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Testing Testing Advisors

  1. Aug 30, 2012 #1
    I'm at the point in my graduate career where I must select an advisor within the coming months. I have about 4 professors narrowed down based on research interests and experience. One professor I get along with very well, but believe our academic interests are not exactly aligned. Another has more similar research interests but our personalities are not the best match. I am trying to think of ways to narrow down my selection. What "tests" should I try on potential advisors to help guide me in a selection.

    Note: by tests I don't mean literal exams. That would be absurd. Think of a test as a clever question, body language, reaction to a situation, etc.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2012 #2
    This is quite important. I personally feel that it is better to have an advisor with a similar personality than to have an advisor with similar interests (provided that the interests of your advisor are not very far off). If your personalities don't match, then the next few years could end up really bad. For example, it could be that you are an independent person. An advisor that is pushy might not be in your best interest.

    A thing you should certainly ask your advisors is how the coming years are going to look like. that is: do they expect to see you every day? How often do you meet eachother? How much guidance should you expect? etc.

    To the advisor whose interests don't completely match yours, you should ask what he would think if you would do research in something different (but close). Just tell him that your interests don't seem to match up completely and ask whether that is a significant problem.
  4. Sep 1, 2012 #3
    Don't forget that picking an advisor is not a one-time deal. You are allowed to change your choice.

    A good idea is to figure out who you are most interested in working with, and ask him to give you a short term (~1 year) project to test whether or not you really want to do research in that field (also, be sure that the test project really is only a 1 year project; these things have a tendency to run on). If you like the research and you get along with the advisor, great. If you don't like the research or you can't stand your advisor, then no harm done; at worst, you've lost a year, and if you switch to an advisor in a related field you haven't even lost that.

    One of the traps that grad. students fall into is thinking that they have less freedom than they actually do. Remember that, at the end of the day, the responsibility for the research you do as a grad. student is yours. You pick your dissertation topic, you do the research, you write the dissertation.
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