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Pick adviser based on matching research interest vs. adviser competence

  • Thread starter bjnartowt
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi all, I intend to go into some form of condensed matter theory physics after I finish my 1st year of PhD studies (I'll finish that this coming May). I have met some CMT profs who are proficient at what they do, are intent on researching, etc., and some profs who seem to be either a) rather lethargic in what they do, as they are already tenured and needn't stress terribly to move forward b) buried in administrative duties, and don't end up cranking out much. One guy was my ideal choice: 1) straightforward and didn't beat around the bush; to the point and not passive-aggressive 2) high volume of work output, but he didn't want to take me on.

Now my question: should I limit myself to just the CMT people? I mean, should I look at *all* professors? One guy I know of is said to be a fantastic teacher, brilliant, prolific, not tied down to any sort of family of his own, and pretty much someone I could learn tons from; the problem being is that he's in particle theory, not CMT. In other words, should I pick "competence as an adviser" over "match to my tentative research interests"?

P.S. My motivation for CMT is that there's more money in that field, and I could more easily default to industry if things didn't pan out. I've heard the standard speech that you should pick what you love vs. money, but my response to that is that some measure of compromise to reality must be made: money's tight in our country as well as in my physics department, and CMT is much closer to what I want to do than many of my previous jobs, which included working in a factory full of smoke, furnaces, and heavy jagged metal.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Your advisor can either be your mentor or your tormentor. You probably also heard that a lot, but it's really true!!

Your advisor can either torment you by not being involved in your research. But he can also torment you by forcing you do work in an area you don't care about.

I'd say both research interest as the character of your advisor are as important. I wouldn't know what to choose if I had to.

Sorry for not being helpful.
 
  • #3
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Well, I've done research before and sucked at it (previous adviser was pretty hands-off), so I guess I feel extra pressure to pick an adviser who can skillfully guide me. I kind of could care less *what* I'm researching, I just want to learn how to be good at research, period.
 
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Well, I've done research before and sucked at it (previous adviser was pretty hands-off), so I guess I feel extra pressure to pick an adviser who can skillfully guide me. I kind of could care less *what* I'm researching, I just want to learn how to be good at research, period.
You're absolutely right there. In my experience it is vastly more important to choose an advisor that inspires you work hard and think creatively. Of course research topics are a consideration, but in theory there's always the opportunity to put your fingers in a lot of different things, especially if you've got the mind for it.

Also, remember that what you work on in graduate school is not necessarily going to nail you into a specific field for all eternity. My undergrad advisor got his PhD in GR and now works in quantum information! Especially in theory you have the opportunity to jump around. Plus you never know when knowledge from one area of physics will bleed over into another; you may find that particle theory gives you a fresh perspective on certain problems in condensed matter!

The bottom line is that graduate school is hard, and you want to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Part of this would be choosing an advisor who's advising STYLE works best for you, irrespective of research area.
 

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