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PhD adviser without tenure?

  1. Apr 23, 2014 #1
    Is it a bad idea to choose a PhD adviser who is relatively young and hasn't reached "associate" professor yet?

    This guy is still an "assistant" professor without tenure. He got his PhD a few years ago so he is pretty new and as a result he does very new and interesting research. Should I not worry about his academic status or job security and just focus on the fact that I like his research? Is it possible for a PhD adviser to lose his job as a professor while a grad student is half way through the project?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 23, 2014 #2
    It might be a good thing. He might be more enthusiastic and work harder than the old fellows who have tenure. I recall an anecdote of a student who was under a nobel prize winner. He hated it because the guy already made it and had low drive.

    I would look at the rate of papers coming out and the perceived quality by others in the department.

    Personally, I would not worry about him getting fired or let go.

    Im sure others with more experience than I will chime in.
     
  4. Apr 23, 2014 #3
    That makes sense. I guess assistant professors need to try hard to get tenure so they will be very driven to publish lots of papers
     
  5. Apr 23, 2014 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    What specifically are you concerned with?
     
  6. Apr 23, 2014 #5
    Mainly just the possibility of him not getting tenure and/or losing his job while I'm halfway through the project. This would make my time in grad school longer than it needs to be.
     
  7. Apr 23, 2014 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    Typically faculty that don't get tenure go down a notch or two and end up elsewhere. And even tenured faculty can move. So I don't see that the additional risk is large.
     
  8. Apr 23, 2014 #7

    Pythagorean

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    Anecdotal, but one of my past adviser's told me the story of when he was half way through his PhD when he found out from university announcements (and not his tenured adviser) that his adviser was accepting a position at another school!
     
  9. Apr 23, 2014 #8
    Yeah that's scary stuff... What do you do when this happens?
     
  10. Apr 23, 2014 #9
    I had classmates who's adviser didn't bother to tell them he had a terminal illness. They didn't even know he died until a week after it happened and they found out through the dept. head... A different professor took over as their adviser.
     
  11. Apr 23, 2014 #10

    Pythagorean

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    He transferred his project to another adviser. Got through ok, but the new adviser didn't know the project or the subject as well, so it was a little bit messier to tie up.
     
  12. Apr 23, 2014 #11

    jtbell

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    I had a friend in grad school whose advisor died. :frown: His topic was a rather specialized interdisciplinary one (don't remember what it was), and he ended up starting over with a new topic in a different field.
     
  13. Apr 23, 2014 #12

    Choppy

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    Generally speaking most departments won't permit someone in an unstable position to take on a graduate student. So if this person is in a position to take on a student, you likely don't have much to worry about.

    That said, all sorts of things can happen. Your supervisor could move on. He or she could get severely ill. Or for whatever reason you could have a falling out and decide that you can't work with each other any more. All of which would leave you as a student in a difficult position.

    This is why you have a supervisory committee.

    At least on person on your committee should be in a position to take over as a supervisor if for whatever reason the initial arrangement doesn't work out.

    I think it's important to make sure that you both have a clear plan from the beginning about your project - in terms of what you can accomplish and timelines for doing so, and in terms of your working relationship. Without a lot of experience, your supervisor may not know how hard to push you, or when to push you, or what direction to push you, or whether to push you at all and this can lead to problems down the road if things don't go according to plan. So make sure that this is a person you feel you can communicate with.
     
  14. Apr 24, 2014 #13
    I've seen it work out both ways. My advisor didn't have tenure when I started with him, but he was very motivated to publish not only his own papers, but all of his students as well. I graduated, and he eventually became a full professor... win-win!

    On the other hand, my brother's advisor didn't have tenure when my brother started with him, and after three years, he didn't get it. Once his advisor left, my brother either had to start over with a new project, or cut his losses with an MS. He cut his losses.

    So you pay your money and take your chances...
     
  15. Apr 24, 2014 #14
    OP: Have a look at this discussion which is akin to your situation, starting on post 15:

    www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=749006

    The benefit is the extra drive the early career prof has to have you succeed, as it positively impacts his/her chances of getting tenure and higher ranking within the dept. I suspect it's also positive in the game of getting grant money. Depending on how recently the prof was hired and what policy the school has for the timeline in getting tenure, it is probably unlikely he/she'll disappear before your done.

    The downside is that they have no experience with past grad students and might have either unrealistic expectations or be way too handholdy for your own good. I've heard it from a prof that early career profs have a tendency of pushing their students really, really hard and that might be detrimental for some early grad students. I think the type of prof most should probably avoid is the 'rock-star' type which is extremely busy traveling and/or going on sabbaticals and can't give you much if any time, unless your ability to make good progress without any guidance is already very good (something you'lll have to learn sooner or later).
     
  16. Apr 24, 2014 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    It's true the assistant professor might not get tenure and have to go elsewhere. And the elsewhere may not by anywhere you particularly want to go, which means you'll have some decisions to make.

    But a senior professor might also be enticed to move elsewhere, and the elsewhere may not by anywhere you particularly want to go, which means you'll have some decisions to make.

    For that matter, either professor might get hit by a bus tomorrow. It's probably not a good idea to make these kinds of decisions based on "what ifs".
     
  17. Apr 25, 2014 #16
    I once worked for an assistant professor in a lab for a summer although I did not plan to do research with the assistant professor. His graduate student earned his doctoral degree either on schedule or early if I remember correctly. He later made tenure. In addition, he had a biophysics lab near an associate professor (his friend) in biophysics doing similar research. I think in the worst case, where if the assistant professor missed tenure, the professor nearby might have welcomed the opportunity to allow the student to continue his promising research under him.

    I agree with an earlier post that sometimes assistant professors are "hungry", have the eye of the tiger so to speak and will be effective to work with.
     
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