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What should I ask my potential supervisor?

  1. Feb 2, 2012 #1
    Hello to all,

    I'm going to meet a Researcher in a Physics department next week. I've approached him about a PhD that he has advertised. I'm currently reading the research papers that were on the page describing the PhD. However, I'm looking for some advice as to what kind of questions I should ask, when I am there. Also should I dress smartly or casually? I believe it will be a fairly informal chat, however I would like to make a good impression as I am interested in the research.

    Thanks for your help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 2, 2012 #2
    I'm piggy-backing this thread as I also have an interview for a doctorate next week and was about to ask the same question.

    Mine's as Oxford and I'm bricking it. dear god what have i done.
  4. Feb 2, 2012 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    does he have any grad students that you could talk to? they might give you some insight into problems they are currently investigating or stuck on. Something that you might be able to research and provide a solution too or at least an attempt. That might get you in the door.
  5. Feb 2, 2012 #4


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    It's important to be positive, attentive and chatty. When asking questions try to show great interest in the research rather than the job. By that I mean asking "how do you expect to take X into account during the Y series of experiments?" is better than "how much money and how many hours?" Ask what the department's long term plans are, how varied are they in how they want to achieve their goals. What will they do after a major milestone is met etc. I'm sorry I can't give more specific advice without knowing the field.

    It is very good that you are reading the researchers papers a good tip would to read around and come up with recommendations/criticisms (not negative) for the research. A few years ago when I interviewed for my MSc I was asked a question from a supervisor and responded by saying something like "Actually I've read a paper recently regarding that, in fact it was yours..." he nodded and went to make a note before I said "in addition to what you recommend I would suggest X. This would complement your approach but allow for..."

    In other words demonstrate that not only can you understand the research (purpose, methodology, conclusions etc) but you can contribute to it.

    Good luck to both of you!
  6. Feb 2, 2012 #5
    An important thing is that you and him are compatible. It's perhaps good to tell him what kind of physics you enjoy and why you enjoy it. That way, the supervisor can tell if it's something for you or not. And if it is something for you, then he can adjust the research to your desires. Nothing is worse than doing research in something you absolutely hate.

    I would dress casually, but not sloppy.

    Try to judge his character. See if he is a person that is demanding or leisurely. And check with yourself which one suits you the best. Having compatible characters is a big +.

    It would be good if you ask some questions about the research itself. The supervisor will likely give a presentation about what the research is about. Try to ask some genuine questions during the presentation (but don't force yourself).
  7. Feb 2, 2012 #6
    Good questions for your own information: What are his former students doing now? How many do science-related work in industry/academia? How many have left science?
  8. Feb 2, 2012 #7
    Its Semiconductor based spintronics.
  9. Feb 2, 2012 #8


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    Sorry, I don't know that field :tongue:

    Best of luck!
  10. Feb 2, 2012 #9


    Staff: Mentor

  11. Feb 2, 2012 #10


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    OK, I'm going to be tacky and ask you to refer to Part X of my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay - Choosing a Research area and an advisor.

    I've listed several things to look for.

    However, since you specifically asked about what to talk about or to ask during your conversation with him, then I have a few suggestions:

    1. Ask him how what he expects out of you. Will he be guiding you, at least in the beginning, on the direction of your Ph.D research?

    2. How available is he? Does he travel a lot and thus, not usually available personally to meet with you, or periodically look at what you do?

    3. How long does he have research funds to support you? This is assuming that he has an RA'ship that you are going for.

    4. How many students does he currently supervise? Any postdocs? Will these postdocs be the ones to primarily train you?

    5. Will he send you to conferences later as you have stuff to publish or present?

  12. Feb 6, 2012 #11
    Nice one Zz.
  13. Feb 6, 2012 #12
    I'm currently searching for an adviser for my PhD and these are the exact questions I have been asking. Some kinda beat around the bush of what their previous students are doing but others are certain I will be employed doing something in science or engineering. Unfortunately, the ones I'm most interested in (QG, knots, even HEP theory) are the ones that kinda dodge my questions which sets off a reminder that I probably shouldn't work with them.

    One other thing I've been looking at is how much money these professors are getting for grant money. I'll be straight up with them about too because my goal is working in industry. If they're getting serious grant money especially from industry then I know I can most likely get some contacts or a foot in the door somewhere. Also, find out on your own, if that adviser is a super bad dude in their field. At my school, we have some very well known AMO researchers. So coming here and doing anything but AMO would kinda be shooting myself in the foot.
  14. Feb 7, 2012 #13
    Not too smart! You don't want to make him feel scruffy :)

    Happy medium I would say - sports jacket rather than suit, smart trousers rather than jeans*, polished shoes (but not reflective!) No tie... ties are *always* way uncool in academic circles... unless you're a prof. going to a formal dinner with the dean... and you know the dean always wears a tie...

    *This would be in the UK, maybe in the US you can get away with (smart) jeans?
  15. Feb 8, 2012 #14
    Yes. Definitely no tie. I'd agree that that's far too formal. I don't have any smart jeans I'm afraid. I think I'll just go with a white shirt and black trousers. Not too formal and not too casual.
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