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Understanding work of potential advisors

  1. Dec 31, 2014 #1
    I'm going through the process of finding potential grad school advisors, and one issue I'm running into is not having the necessary background to fully understand their work. I can read a paper, get a high-level understanding of what's going on, and say "wow, that sounds really interesting." But at this point I don't think I could ask intelligent questions or contribute anything. Is that normal? Should I already be an expert going in, or is it typical to spend a few months getting up to speed before really contributing anything?

    I should mention that I do have research experience, but all my experience is in something different from what I want to do in grad school. I think this is probably a factor in the problem I'm facing. (My current school for undergrad doesn't really do any research in the particular area I'm interested in)
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 31, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    In detail, no, you aren't expected to understand it. But you should know in broad terms - i.e. instead of just "nuclear physics", it should be at the level of "studies properties of nucleii at extreme isospin using double charge exchange". That is, it should be detailed enough to distinguish this professor from others in the Department.
  4. Dec 31, 2014 #3


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    One is not expected to an expert in a particular area, but one should be familiar with the research at one's institution. One could read some of the dissertations of graduate students in the department, or read faculty webpages or their list of publications in their CV, or search journals for particular topics and individuals. One might even be able to find the PhD dissertations of potential advisors.

    As an undergraduate, I made time to read journal articles, particularly articles cited in textbooks related to classwork and experimental lab courses.
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