Another question that I get asked a lot- I mean really a lot is how do you choose your advisor-
Well, in my case, I was chosen by my advisor- Pretty funny but true.
My advisor sought me out- Ah- I worked so hard.
I am still so thankful for my advisor’s training. He really trained me well.
Now I just have to produce papers- yay! Something I was doing like three minutes ago-
So back to the question-
How do you choose your advisor?
The answer is?!
Choose the faculty member that cares the most for you.
No, it’s not the faculty member who is the editor.
No it’s not the faculty member with the most funding.
No it’s not the faculty member who is the rising star
Again, the correct answer is choose the professor who will care for you.
The professor that cares for you will not only teach you research but he will support you.
He will actually advise you!
But don’t other professors advise their students as well?
Nope- not always. Unfortunately.
So let me go over some cases that I have seen repeat for many years since I was a PhD student and even now-
-1. Choosing the most prestigious professor.
This is seemingly the best choice but can be a death trap.
Now to understand this, you need to know what are the incentives of a prestigious professor.
Well, because he is renowned, he is super busy publishing, leading the field, and also doing service.
First, his time is limited and very expensive. Hence, he will try to optimize his time and unfortunately PhD advising won’t be a priority a lot of times.
Second, because he is so famous, there is a line of professors and PhD students who want to work with him. Your competition is quite strong because many professors will complete the paper and just ask your professor to put his name. How many PhD students can do that? Not many…So there isn’t much incentive for the prestigious professor to supervise you intensively.
Hence, choosing the prestigious professor can be detrimental. There are reported cases in prestigious schools that they only met their advisor four times before the PhD students graduated. Many complaints online that their advisors have not replied to their emails since last year…that is because prestigious professors are super busy….
-2. Choosing the professor with most funding
In labs, money speaks real loud. I mean super loud. My engineer PhD friends told me that their advisor gets free publications because their labs had the most awesome machines ever and the professors needed those machines for their research. So where there are labs, money is king often.
So what are some pitfalls choosing a professor with lot of funding?
First, they are busy! Again, they are busy. They need to get grants to run the lab! Grants take time! They need to network too.
Second, because they are so busy writing grants, they often become distanced from research. I am serious. They lose their keen sense because some full professors don’t operate the lab, they manage the lab…The postdoc does the operating part. Hence, because he was away from research for sometime, he may be rusty and his advice may not be so useful.
Third, if they can get that much money, other universities will want him too. Raising money for research is a great and rare skill. I have seen labs lifted to other schools because the other school poached the professor. When your advisor leaves sometimes you can leave with him but the destination school may not be ideal. You may have to do some coursework again and your peers will be new and unfamiliar to you. You need to adapt again, which is stressful on top of research.
-3. Choosing the rising star professor
Rising stars are busy too. They are publishing and increasing their influence in the field and the school. Remember in academia, publications are the currency.
First, they are busy. And they are likely more concerned about solidifying their reputation. Plus, you may be part of the plan. As he can show that he can raise scholars as well. Not the best environment because he may only use you until it is not so useful. Or he will drive you mad by making you do a ton of work to signal how good he is with advising PhD students.
True story, there was a good PhD student that dropped out because his rising star professor made him do so much work. The PhD student got sick of it and dropped out…a loss for the field.
Second, the rising star is highly desired. He may move schools. It happens more than you think. Some stars move around until they can’t move anymore. You will be in a hard place if your star advisor leaves in you during third or fourth year. You will need to get a new advisor and probably change topics too. One year added to your PhD….if not more.
Hopefully, I managed to convince you to choose the professor who cares for you. They will help you grow both professionally and personally. And they will support you during hard times.
Now I never said that caring professors cannot be prestigious, king of grants, or a rising star. They can be but they are caring professors first.
In fact, I have seen a few. They are super prestigious with a CV long as a phone book yet they will take good care of their students.
They do exists- They are just hard to find.
So how do you find good advisors?
Look around. See who looks like a nice individual overall. Look at their track record. What happened to his prior students? Ask other PhD students and others in the field.
Just some due diligence will make your PhD much easier.
Remember advisors can easily make or break your PhD.
Always, choose caring advisors over brilliant ones-
Thank You God for research and PhD. We are thankful that we can discover Your wisdom and knowledge. Amen!