Choosing a Ph.D. Research Advisor

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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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Twigg
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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.
 
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CrysPhys
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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.
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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