Most important tip for selecting a graduate advisor


So, what should you do when selecting a graduate advisor?

One of the early steps in applying to grad school is finding a graduate advisor.

1) Interact with your potential graduate advisor IN PERSON

You want to see what kind of person they are, and try to have a topical discussion with them (for example, science if that’s the grad program you’re going into. According to Dr. Mike Gil – It’s critical to see what kind of natural rapport you have with your graduate advisor, because this person becomes like a family member to you.

Dr. Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil agrees, your graduate advisor basically becomes your academic parent. She emphasizes that it’s much more important to have a supportive advisor, than to pursue a “successful” one. Amelia Munson, Ph.D. Candidate, adds that there are many brilliant scientists and graduate advisors out there, so it’s important to find someone you get along with. Different people get along with different people, so ask as many people as you can what that advisor is actually like.

2) Determine the type of graduate advisor you need.

Do you need someone who is hands on?
Do you need an advisor who is a little more flexible?

Often, you can figure out how to do the science but if you don’t have an advisor who supports you in the way that you need to be supported… it’s never going to work.

One of the top advisor complaints that Adrian Perez hears is that an advisor is too hands off, or too hands on. Matching mentorship styles and finding someone who knows how to check in on you and manage you in the best way that promotes your science is really important.

3) Get a feel for how the graduate advisor interacts with other students

Assuming you’ve already chosen someone that is aligned with your field and research interest, Dr. Alex Jentsch recommends getting a feel for their interaction with fellow students, post docs, and professors in their group. If you see a happy comradery with everyone, that’s likely a good sign. If your advisor seems disconnected from the group, you might want to reconsider as you likely won’t have much face time with them.

Dr. Joe Pfaller agrees it’s imperative to talk to their other graduate students. The past ones, the present ones, any of them you can get on the phone, Zoom or Skype… Send a pigeon, send a raven! Talk to anyone you can. Dr. Jenan Kharbush also agreed that talking to former graduate students is just as important as making sure you find someone you like and can have a conversation with them without (much) awkwardness. Keep in mind, some of the current graduate students may feel they can’t be 100% honest…

What if you choose the wrong graduate advisor…

Take a deep breath, and remember Dr. Sammy Davis‘ insight – this is not the end! It’s really important to talk to people, and get the best sense of your graduate advisor that you can. But, know that nobody is perfect. No process is perfect. If you make the wrong choice there is always a way out.

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