, someone abusive. It happens.

As far as advisors, I always got the best scoop on an advisor's personality by talking directly to their former students. I think the distance and lack of pressure gives them more clarity and willingness to divulge.
 
  • #3
Twigg said:
I'd like to add a little piece of advice for prospective students who may be reading this thread. Getting to know potential advisors is important, but equally important is getting to know the students you would be working with. You will spend more time with the other students than your advisor (but your advisors will have a huge influence on your research trajectory, so don't neglect either!). When you tour labs, spend time talking to students. If you can get a one-on-one conversation, probe them about lab politics. It might be awkward, but trust me you don't want to dive headfirst into a situation where you're pulling grad student hours with someone you can't work with, or even worse, someone abusive. It happens.

As far as advisors, I always got the best scoop on an advisor's personality by talking directly to their former students. I think the distance and lack of pressure gives them more clarity and willingness to divulge.
I agree with your approach in principle. With an important caveat, though: Life is usually not so straightforward.

1. If you're going for a PhD in experimental physics in the US, expect to spend approximately a 4 - 6 yr stint with your advisor and his group. Much can, and will likely, change over this period; including (a) your advisor's behavior and (b) members of your group. When you initially scout out the terrain, your advisor and other grad students may be decent. But then 2 - 3 yrs in, your advisor's treatment of you may flip-flop, decent colleagues may complete their programs or otherwise clear out, and abusive jerks may join.

2. We're all human, and we rarely treat all people uniformly. Sure, at the extremes, an advisor may treat everyone rotten or everyone decently; but, more often, he will treat some well and some not so well. Talking to current and former grad students will not necessarily yield candid answers. Also, you can't judge the value of their comments unless you know them well (which, in most cases, you won't). It's like asking people to recommend a restaurant: their opinions are useless unless you know what their tastes in food are, and how their tastes compare to your own.
 
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Related to Choosing a Ph.D. Research Advisor

1. What qualities should I look for in a potential Ph.D. research advisor?

When choosing a Ph.D. research advisor, it is important to consider their expertise in your field of study, their communication style, their availability and accessibility, their track record of successful mentorship, and their compatibility with your research interests and goals.

2. How can I find potential Ph.D. research advisors?

You can find potential Ph.D. research advisors by attending academic conferences and networking events, reaching out to professors in your field of study, and talking to current graduate students in your department. You can also look at the publications and research projects of professors to see if their work aligns with your interests.

3. Should I choose a research advisor based on their reputation or their research interests?

It is important to find a balance between a research advisor's reputation and their research interests. While a well-known and respected advisor can provide valuable connections and opportunities, it is also important to have a strong interest in the research they are conducting. It is best to choose an advisor who excels in both areas.

4. How can I ensure a good working relationship with my Ph.D. research advisor?

To ensure a good working relationship with your Ph.D. research advisor, it is important to establish clear expectations and communication from the beginning. Discuss your research goals and interests, establish a regular meeting schedule, and communicate openly and honestly about any challenges or concerns. It is also important to be proactive, take initiative, and show dedication and enthusiasm for your research.

5. What should I do if I am not satisfied with my Ph.D. research advisor?

If you are not satisfied with your Ph.D. research advisor, it is important to address your concerns directly with them first. If the issues cannot be resolved, you can consider seeking advice from other faculty members or the graduate program director. It is also possible to switch advisors, but this should be done carefully and with the approval of your department. It is important to prioritize your academic success and well-being in this decision.

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