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Which professor should I work with this summer?

  1. Apr 7, 2009 #1
    Here is the dilemma that I am facing with these two professors. The question is should I work with Prof A or B.

    With Professor A, I have a 35-50% chance of publishing a paper. I have been working with Prof. A since this semester. He is only a research assistant professor who works under the umbrella of a full professor (whom I don't know very well). So he doesn't get any direct funding or has any group working under him. Basically he's a one man team. I am the only guy working for him. The research deals with ferroelectrics. I have to admit the research can get quite monotonous sometimes: the project has yet required me to put into a significant amount of critical thinking or original insight (that can change this summer, I think). However, Prof.A has a very nice record of publishing papers with his undergrads in very respected journals,i.e Phys. Review. And He has done so twice over the last two years.

    With Professor B, I will have pretty much a slim to none chance of publishing a paper. But She is a very accomplished young professor with quite a big research group (~9 people). The field of her research topics is quite a popular one and very competitive (an area in condensed matter). And she's well respected in this field. I will be working under a graduate student. I will be making samples (carbon nanotubes) and taking electrical measurements on them. Since the work involves several sophisticated experimental procedures, such as AFM, SEM, evaporation... i will have to get trained on these techniques first, which can take a few weeks. The project will largely be a repetition of these procedures, cycles of making samples, taking measurements, making more samples and taking the same measurements again. The goal is to get enough data for the grad student's analysis, who might use it in his potential paper. So as you can see, the project can become a little tedius and quite time consuming: in addition to several weeks of training in the beginning, each procedure in each cycle can also take days. My eight weeks of work in the summer will probably just get me started on taking some data, let alone getting anywhere close to writing a paper.

    In summary, Prof. A is very much unknown but I get all his attention and a shot of publishing a paper. Prof B. is much more well known and does research in a very popular area. The drawback is that the prospect of publishing is very bleak.

    Also I am a junior and this will be the last summer before I apply for grad schools.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2009 #2
    I would go for professor B. Although you might not get your name on a published paper a letter of recommendation from her would be very helpful for your grad school application, especially considering that the work you'd be doing under her would get more recongition for being harder than prof A's research.
  4. Apr 7, 2009 #3

    But how would grad school know that the research under Prof B is harder than prof A's research?
  5. Apr 7, 2009 #4


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    They both sound like good choices in my opinion.

    I would probably lean more towards whichever option seems like more interesting work to you. It's nice to get your name on a publication out of undergraduate work, but in my opinion it can be difficult for an undergraduate to assess the probability of certain work resulting in publication - so it would be best to spend your summer doing something you enjoy.
  6. Apr 7, 2009 #5
    Oooh, I think I know who Professor B is. N.M. is a very nice lady and she's my faculty mentor. From what I've gathered from talking with her research group, they all seem pretty happy with their experiences. Why not talk to a few of them yourself if you haven't already?

    Either way, good luck!
  7. Apr 8, 2009 #6
    Lol and professor A looks like Mario. I would work for whichever professor you think is in a direction that you would be interested in. I wouldn't bank on getting a published paper just because he has some track record of it.

    A big thing if you're going to physics grad school is recommendations, so whichever one can pull harder strings might be the better choice.
  8. Apr 9, 2009 #7

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    Professor B is hot, but I don't think that's a particularly good reason.

    I'm also in agreement that the selection should be based on how much one expects to learn, not an assumed probability of publication.
  9. Apr 9, 2009 #8

    But if a publication can greatly enchance of my odds of getting into a top graduate school and thus open up much greater opportunities for me to learn in the future, I cannot just turnn a blind eye to that possibility, be an idealist and only care about what's best for me now, right?. Not necessarily my case here, say you are given the choices between learning a lot now but ending up in a OK grad school, or not learning as much but ending up at a great school where you have plenty of opportunities to learn thanks to a undergrad publication, which one would you choose?
  10. Apr 9, 2009 #9
    It also seems to me like perhaps B does experimental work and A does theoretical work (though the OP hasn't necessarily posted this, so it may not be true). In that case, one needs to consider which type of work he/she would desire to DO in the future.

    Experimental condensed matter typically DOES take a lot of time to result in a publication. In the case of B, the OP might request to work under a senior graduate student... one who is more likely to be on the verge of publishing. But sans publication, having learned all those processing skills would be attractive to someone on the admissions committee who knows how long it can take to develop them.. and presumably that person on the admissions committee would know how to weigh B's recommendations appropriately based on her reputation.

    Sans publication... what would A offer? With publication, it seems to me like it might even still be a draw.
  11. Apr 9, 2009 #10
    My advice would be to switch to theoretical physics. Then you can write your own papers, as many as you like.
  12. Apr 9, 2009 #11
    They are both in experimental condensed matter.
  13. Apr 9, 2009 #12
    Personally, I would go with Professor A. Being one on one with the professor would allow you to do a variety of things, where as with Professor B, you would be doing the same thing over and over. Also, the letter of recommendation with A would most likely be better, simply because you would be the only one working for him. Where as, if you were with professor B, working underneath a graduate student, the letter of recommendation would not be as personable.
  14. Apr 10, 2009 #13

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    It's not the publication - it's the skills you will have acquired to been able to produce a publication. Worrying about publishing at this end is putting the cart before the horse.
  15. Apr 10, 2009 #14
    I'll go with Wellesley. If you go with prof B, you are just 1/10. The chance is that she might not know you well enough to write a great recommendation. And as someone else point out, you might work for some other senior grad student, which'll even reduce the chance of seeing your prof more. And these would be great disadvantages which might even cancel the affect that she has great reputation.
    On the other hand, prof A work with you 1-1, he'll know you so much better than prof B will. And this will also show on your recommendation.
    Publication? Well, that is the icing of the cake (although I like cream :D), but not really necessary.
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