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Other How can you know what a professor is like personally?

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Hello!

I'm beginning to compile a list of potential professors who I'd like to do my PhD under and one of the factors I'm taking into consideration is what they are like personally to work with. What's the best way of finding this out? So far, I've thought of a couple of very obvious ways:

1) Talk to the professor
2) Talk to the current graduate students who work for him

Is this a good idea?

Thanks
 
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Yes, of course both of those are good ideas. If your situation allows, I recommend sitting in on group meetings to see how the PI interacts with his group.
 
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Yes, of course both of those are good ideas. If your situation allows, I recommend sitting in on group meetings to see how the PI interacts with his group.
I like that too, thanks. (My professor mentioned that he may have some funds to send me to school(s?) so I can visit potential advisors. If it's only one place he's planning to send me to, I might just choose one which is close to as many different schools as I'm interested in.)

One thing he also mentioned is seeing the people the professors collaborates with and getting to know what they are like as well. How might I go about doing this?
 

Choppy

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It seems odd that a professor would have finding to send you to different schools. Sometimes when professors have money for that kind of thing, it's to bring prospective students in to visit them as a form of recruitment. Maybe there's some money on a collective grant that will allow you to visit others on that grant. I'm suspicious of blank cheque to send you to a school(s) of choice for a visit.

That said, organizing a visit shouldn't be too difficult. You can either contact the potential supervisors directly or the graduate advisor. Some schools will even organize specific days for tours for prospective students. Those are ideal to attend because potential advisors will block off time to speak with students and you can get department tours, as well as school tours.
 
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I'm suspicious of blank cheque to send you to a school(s) of choice for a visit.
Agreed, I've never heard of such a thing either. But I suppose if there is an offer, it doesn't hurt to accept?

That said, organizing a visit shouldn't be too difficult. You can either contact the potential supervisors directly or the graduate advisor. Some schools will even organize specific days for tours for prospective students. Those are ideal to attend because potential advisors will block off time to speak with students and you can get department tours, as well as school tours.
That sounds good! Thanks
 
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Just a thought, it might not hurt to apply to schools and wait to hear back before visiting. I visited a few schools before applying, and was sort of brushed off - after all, why would a professor waste time on a student that hasn't even been admitted? Plus, after you get in, you travel on the university's dime (usually).
 
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Just a thought, it might not hurt to apply to schools and wait to hear back before visiting. I visited a few schools before applying, and was sort of brushed off - after all, why would a professor waste time on a student that hasn't even been admitted? Plus, after you get in, you travel on the university's dime (usually).
That's a good point, however, I don't really *need* to visit schools, I just want to know what the professor that I'm interested in working with is like. The way I'm narrowing down my grad school choices is by finding interesting questions in my field of interest that I want to find the answers to (and of course what the daily work would entail and if I enjoyed doing similar work during my undergrad) and then narrowing down the schools that have some substantial amount of research going on in it. If I like that professor/group, I probably will end up mentioning on my SoP that I want to work with so-and-so professor on so-and-so problem (which I probably shouldn't do without even knowing what the professor is like). Is that a reasonable thing to do, or will it work against me?
 
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I can't comment on whether it will help or hurt you (I'll leave that to the people here who have been on admissions committees), but keep in mind most people mention who they want to work for on their SoP without having met the professor, but only being familiar with their work. It's not like mentioning them in the SoP will somehow lock you into their group. If you mention a professor, apply, get accepted, and visit only to find that you don't mesh well with the professor, then you've lost nothing. Plus, application fees are in general cheaper than travel costs to visit.
 

ZapperZ

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Hello!

I'm beginning to compile a list of potential professors who I'd like to do my PhD under and one of the factors I'm taking into consideration is what they are like personally to work with. What's the best way of finding this out? So far, I've thought of a couple of very obvious ways:

1) Talk to the professor
2) Talk to the current graduate students who work for him

Is this a good idea?

Thanks

Zz.
 
280
23
I can't comment on whether it will help or hurt you (I'll leave that to the people here who have been on admissions committees), but keep in mind most people mention who they want to work for on their SoP without having met the professor, but only being familiar with their work. It's not like mentioning them in the SoP will somehow lock you into their group. If you mention a professor, apply, get accepted, and visit only to find that you don't mesh well with the professor, then you've lost nothing. Plus, application fees are in general cheaper than travel costs to visit.
Ok, that makes sense. One final question, though: is it really that easy to switch from one program to the other once you get accepted to grad school? Wouldn't that leave a loophole where one can get accepted to a school for a specific sub field for which it's relatively easier to get into (say, HEP), but then transfer to a research group for which it's a very hard school to get into (say, Astrophysics). I could be wrong, but Univ of Arizona has similar stats to the situation I described. Their Astronomy department has an acceptance rate of 7% and the Physics department 50%. Don't quote me on those numbers, but I think they're similar to what I just mentioned.
 

CrysPhys

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Ok, that makes sense. One final question, though: is it really that easy to switch from one program to the other once you get accepted to grad school? Wouldn't that leave a loophole where one can get accepted to a school for a specific sub field for which it's relatively easier to get into (say, HEP), but then transfer to a research group for which it's a very hard school to get into (say, Astrophysics). I could be wrong, but Univ of Arizona has similar stats to the situation I described. Their Astronomy department has an acceptance rate of 7% and the Physics department 50%. Don't quote me on those numbers, but I think they're similar to what I just mentioned.
I assume we're talking about the US. You need to look at the specific university. There are some in which you apply for a specific program. And there are some that will offer entering grad students a research assistantship with a specific professor. But at many, you will apply to just the department (e.g. "physics"). And, at many, you will not be accepted into a research group until after you have passed your qualifiers. You are then free to pick an advisor who agrees to accept you into his group. Typically, the advisor will need to be a member of the physics dept or have a joint appointment with the physics dept. Otherwise, special permission needed (and perhaps special arrangement such as joint advisors with a physics prof if the other advisor is a non-physics prof).
 
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CrysPhys

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To OP: It certainly doesn't hurt to talk to professors and their grad students. But here's a bit of perspective with respect to advisors, as well as future bosses [and relationships in general]. They are not necessarily consistent in how they treat their grad students, and their personalities can change over time. After all, they are human beings. Remember, you will likely be working for the guy on the order of 5+ yrs. Your relationship can evolve more positively over time; but it can also devolve more negatively over time. He can treat other group members well and treat you like crap; but he can also treat other group members like crap while he treats you as his pet boy. And his relationship with you can vary depending on the makeup of other members of the group, which, in general, varies over time. As the fine print in many investment reports reads: "Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance" (but it's a good place to start) .
 
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280
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To OP: It certainly doesn't hurt to talk to professors and their grad students. But here's a bit of perspective with respect to advisors, as well as future bosses [and relationships in general]. They are not necessarily consistent in how they treat their grad students, and their personalities can change over time. After all, they are human beings. Remember, you will likely be working for the guy on the order of 5+ yrs. Your relationship can evolve more positively over time; but it can also devolve more negatively over time. He can treat other group members well and treat you like crap; but he can also treat other group members like crap while he treats you as his pet boy. And his relationship with you can vary depending on the makeup of other members of the group, which, in general, varies over time. As the fine print in many investment reports reads: "Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance" (but it's a good place to start) .
I see, I think everything you said makes perfect sense and I agree with. I'll go ahead then and talk to professors whose research seems interesting to me.
 

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