In previous posts, I’ve discussed the reality of higher education and jobs, and I’ve gave you 5 very compelling reasons not to go to graduate school. I’m more than happy to equip you with these tid-bits of information.
However, you might be a person who has reached the graduate school level. You probably did everything right and you don’t need my help. Cool. But, you need to know how to properly choose your adviser. This is critical. This is the person you are going to work closely with for the next 3-4 years of your life. This person will shape how you think and what kind of researcher you will be. They are your *insert field of study here* mother/father/parent.
You need to do proper investigation:
1) Determine a professor’s research interests.
If you don’t care even a little about what someone is doing research in, you’ll hate your time and you will lack motivation and you will suffer. Three years doesn’t seem like a long time, but it drags on and on.
Remember in High School when you would watch the clock during the last hour of the day… yeah, the last three years will be like that.
One way to get a really good idea of what a professor does: read his/her/their papers. You may not be able to understand everything, but if you think “oh man, this is cool!” or “that is really interesting, I want to know more” or even “this goes over my head, I love the fact this person is a genius”… then you will want to take the next step with this professor.
2) Sit in on your POI.
First, it’s best if you’ve had a class with your POI or if you’ve attended a research presentation (which you should begin attending after your first semester) they’ve given. Then, you know how this person teaches or how this person presents. This helps in that you’ll know how they’ll advise/guide you. You can determine whether their style works for you that way.
3) Meet with the professor of interest (POI).
However, if you haven’t been so lucky… a meeting with your POI will have to do. Tell them you are interested in research with them. Ask them questions like: what basic background material would I need? or, what classes should I take? or, are there papers/books not given in class that I can read to do what you do? are you open to answering questions I may have? how often will you expect me to meet with you? what are other responsibilities you expect? etc.
Problems with this method: people always behave better before you get to know them. It’s later down the line that you will learn how wrong this person is for you. The next item addresses how to avoid this.
3) Talk to students who are studying under or who have studied under your POI.
Students who have already graduated will most likely be more honest about their experience. Students currently working with the POI may not be completely honest in fear; plus, it’s not very professional to spread gossip. Despite this, though, you can tell by the answer (or lack thereof) what kind of professor he/she/they are. A professor worthy of praise will be praised. A professor who is hard in a disrespectful way will either have silent students or students who will complain behind closed doors.
4) REGs are an excellent way to judge a POI.
Most graduate programs will provide funding for summer research projects with professors. Working with your POI for a summer is a great way to determine whether you will continue to work well together.
Note: Everyone has their annoying quirks. You need to determine whether you can look beyond the POI’s treatment of you in order to obtain your degree. Will this professor have you present at conferences and thus provide you networking relationships? Will this professor help you submit several papers? Will this professor be the one to help you pass your defense? These are questions you can determine by asking the POI-students. The compromise is determined by you.
Recommendation: None of these things are worth giving up your dignity and self-respect. Even if you don’t have any of the benefits, by walking away, you’ll at least have your self-worth. I speak from my failure to do so..
Share in the comments the way you chose your adviser!