Choosing an Advisor

How do I pick an advisor?

Picking an advisor is a big decision that is the first big step in your degree. Here’s what to consider, good and bad:

  • Pick a division: AER, Pchem, organic, inorganic, CBS, materials– this will narrow down the classes you will take and the advisors that align with your interests, however, don’t be afraid to look outside of your division!
  • The average PhD in this department lasts 5 years (it varies group to group and division to division), so you need to pick an advisor who you can see yourself realistically working with for that long
  • You won’t spend 5 years with your group members, but you will have close interactions with them and need to get along with them as well. They will be able to give you a better picture of what it is like working for that boss. Ask multiple group members–it will help you determine if there are favorites
  • When you are trying to join a group, the group members themselves will not tell you the things they dislike. Ask other people in the same division for any red flags before you join. However keep in mind, some aspects someone might think is a negative thing, might be a plus for you– your needs will be different from other grad students
  • Read this article about joining toxic groups
  • Ask your potential advisor these questions before you fully join, you need to interview them as well!
    • What happens if the advisor leaves the university (accepts an offer elsewhere, moves to industry, doesn’t get tenure, etc)? Will you be able to move with them, or find another group to finish out your degree? What if this happens at any point during your degree?
    • How is it decided who is put on TA vs RA when funding for RA positions are limited?
    • How long is the typical PhD in your group? How many people leave with a masters vs. a PhD?
    • What are the typical jobs people get after leaving the group? How long is it before people find jobs? (Do people get postdocs or positions in national labs? Go into industry? Postdoc in academia?)
    • What is expected in terms of manuscripts before graduation? How often do manuscripts come out of the group? How much of the writing process would I be expected to be responsible for?
    • How much time do you have to allocate to helping your PhD students?
    • How have you handled the COVID situation in your group? Have you advised everyone to work from home as much as possible? Are they expected to be in lab every day under the lockdown? What about social distancing/scheduling protocols? Is there any enforcement/repercussions for group members that don’t follow the rules?
    • There are more questions you should ask group members and your potential advisor in this guide.