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I live in a 3rd world country and at one of top universities in my country a professor offered me a PhD position. I will pursue a part time PhD while working full time. I have to decide on whether or not to accept his offer.

My PhD chances in U.S. or other western countries where an established academic community exists is infinitesimal. This is due to my undergraduate degree is from another nationally lower ranked school than the nationally top ranked university I mentioned. Professors at my undergraduate school have no connection with western researchers and no cares about them, my undergradute professors also do not care about the international academic community.

Though the institution I was offered to pursue a PhD is nationally reputed and having a PhD degree from there carries a nationwise reputation, I believe that my postdoc chances from decent to good schools in western countries are very low. My professor has a title as Professor, but his h-index is extremely low (< 10), while his western colleagues usually have an index of greater than 30, and usually renowed ones have an index of gretaer than 50. Also his students do not seem to secure good postdocs.

I have started to dislike my professor too. I may work with him a few years and apply for a PhD after obtaining some publications, but still I will need his connections.

This might be my only chance for a PhD and I am not sure what to do. What are my chances in western academic system after this PhD ? Should a PhD done with a professor whose work does not receive much citations and who publishes rarely ?

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Welcome to Academia.SE! However, this post addresses a few different questions at once. Please consider scoping question to address a single issue (for example, only about low h index OR only about professor in a third world country with not much collaboration with Western research). You can ask a few different questions, but please, do it in separate threads. That way, it will be possible to answer your questions in a meaningful way and answers will be usable also for others. –  Piotr Migdal Mar 1 at 12:16
    
What do you wish to do with your PHd once you get it? –  Ian Mar 1 at 17:24
    
I would advise you to speak to other PhD students who have done it part-time. It's difficult if you're doing it full-time, and I've personally tried it part-time and wasn't able to do it. Not saying it's not possible, and if it's your only option you need to do what you need to do. Just saying be prepared by talking to others who have done it. –  user12527 Mar 2 at 0:16
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I don't know if you can do this, but if your main goal is to end up in Western academia, you might consider doing a masters in a Western country. I did that and it made a world of a difference when it came to applying to PhD positions. –  Ana Mar 2 at 8:34
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6 Answers 6

Picking a PhD supervisor based on his h-index is like picking a car based on his horse-power; you ignore a huge number of factors that are probably equally important if not more. It is drivable (can you work with this person?), is it expensive to run (do the guy needs to pampered and treated like royalty?), are other owners happy with their purchase (are his other PhD students happy with his supervision?), etc. etc. Getting a really fast car only to crash it cause you can't drive it does mean much and getting a supervisor who after a year's time makes you want to quit your PhD doesn't mean much either. Most probably in both cases people are going to think less of you.

I think the most important thing is that you say that "I have started to dislike my professor too." that is a major problem and you should not pick a supervisor that you dislike. I do not mean that by being "homies" with supervisor; I mean about mutual respect and ability to work efficiently and with understanding about each other maybe "small quirks". (eg. My supervisor avoided setting up morning meeting with me because I am a night-person; it was fine, he even joked up about it at times "Next week I have X thing going on so we probably need to meet at 11.00. I know you'll just be out of bed but that is my only available time." That did not mean though I was not expected to be always punctuational for our meeting or having worked seriously on the projects at hand.

To recap: As you present things I would say "do not to work with this professor" but not because of his low h-index but because you say you do not like him and that his PhD students seem not to take good positions (low after-sales value :) ).

You mention that US institution are out of the equation effectively; "fine". Have you thought of PhD programmes in Europe? Some small, not too famous but reputable universities in EU can be stepping stones for a post-doc in US (Given you do excellent work at your PhD obviously).

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picking a car based on his horse-power — or perhaps more accurately, on the number of times the car is mentioned on TV. –  JeffE Mar 1 at 19:59
    
Above comment is painfully correct. There are many excellent research opportunities with low h-index, and similarly, there are many "high h" positions that won't move you forward in the ways you hope. –  meawoppl Mar 1 at 23:21
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Having a low h-index doesn't mean that your professor is a poor scientist, in the same way that having a high h-index doesn't guarantee he/she is a good one. The primary reason is that the h-index is bounded from above by the total number of publications, so people who have entered the field recently have a lower h-index than those that have been working there for decades, simply because the former haven't had so much time to publish enough papers. Additionally, the h-index only cares about a minimum number of citations per publication, and it doesn't take into account the total number of citations per publication or the importance of those citations. For example, if I publish two papers in Science and then retire from academia, my h-index will never be higher than 2, even if those two papers are completely revolutionary and get cited a kazillion times by the biggest guns in the field. In contrast, if I publish 20 papers reporting trivial and mundane results in North Dakota Community College Engineering Bulletin that only get cited by a bunch of my colleagues in a seventh-rate journal, I can potentially get my h-index up to 20.

A better way of deciding if you want to work with this person is to spend an afternoon reading through some of his recent work, and then to ask yourself: Does this person's work look interesting enough that I want to spend the next several years talking to him every day?. Or If I was already a professor, would I advise my own students to go get a PhD under this guy?. Or, if in doubt, ask these questions to your current mentors, who probably will have a more informed opinion than you do.

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I think the question of how good your advisor will be is of secondary importance here because the real question is will you do a PhD or not? PhD positions are not easy to come by (depending on the field of study.) This may be your only chance.

The role of advisor is of course important, especially when it comes to getting your post-doc positions. You need to ask whether you are confident enough in your own abilities to write notable papers that are going to compensate for the shortcomings of the advisor. Have you discussed with him the projects that he will want you to work on? The biggest danger is that he will want you to do something that you are not inspired by. If you like the projects he proposes and feel confident that you can do well even if your advisor's help is limited then you should go for it.

At least you will still be working part time so you have a backup. Why not give it a try and be prepared to drop out after one year if it does not look promising (but don't tell the prof that obviously).

One more thing, if you do go for it try to have a more positive attitude. No advisor is perfect but they are usually on your side.

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I had a similar dilemma when I decided to pursue the PhD. The rank of the program is important but the intersection of your advisor's work and your interests is the critical factor. If your research is not related to that of your advisor, he will not be able to offer insights to guide you along. You can get in-depth guidance about literature searches, literature reviews, and selecting and arguing a thesis from many outstanding reference books. Furthermore, your advisor cannot cover the breadth and depth of these reference books in the few short meetings that will be allotted to you. What you need is concise, trenchant insight that is relevant to the research.

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To address your last question:

Should a PhD done with a professor whose work does not receive much citations and who publishes rarely ?

There are many considerations as pointed out by other answers. H-index is one measure that might help you understand, at a glance, things about a scholar, but given the seriousness of your situation (wanting to do a PhD) you should dig deeper. For instance, does the professor have a low H-index because he is new to the field (as mentioned by Koldito)? Or is the H-index low because his area is highly specialized, and quite small? These might be reasons for relaxing how important this metric is in making your decision.

If, on the other hand, his H-index is low because he does not publish often (e.g. he does not value publishing as a scholarly work), or because he publishes in venues with low impact, these might be good reasons for concern. Similarly, you note that others in his field who would be experts from the west would have an H-index > 50; if this professor isn't an expert in the field then I would consider that cause for legitimate concern too.

You asked a second question:

This might be my only chance for a PhD and I am not sure what to do. What are my chances in western academic system after this PhD ?

Your insight that his previous students don't tend to get good postdocs is something to consider, especially if other students in the university are able to secure quality postdoc positions. My personal experience has been that if you want to secure a position in the western academic system you need to do something there first (a degree, a postdoc, etc.), so making sure your PhD puts you on the path to achieving this sounds like it is important for your goals. I would encourage you to ask the adviser directly who he collaborates with and how you can get experience through the PhD working with scholars worldwide. Be explicit about your goals. If he decides he doesn't want to work with you because of this, then he probably isn't the right supervisor for you.

And a final note of advice, your social networks and institutional affiliations are more important when you are looking for that first academic job than your h-index. H-index is used more regularly for judging things like tenure, promotion, etc. In the western system, from my experience, you want people to know at a glance that you have credentials that are rigorous and prestigious. If doing a PhD with this professor won't put you on this track then you should seriously consider your other options. But dig deeper than the H-index to investigate this.

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I have been working as a graduate advisor for many years and I am giving you suggestions based on that experience. I hope I don't sound overly critical, just a couple of things I usually tell incoming PhD students about their expectations of graduate school. This may be because I work mostly with undergraduates transitioning directly into graduate school, so often I have to play the antagonist in these discussions to challenge my students to think about their own plans for their own future. And to be realistic. So here goes:

Most importantly, I think that you should also consider the amount of effort you are willing to put into the PhD. Typically, PhD students are asked to commit full time to it, and though this varies with the discipline, my experience working with PhD students is that the more time they spend developing themselves as academics and masters of their field, the better they do professionally.

I am concerned that you do not like your mentor/professor much. Are there others on your committee (or academics you are considering to be on your committee) that you do prefer? It's not unusual to not see eye-to-eye with your mentor - it is unusual that you don't want to continue working/ knowing him after your graduate - but rather his connections. Typically, his word to his connections is what begins your immersion in his network - so you will have to be careful to either keep that disdain in check or work will not be fun and challenging (as it should be) and will end up being a chore and make you more frustrated - and isolated.

Finally, about rising in the ranks of academia. Being a part of the Western academic society is not the ultimate social status. Being a highly valued academic in your chosen field of work is.

Good luck!

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