Sign up ×
Academia Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for academics and those enrolled in higher education. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am a fresh PhD student and I need to choose an advisor to guide my research. Currently I find it difficult to choose.

One professor's current project pretty well matches my previous research experience. Although I would not say I am interested in it, at least I don't hate it. But I find most of his students will need 7 years to graduate the PhD program under his advisement. The speed of this professor's life is really slow. The most important thing is that he rarely gives his students constructive suggestions when they confront problems in the research. I know a PhD needs to have the ability to conduct experiments independently, but some kind of guidance is necessary.

As for the other professor, his project is really exciting and he published many papers with high impact factors. It is not that related to my previous experience but it may use some of the techniques I used before. I like it but some of my friends told me this professor is really picky and tough. With him as an advisor it may be difficult to get job after graduation.

Currently I am working with the first professor. I try my best to make myself get interested in the work, but I am still hesitant.

What advisor should I choose to achieve a satisfying research experience?

share|improve this question
some of my friends told me this professor is really picky and tough — That one. You want that one. –  JeffE Dec 14 '13 at 14:22

4 Answers 4

Ultimately, I would choose to work on what I'm interested in rather than what I have experience in, assuming that you have enough background to follow your interests (but in a 7 year PhD program, you'll have time to learn the techniques you'll need) and that there is a future for you after completing the program.

(Learning how to use capital letters and to punctuate your sentences properly will also help in the future.)

share|improve this answer
+1 for the side blow on capital letters. –  Dirk Dec 14 '13 at 20:26

Always, always, always pick the advisor who is less of a jerk. Doing so serves numerous purposes:

  1. The project will be more enjoyable, because you're not working with a jerk.
  2. If the initial project doesn't work out it will be easier to switch to a new topic, because you're not working with a jerk.
  3. Even if the whole program doesn't work out, it will be easier to get support for switching labs/schools/careers, because you're not working with a jerk.
  4. It means fewer talented students will pick jerks as advisors, which will (hopefully) help weed out jerk advisors.

In short: talk to the students. Make sure you're not signing up to work with a jerk.

share|improve this answer
Note, however: "Jerk" does not mean "tough". You want your advisor to have high standards and to hold you to them. –  JeffE Dec 14 '13 at 14:30
Yes, agreed. Tough: good. Jerk: bad. @user9983: seems like you have a pretty good handle on the "tough" question. Now go find out about the "jerk" question! –  Dnuorg Spu Dec 14 '13 at 14:31

A Professor here. In general, you want to go with the Prof. who is research active. If a supervisor doesn't provide constructive feedback, that simply means he/she doesn't care, has no idea how to do research and don't know the area. That means you're on your own. If you're lucky, you'll learn how to swim and churn out passable work.

On the other hand, the 'tough' Prof. produces world class work (based on your description). This is 'normal'. Simply look at the best chefs in the world. Do you think they sacrifice quality? Their name goes out with every dish/paper! Same principle applies. So if you want, and have the capability, to play with the best, then the tough Prof. should be the one. For sure, it'll be a baptism of fire, but if you're capable, you'll find yourself running with the best. More importantly, you'll learn why they are the best; their secret: they care very very ... much about their work.

share|improve this answer

One friend started doing a PhD under a world-renowned star, and gave up something like a year later. He told me he met his advisor twice, once when agreeing to the thesis and once crossed him casually in an aisle. As star he was elsewhere most of the time. He switched to a "second tier" advisor, and was very happy with his decision.

share|improve this answer
Big profs are like the bugs zapper (device with blue light). They attract students, and when the student enrols, they get zapped. –  santa Aug 10 at 4:16

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.