Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What kind of supervisor?

  1. Just finished postdoc

    1 vote(s)
  2. In between

    1 vote(s)
  3. Professor

    10 vote(s)
  1. Oct 7, 2008 #1


    User Avatar

    Is it better to have a Phd supervisor who've just finished their postdoc? Or someone who is established in the field as a professor? Or someone in between? Have a vote.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2008 #2
    Your Ph.D. is the transition from student to colleague. Young supervisors are more likely to start to view you as a competitor while working for them. They are less likely to have a full research program with several projects for you to pursue. Also, there is the threat of the young professor not making tenure. I've heard of this happening and the student being allowed to transfer to the school where the guy was hired next, but I think the more common route is picking a new advisor and potentially throwing away a lot of time and effort.
  4. Oct 7, 2008 #3


    User Avatar

    Full professors have been working in your field for a long time, and they know which problems have been solved, which haven't been solved, and what kind of problems you should concentrate on. While they may be more busy than a younger researcher, they will be able to properly lead you into defining a good research project.

    Their reference letter will also carry more weight, once you'll be done, and they will have more experience supervising students.
  5. Oct 7, 2008 #4


    User Avatar

    Go with the full professor. They have the benefit of knowledge, have probably had grad students before, they know the field and can help you make contacts, and they don't feel the need to be first author on your papers - a tenured professor can afford to put their grad students first. A new professor often can't.
  6. Oct 8, 2008 #5
    A friend of mine finished a PhD in Ancient History recently (not exactly the same, I know) and he has noticed that his friends' professors are much better connected and are arranging post-doc placements a lot more successfully than his, much less established, advisor.

    If they've spend 30 years networking, why not benefit?
  7. Oct 9, 2008 #6


    User Avatar

    But isn't it that one can associate with younger supervisors better? And be more on the same wavelength as them?
  8. Oct 9, 2008 #7

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    I think this question isn't likely to do anything besides reinforce stereotypes. I think the variation between individuals of any academic rank is much larger than the variation between the averages of academic ranks.
  9. Oct 9, 2008 #8
    I think there are two sides to this question:

    1) Which type of professor will help you write the best possible thesis?

    2) Which type of professor will help you get a nice postdoc after graduation?

    There are some people you might mesh with very well but they do not have the connections or stature of a more established professor.

    It really is up to you. Personally, I say go with the professor who will help you write the best possible thesis and become the best possible research mathematician (or scientist depending on your field).

    I was reading the AMS book on Stephen Smale and they had a nice little tid bit about Smale's adviser, Raoul Bott. At the time Raoul Bott was not the superstar mathematician that he went on to become. But Smale was a damn good mathematician, and that ends up winning out in the long run.

    I think math careers/academia is a marathon and not a sprint. It's nice to get those good postdocs, but it's more important to keep your eye on the prize and do quality mathematics.
  10. Oct 11, 2008 #9


    User Avatar

    Let's say the field is maths. From experience and from reading other mathematicians, it seems best to write the thesis yourself with minimal help so the supervisor is not important. But in reality that is not so?
  11. Oct 11, 2008 #10
    Could it also become a problem, that old guys are not so well suited to understanding new things?

    It has happened to me, that I've successfully explained something to some young grad student (I'm undergrad myself), but I've been strangely unable to explain the same to an old professor. Sometimes I feel that the communication just works better with young guys :confused:
  12. Oct 11, 2008 #11
    The old guys may not be so adept at understanding things that are completely new, but you have to understand that it's terribly difficult to spend a career learning new things and then up and say "that's it! I know everything I want, and I'm done!" (not saying it doesn't happen, just that it's not as common as some students like to believe, either). Science is a conservative field, and is rightly full of very skeptical people - it's important to be aware of the difference.

    Of course, if your thesis isn't extremely controversial it's all a moot point anyway. I'm not saying you shouldn't aim for controversial, but if you want to maximize your professional chances, sometimes hedging your bets isn't as bad as it sounds.
  13. Oct 12, 2008 #12


    User Avatar

    It could be that the young grad student didn't fully understand it and so didn't see any subtle errors whereas the old professor did and thats why it didn't make sense to him.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook