1. About
  2. Features
  3. Explore

While accepting an offer to grad school, one is basically entering into a lasting relationship with one's adviser - most likely, someone whom the applicant has never met before, and the only exposure has been through the potential adviser's website/publications. It is in the interest of both parties to ensure (to the greatest possible extent) that there are no personal/professional traits of either that hamper the formation of a pleasant working relationship - no-one would want to go through the ordeal of having to change advisers midway!

While the faculty has a chance to have a good look at the applicant's profile as well as his motivations (through his grades and SOP), the applicant doesn't have a similar opportunity. So, I'm interested to know what parameters can be used to gauge a potential fit. I've thought of the following:

  • Past students:
    1. Did anyone ever drop out/change advisers midway, and if so, for what reasons? These would be a bit hard to find though, as I don't expect the faculty concerned would list them on their website. It would be great if anyone could let me know how to find out the list of incoming students to a department for any year.
    2. Publication rate, taking into account the venues where they were accepted.
    3. Time taken to graduate - though I accept this is more dependent on the student, a median figure should be telling ...
    4. What they did post Ph.D. - did anyone get tenure if they went into academia, or is almost everyone unable to break out of being a post-doc?
  • Tenure status: I'm a bit unsure about this, so wanted the community's opinions about it. Just so that I'm clear, I'm only trying to calibrate the applicant's expectations about the working style of his potential adviser - and hence need to know to what extent are the following "typical" assumptions valid.

    Tenured professor

    A full professor is more likely to get grant funding, hence less time spent on TAship - but could also mean less time/effort spent on interactions with students (either being busy with other projects/talks, or due to more commitments to family at that age).

    Tenure-track faculty (Assistant profs)

    More likely to be young and energetic, and could translate to more time spent on one-to-one discussions with grad students - but funding may prove to be an issue, and may have to be on TA for a longer period.

What other factors would be relevant in this matter, and to what extent am I correct/incorrect in either the factors considered, or for undertaking this exercise at all?

1 Answer 1

If you can get any information, don't underestimate the importance of simple personality factors---do you expect to be able to get along personally with your potential advisor? This is hard to gauge if you don't have the chance to meet the person, but talking to current or former students may give you some idea.

Also, I'd add to your list how your advisor is viewed in the rest of the field. Not just on the quality of research (though that's important too), but again, how much people like your advisor personally. Again, a small factor, but having other people in your field like your advisor can make a difference.

Unless you have a very close decision and need a tie-breaker, I'm not sure it's worth trying to read the tea leaves about what tenure status implies, since I suspect the person-by-person variation is greater than the between group variation.