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Choosing a Professor to Work With

  1. Jan 12, 2010 #1
    Hi everyone, I wanted to ask a question. How do you find out about a professor's demeanor, approach to problems, temperament, extraversion, introversion, and other things that enter into "researcher"/"grad-student' interactions? That's not something I can really e-mail a professor and ask them right off the bat, you know? Nor can I wander on down to the schools I'm interested in (far away as they are) and get a first impression of a professor. It would be ideal for me to work with a theoretical-particle-physicist who is knowledgeable and engaging (that is, when I start my PhD).
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2010 #2
    You should ask students in the graduate department what their impressions were of the professor. Most importantly your research should be based on what you want to pursue rather than the professors personality. It's kind of depressing to work with a professor you don't like being around but it's even more depressing to specialize in something you don't enjoy. At least from my perspective.

    My advice is to find the professors you are interested in doing research for and read some of their publications to see if their research peaks your interests. Also, if you can go visit the school and talk to some of the professors who you would be interested in researching for it would give you a good idea of what they're like.
  4. Jan 12, 2010 #3
    The really bad ones can kill a lot of interest in a subject, but there's usually hope. It seems like a lot of the most unsociable ones don't even take on students, and the ones who do take students at least kind of sort of want them. If it's so bad that you absolutely can't work with him, lots of (I think most) schools do let you switch advisers*-it's just involves navigating a lot of school politics. This may involve deadlines and things of that matter, but you should be caught up on that stuff anyway.

    As for figuring out personality? Yeah, best bet is talking to guys in his research group, further down is asking kids in his school, forums, etc-but you need to take the guys classroom behavior with a grain of salt, as lots of the professors that I know are more approachable/sociable with their research crew.

    At least visit the ones you get accepted to, 'cause you know 5-7 years of your life is a long time to spend in a place you can't stand. It's also a great time to start shopping around for potential advisers.

    *This is because many grad students switch their focus by the time they get to their dissertation, though I know a girl who just switched her adviser 'cause she disliked her initial one.
  5. Jan 12, 2010 #4
    Also departmental secretaries can be interesting sources of information. You can also take a class from the professor and attend seminars and see how the professor interactions with other people. When you get to a department it will be a year or so before you have to choose advisers, so you'll have time to figure out what people are like.

    I'd argue the opposite if you are a Ph.D. student. For at least four years and quite possibly longer, your graduate adviser will be most important person that is not a blood relative, and will be the academic equivalent of God. It's vitally important that you find someone that you are personally compatible with. The single most important thing that I've see that causes dissertations to be delayed or not to be finished at all involves personality conflicts with the graduate adviser.
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